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

17 January, 2007

A Cat May Look: Fealty and Slavery

Three threads to this braid: respect for support roles, individualism vs. collectivism, power and vulnerability. It starts at the beginning of all the threads, but trying to write that will start putting letters on top of each other and be wickedly hard to read. And I'm not gonna try to be clever and format it into columns or shit like that.

First mentioned thread: there's this fascinating thread of contempt for people who willingly take support roles. That nobody would hire on as the night janitor if they didn't have to. That nobody would settle for being the secretary if they could be the power executive. When it goes into caretaking it gets worse -- the idea that a full-time parent is actually working doesn't cross the mind of many, the people who take care of their elderly or ailing relatives are treated as having a time-consuming hobby.

A better person, a more competent, more capable person, that person would be in charge -- would have ambition, drive to succeed, would want to be the name on the letterhead, not the initials in lowercase in the bottom corner. Clearly, the one doing the typing, mopping the floor, changing the diaper, they're not suited to anything better. Anything worthy of respect.

Second thread: there's this creepy hivemind thing that I see a lot in the name of individualism. I mean, one can hearken back to the whole being a special unique snowflake just like everyone else when being flip, but there are Rules out there. Be a strong individual and follow your dream -- so long as your dream isn't to be anything that threatens the Rules. Maybe you get to pick your Rules a little and only take flak from people using different ones, but the Rules are still there. Shouldn't work, shouldn't work in these fields, shouldn't work for less than this amount of money, shouldn't think that way, shouldn't dress that way, why? Because we're more mature than that now. We know better. This is the right way. We don't want to be mistaken for Them.

Being an individual is all well and good, so long as one knows which ideology one's an individual in. Then there are the neat boxes that can be dragged out, some of them marked 'good' and some of them marked 'evil', and everything is neatly filed away, and nobody has to think about who anyone is.

Third thread: In the presence of a power differential, the people on the low end of things are living exposed and somewhat vulnerable. The power exists to affect them, and they have less to retaliate with. Holding that power is a drug, and like any drug, there is responsible use and irresponsible use. The position of power is a position to compel intimacy, to know and control more about someone else's life; even if one is not using that power, the possibility does exist for it to be used. And if the power does not exist in a framework of agreement and sufficient support for intimacy, people are gonna get hurt. And do get hurt, all the time.

Let's knot those three together with: I am kinked submissive.

And starting to braid:

Take the tension between personal loyalties and corporate ones at the middle-class level. I'm half-watching a discussion of women with professional jobs elsewhere (in this case, pharmacists), where people are complaining that women leave the field to have children. The argument was raised that these women should be more grateful for their education, and if they're not, well, maybe we shouldn't let 'em learn to be pharmacists. At the same time, men with families are expected to let their wives do the heavy lifting on childhood; they're supposed to be there for the job, work the overtime, not take off early to make it to the kid's recital or anything like that. The choice to have personal loyalty, to put family over the collective identity of the Worker For The Company, is denigrated, no matter who makes it; because women are presumed to inevitably make that choice, the women are denigrated.

Or consider the thread of the treatment of power in certain schools of feminist thought, the division into "power-over" and other things, as if there is some different taste to good power that distinguishes it from bad power. And the notion of consensus decision-making is something that I find insufferably oppressive, because it feels like a bending of the individual will inexorably into the collective, something that demands surrender, demands exposure to the intimacy of the will of the group. The collective will is coercive in a way that individual authority is not: not merely because of the psychology of mobs but because of the undercurrents of accusations of obstructionism, being difficult, not being a team player, not working with the group. The plays of power are still there, but they are all hidden under the seemingly-innocuous will of the whole.

Claim your own power, some will say, go forth and be strong and capable -- and I want to say look, I was a damn fine secretary. I did my job, I caught up the back paperwork, and for the most part, at five o'clock, I put it all down and went back to the rest of my life. I didn't need the authority, and I didn't want it; I just wanted to do the work and have done with it. But that's a subservient position, a support job -- and I'm supposed to care, supposed to subscribe to an ideology that says that being smart enough to be "more than a secretary" is sufficient reason to invest in things I don't want to do, because I am owned by my obligation to my intelligence, my obligation to my sex, my obligation to J. Random Ranting Lunatic, to be what they want me to be instead of what I want me to be.

And I come around to being submissive again, and considering my relationship with the person who evokes that most strongly in me, and all the ideologies that want to say that this is a wrong relationship for me to have -- for whatever reason, that it is not a monogamous partnership, perhaps, or that it is perpetrating the oppression of women to take a collar, or that this sexuality is improper, or that that form of power is disgusting, and I look at it. I look at where I am exposed, where I am vulnerable, what intimacies I will be bound to.

And I choose to be the vassal of a man who cares when I am in pain over being the slave of an ideology that only sees me as a point scored against the opposition.

(Edited to add: Mistress Matisse: on the subject of writing her own damn narrative. Other side of the power flip. Read it earlier today, and just realised it was apropos.)


Vieva said...

I know I've written about submission and dominance a bit, but you're coming at it from a very different angle.

I see nothing wrong (And find the idea that there IS something wrong weird, though common) with not being *in charge*. I hate the idea that we're supposed to WANT to be managers. (and that management is the uppermost level).

Then again, one of the threads of power you didn't mention? That the people at the top are there to serve those beneath. Power used properly is power in service, not power as control.

I think one of the biggest problems with the entire power relationship concept is that our Rules about power are all messed up. When power is ASSUMED to be used incorrectly in the hands of other people, we must have it ourselves so no one else can use it for us.

A lot of the assumption that we must be IN power is an assumption that no one else can be TRUSTED with power. Which is an odd statement, because it presupposes we can trust ourselves. Or, perhaps, that we can't trust ourselves, but as long as we're in power, who cares about the people who aren't?

Dw3t-Hthr said...

(Fancy me coming at something from a very different angle. ;) )

Yeah, that's the bit I forgot to put in there -- power and responsibility twined together.

One of the reasons that I get touchy around ideology-as-authority is that it's an excellent way of ducking responsibility. No, no, it's not that any person wants someone to be contorted painfully, it's just what the ideology requires -- *poke* *poke* there's a nice underbelly, now ....

At least in the ideal case, feudalism had responsibilities both ways; lord with protection and patronage, vassal typically with military service and agricultural administration.

These days? "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" is the watchword. No other individual should have it, just some faceless mass that makes the power deniable and the corruption invisible ....

Vieva said...

anything which gets rid of the person drives me bugfuck.

communities are groups of people. Countries are groups of people. Families are groups of people.

It is COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE to do something that is good for the group and bad for the individuals within it. Whenever something is bad for the individuals, it's bad for the group. (it's one of the reasons why "I'm doing it for the family" makes me want to froth at the mouth. or "the country" or whatever. be SPECIFIC!)

Refusing to acknowledge the power structure only guarantees that you can't challenge the power structure. (not that I have to tell YOU that).

Dw3t-Hthr said...

My liege points out to me that a lot of this is about people wanting the trappings of power, not the actuality of it. He described it as "whim-power" and "hedonist-power" -- the ability to blow everything off and have it covered by Someone Else -- rather than the ability to effect change.

He went on to point out that ducking behind the ideology or the group feeds into that. Collective responsibility isn't individual responsibility; no consequences. If the system is set up to back ya, everything's free.

Which of course plays back into power and privilege and vulnerability.

belledame222 said...

I'm still reading and processing it, but just to say: this is great stuff.

Anonymous said...

*clapping wildly*

"the division into "power-over" and other things, as if there is some different taste to good power that distinguishes it from bad power."

But there is good and bad power-over! If you have children and are a loving parent, your power over them helps them to grow. If you are a good teacher, you often impose on your students: Homework. Readings. Grades. Exams. Yet it's a system designed to enrich the STUDENT, not you.

This is why as a dominant top (I hate using "dominant" as a noun; make of that what you will) I often get really frustrated by discussions of punishment dynamics. Because if I have preferences as to how I like things to be set up or arranged, great. If part of D/s is about getting more of those things than I otherwise would because someone else enjoys, and quite possibly finds somewhat arousing, even, giving them to me: SUPER AWESOME SPIFF.

But if I set up punishments based on such little things, as if someone in service to me, someone who has sworn fealty to me, is a small child... who does that enrich?

Personally I think nobody really. Thus, I'm not big on that. I don't mind at all "Sir, I disappointed you and I feel bad, can we have some ritual closure?" because to me that is enriching. But "this isn't like I want it! GRRRRR!" isn't the same, to me. So for me... atonement, yes, punishment, no.

Other people may see these things as the same (I've heard other people describe their punishment dynamics that way almost exactly), or find other things work for them, and that's all fine. But I think it's a big deal to use power-over in an enriching way. I find the idea less scary than a lot of people who deem it always corruptive; I think it's used positively ALL THE TIME. But I also think it's a really serious thing, so obedience means much less to me than fealty and than honoring it.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

My husband (also a dominant top, though not my liege) tried to explain the concepts of punishment once in a d/s context, and couldn't get past my really intense gut response that someone handing out punishment was in loco parentis, was acting like a parent, and a) I don't want to be treated like a child and b) someone who wants to be treated like a parent is under no circumstances getting into a sexual relationship with me, ew.

Anonymous said...

"My husband (also a dominant top, though not my liege) tried to explain the concepts of punishment once in a d/s context, and couldn't get past my really intense gut response"

Same. I've been spending a lot of time lately with some local M/s folks and I really like them -- at least from first and second impressions, they seem more normal and less extreme than M/s is often portrayed on the internet. Also they talk a lot about leather, and about spiritual connections and service rather than yak endlessly about rules and how to set them. So I feel I fit well with them, despite the usual idea that M/s is insanely uber-serious and kinda kooky.

But explaining how I can understand 99.9% of what they say and yet cringe at punishment they don't understand. So. Frustrating.

I agree exactly with you. I want to be someone's Master, not someone's parent. I am childfree (though without all the "I hate kids and mommas" baggage, thankyouverymuch) for a reason.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

What weirds me out even more are the sub-types who I see occasionally going, "And I misbehave and master has to punish me tee-hee". Er, okay. I can see the game, I guess, but the vocabulary use just blows my mind.

'Cause I'm sitting here in my fealty mindset going, "Okay, my liege wants me to do something; I can not do it (at least some of the time, so long as I'm not deep in altered-state), but I have to evaluate whether or not that's something that's worth challenging his judgement on", and really, most of the time it's not. There's no tee-hee involved here.

(Last time I ran that evaluation, the directive was, "Put on your clothes so we can leave." :} )

Anonymous said...

"What weirds me out even more are the sub-types who I see occasionally going, "And I misbehave and master has to punish me tee-hee". Er, okay. I can see the game, I guess, but the vocabulary use just blows my mind."

Yep. That's what my first sub wanted. His fantasies were all "domestic discipline" centered. He wanted a strict rule-setter who'd make sure he Got Shit Done (tm), and made sure of it with a crop.

That ain't me. I care about someone's devotion much more than small-time obedience. (And really, he didn't usually even give me that. I think he was just wanting the punishment, but wanting it to "feel" like it wasn't "play." So he'd go out of his way to piss me off. And instead of punishing, I'd tell him I didn't LIKE punishment. He'd counter I wasn't dominant. It was a mess. A MEEEEEESS.)

"'Cause I'm sitting here in my fealty mindset going, "Okay, my liege wants me to do something; I can not do it (at least some of the time, so long as I'm not deep in altered-state), but I have to evaluate whether or not that's something that's worth challenging his judgement on""

Yes. EXACTLY. I don't give many orders that I think a person wouldn't want to obey anyhow, and that's exactly why. I don't WANT to be frivolous.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

So he'd go out of his way to piss me off. And instead of punishing, I'd tell him I didn't LIKE punishment. He'd counter I wasn't dominant. It was a mess. A MEEEEEESS.

I would *so* reply to that guy with, "You're being punished right now. You want a whipping *so badly*, and I'm going to sit here and not give it to you. You can sit there and writhe and try to manipulate me into giving you what you want, but *you're* not the one who gets to apply coercion here, bub."

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, definitely. The thing was I was hugely new to D/s (and several years younger; 24 or so) and very concerned about doing it "wrong" -- he and I met online, part of a small enclave on the Gloria Brame boards.

The people there have what I feel is a rather rigid idea of what dominance should be, and it's one I don't agree with much at all. But at the time I knew GB was famous, and I wanted to "do things right," and my head was full of one-true-wayers who'd constantly say things like "submissive people are very fragile and you have awesome power.

"If you don't give them exactly THIS kind of relationship structure, which necessarily includes punishment dynamics, they will never be healthy and happy. They NEED STRUCTURE, and that's what makes them submissive."

That's why I never really stood up for myself. I didn't know enough people to know that I disagree that submissive people come to D/s because of a need for external structure. It sounded frivolous and overly sex-focused to say, in the face of all that "structure" stuff, that what I really wanted was someone who'd get off on being mine, who'd have fun rather than just "need" authoritarian rule.

That's why for a LONG time both before and after that relationship, I ID'ed as "a top" instead of "a Master" or "dominant." I still had strong sexual fantasies of ownership and possession, and I still thought they were a part of who I am and what I wanted, but I didn't think I could do the "authority" thing, if that's what it meant. So i basically thought "I'm a wannabe Master who could never cut it." and left it at that.

Now I'm much more interested in finding people who feel fulfilled by service rather than who "need rules," and totally over the "this can't be really hot because steamy sex is not SERIOUS" thing. Now I'd have dumped him at the moment he said "I need punishment dynamics."

Back then, I didn't think I could knock it 'till I'd "tried it", and thought "trying it" meant going ahead even when I was really unhappy because of what people were telling me "submissives need" (another reason I like those words better as adjectives than nouns.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I've never gotten into the kinked community much, because I spent a long time doing the "I don't think I belong here because people are talking about this other stuff that makes no sense to me" thing, and once I sort of embraced my subbiness despite not seeing anyone doing the same sort of model, I didn't care anymore. (Back to LL's monstering.) Though I read soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm and a couple of kink communities on LJ, but the LJ ones are only the cranky ones. ;)

A lot of the behaviours that get put forth as Twoo Dominance read to me as insecure, which doesn't incline me towards minioning. ;)

(Y'know, I should maybe fish out my review of Dark Moon Rising and rework it for here. Hmmm.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, that really wasn't the kink community. That was the online enclave of a washed-up but famous "dominant" who hadn't had a slave in five years, and her little cohort of people who felt exactly the same as she did.

There are maybe two of them that I feel were really following their hearts. The rest were chronically not partnered and chronically whiny.

They were all people who wanted to do D/s like a managerial job. I think they would have been better off coupling being supervisors at work with an illicit office romance, honestly.

Anonymous said...

Going back upthread a bit, to this quote from trin's first comment: "But there is good and bad power-over!"

I don't see the examples you give as supporting that claim at all, though. What I see is that there are good and bad ways to use power-over, which is a rather different sort of thing.

For a sort of cliche example -- I own a hammer. This gives me a considerable amount of power over the ordinary domestic nail. Is this power good, or is it bad? I can use it to hang pictures and assemble walls. I can use it to disassemble walls, too, and make the building fall down. Some of those are good, some of them are bad (and all of them depend on context). The power itself is not inherently good or bad; it is merely a tool, and the goodness or badness lies in the application of the tool to the situation.

I think that other forms of power fit that pattern fairly well, too. For example, the power that a parent has is not inherently good; there are certainly uses of it for ill. And most forms of power can be used to enrich people or to damage them; it's not inherent in the power that they're good or bad.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Yeah, that's sort of what I was driving at with that.

Power is power; it's what one uses it for that matters.

And the concept of "power-over" and vilification thereof is sort of ideologically tied, at least in my experience, to the sort of group that does consensus decision-making in a way that I happen to find coercive -- which means that "power-over" is in the eye of the beholder anyway ...

Anonymous said...

"I don't see the examples you give as supporting that claim at all, though. What I see is that there are good and bad ways to use power-over, which is a rather different sort of thing."

Part of me wants to say you're right, and part of me wants to say you're not.

On the one hand, yeah, I agree that any sort of power-over can be misused. Which means that "power-over" as a large category is value-neutral.

On the other, I'm sympathetic to people like Thomas Wartenberg who think that the power that parents or teachers have needs its own name -- he calls it "transformative power" -- because it's used in particular ways and with particular aims that, say, just having influence is not.

And what I was getting at is that transformative power's intended purpose is to somehow enrich other people. Good parents and mentors are trying, for example, to help kids develop in ways that enable them to become autonomous agents. Good teachers are trying to educate kids both because knowledge is a good thing in itself and because having that knowledge and ways to use it opens up options that otherwise don't exist for a person.