So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

21 May, 2007

The Marked Case of Equal

So I've been reading The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality, by Sandra Lipsitz Bem lately. And chasing down links off let them eat pro-sm feminist safe spaces.

This produces interesting intersections.

The chapter I just finished in The Lenses of Gender was about androcentrism: the basic notion that the unmarked case of human being is male. (I will probably have more to say about this later, but for now I'm just giving context.) Which shows up in all kinds of ways; one of the ones that stuck in my head from the book was an insurance company unwilling to cover pregnancy-related disability issues because that was gurl stuff, not human stuff -- while still covering issues like prostate cancer -- and this being upheld as not being sex discrimination because hey, it doesn't affect not-pregnant women or men, so it's not discriminating on the basis of sex! The woman-specific issues were outside of the scope of human care.

This crops up a lot -- this notion of what normal is, what the shape of a default human being might be. Marked and unmarked cases. At one point it was expected to say "woman doctor" -- having a woman with a medical degree was so remarkable that she needed to be distinguished from her colleagues, set apart as something subtly different. These days, a similar language tic can be seen in "gay marriage". There's the normal thing, the thing that just gets the noun, and then there's the special case shit which isn't covered by normal, which probably doesn't get covered at all -- those marked case people, so long as they're doing the marked stuff, they gotta fend for themselves; they're outside of what Normal Humans Do, so Normal Human Coverage doesn't handle it. That's what they get for being weird.

So, with that framing context in mind, I was reading this old post of Trinity's, where concerns were raised about equality in relationships as regards certain BDSM practices. That a practice of egalitarianism -- of treating people equally regardless of various traits -- precludes doing the sort of stuff that kinky people do. At least so long as adequate demonstration of "self-examination" is not presented.

So we have the Normal Human Thing again.

And here's the thing with certain models of egalitarianism: the argument that people should be treated the same regardless of their preferences on the matter mostly looks like the nightmare-bogeyman that was hacked together to explain why we shouldn't be commies to me. The argument that I shouldn't go my kinky-submissive way because it promotes inequality mostly looks like I am held to be unequal: that because my stuff is outside the Normal Human Thing, it doesn't deserve the consideration that other people do.

And I should be pleased with the way the disability insurance will pay out for my prostate problems, too.

This is the thing: equal treatment has to take into account individual differences, individual experience, context, background. No amount of modelling the default human as male will take away my uterus; no amount of modelling the default human as vanilla will take away my kinkiness.

I've had a relationship with someone who was so devoted to egalitarian treatment that he was deeply, painfully uncomfortable with my submissive tendencies and only faced them with such ambivalence that I wound up, more often than not, suppressing the reactions so as not to distress him.* I have a relationship now with my liege, who not only accepts but cherishes my submission even though he doesn't always remember to do anything with it (outside when it becomes quite obvious in the bedroom). And it's in the latter of these I feel far more treated as someone with equal standing in the relationship -- because even though I am explicitly in a support role rather than one of "equals", even though I have to deal with certain constraints and obligations, I am in a position to define what that interaction means and my satisfaction with the dynamic is of equal importance to his.

As soon as one starts to acknowledge the range of humanity, there has to come an acknowledgement that different people want and need different things as part of their support, satisfaction, and even happiness. And, as the old saw goes, if it were otherwise, think of the oatmeal shortage.

I am not a lesser being because of being submissive, nor is it a sign of weakness or ready compliance.

I'm just a marked case.

(Maybe I'll try The Trouble with Normal next.)

* I have run this sentence by my ex both for checking that it has reasonable accuracy and consent for posting it. (And to let him know that I was commenting on this in public, for that matter.) This particular incompatibility is not something I in any way blame him for; it was just one of those factors that didn't work out. C'est la vie, live and learn, and all that good stuff. He wishes to note that he has a better understanding of my kink in retrospect, but not any better idea of how he, specifically, would handle it. Which serves as further illustration of my point, funny enough.


Trinity said...

I always liked that book of Bem's -- save, of course, the transphobia in the middle of it. Why,Dr. Bem, why?

But I think she has a lot of good things to say about androcentrism and gender schematicity.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Her theology is common interpretation rather than orthodox, but I'm not sure this is entirely a problem, given that it's the common interpretation that makes the cultural thread, not the way scholars parse it.

I haven't gotten to the transphobic portion yet. Alas.

Anonymous said...

It is very interesting for me to read this article. Thank author for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.