This study examines how abuse is viewed and talked about in the BDSM community. Particular attention is paid to gender actions and how a gendered framework of masculinities and femininities can further the understanding of how abuse is discussed within the community. The study aims to explore how sexual abuse of submissive men is viewed and discussed within the BDSM community, as compared to that of women. The study furthermore focuses on heterosexual contexts, with submissive men as victims of female perpetrators as its primary focus.
To my knowledge, victimological research dealing with the BDSM community and its own views and definitions of abuse has not been conducted prior to the present study. Thus, the study is based on previous research into consent within BDSM, as this research provides a framework for non-consent as well.
To conduct this study I have interviewed six BDSM practitioners. Their transcribed stories were then subjected to narrative analysis. The analysis of the material shows that victim blaming tendencies exist in the community, and that these vary depending on the victim’s gender.
The findings indicate that the community is prone to victim blaming, and that this manifests itself differently for men and women. Furthermore, my results show that male rape myths can be used to understand cool victim-type explanations given by male victims of abuse perpetrated by women. After discussing my results, I suggest possible directions for further research.
Results and Analysis
The most commonly overlapping themes during my interviews were the concepts of shame, blame and responsibility in relation to gender roles and victimization. These themes were often intertwined, and as such it would be difficult to completely isolate them from each other in the analysis. Shame was found in connection with models of explanation that emphasized masculinity in contrast to victimization, but also in connection to female victims of abuse. However, the concept of shame seems to have different implications for men and women. Similarly, responsibility appears to be gendered. This concept was mainly found in stories regarding victimization and what led up to it. Lastly, blame was found in narratives concerning victimhood, often intertwined with ideas about responsibility. These themes will be discussed in relation to theory and previous research.
5.1 Gender roles
To a certain extent, the rules for submissive men and women appear to differ in ways which go in line with the activities assigned to each gender; for instance men still need to retain some aspects of dominance and activity even in their submission, an action which stands in contrast with the actions valued in submissive women:
I: About being a sub… Would you say that there are differences, like different rules for how men and women should be to be a good submissive?
Sophie: Well… yes, I would think so. […] I get the feeling that there are a lot more demands on guys. Girls are expected to look good, to be pretty and all that stuff, but it’s almost preferred if they don’t know too much. If you can, if you have a lot of experience, it’s like no, I wanted to train you from the start, why do you know so much already? You’re supposed to be fresh and new, somehow. While guys, going by the emails I get even though I don’t ask for emails like that, they try to prove that they know a lot and that they can fulfill all my needs, and they’re so good at this and that and they’ve already been trained by someone else.
The mentioned differences between female and male submission go in like with the normative gender actions outlined by Pettersson (2003:142). This suggests that gender roles are stronger than the community-specific roles of submissive or dominant. Furthermore, the narrative indicates that men do not surrender their control the way women do, since men are emphasizing that they are knowledgeable and active, in that they can “fulfill all [her] needs”, as opposed to submitting. This notion also translates into how men deal with abuse, even if they do not necessarily define it as such. For instance, when Sophie dominated a man and later asked how he had liked the scene, he talked about disliking some of the painful elements of it in the following way:
Sophie: [H]e said that “nah, I just took it anyway. I can’t just give up like that!” […] Then, later on he said that “well, you were pretty wimpy” [as a dominant].
By refusing to “give up” while also refusing to admit to having felt overpowered in a negative sense, the man in Sophie’s story exemplifies one way in which submissive men can express a need to retain control. By maintaining that he actively “took it”, but also that she was a “wimpy” dominant, he places himself in control of the situation by making himself out to be the strongest. This kind of controlling actions while in submission was not encountered when participants described submissive women; however several similar accounts regarding 22 submissive men surfaced during interviews. It seems probable that this prevalence of traditional gender actions over BDSM specific sexualities accounts for submissive men’s tendency to avoid discussing abuse as openly as women do:
I: So there’s no support group or some such for submissive men, if there’s abuse? Arthur: We’re men, we don’t talk. No, we don’t talk about stuff like that [abuse]. We don’t come together like that. In general, at least the subs I know, we talk to each other if we’re friends. We can’t talk the way women do, y’know, just because we’re all subs.
This could be understood as a collective masculinity project among sub men, with the purpose of upholding what is considered as normative masculinity. As Fisher and Pina suggest, masculinity entails strength and dominance which stands in opposition to normative femininity, meaning that men cannot be victims of abuse by female perpetrators due to their superior strength. Thus, “if a man [is] to report a sexual attack by a woman he could […] be considered as having lost his masculinity” (Fisher & Pina 2012:58). Arguably, loss of masculinity could induce feelings of shame. Especially given the premise that normative masculinity contrasts normative femininity and the societal expectations attached to these conceptions “discourages men from reporting sexual attacks [by women] because of fear that they will be labelled effeminate and essentially weak” (Fisher & Pina 2012:58).
5.2 Differentiating between grey areas and abuse
According to interview participants, the distinction between grey areas and abuse (to the extent they can be differentiated at all) largely lies in communication, intention and insight. Furthermore, some participants led on that to parts of the community abuse is nonexistent:
Arthur: Sometimes people say that BDSM is consent and that as soon as there is no longer consent then it’s not BDSM anymore, then it’s something else.
This implies that the concept of grey areas is, in fact, the only scope within which abuse can be made to fit in the BDSM community. This could be understood as denial of abuse in BDSM contexts, meaning that the idea of grey areas is to be understood as containing the idea of abuse. In the cases where they are considered as different concepts, grey areas are still not necessarily preferable to outright abuse:
I: So grey areas are not safer or… more innocent, than abuse? Emma: No, no, no. You know that this is the line, then you shouldn’t go right up to it. Maybe you could build up to it, over time, like one small step and then another next time if it feels okay. You can’t just jump right into a grey area and hope you land on the right side of a boundary.
However, there are basic rules for BDSM play most participants agreed the breaking of which constitutes abuse. These are things such as ignoring safewords or other revocations of consent, though not all participants agreed on these rules. Furthermore, some argued that while continuing an act without consent is wrong, it still might not be abuse. As such, the line between abuse and grey areas is difficult to outline:
I: How would you say abuse is different from grey areas? Nathan: I think a lot is in the talk you have afterwards. If someone is really feeling bad and crashes12, that you’d catch that and realize that shit, I messed up, or that, woah, this is my responsibility, I’ve made this person feel bad and that makes it my responsibility to make them feel good again. As a dom you can’t explain it all away by saying “you should’ve said no”, or “you should’ve used a safeword”, no. It’s your responsibility. […] So a lot of it is in accepting responsibility, if you accept responsibility for you actions I think the risk of it being abuse lessens.
I: So it’s not about the act itself as much as it is about the reactions to it?
Nathan: Yeah, that and the talk you have before. If there’s a line drawn, and someone crosses that, and then tries to talk about it a lot… If you’ve crossed an explicit, clearly set boundary and you were aware of that, you meant to do it, then that’s abuse.
What this implies is that a situation can be defined as either abuse or as a grey area depending on several factors, to whatever extent the community can differentiate between the two at all. These factors include practitioner’s intentions, insight into their own actions as well as into the feelings of their partner(s), communication before, during as well as after the scene, and the parties’ willingness to accept responsibility for their actions. Two possible outcomes thus exist in a nonconsensual situation; either it was abuse, or it was a grey area. Furthermore, these two terms seem to exemplify the same type of situation, which perpetuates the notion that the two concepts are mutually inclusive to some extent:
Arthur: We can’t know, in BDSM it’s enough that someone messes up. And I know, I’ve even seen that, someone didn’t hear a safeword, and then that becomes abuse.
When someone does not hear a safeword and continues to act out a scene without consent, this “becomes abuse”, regardless of the dom’s intention. Even though the victimization was unintentional, the situation was still defined as abuse. Thus, intention cannot serve to differentiate between grey areas and abuse. Furthermore, grey areas were described by participants as including all kinds of potentially abusive situations:
William: If you’ve gotten yourself into this, especially as a sub, you should probably be prepared to find yourself in… situations you hadn’t counted on. And then you shouldn’t necessarily blame that on the partner you’re with, rather maybe you should’ve thought it through from the beginning. […] If you’d see abuse as a concept as a grey area, I’d say that in one end of the scale it might not be much to talk about but as it gets worse there might be reasons for dealing with it differently at the opposite end of the scale.
In conclusion, abuse and grey areas are not easily defined in opposition to one another, quite the contrary. This implies that the concept of grey areas could in some cases be a substitute for the concept of abuse or that grey areas serve as a term which includes abuse in its definition. This could be detrimental to a victim’s credibility; since grey areas is a wider term than abuse in that it also incorporates a lot of less severe actions. In turn, this could explain some of the victims blaming tendencies found in the community, since the ideas about shared responsibility inherent to communicating about grey areas in BDSM are similar to ideas incorporated in victim blaming13. Furthermore, this responsibility, as well as the community’s views on abuse, grey areas and victims, seems to be different for men and women.
5.2.1 When situations are defined as abuse or grey areas
According to the interview participants’ stories the community not only defines submissive men and women differently, but also defines abusive situations in different terms depending on the victims’ gender.
Sophie: I think it might be a bit different in different groups, but from what I’ve heard [about female victims] they say things like well maybe she was young and thoughtless, maybe she was a bit credulous, maybe even… a bit stupid. But when they talk about men I think people often have this idea of them as… as having to be pretty… pretty weak, mentally too, not to be able to stand up to a woman.
While women are blamed for their own victimization to some extent, men seem to have not only their actions, but their masculinity questioned. Female victims are regarded as naïve; however male victims are regarded as mentally and physically weak because they were unable to stand up to a female perpetrator. Therefore, according to participants it is shameful for a submissive man to be abused by a dominant woman:
William: If a woman abuses a man, I think a submissive man would have a tough time talking about his experiences because the perpetrator is a woman. Because this is shameful, there is a lot of shame placed on it and there is nothing desirable about that kind of shame, there is nothing pleasant to it.
As opposed to types of degradation incorporated in BDSM play, the kind of degradation men experience from admitting to having been abused by women is described by BDSM practitioners as potentially detrimental to one’s masculinity, as being overpowered by a woman (as opposed to submitting to one consensually) contrasts conceptions of typically masculine actions (Pettersson 2003:142). As previously stated, this goes in line with male rape myths. These, in turn, have been found by previous research to be strongly related to victim blame (Fisher & Pina 2012:57). For instance, responsible submissive men are supposed to know better than to engage seemingly bad dominant women in the first place, but if they fail to do so and are subjected to abuse, they are still not considered as victims. According to the participants, the community is seemingly prone to share an idea of toughness as an ideal masculine behavior, regardless of sexual identity.
I: Do you think the community treats men differently from women, as abuse victims? Sophie: I think that when it comes to men there’s more slut-shaming, like… You should’ve known better, why did you go home with her in the first place, if you thought she was nasty, why did you have sex with her?
One noticeable aspect is that when asked about the community’s attitude towards men as victims of abuse, the participant still talks about a man’s responsibility in relation to consensual sex, and the “slut-shaming” associated with not living up to it. This narrative goes in line with male rape myths and attitudes towards male victims of female perpetrators as pointed out by previous research (Fisher & Pina 2012:57, Davies, Pollard & Archer 2006:277). This could explain the way in which men present themselves as victims. For example, men seem prone to shame dominant women as being incompetent as BDSM practitioners when things go wrong, rather than talk about their own feelings in terms of victimization. This could be understood as a defense, in order to avoid the shame connected to being blamed “for not preventing the assault” (Fisher & Pina 2012:57).
5.3 Responsibility and victim blaming as gendered phenomena
In the early days of victimology Hans von Hentig (1948) stated that the victim of a crime contributes to his or her victimization through the participation in the events leading up to the crime. This has since been heavily criticized as being the foundation for victim blaming (Ryan 1971:3-4). Ryan points out that “victim blaming is often cloaked in kindness and concern” (Ryan 1971:6); which is a statement that my interviews have validated to some extent. When talking about the responsibilities of others, several interview participants led on that the community’s line between responsibility and victim blaming is as blurred as that between grey areas and abuse:
Isabelle: It really is incredibly important that the dominant owns up to their mistake and is mature enough to say that I was wrong and I’m so, so sorry about that, to really apologize. It isn’t to lie down or grovel, to apologize because something went bad. And then the sub has to be able to say that it’s not just your fault, I encouraged you to do this. And then you can straighten out what happened from there.
While Hentig’s notion of varying degrees of shared responsibility14 between the victim and the offender is critiqued as being tantamount to victim blaming, many of my interview participants nonetheless seem to express similar ideas regarding abuse and grey areas within BDSM. This similarity is not to be read as an indication that BDSM has any inherent processes of victimization. Rather, this similarity is brought up to further illustrate the complexity of abuse and grey areas in BDSM, since consensual participation can become non-consensual at any time15. The process of negotiating scenes beforehand, verifying consent throughout the scene and the process of aftercare thus require that both the submissive and the dominant parties accept their responsibilities towards one another and themselves. However, the concept of responsibility appears to be gendered. While responsible submissive men are supposed to know better than to “have sex” with “nasty” dominant women (as examplified in 5.2), submissive women are viewed as irresponsible if they fail to avoid high-risk situations:
Sophie: This woman was just starting out in BDSM, as a sub, and she felt that she wanted to try this out with someone who was experienced, that felt like a smart move. […] So she looked around and found this guy who she thought seemed nice, and he asked if she wanted to meet up for coffee and talk, see how it feels. So she said that yeah, we can do whatever you want. She said that a lot, we can do whatever you want. They go out for coffee, it felt good, he asked her if she wanted to follow him out to his car. She said sure, so he said that they were going out into the woods to enact a scene and asked if she was okay with that. She said that she thought it sounded very interesting and went along, so they went into the woods and he tied her to a tree. She was kind of scared, and then he told her that just so you know, I could do whatever I want to you now. I think you should understand what a bad position you’re in, and that you should never do this again […] He wanted to show her that it’s a bad move to say that you’ll do whatever someone wants, especially when it’s someone new, someone you don’t know.
While underlining the importance of clear communication on BDSM, this narrative shows tendencies of victim blaming. Having said “we can do whatever you want” is viewed by the dom as tantamount to contributing to her potential victimization. While this is a story of a submissive woman and a dominant man, the narrative focus is still on the woman and her failings even though the dominant man could be construed as the one at fault. Seemingly, responsible submissive women should know better than to agree to anything presenting a risk. While this is similar to the “you should’ve known better” line of reasoning in the previous example, the implications are somewhat different. Both submissive men and women are supposed to “know better”; however for men the results of not doing so are discussed in terms implying consensual sex rather than victimization. The previous narrative shows a view within the community which makes submissive men responsible for abusive situations while denying them the role of victim, since they should “know better” than to “have sex”, not know better than to say something (e.g. “we can do whatever you want”) that could lead to them being abused. This implies that the concept of men being abused by women is regarded as unlikely in the BDSM community, which goes in line with previous research into attitudes towards male victims of abuse by female perpetrators (Davies, Pollard & Archer 2010:286).
While both men and women are made out to be responsible for finding themselves in abusive situations, abused women are made out to be bad BDSM practitioners while men are made out to be weak as men if they are victimized.
An example of blaming women for their own victimization, as well as shaming their incompetence as BDSM practitioners, is provided by the following narrative:
Emma: They [dominant men] sent emails like “well this [the abuse she was subjected to] happened because you’re not supposed to use safewords. Then you’re not really submissive, so it’s your fault. It’s you, you’re not really submissive, that’s why it happened to you”. This happened a lot when I crashed, for months I wrote about how I felt and stuff. A lot of people were supportive, but then there were these guys who said that maybe you’re not submissive, maybe that’s why you crashed. Or maybe you need more spanking to get over it, and I was like… well, no! They were questioning me but not the guy I was with. They never questioned him, never.
Again we see how men explain abuse through women’s ineptitude as BDSM practitioners, blaming them for their own victimization while simultaneously shaming them for being irresponsible. According to the dominant men in the narrative, her responsibility can be considered as being towards the dominant man in question, as well as to herself. Someone who is “really submissive” would never use safewords, meaning that if she would have taken her responsibility as a “real” submissive and learned how she was “supposed” to behave to fit in, she would not have been abused. Thus, she is blamed for her own victimization. However, her femininity as such is not questioned, even though her sexuality is.
In conclusion, the case of the male sub who should have “known better” than to “have sex” with a “nasty” dominant woman implies that what he experienced was an unpleasant, but consensual, sexual encounter. His masculinity thus denies him credibility as a victim, as it is assumed that he consented to having sex. The narrative also points out a tendency to shame dominant women for being bad at what they do, rather than to accuse them of perpetrating abuse. In the case of the female submissives, both narratives show them to have been abused (or to have run the risk thereof) due to their own inability to accept responsibility for their own safety. As a result, all three situations include an element of emphasizing female incompetence at BDSM and its social rules as a fundamental part of the explanation. This line of reasoning goes in line with the overall submission of women inherent to the notion of complicit (and thus also hegemonic) masculinities.
5.4 Complicit masculinities shaming female dominance
Connell’s writings on complicit masculinities serve as a useful framework for understanding the concept of shame in relation to abuse the BDSM community. According to the interview participants, shaming women for being bad doms is one way for submissive men to avoid presenting themselves as weak while still addressing the problem of abuse. Thus, the dominant/submissive dynamic is placed as as secondary to the male/female dynamic through “the overall subordination of women” which benefits men in general (Connell 2005:75). As such, submissive men are still higher up than dominant women in the social hierarchy in the community at large. This is partially realized through the masculinity in men’s submission being accentuated by their placing shame on feminine enactments of dominance:
Arthur: We had this… situation at a club. This… old dominant woman was coming on to this young, submissive guy [man 1] like crazy. We could see how uncomfortable he was, like, he really didn’t like it, but as a guy you just don’t say no to stuff like that, we’re not taught to say no to that stuff. And after a while, we sort of, we thought it was getting really hard for him, and he was new there, so… eventually we told a friend of ours [man 2] to go over there and take care of it, help him out. So he went over there and grabbed hold of her, led her away. That new guy made it out okay, he left pretty soon after that [man 1 leaves the club, and the narrative, at this point]. Then it turned out that this woman, she’d beat up my friend [man 2] out on the stairs. And it’s not allowed to play there. I don’t know how much, but I know he was not happy. […] But what he said was that “nah, you have to take stuff like that”, because somehow he’d got that in his head. But no, you really don’t have to take that stuff. So even though it was as wrong as it can possibly be, he just took it, he just accepted it. He didn’t think, if he’d seen that happen to a girl he’d been furious, but when it happened to him he didn’t even consider that it could be wrong.
The dominant woman in question is being presented as unattractive from the start, as the interview participant takes care to underline that she was both older than and unattractive to the submissive man she was “coming on to”, while giving her actions an air of mental instability by adding “like crazy”. As such, she is being presented as enacting femininity which contrasts normative femininity and the expectations placed on a woman. While this study does not focus on age in particular, it is worth noting that the age difference is presented as an important part of the narrative. She is old, and therefore unattractive. This can be understood as a way of emphasizing how unlikely it would be for any of the men in the narrative to consent to sexual activities with this woman. Furthermore, this is a factor I have not come across in previous research regarding men as victims of abuse by female perpetrators; the importance of attractiveness. When describing the woman as old and unattractive, the interview participant implies that this is a key part of why the men in the narrative dislike her advances. In order to clearly show that any sexual interaction between the straight men and the straight woman in the narrative is undesirable, the woman is portrayed as stereotypically unattractive. This can be understood as a protection against ideas of straight men as unlikely victims of abuse by females (Davies, Pollard & Archer 2006:277). This line of reasoning is furthered by presenting her as coming on to them like “crazy”, which in this case seems to mean sexually aggressive; something that further contrasts ideas about normative femininity. As the situation progresses, she is presented as violent as “she beat [him] up”, as well as ignorant of the rules of the establishment as it is “not allowed to play there”. In short, the narrative focus is on her failings which in turn seem derived from a discrepancy between dominance and femininity, mirroring the masculinity/submission discrepancy discussed earlier. Disregarding the dominant/submissive dynamic and replacing it with a male/female one, the narrative presents the situation based on traditional gender expectations; while the woman is presented as contrasting the things a woman is “supposed to be” (Lander 2003:33), the men are shown as active, competent and strong.
5.5 Cool victims
What we are told of the victim’s response in the example above goes in line with Åkerström’s study of cool victim-type enactments of masculinity, as he “took it” without contemplating the abusive nature of the situation, even though he would have been “furious” if a girl was subjected to the same treatment. This model of explanation can in turn be understood through the idea of complicit masculinities as being socially superior to femininities. As a result, the situation is shown to be abusive (since a girl would be regarded as a victim) while the man in question is presented as remaining above being victimized by it, since the feminine enactment of dominance is still socially inferior to his own masculine model of submission. This furthers the assumption that the submissive role is different for men and women, while also implying that “victim of abuse” in heterosexual BDSM contexts is regarded as an exclusively female role by the community. In addition, he “took it” in order to “take care of” the problem at hand, which creates the impression of him as an active, capable man. Underlining what he does (e.g. “takes it” to help a friend) rather than what he is subjected to (i.e. abuse), allows him to retain aspects of normative masculinity in his submission. He was not abused by a woman; rather he acted to help a friend. However, the woman was at fault as she was found to be undesirable as a woman and incompetent in her actions of dominance.
5.6 Subordinate masculinities’ compliance
The archetypes of the hypermasculine man and the submissive woman serve as the extremes of the gender hierarchy as constructed in the BDSM community. Subordinate masculinities (Connell 2005:78) as a social process related to that of complicit masculinities places submissive men between dominant men and women of any sexual identity in this gender hierarchy. Subordinate masculinities are still complicit in this context; since different types of masculinities are not static submissive men are still complicit in the sense that as men, they are above women in the gender hierarchy.
William: About how abuse is defined in BDSM, I get the feeling that… that it’s dominant men who make the rules based on a male culture where the strongest survive. […] I think that it’s a result of living in a society where traditional masculinity is the norm, and I get the feeling that this norm might get a bigger… It’s sort of intensified in this community.
We have previously seen that submissive men are described by participants as enacting submission in different ways than submissive women do. They enact masculinities in submission, meaning that normative masculinity takes precedence over sexuality. Submissive men thus incorporate aspects of “traditional masculinity” in their submission, meaning that normative masculinity is not only “intensified” for dominant men. This also creates active, dominant aspects of male submission, aspects which are ideally lacking in their female counterparts. However, submissive men still enact subordinate masculinities in relation to hegemonic masculinity (the dominant men). Thus, submissive men are socially superior to women, while being inferior to dominant men. Since the definitions of abuse are based on a “male culture”, this places men above women in the gender hierarchy regardless of sexual identity. The narrative also perpetuates the idea of hypermasculinity as hegemonic in the BDSM community, since dominant, “intensified” varieties of masculinity are the norm. These social processes could be used to understand submissive men’s tendency to shame dominant women (thus asserting their own social dominance) for being bad practitioners while giving cool victim-type explanations of non-consensual events (thus avoiding being labelled as effeminate by dominant men), rather than discussing having felt victimized. In this way, ideas associated with male rape myths are perpetuated; (strong, active) men cannot be abused by (weak, passive) women, etc.
6 Discussion and Conclusion
In relation to the research questions, this study has found that the BDSM community largely talks about abuse in terms of grey areas. Furthermore, the study found expressions of denial regarding the existence of abuse in BDSM, thus making the concept of grey areas include abuse by default. While the concept of grey areas is important given the sometimes complicated boundaries involved in BDSM play, it seems to include cover for victim blaming given the premise that grey areas include abuse rather than contrasts it. The notions of shared responsibility which are intrinsic to grey areas then lend themselves to placing responsibility on abuse victims. The implication is that by discussing abuse in terms of grey areas, victims of abuse are found less credible since abuse is often not defined as such, but rather as a grey area where both (or all) parties are equally responsible for the outcome.
The study has also shown that there is a tendency to discuss abuse and grey areas in different terms depending on the victims’ gender. The discrepancies between traditional gender roles and submission (for men) and dominance (for women) could be used to understand the victim blaming tendencies and their gender variation. Abused submissive women are often described as having been labelled as bad submissives by the community in BDSM practitioners’ narratives. However, while they are presented as naïve or irresponsible, their femininity as such is not questioned. Contrariwise, abused submissive men are described as either giving cool-victim type explanations or as mentally and physically weak. Ideas which fall in line with male rape myths seem prevalent, which ties into the cool victim-type explanations given by abused submissive men. Through their denials of abuse, submissive men are in a sense dominant to the women who dominate them sexually in the social interplay of the community at large, since women are thus described as too weak to be a threat. This could be understood as an effort to minimize the masculinity/submission discrepancy. It could also be understood as an expression of male rape myths; the men might not think themselves credible victims. As such, men seem to have difficulty being recognized as victims of abuse by female perpetrators.
As I stated in the introduction, the abuse suffered by submissive men is seemingly missing from the ongoing debate in kink communities. The cool victim-type presentations offered by interview participant’s stories lend themselves to the idea that traditional gender roles take precedence over the dominant/submissive dynamic. Since none of my interview participants’ stories contained information about submissive men openly discussing abuse suffered by dominant women in terms of their own feelings of victimization, one could assume that maintaining traditional enactments of masculinity is valued by the submissive men in the community. This could explain why men seem reluctant to discuss abuse openly online the way women do. However, that tendency could also be understood through the lack of credibility ascribed to men as victims of female perpetrators.
In conclusion, based in the interview participants’ narratives the BDSM community seems to incorporate ideas about traditional gender roles and the expectations attached thereto as well as victim blaming phrased accordingly in its discussion of abuse. This implies that a gender/sexuality discrepancy exists in the (heterosexual) BDSM community. For submissive men this results in their giving cool victim-type explanations in cases of abuse, possibly in order to stay close to the ideas of what a man is supposed to be. It also results in the prevalence of male rape myths, which may be part of the cause for these mentioned cool victim-type explanations of abusive situations.
Written by Tea Fredriksson
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