Topologies

Shifting the Discourse on Female Dominance

Posted in political theory by Cal Stockton on November 7, 2009

I want to start my first group blog experience by explaining why it is important to me in particular to start and write this blog on bdsm issues relating to women who top and dom. (We’ll get to the convoluted terminology posts later on, I suppose.)

I remember what it was like trying to first explore my sexuality and kinks, when I had nothing but pro dommes’ websites and terrible porn aimed at male viewers around to guide me. I remember what it was like to first – finally! – discover that I absolutely could top the way I wanted to. And even now, as an active duty pervert, I still feel marginalized by our culture’s portrayal of toppish women. Frankly, I’m fucking sick of having to struggle against a culture that tells me I must be secretly submissive, or that the only power I have is the power to withhold sex, or that I can’t possibly actually top anyone for reals unless I wear clothing that restricts my movement and sneer properly down at my groveling partner.

This is a social justice movement. I’m not going to go out and organize an unconference. I’m sick of going to local kink events and feeling like no one there is really my sort of geek. But this is important to me, and it’s about damn time for me to start speaking up and fighting back.

I was looking through my email archives earlier, thinking about a short email exchange I had back in undergrad. It turns out that it has been almost ten years to the day since I emailed a random pro domme in a fit of desperation, asking for practical advice on how to handle the fact that my then-boyfriend thought the ball gag we’d bought simply tasted too bad to use. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I actually emailed this complete stranger with what felt like such a ridiculous, stupid question. But back then my school didn’t have anything like CV, and I had nowhere else to turn. I’m sick of pro dommes defining the common perception of dominant women, but I’m still grateful that once upon a time, Ms. Morgana replied without a trace of snarkiness or condescension and gave me a few practical tips and words of encouragement.

Can you imagine? I felt so alone. I actually met Ivy just a few years after that email exchange, and was a bit blown away to finally meet another woman who actually, y’know, liked being in control and doing delicious and terrible things to other people. Not as a hobby or occasional way to spice things up, but as a sexual orientation. (Well, that’s what being a toppish switch is for me, anyways. I’ll let her speak for herself.) It was wonderful, even though we’ve learned over years of friendship that we have very different tastes and ways of thinking about what we do.

That’s pretty much why we chose to make this a group blog. I could write a personal blog about My Kink And What It Means To Me, and maybe it would help people out there who are into just what I’m into, but that’s not the point. The point is to show the world that female toppishness and dominance can encompass people me and people like Ivy and Delilah. It has room for all of us. And if that’s what you’re into, whatever your details may be, it has room for you, too.

For me, this blog is a thank you to the stranger who answered my first call into the dark ten years ago, and to all the other people who’ve helped me learn how to figure out what I want and how to get it. (That’s the real trick. Not tips on dealing with outdated sex toys. Though really, both are valuable!) That, and it’s a direct response to Maymay’s challenge for better resources, for Finally! Something that speaks to dominant women!

My goal here is to shift the discourse on female dominance. I know there are other women out there writing about this already, but we’re still underrepresented, and I want to do my part. It’s a feminist (yes, you are) issue, and a personal matter of changing the social discourse to better accept and encompass my reality.

I could sit here and quote Foucault at you all day, but it comes down to this: We have to move the Overton window such that concepts like ‘femdom must be entirely focused on the arousal of the male submissive’, ‘real men aren’t submissive’, and ‘women can only maintain control by denying sex’ are no longer within the window of conceivable claims.

The Overton window is a concept in political theory that holds that of the full spectrum of possible ideas on an issue, only a subset are actually acceptable in the discourse. For example, the discourse on abortion could theoretically range from forcing all women of reproductive age to bear children until their bodies give out to granting all women sole and sovereign control over their own bodies, but at this stage, the Overton window actually only encompasses statements in the approximate range from ‘women should only be permitted to to receive abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger’ to ‘women must have the right to choose abortions up until the stage when the fetus becomes viable’.

Anyways, the concept of the Overton window is neatly illustrated here.

According to Overton, the trick is to move the window such that previously acceptable ideas become taboo, and previously fringe ideas become acceptable in mainstream discourse. He believed the best method for shifting the Overton window is to promote extreme viewpoints in order to tug the window towards less extreme fringe viewpoints in the same direction.

Bitchy Jones is still my favorite example of an extreme voice doing brilliant work towards shifting the Overton window in the discourse on dominant woman. But if the rest of us come out of the woodwork to make our voices heard as well, friends, they may think it’s a movement. And that’s what it is. Because I’m sick of feeling battered on all sides by fucked up images and messages about my sexual orientation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I have some windmills at which to tilt.

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9 Responses

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  1. maymay said, on November 7, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    [This blog is] a direct response to May’s challenge for better resources, for Finally! Something that speaks to dominant women!

    Unsurprisingly, considering how cool I think some of the authors here are, I’ll be watching this blog with interest. 🙂

    This is a social justice movement. I’m not going to go out and organize an unconference. I’m sick of going to local kink events and feeling like no one there is really my sort of geek. But this is important to me, and it’s about damn time for me to start speaking up and fighting back.

    I’m curious: is this a reference to KinkForAll unconferences? If so, do you think that a KinkForAll wouldn’t have “your sort of geek” at it? Why?

    • Cal said, on November 7, 2009 at 10:00 pm

      It is. I think they sound awesome, and I’d actually love to make it over to one at some point. It’s just that setting one up isn’t really my chosen for of activism. I am a bit nervous about going, but that’s really just because I can be awfully shy when surrounded by a group of strangers.

      KinkForAll seems pretty consciously set up to be different from other kink events I’ve been to. Usually even when events aren’t just irritatingly skewed to older M/f couples, I’ve tended to feel like I’m surrounded by a crowd of people with whom I have nothing in common other than an interest in playing with power dynamics and/or painful sensations. Most of the awesome kinky folk I know are people I’ve met in other areas of my life who turned out to be kinky, not people I’ve met through scene events. Though there have definitely been some exceptions, to be fair.

      The unconference format seems like it might be more conducive to discussions where it would be easier to get a real sense of people, as opposed to the sort of munches that start with “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a dom!” and go downhill from there. I watched the last two NYC ones go by on weekends when I couldn’t make it, but I hope scheduling will permit next time!

      • maymay said, on November 7, 2009 at 10:16 pm

        KinkForAll seems pretty consciously set up to be different from other kink events I’ve been to.

        KinkForAll is, indeed, pretty deliberately set up to be unlike any other kind of sexuality-related conference ever imagined.

        Usually even when events aren’t just irritatingly skewed to older M/f couples, I’ve tended to feel like I’m surrounded by a crowd of people with whom I have nothing in common other than an interest in playing with power dynamics and/or painful sensations. Most of the awesome kinky folk I know are people I’ve met in other areas of my life who turned out to be kinky, not people I’ve met through scene events.

        This is exactly my experience as well. That’s why I never thought of KinkForAll as being a Scene Event™. Personally, I’m actively hostile to the idea that KinkForAll is such a thing and I fight that at every opportunity I can.

        Thus, an honest question: do you think of KinkForAll as a Scene Event™? If so, what gave you that impression? I’d very much like to know more about how people are perceiving it.

        I watched the last two NYC ones go by on weekends when I couldn’t make it, but I hope scheduling will permit next time!

        The best way to make sure it happens next time when you can participate is to participate yourself. At the very minimum, you can propose a date for the next one on the mailing list that works for you. 🙂

        Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

        • Cal said, on November 7, 2009 at 10:54 pm

          Oh, that’s fascinating. I tend to associate ‘kink’ with bdsm, is the main reason. But when I mentioned this to my boy just now, he pointed out that crossdressing is a pretty common example of something kinky that doesn’t have to involve bdsm. I’m entirely willing to acknowledge that kink != bdsm, even though I tend to associate them in my own mind due to my own experiences. (I keep coming back to edit this comment! Definitely shouldn’t have clicked ‘post’ so fast. It also occurs to me that genderqueer play, which I love, can also constitute kink without involving bdsm. All right, I definitely stand corrected on my knee-jerk association here.)

          That, and I’ve only heard of KinkforAll via bdsm-themed blogs. I haven’t seen any fliers at the LGBT Center or mentions on other NYC-themed blogs, for instance. It wasn’t announced on the nonsensenyc list, far as I noticed, or any of the other places where I’d expect to see non-bdsm-focused sexuality events mentioned.

          • maymay said, on November 7, 2009 at 11:34 pm

            I tend to associate ‘kink’ with bdsm, is the main reason. But when I mentioned this to my boy just now, he pointed out that crossdressing is a pretty common example of something kinky that doesn’t have to involve bdsm. […] It also occurs to me that genderqueer play, which I love, can also constitute kink without involving bdsm. All right, I definitely stand corrected on my knee-jerk association here.

            Indeed, these are good examples. The kink === BDSM argument is one I particularly dislike. It’s amazingly difficult to get people already accustomed to the sexuality spheres and its “discourse” to see the distinction between these terms, as you discovered. Interestingly, however, most people who aren’t involved in sexuality circles don’t make this connection so readily. For instance, on the Urban Dictionary, of the 7 entries for “kink”, only 3 mention BDSM.

            It has been my intent from the very beginning not to cater to the sexuality communities, but to instead create an atmosphere where people who have nothing to do with sexuality communities or who are not necessarily well-versed in sex positive discourse and/or are not part of an “in crowd” are also able to participate. Think of it as guerilla politics.

            I’ve only heard of KinkforAll via bdsm-themed blogs. I haven’t seen any fliers at the LGBT Center or mentions on other NYC-themed blogs, for instance.

            See above comment about “sex people” thinking kink===BDSM. That’s probably why BDSM-aware blogs are more likely to talk about KinkForAll. That being said, both KFANYC1 and 2 were listed in the “Gay” section of Time Out New York, and there have even been political blogs that mentioned the event.

            [KinkForAll] wasn’t announced on the nonsensenyc list, far as I noticed, or any of the other places where I’d expect to see non-bdsm-focused sexuality events mentioned

            I don’t know what the nonsensenyc list is, but I do hear what you’re saying. This is where I come back with, “Well, that’s a perfect reason why someone like you, who knows what that list is, might want to consider cross-posting the KFA announcements there.” 😉

            My point is that we’re not going to change behavior, as you pressure our society to do in your blog post above, unless we are first willing and able to look beyond our own expectations and react sensibly when they are changed. KinkForAll hasn’t been promoted as heavily in non-BDSM spaces because people in non-BDSM spaces haven’t expected to be welcome. Indeed, they’ve expected exactly the kind of BDSM-centric, exclusionary M/f cliques you and I both know and find wanting.

            Yet it’s amazingly difficult for me and other KinkForAll participants to break away from these expectations. So I keep asking, chicken or egg? These expectations are coming in not only from the wider world, but from the sexuality communities themselves. (Sigh.) Even though there’s a dedicated core of people working to make sure KFA unconferences are welcoming to everyone, few people have taken it upon themselves to become ambassadors of this diversity.

  2. Defining my own dominance « Topologies said, on November 19, 2009 at 12:27 am

    […] in origin stories by Delilah Wood on November 19, 2009 Since Cal kicked us off with a post on shifting the discourse on female dominance, I thought I’d introduce myself in this space by talking about what my version looks like […]

  3. […] because that’s what I’m into, though I understand that it really is a much broader term than that. Still, it feels like a distracting name to me. From my impression of KinkForAll, if someone walked […]

  4. Blog said, on October 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

    […] women exist? Why then, it must be so inconvenient when I point you to the work of blatantly dominant women, huh? It's shocking, I know … next I'll be telling you that queer and asexual women exist! (Not […]

  5. […] women exist? Why then, it must be so inconvenient when I point you to the work of blatantly dominant women, huh? It’s shocking, I know … next I’ll be telling you that queer and asexual […]


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