In Defence Of… Masochism

Posted: February 15, 2012 in Feminism, Freud, Gender Violence, Mark Simpson, Masculinities, Rihanna, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Full disclosure: I am a full-blown, perverse, emotional and sometimes physical masochist.

To be honest, I – and  Freud – think masochism is actually an aspect of all of our psyches and sexualities. Maybe to a greater or lesser degree depending on the person, but on some level or another we can all relate to the lyric ‘it hurts so good’.

Despite (or because of?) its ubiquity,  ‘masochism’ is often presented in our culture in the negative; it is pathologised. The recent reactions to some tweets from young women Chris Brown fans that had been collected together and circulated round the net are a good example of this pathologisation of masochism.

Responses ranged from the succinct:

to the ideological:

But the one I found the most insulting was from a journalist writing in Slate Magazine . He wrote:

“Dude, Chris Brown can punch me in the face as much as he wants to, just as long as he kisses it. (:”

‘The line above is just one of many similarly disturbing tweets that female fans of Chris Brown posted in response to his controversial inclusion in Sunday night’s Grammy Awards performance lineup. Apparently, the fact that Brown violently attacked his then-girlfriend Rihanna on the eve of the Grammy’s just three years ago does not give these women pause—the singer’s attractiveness overrides all that.

‘… others have alreadyastutely pointed out how it exposes our society’s willingness to downplay domestic violence in favor of our fetish for a good redemption narrative…as we puzzle over the psychological misfiring necessary to produce these statements…consider…this kind of dangerous masochism….’

‘Dangerous masochism’ is a telling phrase. It suggests that masochistic urges and fantasies, as expressed by those young women, is a Bad Thing. The article, along with countless other commentators, not only condemn Chris Brown, but also people who show a desire to be dominated and hurt – masochists.

I do not defend the actions of Mr Brown. I do not think he should be committed to a life of isolation as a result of his crime though. And I have no interest in his ‘redemption’ or otherwise. But I do defend the right of people to express their sexual desires without judgement. And, I thought gay men (the journalist is I think gay and he likens women’s masochism to that of gay men) of all people would too.

A gay man who I have a lot of respect for, who runs a cracking tumblr blog, How Upsetting, had this to say about Chris Brown back in Spring 2011:

‘The willingness of people to ignore Chris Brown’s violence is a sad indictment of our society’s attitude towards domestic violence. I wrote on Twitter previously – society will have reached a good place when domestic violence is viewed in the same light as paedophilia. Completely beyond the pale.’

Whilst I agree that domestic violence should not be hidden and treated as a trivial issue, I do not think it should be viewed in the same light as paedophilia. In fact, I do not even think paedophilia should even be seen in quite such a dim light as it is.

This demonising of people’s sexual urges as well as their acts, and making monsters out of men, is precisely the process whereby homosexuality has been presented as a disease and a ‘sin’. Of course, I differentiate between consensual sexual activity and non-consent, but I do not think turning people who are involved in sexual and domestic ‘abuse’ should be turned into a ‘type’. A type that is worthy of judgement and damnation.

And, again, Freud (and Foucault) agrees with me. His work on infantile sexuality has shown that whilst the power dynamics between adults and children are obvious, children do have their own autonomous sexual urges and desires. And, the fact the age of consent is different in different countries and different time periods shows that the very concept of ‘childhood’ is not fixed but changeable.

http://howupsetting.tumblr.com/post/3781644541/the-redemption-of-chris-brown-that-wasnt

But I am not here to defend paedophiles or people who beat up their partners non-consensually. I am here to defend masochism.

Somebody else who defended masochism was Anita Phillips. In a review of her book, In Defence Of Masochism, Mark Simpson wrote that masochism has been elevated

‘to a kind of super-heroism; how long before we hear lit­tle boys whin­ing: ‘Mum, can I have a leather har­ness and cling-film cape for Xmas, please?’.

Which almost begs the point of a book with the name In Defence of Masochism. How­ever, a recent Euro­pean Court rul­ing asserted that assault can­not be con­sented to (which means, of course, an end to box­ing, surgery and sup­port­ing Arse­nal) sug­gests that there is still an argu­ment to be made. And, even if most peo­ple who don’t wear wigs and sus­penders for a liv­ing are more laid back about the issue, there are still a num­ber of com­mon mis­con­cep­tions and prej­u­dices about masochism — most of which Anita Phillips dis­patches here with aplomb. Most notably, the idea that masochism is always some­one else’s per­ver­sion. Phillips inves­ti­gates, via Freud and Amer­i­can aca­d­e­mic Leo Bersani the uni­ver­sal­ity of masochis­tic impulses, the thin line between plea­sure and pain, and shows how the cur­dling of these impulses into a con­di­tion and a type changed what it means to be human.’

I think those young women saying they wanted to be beaten by Chris Brown were simply being ‘human’ and the reactions to their comments were presenting them as ‘inhuman’. I have had a similar experience of being ‘dehumanised’ as a result of being the ‘victim’ of domestic violence. Once I was stood in the magistrates court, trying to secure an injunction against my ex who had previously stalked me and broken into my house to beat me up, I could not explain that actually, at one point in our relationship, it ‘hurt so good’. That would have lost me my case. So I had to deny an aspect of myself in order to ensure my own safety.

Now I am no longer in the courtroom I still feel judged about my sexuality. When I tried to explain this to people on twitter who were condemning Chris Brown, and the women who tweeted in support of him, I was told my personal experience is ‘irrelevant’. Well, it is relevant to me. And it is relevant in forming my views on those young women, on Rihanna’s relationship with Chris Brown, and on feminism in general.

As Simpson wrote in response to Philips’ book:

‘Masochism’ is one of the inven­tions of late nine­teenth cen­tury sex­ol­ogy in the Gothic shape of Baron Dr Richard Von Kraft-Ebing. It was only ever intended to apply to men; women were ‘nat­u­rally’ masochis­tic, so plea­sure in pain on their part was not ‘per­verse’ and there­fore not a prob­lem to be explained or pathol­o­gised. This was part of a shift in gen­der roles in the West in the Nine­teenth Cen­tury which was con­cerned with, we are told, insti­tu­tion­al­is­ing women’s sub­ju­ga­tion. As Phillips points out, ‘Dante’s ordeal in the Inferno to be reunited with Beat­rice, to John Donne’s love poetry, sac­ri­fi­cial mas­cu­line love has been a cru­cial theme, only in this [20th] cen­tury has what for many cen­turies seemed the nat­ural, desir­able form of male love been rede­fined as effem­i­nate per­ver­sity, masochism.’

Phillips believes that this refor­mu­la­tion of male iden­tity that excluded masochism made mas­culin­ity ‘bla­tantly misog­y­nisitc, emo­tion­ally inept and homo­pho­bic’. She also believes that it was this new mas­culin­ity which led in part to the ‘cor­rec­tive’ of fem­i­nism. Iron­i­cally, the exclu­sion of masochism from the male psy­che has pro­duced a pub­lic sce­nario of their pun­ish­ment and chas­tise­ment by women which con­tin­ues today. The fem­i­nist is Ms Whiplash.’

So I think presenting ‘dangerous masochism’ as a problem confined to ‘oppressed’ women reinforces the gender binary, and the culture in which men are presented as sadists to victimised women.

Whilst I am sure people reading this might say, ‘yes, but this was a crime, not the consensual actions of a couple engaging in S and M’ I don’t remember seeing those people celebrating consensual S and M relationships. The only time this topic gets raised in most circles seems to be when someone gets badly hurt against their will (usually a woman), or when it results in a court case.

The people who have rushed to pass judgement on those young women, I do not think are helping those or other young people be open about their sexual feelings, which, if Freud, Simpson and I are to be believed, inevitably will include masochism.

And in their crusade against Brown, which, incidentally does not seem to take into account the feelings or voice of Rihanna, they are, in my view, on a hiding to nothing.

http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/rude-boyrude-girl-2/

Comments
  1. john smith says:

    I have often wondered that women/feminist’s obsession and paranoia with being the object of physical violence, sexual penetration, aggression, harassment, and victimisation, (only from straight males), was a sign female sadomasochism.

    Women just never seem to get enough of any stories that contain these themes. They just lap it all up.

    • true. It is ‘masochism’ but you could also call it ‘sadism’ as feminists mission is to ‘punish’ men for their perceived crimes against femininity. Hence Simpson’s phrase: ‘the feminist is ms whiplash’

  2. redpesto says:

    @John Smith – it depends. The economic/social justice arguments around equality got replaced by an increasing focus on sexual violence as the key source of women’s oppression. Hence the ‘porn wars’, the focus on rape, as well as a hostility to ‘masochism’ (the default assumption being that if feminism was going to be kink-friendly, it was more compatible with being a ‘top’), Result? Whole swathes of feminists who couldn’t tell the difference between consensual BDSM (including female submission) and abuse (there was a great reading of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in Skin Two that saw Kate’s notorious final speech as the act of a willing sub who’d found her master). So either those Chris Brown fans can’t tell the difference as well, or they can, and a whole bunch of people are going to – ahem – beat them up over it. (See also the latest PETA ad row) Besides, it’s Twitter: the one-stop shop for instant outrage.

    • yes all good points redpesto. It wasnt just twitter though that ran with condemning those young women – the article I quoted was from Slate Magazine and their tweets were spread and commented on all over the blogosphere

  3. john smith says:

    Very true redpesto. The difference between unconscious sadomasochism relationships and that of abuse.

    I keep thinking about some of QRT’s feminist friends(smile), who argue that straight husbands do not have the right to sex(in any shape or form) in their marriages. And they are very adamant about this. What they seem to be arguing for is not for equality but for a FEMDOM relationship for men and women.

    ‘the feminist is ms whiplash’

  4. Clarence says:

    We have a society that is focused, purportedly, on the personal. Personal happiness, individualistic effort, etc. However, ironically, because this has been done without restraint and without any overriding goal (power abhors a vaccum), people who understand the psychology of power have taken control using fear based pyschological techniques among others. So more laws, more social shaming, an ever increasing amount of governmental coercion into the family and sexual spheres (what used to be called the “private” spheres) and, accordingly as you see, LESS sexual freedom, less personal freedom, less ideological freedom.
    It’s true that masochism -esp MALE masochism (as a switch leaning bottom this includes me as much as any “gimp” in any dungeon anywhere) has been pathologized, this has resulted in a constriction of the “masculine” role , with this “hegemonic” masculine trope on one side (how males must express) and feminism pushing in (via the expansion of feminine social and legal spheres) on the other. Men are to be patriarchs -both so they can take the blame that feminism assigns to patriarchs and so they can express the type of masculinity and do the type of things that most females find exciting and attractive about men – except when it comes to feminism where a type of guilt ridden grudging acceptance of Mistress Whiplash’s commands seems to be the preferred male model. This partly explains why male feminists get such crap, though I know its been said here before – because they are submissive males and take some pleasure in the pain (even if its only psychological pleasure in terms of being more moral than other men). Mistresses tend to hate slaves that are “no challenge”, and getting a male Hegemon to be the enforcer /protector against other males whilst obeying her every whim has almost certainly provided Mistress Whiplash, Incarnation of Feminism, with wet panties on many a night.

    • very eloquently put Clarence.

      • Lyall says:

        I just had an idea about how those of us born into feminism (infant baptism) are different from male feminists in a very important way: most male feminists are converts.

    • Lyall says:

      Found my way here via http://www.genderratic.com/p/987/misandry-the-redstockings-manifesto-and-mainstream-feminism-edited/#comment-1517

      You description of the male-female feminist complicated sexual dynamic is excellent Clarence.

      Men are to be patriarchs -both so they can take the blame that feminism assigns to patriarchs and so they can express the type of masculinity and do the type of things that most females find exciting and attractive about men – except when it comes to feminism where a type of guilt ridden grudging acceptance of Mistress Whiplash’s commands seems to be the preferred male model.

      I was well intentioned and naive with feminists sensibilities as opposed to a male feminist (with its almost inevitable masochistic dynamic) however a real life encounter made it abundantly clear my approach wasn’t working (if only you could see the confused expression of a woman encountering a man behaving in a feminist inspired restrained way) so I set out in 2012 to discover why.

      What started with sex ended up ultimately being explained by sex. It was easier to think about once I disregarded feminist induced guilt and took off my genusglasögon (having been born into a feminist milieu I have no recollection of when I put them on nor did I learn the word genusglasögon until after I had deliberately decided to remove them).

    • Lyall says:

      “genusglasögon”/“gender-(eye-)glasses” http://www.aswedeingermany.de/50Humans/50Thinking/50Genusglasogon.html

      Seeing the world through a feminist lens is how I might have described my former feminist sensibility before I discovered this excellent Swedish word genusglasögon.

  5. john smith says:

    I think I follow Clarence.

    The feminist is Ms Whiplash meets “men” with mother complexes.

    Hugo Schwyzer comes to mind.

  6. Gemma says:

    I agree with what you say about masochism and am familiar with Freud’s writing on the subject. However, i’m sure I don’t need to remind you of his writings about ‘resistance’ in therapy. It is often easy, in a post-Freudian world, to discuss the unconscious as if it is conscious, when it clearly is not. This adds an extra layer to the complexity of whether people are prepared to accept a trait within themselves.

    Additionally, Freud marks repression as necessary for civilisation. While I do not myself see accepting one’s own masochism as at some shameful level of personal destruction/failure as some people (and often feminists do), there would probably be an argument to be made against masochism citing this Freudian notion.

    I remember when Florence and the Machine did the ‘a kiss with a fist is better than none’ song and many were offended. I never fully indulged in it, but felt that this song had the potential to play a role in the conversation about masochism.

  7. Lyall says:

    Phillips believes that this refor­mu­la­tion of male iden­tity that excluded masochism made mas­culin­ity ‘bla­tantly misog­y­nisitc, emo­tion­ally inept and homo­pho­bic’. She also believes that it was this new mas­culin­ity which led in part to the ‘cor­rec­tive’ of fem­i­nism. Iron­i­cally, the exclu­sion of masochism from the male psy­che has pro­duced a pub­lic sce­nario of their pun­ish­ment and chas­tise­ment by women which con­tin­ues today. The fem­i­nist is Ms Whiplash.’

    Yes I can see how excising masochism from the male identity would make masculinity emotionally inept and in some cases suckers for punishment like male feminists.

    I get Botox for hyperhidrosis and lots of axilliary (armpit) intradermal injections really sting. Lately my neurologist has prepared the Botox mixed with local anaesthetic lignocaine. Now the numerous injections hurt less and, to my surprise, I find this disappointing.

    It would be a bit weird to ask the local be omitted from the Botox preparation.

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