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Sadomasochism and feminism

Does s/m porn encourage violence against women?

MacKinnon and Dworkin seem to consider that sadomasochistic images concentrate on violence against women. Whilst there are certainly many such materials which do portray violence against women, the majority show men as submissive. 'Dominatrix' magazines show male slaves doing menial tasks around the house, taunted and abused by women. Prostitutes, such as Cynthia Payne and Lindi St Clair, have told us how many men enjoy being beaten, bossed around and dominated by women Other men will spend a weekend dressed in an oversized nappy being bottle fed and rocked to sleep by women 'carers'. I recall hearing a prostitute recounting on television how one of her regular clients always arrived with a box of cream buns he had bought on the way to visit her. He would stand at one end of the room opposite her standing at the other. Stripped to his socks, he would carefully remove the ribbon tying the box of buns, then proceed to take careful aim and throw them at her. He then dressed, paid and left. If there were, say, a video of that scene, would it be 'pornographic'? would it be arousing? To most of us, I guess, it would be perhaps funny, perhaps simply mystifying. --Mick Underwood http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/porno6.html [Feb 2005]

The Power of Eroticism: The Night Porter

by Laura Wilson
Emerson College

In 1952, the Paris journal Les Temps Modernes featured an essay by Simone de Beauvoir that kindled controversy even within the radical community to which she belonged. Interestingly enough, "Must We Burn Sade?" appeared in print just as Beauvoir wrote the final pages of her groundbreaking feminist tract, The Second Sex. The essay in Les Temps Moderns explored the psychological and philosophical dimensions of male sadism, daring to suggest that the Marquis do Sade's literary works were politically worthwhile. How so? Because, de Beauvoir argued, Sade admitted and articulated the troubling but real connections between power and eroticism (1). Although the essay focused on men, the question presented in its title continues to pose a daunting challenge to feminism. Must women burn Sade? What are feminists to make of women - both real and fictional who cooperate and take some pleasure in their own sexual domination? Do films portraying such disturbing female complicity serve only to enforce gender inequality? And, to pose the question more provocatively, is it possible for self-consciously feminist spectators to experience such representations as sexually pleasurable?

These are not popular or appealing ideas for many feminists. Even some of the bolder feminist theorists remain wary of investigating sadomasochism's appeal to women. Yet the juxtaposition of pleasure and danger in female sexuality is an important subject of feminist analysis. To support this statement, I will focus on a single film, Liliana Cavanni's The Night Porter (1973). The Holocaust is probably the quintessential twentieth-century symbol for sadistic power. Since Cavanni's film revolves around a sadomasochistic relationship initiated in a concentration camp, it serves as a fitting means for exploring the relationship between power and eroticism from a women's perspective. For The Night Porter's Lucia - as for all women growing up under a patriarchal system - sexual pleasure and danger are inextricably and tragically connected. Cavanni's film dramatizes the consequences of that connection. In the process, the film exposes the contradictions and weaknesses of male power and portrays a female character who exploits those weaknesses in order to find her own voice. For these reasons, The Night Porter is both compelling and worthwhile for feminist analysis. -- Laura Wilson, http://pages.emerson.edu/organizations/fas/latent_image/issues/1991-09/eroticism.htm [Jun 2004]

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