Kink versus vanilla
The following letter was sent in response to our review of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs:
“I still don’t see what is wrong with ‘raunch,’ so long as it comes from a point of equal footing. In the non-hierarchical world we would like to see, I feel it’s perfectly fine for men and women to seek out whatever forms of sexual fulfillment that are safe, sane and consensual. A typical area for the second wave ‘feminists’ to target is BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadomasochist) culture. This is a culture I, a devout Communist, happen to be a part of. A lot of their criticisms ignore the idea of consent completely, not to mention the fact that just as many men (if not more, in my experience – including me, though I identify more so as ‘genderqueer’) choose to enjoy the ‘submissive’ role. I certainly don’t feel my girlfriend is ‘exploiting’ me. And, outside the bedroom, we are nothing but equals. Instead the second wave feminists focus on women who enjoy taking a submissive role in sex. They claim these women are victimized. They assume a worldview where these women apparently do not have the capability to even decide for themselves what it is that gets them off. Contrary to these critics, our so-called ‘raunch culture’ really does much to support equal rights and consent, I’d say far more than the ‘vanilla’ types do.
Yes, sex with a ‘domme’ and a ‘sub’ is hierarchical. But we Communists are not automatically opposed to EVERY consensual hierarchy. There is some wiggle-room. For instance, a doctor-patient fantasy, etc. is a non-coerced hierarchy (unlike say, wage slavery – which is coerced through economic inequality) that only temporarily exists in the bedroom. And it is one set up simply because it brings each party personal pleasure.
Some argue that once we’re all on equal footing, living without class distinctions, there would be no way anyone could be coerced into doing anything. It will be impossible for consensual sexual activity to be exploitative by nature. Even today, I feel it’s quite possible to avoid true exploitation of any kind simply by following the mantra ‘safe, sane and consensual’ and well, not being an asshole. I really don’t get how sexual freedom and non-hierarchical government is incompatible at all.
What is wrong with the sexual culture of the First World, including raunch, is that is made possible by the exploitation of the Third World. First World people get access to more life options because those same options (and many others) are restricted for Third World people. It takes a lot of value to democratize hedonistic excess for both First World men and women. Think of all the value that goes into, for example, driving the kink movement, the products, the talks, the movies, etc. That value could be going toward ending starvation in the Third World rather than making sure every First World man has his Viagra and every First World woman has 10 vibrators. Despite what people think, the main trend in imperial culture is toward liberalism today. The one-dimensional, salute-the-flag and praise-mom-dad-God, imperial culture is mostly a thing of the past. Imperialism today creates hundreds of niches, lifestyles, personality types, etc. Imperialism generally even tolerates so-called counter-cultures. An American youth today can move in and out of literally dozens of subcultures, taking and leaving identities as she goes about her merry way. Marx wrote that capitalism profaned everything holy, that even religion was no longer religious as it once was. How many religions does your average, hip American go through today before he is 35? There is a proliferation of ways to live in the First World. You can be an anarchist, Taoist, Islamic neo-folk punk, graver, vegan, kinky furry today. Tomorrow, cool James Dean who claims to be a Maoist. It is like fashion. A lot of value is consumed by these largely unproductive subcultures. Propping up this expansion of ways of living for First World peoples is the exploitation of the Third World. First World people may still be cogs in the machine, but it is a machine with a lot of disco lights.
It is not really an issue of vanilla versus kink, traditionalism versus liberalism, rainbow flag versus black flag. Within the First World, such a contradiction is a contradiction among enemies. The culture of the vanillas is also propped up by imperialist exploitation of the Third World. However, there is a lot of misconceptions out there about what is mainstream and what is not. The trend is toward more liberalism, not toward A Handmaid’s Tale. Kink is so common that it has mostly lost its shock value. Kink is becoming more and more passe amongst the urban, hipster set. The exception here may be those smaller, First or “Second” World countries on the imperial periphery, certain Eastern European countries or Greece where traditional fascism has a hold.
What needs to be pointed out is that these supposedly liberating sexual practices that First World peoples engage in to have fun, feel dangerous, feel powerful, etc. do not happen in a vacuum. The whole web of interconnections that allow this kind of culture to emerge is based on imperialist exploitation of the Third World. In addition, there is something very self-serving and First Worldist about those who focus on these kinds of issues, which they usually make very personal. Elevating First World women to be equal partners in kink (or whatever) is not real feminism. The vast majority of the world’s women suffer greatly under ruthless barbaric regimes backed up by imperialism. Kink culture, like all First Worldist culture, is based on exploiting the vast majority of women in the Third World. What kind of “feminism” is it that sells out the majority of women? What kind of “feminism” betrays the majority of women in the Third World to benefit a minority of women and men in the First World? And this is not just true about White so-called “feminism,” but all First Worldist “feminism.”
That said, we accept that we have to start somewhere with people in the First World in order to move them toward Leading Light Communism, the highest stage of revolutionary science to date. Sometimes Leading Lights have to involve themselves in movements whose overall tendency is toward First Worldism, i.e. the Occupy movement. This is just a way for us to gather up anomalies in the First World for real revolutionary organizing. When one does this kind of work, one always has to make sure that Leading Lights are advancing people to better horizons, pulling them forward, not being pulled into meek and cowardly tailism. A communist who does not lead is not a communist. Kink, like other lifestyle politics, is self-centered and narrowly focused. In other words, it is probably one of the last places one will find potential Leading Light cadre recruits, those who will betray their First World interests to join the Third World in a real way.
The Leading Light has never said anything prohibiting others to live their lives as they please in the bedroom so long as they do not hurt others. The Leading Light does not seek to be some pervert sex police. Leading Light has never advocated conservative ideas about sex nor celibacy, as some Marxist-Leninists and Maoists have. Leading Light has always advocated healthy, vigorous ways of life that allow us to realize our best selves.
Another problem with your comment is its emphasis more than anything. The fist 8 words of Mao’s Selected Works are “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?”