Review: Unleashing Feminism

I am a member of BookMooch, where I can give away books I no longer want in exchange for books I do want. You never know what books will be available, so sometimes, I like to select random books recommended for me through whatever algorithm the site employs.

Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in Gay 90’s, a collection of radical feminist writings was one such book.

The key words drew me in. Feminism, check. Lesbian, Sadomasochism, check and check.

I tend to mark books when I love them. I underline quotations. I dog-ear the pages containing meaningful passages. While this books is as destroyed as many of my favorites, it is for the exact opposite reason. Few books have made me so angry.

One reviewer on Library Thing wrote, I have read many books in my day, feminist and otherwise. The arguments are poorly contructed at best and downright offensive at worst.” I couldn’t agree more.

The central argument of this book is that lesbian S&M is inseparable from Nazi genocide or American slavery. As a solution, all true lesbian/feminists must separate themselves from the S&M culture of mainstream queers, preferably through lesbian separatism. (Now this book was written in 1993, but I’m pretty sure that most people had realized by then that lesbian separatism was not a feasible solution.)

Though this book contains brief discussion on consent, the radial feminist authors continually question a woman’s ability to give consent and claim her desires. No woman can possibly genuinely want to explore S&M. She’s stuck under Nazi rule. She’s stifled by continued racial inequality. She’s used to police brutality. Rape is part of her daily life. This is what angered me the most.

Mr. Sexsmith explored the idea of consent and agency in the post “Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top”, in which he discusses coming to terms with being masculine, queer, butch, sadistic, a top, and a feminist.

‘I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internal misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true…”

He goes on.

‘This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far…”

This is a fabulously worded example of how feminism, at its best, recognizes the agency inherent in each women. An empowered woman can claim whatever she wants and needs, sexually and otherwise. This is the essential point that the authors of Unleashing Feminism missed.

That doesn’t mean that everyone should explore S&M. You can be 100% vanilla and be entirely happy, and this is entirely fine. However, to me, feminism means acknowledging women’s agency. This is the very core of my feminist beliefs, and the reason the close-minded nature of the book irked me so.

The book did contain some good points. Surely, there is too much violence in our culture. It is a fact, the Nazis employed sexual sadism to dehumanize their victims and establish “power over.” The service sector is disproportionately populated by women, the sex industry included. Women are raped. S&M can be traumatizing for abuse survivors.

However, the Holocaust did not happen because of sexual sadism. Men also participate in the sex industry and boys- like girls- can be victimized. Not all men are evil. Some are genuinely loving, caring, and respecting. Some people have never experienced abuse, rape, or violence (myself included), and may choose to explore S&M with few or no personal hangups.

For a book presenting itself as academic writing, the examples presented throughout the text are poorly sourced and often entirely fabricated.

In short: Don’t read this book. And if you do read it, expect some total crap.

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