lokifan_import: (Riley: pompous)
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Guess what I am going to do? Make a meta-y post about kink and rape fantasy in popular perception! Guess what I am also going to do? Mention Sarah Monette in a meta-y post!

Torches and pitchforks are by the door, everyone.




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So a little while ago I finished Sarah Monette’s Corambis, the last novel of her Doctrine of Labyrinths quartet. One of the themes in Monette’s work, despite her disdain for slashfic as fetishising gay people, is using slash tropes (whether knowingly or not) in a slightly undeconstructed sort of way. Which is interesting and a bit distressing but not what I want to talk about today.

Perhaps the only scene in the four books that I found properly sexy was the one in which one of our protagonists, depowered gay wizard Felix, takes up his old profession and ends up playing rentboy for a sexy dominant Duke. Very nice! But before we can get down to the blowjob action, we have to have an extremely peculiar moment of epiphany:

I had been trained as a martyr [sub]; my earliest memories of sex were also memories of pain, and that had only been reinforced, first by the clients of the Shining Tiger and then by Malkar. After Malkar, I had tried to renounce the whole game of tarquins [doms] and martyrs; I hadn’t wanted to want it. But I had failed and failed abysmally. There was something there that I needed, somewhere deeper in my heart than could be rooted out. But I hadn’t wanted to be a martyr, hadn’t wanted to be that vulnerable, so I had tried the tarquin’s role, and it had been as addictive as phoenix [fantasy heroin]. But I couldn’t be trusted with it. Whether I wanted to or not, I needed to give that power to someone else.

Say what?

Now, granted, this character has a complicated, abusive sexual history and there are pretty good reasons why he shouldn’t be looking to indulge his dominant side overmuch. (People with a pathological need for control: not the safest doms!) And one of the questions that comes up quite a bit in the Doctrine of Labryinths quartet is the relationship between kink, responsibility and abuse. But the fact that Felix, who seems by general inclination to be a switch, is always dominant in The Mirador when he’s channelling his nasty master, before Growing and Maturing and realising he needs to be a sub after all so that he can stay nice? Seems to me a pretty good example of this weird cultural meme in nominally more sex-positive spaces, a la Anita Blair-sexy fantasy and smutty fanfic: being kinky? We are cool with that! Being submissive and/or masochistic? Totally awesome! Being dominant and/or sadistic? ...Ooh-er. Well, if your partner likes that and initiated it, have fun I guess. But if you brought it up? You are probably a dodgy character. We are suspicious. You are going to turn out to be evil!

There does seem to be this feeling that being sadistic in a kinky sense really is morally inferior, even from people enjoying kinky fiction. There’s a line in a Meredyth Gentry novel (which admittedly I haven’t read, but I trust the review in question and its quotes) about how the sexy fairies, who it JUST EXPLICITLY SAID enjoy the blurring of pleasure and pain, also do not enjoy hurting each other because TORTURE IS WRONG. WTF. I mean I’m all for subs indulging each other but seriously WTF. Obviously Meredyth Gentry novels, not the highest standard for representation of kink, but again that sense of ‘weird cultural meme’, I has it.

It’s even more obvious when you get into non-con. (And I’m using that term specifically, cos this point is about rape fantasy, not rape - or even rape play, really.) It’s become a bit of a truism that rape fantasies are very common amongst women and nothing to be ashamed of. Which is all to the good, because being a submissive girl I have plenty of them :) But I get the distinct impression that having rape fantasies in which you are the rapist? Not really okay.

I’ve heard it said - and I have a lot of empathy for this, actually - that fans don’t feel bad about writing non-con smut because it’s aimed at women (generally implying the readers identify with the victim) but they couldn’t write het non-con aimed at men. Which I get. And the average woman, even one who fantasises about raping people, is statistically a lot less likely to actually rape someone than the average man. But that idea - that it’s okay to write non-con smut for women, implicitly because they identify with the victim - well, what about women who identify with the rapist? Is that okay? Is it okay, but less than it would be if they identified with the victim? Does it change according to what the fic/art features - is it okay to read non-con slash and identify with the rapist, but not so okay to read, say, Bellatrix/Harry or Ginny/Pansy non-con and get off on that?

The thing is, if I was writing, say, het non-con with a male aggressor, aimed at women, and then found out a bunch of dudes were reading it... I would be creeped out. There’s so much gender stuff, though, and it’s often rather contradictory: despite the feminist instinct to say NO GETTING OFF ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE, it’s anything but feminist to tell women their kinks are not okay, especially in this supposedly sex-positive, women-doing-it-for-themselves corner of the net. My instinct is to say Kink /= RL, end of, but I also don’t know that that is a... full enough response to all this. I don’t know how I feel about a lot of this stuff, and I don’t want to come off as doing this post because I Have A Theory. I’m just curious.

And also, you know, a little tired of the villain!dom/mes. It strikes me that this is all part of a perennial kink problem: kink by its nature gets lots of representation in porn, but there’s almost no positive representation outside of it. And porn is a terrible way to do anything but get people off. While the lack of positive representation of kink doesn’t pain me overmuch (partly, I’m sure, because as a submissive woman I’m not that far outside the mainstream), I do think it’s a shame that sexy novels and fanfic especially are prey to so many of the same assumptions. Sadistic = evil and kinkfic = darkfic and rape fantasy = okay if you’re the victim aren’t equations this space, which is supposedly so sex-positive and open and a place for women accepting their sexuality, should accept uncritically.

I mean, it’s hot and all when the villains torture people with BDSM iconography, but I’d really enjoy reading something where nobody ‘descended’ into dominance. Where ‘darkfic’ and ‘kinkfic’ weren’t quite so aligned. I’ve read some, but in almost all of them there’s an experienced sub initiating. Which is fine, but it reminds me of how cross-gen so often starts with the younger partner initiating. That is in large part to defuse the power dynamic potential creepiness, and it would be nice if characters who just like to be in charge in the bedroom didn’t have to be defused in that way.

Possibly I’m oversensitive to this stuff - but then, I’m really not dominant or sadistic at all. My only interest in all this is making sure potential future sexual partners feel no shame :D Which would be my cue, of course, to ask the dom/mes on the flist to weigh in, as well as everyone else. Thoughts?
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