Compared to the two posts before and the next and last one, this will be a bit shorter. There is a reason for that, or rather, two.
Radical-leaning feminists tend to argue we should put the analytical focus on why men choose to do sadomasochism. On a purely practical level, I would agree: A woman whose boyfriend or husband gets off from simulating rape with her should by all means think about him, not about her own feelings of pleasure. Focus on him, and then get out.
On an analytical level, dominants are not nearly as interesting to think about as submissives. Wanting to be powerful, strong and in control is nothing that requires immediate explanation in a world where power means freedom. Wanting to be powerless on the other hand is against our basic survival instincts, and for women, wanting to be powerless, even temporarily, is the opposite of what feminism means at its core – or it at least should be.
The second reason lies in male nature. Even perfectly average men are sadistic and only know sadistic power. If they turn to sadism in the bedroom (and the majority of dominants are male), they only act in extension of their personalities and as enforcers of patriarchy. Men rape, and if they don’t get to rape, they at least try to play-act rape, blurring[i] the boundaries if possible.
It is not just that the majority of dominants are male. Sexual dominance is also modelled on sadistic male power, and female dominants are merely derivative of it. They sometimes go so far to reject the female ‘domme’ for the male ‘dom’, which is evidence that in their own eyes the female address alone is enough to signal subservience even in dominance. (Some medieval troubadours did the same in their songs and poetry when they addressed high-born ladies as ‘mylords’ to be extra “respectful”. I also have been told that in the older Star Trek series female officers were called ‘sir’, but I don’t know if that’s true.)
The characters women dominants play in sadomasochistic scenes are often aberrations of male roles of power or mimicking them (e. g. female dominants with a Nazi persona, “queens”, “ladies”). Some make use of an intrafemale hierarchy established by males (e. g. “mommy doms”). Some are the male perversion of specifically female roles (e. g. pornified “goddesses”), and, as far as “Lesbian” relationships are concerned, they act in token torturer roles (e. g. prison guard).
What people do in the privacy of their bedroom is not just what people do in the privacy of their bedroom. It has to be seen in the bigger context of patriarchal society. Kinksters claim their doings in the bedroom can shine from inside out to enlighten patriarchy, but after decades of sadomasochism it is safe to say that this didn’t work. In the contrary, sadomasochism has become one of the most effective blinding tools, maintaining patriarchal power structures even in Lesbian bedrooms.
Sexually dominant women are still members of the oppressed sex class under patriarchy. Sexual dominance for them is an illusion, a literal fantasy, a distraction of real-life oppression; the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Some female collaborators with male supremacy make it into positions of male-defined and male-centered power, but even these women get sexualised and degraded by men. Female cops get dominatrix jokes and harassment regularly, and female politicians are anything but safe from sexualisation (see for example the sexual comments Christopher Hitchens made about Margaret Thatcher whom he offered his buttocks to hit).
On the other hand, men use the seemingly “submissive” role to harass women. Not just feminists, but occasionally also the sadomasochistic women they want to be “dominated” by. Male trannies are not hindered by their demure laydeeselves to lash out viciously at anyone who tells them no. The internet is awash with male fetish bloggers fantasising about being controlled, humiliated and physically harmed by feminists, and they often try to intrude actual feminist discussions.
Ultimately, men are not actually afraid of female dominants. Their thrill is not in any way similar to the terror rapists and male abusers have managed to instill in women as a group.
And why would it, since female dominants by definition cater to male demands and coddle male feelings. Professional dominatrix Margaret Corvid in an article in The New Statesman shows the utmost understanding for today’s male confusion and sexual frustration that leads them directly into the arms of the abuser and rapists’ lobby that is the “men’s rights movement”: “As feminism has rightfully laid bare the systematic subjugation of women in all parts of society, and male privilege has become an international watchword, it has also shown us how patriarchy defines and limits the lives of men. A man is expected to be a breadwinner with a stable job, earning enough to support a family in an ideal of upwards mobility that no longer really exists for most of us. He is expected to present as masculine in appearance, taste, and habits. He is expected to be confident, outgoing and sociable, and to know how to fight. A man is socialised to desire a specific type of woman, to marry, to father children, and to provide them with a better life and prospects than he himself has enjoyed. He is expected to be entirely heterosexual, and entirely monogamous. And, although society grants him far more leeway in regards to sexuality than it does a woman, a man is expected to be virile, sexually active, and uncomplicated in his tastes. He is allowed to penetrate, but not to be penetrated; to control, but not to surrender; to enjoy the grace, sensuality, and sex appeal of a woman, but never to wish to express these traits himself. In some ways, today’s society demands from its men the same standards as it expected in the 1950s, but today’s men are vastly less likely to achieve the stability and security of that era. Globalisation has taken away most of the well-paid work that does not require advanced education, and the decimation of union power, permanent austerity, and women’s advances in the workplace have made the old-fashioned nuclear family model unsustainable for men and women alike. And men are, of course, raised with a tremendous, and all-encompassing, sense of male superiority, which is constantly reinforced; but this is challenged more and more as women gain rights and social advancement. In this situation, many men have begun to feel a profound sense of confusion and anxiety. And for some of these men, that anxiety has turned to anger.”
Of course it is “moralist feminists” and radical feminism who are ultimately to blame, and if women just willingly provided sex to the poor dears, patriarchy would end immediately: “As feminists, we rightfully put the interests of women first, and we are sceptical of ostensibly feminist arguments that appeal to men’s interests. Solidarity should motivate the privileged in their struggle for change, not self interest; to make an analogy, it would be offensive and misguided to ask the black leaders of the Ferguson movement against police violence to tout the benefits of anti-racism to white people. Likewise, feminists should not be obliged to sell feminism to angry men. But I would offer another analogy: when we combat fascism, it behooves us to offer an alternative to those that fascists would recruit. We may not be able to reach the most hateful misogynists, but feminists must directly attack the false ideology of men’s rights. We must offer a real answer for men consumed by anxiety, and especially those who feel a sense of sexual frustration. Today, feminism is engulfed in a fiery debate about gender and sexuality. Intersectional feminists have embraced the trans, sex worker, and sexual liberation movements, opposed by supporters of an older radical feminist tradition, who would exclude them. I am firmly in the intersectional camp. When I took up sex work, I was filled with a moralist shame, but intersectional feminists taught me to have pride in my work, and in my identity. Whether we are baristas, escorts, or lawyers, women find that we are required to provide intimate labour of the body and mind. Where radical feminism would call me a traitor to my gender for serving men’s needs, intersectional feminism would emphasise what sex workers have in common with all the workers of the world; a complex structure of interwoven consents and coercions. Learning about intersectional feminism changed my life, and brought me back into politics. It has done the same for thousands of other gender and sexual outlaws who felt excluded by the feminist identity, and we should support it for its own sake. But we must also end the debate between moralists and libertines in our ranks for an essential strategic reason. If feminists do not abandon their moralism, men’s rights activists and their growing penumbra of supporters will continue to paint us all with the same brush. They will continue to distort our views, telling their audience that we are all moralists, and channeling the frustration of men towards their hateful ends. And, for millions of boys growing up, misogyny will continue to make more sense than feminism. (…) It is feminism that offers men the chance at a sexually fulfilling life. When rape culture is extinguished, when patriarchy subsides, all genders can realise their full sexual expression in safety. Even now, what feminism asks of men – that they be conscious of their privilege and respect the agency of women – can lead them to truly satisfying intimate relationships. One of the greatest tragedies of the men’s rights movement is that, in the end, its lessons serve only to drive men further away from what they yearn for. Pick up artist techniques and aggrieved entitlement are unlikely to help men achieve the goal of intimacy, but feminist values can teach them the skills to communicate with respect. And on a deeper level, a broader understanding of the real causes for male anxiety can offer hope to men who feel dispossessed, and the solace of knowing that it is not their fault. But we cannot make this argument clear to men until we dispense with the archaic remnants of moralism in our feminism. Our feminism must wholly embrace the cause of sexual freedom for all genders, and make it widely known. It must have room for trans people, for sexual libertines, for kinksters, for sex workers, and for those men who, like my clients, want to redefine what it means to be a man. For men, a true feminism offers liberation and sexual fulfillment, through the very process of coming to a fuller understanding of their privileges, and burdens, under patriarchy. And feminists must make this known, because the liberation of male sexuality will undermine one of patriarchy’s principal foundations. Only then can feminism harness male anxiety; and instead of turning it to anger, we can turn it to solidarity and hope.”
To sum this all up: Us pesky radical feminists and “moralists” should just shut the fuck up so she can serve men in peace. I don’t quite know what is “dominant” about Margaret Corvid. I have seldom seen such a degree of collaboration and submission before. And the sad truth is, nothing of that will help her. Men will still hate her just because she is female, no matter how deeply she bows to them.
Males also feel entitled to female dominants’ services, and exactly to their own terms. A few years ago a female dominant in Austria got into legal hot water after one of her submissives had gone to the police: Rather than catering to his fetish, she had used him and others like him as free farm labourers and had made them pay for building work at her house. These men felt by all means comfortable enough to run to the state authorities in the very moment this “dominant female” didn’t act to their satisfaction and took the power thing too seriously in real life. A German dominatrix recently wrote a book complaining about the bad manners of johns these days. It strikes me as naive to believe that the rhetoric of “power” around prostitution and in particular around the role of a “dominant female” should have an outcome on the mentality of johns. They feel so entitled to women’s bodies, they dehumanise us to such a degree, why would they be respectful? Because they like to play-act respect for an hour to get off?
Female dominants sometimes claim that fetishes without much or any sexual contact at all are the ultimate proof for their real-life power: “I don’t have to do anything and they still give me money!”
There are fetishes like female dominants taking money from their submissives’ bank accounts, or men coming to dungeons just to clean there, so-called ‘houseboys’[ii]. This latter example illustrates well why all this sexual make-believe is nothing but a distraction from the reality of oppression.
Cleaning is still very much “women’s work”, which is the reason why it is fetishised and coded as submissive in the first place. Statistically, it is likely the female dominants working in that dungeon go home and have to do the majority of housework and childcare. They couldn’t very well ask a ‘houseboy’ to come to her own home to do her actual work, because this would be massively dangerous and interfere with their husbands’ sexual dominion.
A female dominant’s power is not real. The praise, fear and sexualised respect she receives during a scene is not actually for her, but the domme persona in the male’s head. She is just the stand-in, no matter how much she gaslights herself into the belief that the measly financial and social privileges she gains are actually her liberation. She is not more liberated than any other woman serving a man.
Sadomasochism like religion preserves the material culture and the ideologies of the past, filling largely the same role and with the same effects. On the first glance, sadomasochism just seems to lack a god.
I have mentioned before that sadomasochism is male-dominated and white-dominated. Honest kinksters admit as much: ““One reason I enjoy being a domme,” said Ms. Evie, “is because it feels more feminist, but really it can turn sexist very quickly. I know it’s not really feminist.” Most men, she said, have very sexualized fantasies of what a female domme should be: “Men want to be pegged,” she told me. “Tons of them are dying for it. They will pretend they like you just to get pegged and then treat you like a sex robot with no feelings.” And domination in the service of a submissive man, however appealingly misandrist, isn’t really feminism. (…) As well as patriarchal structures that both problematize and characterize BDSM, its overwhelming whiteness is an unspoken element of the kink community—and that’s not even including topics like race play, which can be incredibly divisive. “Despite being a woman of color and how many of my friends who are active kinksters are racialized folks, kink is still really white, especially in bigger scenes,” Sofia told me. This means kinksters of color have to navigate the same biases they do in vanilla life, compounded by the complication that the BDSM community considers itself progressive because it exists outside “normative” communities. “The guise of being alternative is supposed to simply be enough,” said Sofia. But it’s not, and BDSM can actually be incredibly regressive. “Most organized kink communities are inaccessible for a lot of people based on economics alone,” added Xan West. The cost of parties and gear (like bondage equipment, rigs, restraints, and various impact-play toys, for example) make BDSM a typically middle-class hobby with financial demands. “And when you also include access around disability and trans exclusion, not to mention folks that simply don’t feel welcome or are constantly targeted by harassment and exoticization, there are even more folks who cannot access kink communities.” The BDSM community isn’t always equipped to deal with conversations surrounding race, ability, or access, but some of its members are working to change that.”
It also is hetero-dominated: By statistics alone the majority of sadomasochists is hetero. Gay and Lesbian kinksters also do their darndest to mimick them and distort their relationships accordingly.
Sadomasochism is the execution of power the way white males have always done. Where is the difference between a marriage only decades ago and a 24/7 sadomasochistic relationship? Where is the difference between a “dom” and a husband who held absolute economical (control over her property and income), sexual (lack of marital rape laws, ‘one flesh’ theology) and physical control (right to chastise, right to deny her medical treatment, default right over the children, last say over the family’s residence) over a wife? The very word ‘husband’ means ‘master of the house’, and other languages are not better. Where is the difference between the right to chastise wife, servants and children and sadomasochistic “impact play”?
The white, het, male sadist is the archetype of the dominant, because white het male sadists for millennia were the ones in power. God himself was imagined as white, Jewish tradition be damned, as far as Christians were concerned.
God for sure was het and male, and so were his priests. The gay men who sought cover in seminaries and monasteries over the centuries used the fact that celibacy was always assumed to be hetero celibacy. (The same is of course true for Lesbian nuns.)
The dominant of sadomasochism is a modern priest and often a stand-in for god. That a heterosexual relationship can be paralleled to the relationship between a believer and god is nothing new. The Song of Songs gets interpreted this way in Judaism and Christianity, the ‘beloved’ being either the people of Israel or the Christian church. Jesus as the ‘bridegroom’ is a central motif of early Christian literature, and it got developped into intricate detail in the centuries to come. From medieval nuns imagining Jesus’ foreskin as their wedding ring and religious experiences described and pictured as orgasmic to Sister Act swapping “my guy” for “my god” without any hiccup, the quasi-heterosexuality of the Christian faith is really obvious. Traditionalist Christians also enforce this in real families: The husband is not just the master of the house, but God’s direct representative (see Sacred Kink II).
In a sadomasochistic relationship, the male or quasi-male dominant’s god-like status is even more nuanced.
Sadomasochism is physically dangerous to potentially lethal. People do die in scenes if the dominant is either homicidal or neglectful. A big part of the actual thrill for submissives is the very fact that they could die. The dominant is literally given power over life and death, and rewarded with submission and adoration.
For a submissive to cast away her survival instinct and fear requires the assumption of perfection about the dominant: In a sadomasochistic scene the sadist male is idealised. Human weakness and frailty, personal flaws and incompetence disturb the image of dominance and have no place in a scene. The actual human male is granted god-like trust by the submissive who allows bondage, “breath play” and other physically dangerous things to be done to her.
Sadomasochism also requires the assumption of moral perfection. The dominant is given (temporarily absolute) power, and beyond that the benefit of doubt that he is not going to misuse it. This assumption of moral perfection is so strong that the doings of a dominant who does misuse it, is defined away as “not real BDSM”. The ideal trumps reality inside the quasi-religious thinking of sadomasochism.
This is mirrored in the language kinksters describe their relationships with:
I have seen the same phrases to describe the relationship of a true believer with their god more than once.
The problem with all this is that it doesn’t matter whether or not dominants are “perfect” within the sadomasochistic paradigm. No matter what, they are the enforcers of an oppressive system. Their choice for dominance is by its very nature unethical. The reenactment of sexual violence trivialises real violence, and covers up oppression with orgasms.
A female “dominant” making this choice makes a deal with the devil, i. e. the oppressors, hoping for relief and personal privilege. A male making this choice is fundamentally lacking: Lacking basic empathy, political awareness for his own role of privilege and oppression in patriarchy and an instinctual aversion against violence.
Why do liberal feminists put their trust in such people? Why the naive trust in the ethics of someone who likes to inflict pain? They don’t just limit this kind of trust on sexual dominants; many of them even extend it on paedophiles whom they trust to be celibate despite the example of “celibate” clergy unable to abstain even under the threat of hellfire and damnation?
A kinkster is not necessarily a paedophile (although plenty of them are), but the underlying question is the same: Why do liberals believe so firmly in the goodness of heart in the oppressors?
And why do they trust themselves to the oppressors’ care? What do the oppressors offer except orgasms, which could be had by other means as well?
It isn’t just an etymological accident that ‘Dom’ is a title for Catholic monks, mostly used in England, Portugal and France and best known by the name of a champagne, Dom Pérignon.
Priests – protestant pastors maybe even more so, since they can’t fall back on a church hierarchy and better put on a good show – just like sexual dominants perform rituals. They are active agents in ceremonies and scenes, and the parallels between priestly and sexually dominant actions sometimes even become clear in language: Kinksters just don’t ‘do’ sadomasochism, they often say they ‘partake’ of it. In older literature, but also the occasional tumblr blog I’ve seen, people use ‘to administer’ a spanking/beating/punishment/whatever rather than ‘give’ or ‘carry out’.
The active and leading role of dominants is sometimes pointed out towards feminist critics of sadomasochism, spinning sexual sadism into a service towards the submissive. The Wikipedia article on Sheila Jeffreys includes a critique of her stance on sadomasochism by the author Atara Stein: “One author involved in sadomasochism cites Jeffreys’ views in this book as an example of the “simplistic and dualistic thinking” among anti-sadomasochism campaigners, when she describes sadomasochism as “male supremacist”, a re-enactment of heterosexual male dominance and women’s oppression, which glorifies violence and uses women’s bodies as a sex aid, and as anti-lesbian and fascistic. The author points out that Jeffreys ignores that some heterosexual women may enjoy sex, and that ‘tops‘ may be women who work hard to give their ‘bottoms‘ pleasure, rather than the passive recipients of sex in the way she describes.″
This begs the question what kind of ‘work’ is being carried out by dominants, Lesbian or not?
On the first glance of course the “production” of orgasms, but reading Atara Stein’s anthology chapter[iii] this criticism is taken from and which is available through Google books, it becomes clear she too uses religious language:
The “work” goes beyond just the sexual.
Rather like in religion where a priest’s words (at least in Catholic doctrine) turn a cracker into Jesus’ actual flesh or command god’s support onto people he blesses, in sadomasochism language is considered to be magic. A few words “I consent to that/she consented to that” completely erase all moral responsibility and ethical problems – it is not a particular act that is ethically wrong in and by itself, but not to ask beforehand if someone is maybe not okay with it.
Sexual dominants are the ones who dole out “punishment” for transgressions, thus being given the power to define “sin” and absolution. They offer relief, cleansing and purification, and in ‘aftercare’ enact a “state of grace” that by its nature has to be only temporary, or the role of the sexual dominant would disappear: If confession or public testimony cleansed of all past and future sins wholesale, Christian clergy would put themselves out of work. If the orgasms, subspace and all mental and physical relief experienced by sadomasochists were permanent, dominants would be out of business, too.
Sadomasochists attempt to hollow out reality: They rename a physical and physiological act to obscure it, and then have it sanctified by the dominant and lifted into the abstract: Beating is called ‘impact play’ or ‘spanking’, and when the dominant ad-ministers it, the act of bruising flesh, damaging nerves, ripping blood vessels and traumatising the brain turns into a ‘narrative’, a ‘discourse’.
Logically, the solutions for oppression and violence sadomasochism offers are also in the abstract sphere. The promise of liberation in sadomasochism is utterly abstract itself. There are no tangible plans and explanations on how the mechanism of liberation is going to work, just a lot of idealistic hopes and wishes for a future where the oppressors, mellowed out by orgasms, suddenly start to be nice. They might as well hope for the better afterlife.
Submission to the priestly rite of sadomasochism will not make liberation come any faster than heaven on earth is furthered by a cloistered nun who fasts and prays.
I already showed that the supposed “feminist liberation” of a female sexual dominant isn’t real. Neither is a sexual dominant of colour doing anything to end racism. A black, male dominant doesn’t do anything to help black women, men and children. He mimicks the oppressor class, probably to share in their privileges, but that doesn’t give him liberation – or any other black person facing homicidal cops, systemic racism, deliberately installed poverty and so on.
A female dominant of colour staging a sadomasochistic photoshoot at the place where she was raped by a fratboy is not ending sexism. The rapist was expelled (at least something), but obviously not punished harshly. He probably wasn’t even disowned by his own people, if we look at cases like this. Her posing in fishnets for the internet makes her wanking material, and having her male friends pose with her does nothing to keep other women safe or end sexism and racism against women of colour.
She is also not the first female “dominant” of colour. In fact, the protagonist of Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs gets handed over by his “mistress” to three African women. Their race and sex, i. e. the factors that mark black women as oppressed in real-life, are meant to heighten the self-chosen “humiliation” of the master who “submits” to them. The less status and privilege the “sexual dominant” has, the deeper the “debasement” of the submissive – and the greater the real-life power of the submissive over the “dominant”. It does not get any more racist and sexist than this.
If “sexual domination” comes from a place of societal oppression, it may sell a quasi-religious promise of relief (although it more often is just a consumerist pay-off in orgasms). Ultimately, it will blow out meaninglessly.
On the other hand, if the sexual dominant is a member of the oppressor class himself, his priestly doings are not meaningless. What such a male does he does with all the cultural force of oppression behind him. It is the real-life power that turns sadomasochism’s religious make-believe into a tangible reality.
This shows up in sharp detail in this story here, which I will quote almost in full, because brings up all the worst aspects of sadomasochism: “The OkCupid message Mollena Williams received in December 2013 was, in some ways, standard. It was complimentary: “Wow — your profile is great.” It was confident: “I am an artist, very successful (probably member of the top 10 or 20 in my genre in the world).” It was polite, signing off with “warm wishes.” But something was a bit out of the ordinary, speaking to its author’s interest in domination and submission. The central desire? “I would like to tame you.” The writer was Georg Friedrich Haas, whose powerfully emotional, politically charged music and explorations of microtonality make him one of the world’s leading composers. His work had brought widespread acclaim, but his personal life was troubled, with three failed marriages in his wake, when he met Ms. Williams, a writer and sex educator who specializes in alternative lifestyles. Shortly after he messaged her, the two began a relationship and were married last fall. […] The Austrian-born Mr. Haas, 62, a music professor at Columbia University since 2013, has recently been increasingly open about the unusual nature of his marriage, which he says has dramatically improved his productivity and reshaped his artistic outlook. He will be the subject of a two-concert American Immersion series on Wednesday and Friday presented by the Austrian Cultural Forum, which includes the American premiere of his “I can’t breathe,” a dirgelike solo trumpet memorial to Eric Garner. In a joint appearance with his wife, who now goes by Mollena Williams-Haas, late last year at the Playground sexuality conference in Toronto, then in an interview this month in the online music magazine VAN, he has “come out,” as he put it, as the dominant figure in a dominant-submissive power dynamic. Mr. Haas has chosen to speak up, both because Ms. Williams-Haas’s sexual interests are widely known (her blog, The Perverted Negress, is not shy about kink and bondage) and because he hopes to embolden younger people, particularly composers, not to smother untraditional urges, as he did. The fundamental feature of their relationship is not obviously sexual, Mr. Haas and Ms. Williams-Haas, 46, said in an interview at their airy apartment near Columbia, with expansive views of the Hudson River. “It’s not caning,” he said. “It’s the fact that I need someone who is with me when I work.” Their marriage can seem, in this regard, distinctly old-fashioned, and not in a Marquis de Sade way. While the terms they negotiated at the start of their relationship do not prevent her from pursuing her own professional and personal life, Ms. Williams-Haas devotes much of her time to supporting the work of a man — “Herr Meister,” she has nicknamed him — for whom a “good day” is one in which he composes for 14 or 15 hours. “She makes my life as comfortable as possible,” Mr. Haas said. Ms. Williams-Haas, who described the situation as feminist because it is her choice, said, “I find intense fulfillment in being able to serve in this way.” She conceded the discomfort many may feel with a black woman willingly submitting to a white man. “It’s a struggle to say, ‘This is genuinely who I am,’” she said. But she added, “To say I can’t play my personal psychodrama out just because I’m black, that’s racist.” Mr. Haas said that he felt liberated after what he described as a lifetime’s and three divorces’ worth of suppressing what he once considered “devilish” desires. The change has altered his music in ways both quantifiable and more ineffable. He said that his productivity had roughly doubled since meeting Ms. Williams-Haas, which will delight his fans. […] Mr. Haas contrasted the effect on his style to the struggles of Schubert and Tchaikovsky with homosexuality. “What you perceive is not the fact that they desired men,” he said, “but the sadness about the impossibility to make love a reality. And I think that has been part of my music. The fundamental pessimism. You never will get what you want because it’s not possible to get it. That is how my life has changed so intensely.” His move to New York several years ago to take the position at Columbia seemed to open up new personal possibilities. “The most important step,” he said, “was to accept, yes, I want to be dominant. Yes, I love to play with pain.” These are matters he had long considered, even if unconsciously, in his music, he said. His exacting, virtuosic style gives a whiff of the dominant-submissive to the composer-performer relationship. The same can hold true for the composer-audience relationship, particularly in works like Mr. Haas’s third string quartet, “In iij. Noct,” 50 minutes performed entirely in the dark. The JACK Quartet will play it on Wednesday at the Austrian Cultural Forum. “The submissive person who is willingly giving over his or her agency can be getting precisely what he or she wants,” Kevin McFarland, the JACK’s cellist, said in a telephone interview. “In the darkness there’s a sub space that the audience can enter.” Esteemed not just as a composer but also as a teacher, Mr. Haas worried, partly joking, that his disclosures might give some pause to potential students. “I’m teaching privately; that means my students are alone with a pervert and three microtonally tuned pianos,” he said with a laugh. “But I never had the sense that this was a problem, and my sexuality is not a part of my teaching.” […] His wife compared him to the great blues singers, whose pain gained meaning in the act of expressing it. “Now,” she said, “he’s sharing the pain.””
I wonder what the family of Eric Garner has to say about this type of “support” by a white man who gets off on being “Herr Meister”[iv] to a black woman. I don’t understand, how is this not racist? I also don’t understand Mollena Williams-Haas who removes herself from any political analysis, calls her “fulfillment” through “serving” her “personal psychodrama” and falls back on the old choosy choice paradigm of pseudo-feminism.
But it is not my place to tell her what to do, so I’ll focus[v] on one line that may not even stand out so much at first glance: “The Austrian-born Mr. Haas, 62, a music professor at Columbia University since 2013, has recently been increasingly open about the unusual nature of his marriage, which he says has dramatically improved his productivity and reshaped his artistic outlook.”
This marriage is anything, but not unusual. It is utterly common that men in academia have wives who devote their whole lives to support their husbands’careers. Sometimes these wives pop up in the acknowledgments of a book (“… and, finally, to my dear wife without whom I wouldn’t have been able to focus on topic X, Y or Z, who graciously proof-read the first drafts and has given me valuable input…”), but for the most part, their service is just taken for granted. A wife to fulfil any emotional, sexual and professional need, to keep the household going and the “great man” unbothered by the trivial questions of day-to-day living so he can focus on being a genius, that’s the most norm-adhering thing imaginable. That “great men” often are sexually violent and exploitative to women of colour goes without saying.
Their marriage doesn’t “seem” old-fashioned. It completely is. Mr Haas’ urges are not “non-traditional”, they are completely traditional in any sense of the word. He found a woman to reenact with him the oppressive structures of Western patriarchy to an absurd degree: His marriage is patriarchy incarnated, and just because they try to pass it off as modern, individualistic, choice-based and sexy doesn’t negotiate this at all.
For someone like him, who is an oppressor in virtually all regards – white, male, hetero, old, sexually dominant, educated, upper-class – the sexual make-believe of sadomasochism is an extension of the political power he possesses in real-life. That he gets a benevolent New York Times article and away with mistreating a black woman (with her consent) while co-opting oppressed people’s suffering rather than being driven off campus by enraged students and faculty is a direct outcome of his political power.
His power is real. All the fantastic feminist benefits Ms Williams-Haas should receive are not.
By this, maybe sadomasochists are half-right. A sexual dominant with real-life power has the ability to purify. He cleanses women with a longing for liberation by parasitising feminism. He brings them back into submission to patriarchy, forgiving them the sin of feminism, for as long as they sexually serve him, and sells this to them with the promise of heaven on earth.
[i] While the article is insightful that it is completely impossible to fix men who rape, the re-classifying of sexual violence against women and children as a ‘paraphilia’ akin to a shoe fetish rather than the logical expression of patriarchy makes light of the everyday terrorism men commit against women. This casual medicalisation enforces the wrong binary of “good men” versus “sick rapist monsters” feminist activists have fought so hard to get rid of. Rapists are not monsters, they are normal men. All older psychological research agreed on this, because that’s what any and all testing proved: Take any convicted rapist (not to mention those who never have been convicted but admit they had/would rape if the circumstances were right or rapists of prostitutes), run any psychological test, and you will find a normal, average man. To declare rape a ‘paraphilia’ resolves this unwanted situation. It is an invented disease where there is none beyond patriarchy.
[ii] Melissa Gira Grant, Playing the Whore, The Work of Sex Work, London 2014, p. 85. So to read this book was good for something after all.
[iv] While “Meister” (master) is a common address for male dominants in the German-speaking countries, I find it particularly disgusting that an Austrian would let anyone call himself that, let alone a woman of colour. Probably because he is a composer, I find it impossible to shake the association with Paul Celan’s Todesfuge, a poem about the nazi extermination camps. Its most quoted line is “Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland”: Death is a master from Germany.
[v] I could also write about the invalid comparison of sadomasochism and homosexuality or point out that once more, sadomasochists have zero sense of boundaries, forcing musicians, audience and piano students into a submissive position (plus a dig at the possible prudishness of anyone not comfortable with being taught by a “pervert” – fucking smug piece of shit.) But this is not the main line of argument, so I just leave it at this endnote. Any comments on it are of course welcome!