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Saturday
Dec182010

Flogging and BDSM | Can Someone Explain the Difference?

(Note from Anne: I have chosen images by the prolific Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki to feature with Dr. Johnson’s post. Araki is very strong in fashion and culture, being recently featured at NOWNESS for his holiday 2010 work at Barneys. There is nothing accusatory in my using these images in conjunction with an essay on BDSM. The vast majority of images that Carla describes can’t be exposed on AOC. They are too graphic and degrading for our readers. In his own words, Araki is very interested in rope bondage. These images are from The Old Photo Album, a general interest photo blog.)

Note: Images are provocative and involve nudity

Guest writer Dr. Carla Johnson

Floggings continue as reported by Anne of Carversville, and women are sentenced to be stoned as well as victimized by brutal domestic violence around the world.  While such acts are illegal in the United States, they remain surrounded by such webs of fear that a domestic crime puts a woman’s life at risk, usually greatest after she has left the abuser. 

Statistics on domestic violence in the United States tell us that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and about 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.  Historically, females are most often victimized by someone they know.

Reading Anne’s protest against the public flogging of women that still goes on in what is supposed to be a progressed world reminded me of research I did for a blog post.  I was writing to protest the flood of BDSM images on the mega fine art sites.  You see, I do not consider these images to be art as I see no enlightenment in showing women bound, gagged, and tortured for the gratuitous enjoyment of largely male audiences. 

When I googled “bondage art,” I was shocked at the sites that came up.  These go beyond pornography to unadulterated cruelty and perversion.  There is no reason to force any human being, male or female, into restraints and torture them except for the sexual high that comes from the rush of Power.  Everyone knows rape, bondage, torture, murder, and the institutionalization of these as “punishments” are about nothing except a titillating display of Power.

At my blog WHAT WE SAW TODAY I have written numerous times about my dismay when I view photographs of otherwise legitimate models suspended, tied up with ropes, chained, gagged, and duct taped.  In some cases, these women show pleasure in being subjected to what look to me like crime scene photos.  In other cases, they dramatize - always badly - some degree of pain and/or terror. 

 

 

In a post titled “Cruel Again”, I wrote:

Sex and violence.  Fetish.  Bondage….when we show these categories gratuitously, i.e., as sexually titillating, we downplay the seriousness of such events.  In real life they carry life and death consequences for women.  I oppose the lucrative underground porn industry that profits from videos that depict the rape and torture of women and children.

If you click through to my blog, you will encounter an orange warning banner required by google for those of us who show fine art nudes, no matter how classical and tasteful they might be.  Nevertheless, the “bondage art” sites I encountered were required to give no warning, yet they show women chained in dungeons, tied to stakes and other devices to be beaten, flogged, and abused with various instruments of torture.  I find that mind boggling. Why do we persecute those who create images that celebrate the beauty of the body, spirit, and mind, while we openly display violent depictions of the desecration of the human being?

 

 

Who are the people who make these photographs, drawings, and videos?  I have known several models who participate in them, all of them educated, professional women who do not need the money this industry pays.  What makes a woman an accomplice in an industry that is so demeaning and damaging to her fellow women?  I have yet to get an explanation from any of them.  They remain oddly silent about their reasons.  I have written about this in another blog post, “About Bondage”.

 

We like to think only men support cruelty against women, whether institutional or criminal, stranger crime or domestic abuse.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  It is human nature to turn a blind eye to society’s outcasts, to think of our own safety and comfort first, and to remain silent in the face of such atrocities.  It strikes me as perverse that individual women take this even further and allow themselves to be used in support of an industry that perpetuates the idea it is a man’s right to humiliate and mutilate women.

 

More reading:

 

Old Ladies Rebellion Condemns Censorship at Smithsonian

 

We feature the controversial ‘Fire in My Belly’ by David Wojnarowicz video removed by the Smithsonian over protests from Fundamentalist Christians, coupled with Biblical quotes that command women to be silent and ending with the flogging of women in Sudan. Carla and I (and Alex B not here this moment) see these topics as a continuum of conversation in the total world of female sexuality.

 

Anne of Carversville and Sensuality News are unique Internet properties because we try to examine the total picture of sexuality and sensuality.  Age, gender, sexual identity, food and flowers, sexual politics, religion … we are weaving a total web of images, facts and international exploration of the enormous subject of human sexuality with a particular emphasis on women.


Carla and Alex from our Ageless Fabulous initiative:

 

Initial Interviews:

 

Ageless Fabulosity | Dr. Carla Johnson Interviewed By Alex B

Alex B

Ageless Fabulosity | Layers of Alex B’s Spirited Life

NSFW images of Alex B and Carla

Alex B

Ageless Fabulosity | Alex B | Natural Moods | NSFW

Carla

Dr. Carla Johnson | Elijah | A.J. Kahn | NSFW

Dr. Carla Johnson | Carrie Leigh | Carrie Leigh’s NUDE Magazine Spring 2010 | NSFW

Reader Comments (34)

Carla, I used to think exactly that way about BDSM and those who engaged in it. However, in recent years some of my women friends have been BDSM aficionados in their sexual relationships. They say it's about trust--trusting their partner enough to let him (or her) put them into situations that involve bondage or pain. And in BDSM practice, there is always a "safe word" that the one in bondage can say that is supposed to stop the session. (I have heard stories about people disregarding the safe word...)

"Rachel Lovitt" of deviantART has written that she gets into a certain body-mind-spirit space when she does rope work; she describes it as a sort of sensual meditation, almost like an out-of-body experience. Some of her pictures show her entirely suspended by means of complex rope ties. (I've never seen any pictures of her doing other types of BDSM.)

So I've learned not to judge those who engage in such things. I feel that the essential difference between BDSM and Middle-Eastern-style flogging etc. is the consent factor.

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjochanaan

This is a very thought provoking piece. I applaud you both, Carla and Anne, for having the courage to raise such controversial issues. As women we need to rethink what men are doing to us and consider carefully the different types of violence women are subjected to, including emotional abuse.

December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex B.

Jochanaan, I am not talking about what people do in the privacy of their homes. I am talking about the thousands upon thousands of drawings, photographs, and videos of women who do not appear to give consent that are posted daily on mainstream fine art sites. When you start hair splitting and say, Well rope art is OK but gagged and hogtied is not, the effect is still the same in desensitizing people to violent acts, whether real or implied. Most abusers will tell you either the woman liked the abuse or deserved it. Punishment is punishment. I personally do not feel the need to be hurt to feel whole. No doubt some women - and men - do. Perhaps they fear taking power over their own being.

There is too much suffering in the world. I oppose anything that encourages or "mainstreams" violence, especially pain and suffering inflicted on helpless women. Why don't we promote love, mutual respect between men and women, and independence instead?

Carla

December 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUnbearable Lightness

The problem is that the author, with all due respect, has forgotten that moral components are secondary if not tertiary in judging a piece of art. If you walk along the walls of Pompeii you will encounter a fresco called "The Rape of Sabine Women," this piece is considered one of the most famous and well executed frescoes that have survived from the days of Rome, as you move to the Vatican you will see the original "Laocoon", a marble sculpture depicting the torments of the father and two sons. These two pieces of art are not the only ones that savor violence and torture, one will have no problem finding them in uncensored sites and the only explanation to most tourists being "OK" with seeing them is that the works have gained in status due to their value. This leads me to my main point, It is in fact a formal fallacy in judging art to base your critique on your own moral predispositions rather than the formal and emotional qualities contained in the work. Unfortunately for your article uncovers the hubris of the author who probably was not schooled in aesthetic theory. Fetishism and BDSM is not violence against women or men, it is rather a high gained from extreme submission to your partner. Not unlike the twirling dervishes, who put themselves into a holy trance, the sub allows his or her body to be part of the painful universe while the mind is submerged in complete gratitude and trust. The experience is quite co-subjective and demands of both to be treated as singular individuals, the dom and the sub. On the other hand, domestic violence is more like road rage or vandalism in its intellectual and aesthetic content, aside from moral or legal aspects. In that it has nothing to do with BDSM, and all comparisons are merely a product of either fanatical agendas or lack of education.

December 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIlya

What bothers me in the comments from Ilya and Jochanaan is the word "judge." I consider myself opinionated, as all of us are, but not judgmental.

To judge derives from the Latin judicate and is an action taken by persons with the power to make decisions, usually a presiding officer, as in the judicial system, or a referee or umpire, as in sports. I saw my father work as a judge of the law, and I have judged art competitions as an expert. That is not the same as writing an editorial, which is a statement of your opposition to something.

While judging someone is a phrase used colloquially, unless we have authority to make decisions for others, we really cannot judge. Even in ranking students in the grading system, we use the word evaluate rather than judge. A judge evaluates a case and then rules, i.e., makes the judgment as a ruling, a binding decision.

To oppose comes from the Latin to put against. My stated opposition to BDSM means I am in contention with those who support flogging as a punishment and BDSM as appropriate for the subject of online "art," as I clearly stated. An argument contrasts or counterbalances the position opposed and, of course, the ultimate goal of debate is to change minds on the issue. I hope to challenge women who model for images depicting BDSM to think about what they are doing when they help create images of restraint and/or abuse as pleasurable, titillating acts. Again, this is what I clearly stated. I am very aware of great art that depicts rape and religious art has depicted the torture and martyrdom of saints for centuries, but this art does not make these acts look pleasurable, consensual, or welcome.

By the way, I wonder by what authority, Ilya, you can "judge" my credentials and degree of hubris?

December 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUnbearable Lightness

In the field of aesthetics the word "judge" is not used in the legal sense, but rather in the sense Kant gives it in the "critique of Judgment." If the author's goal is to make the models posing think about what they are doing, one ought to also assume that persons playing terrorists in films ought to have similar concerns. Furthermore, religious art producing images of pain not only presents suffering as pleasurable, but morally obligatory. After all, is it not the highest honor to be tortured or to torture at the command of the all mighty God, and is not the person who denies the inherent rightness of such suffering a deviant, ex ecclesia nulo salvis? Giving the position of the author one has more of an obligation to resist Catholicism because it presents an ideal woman to be both mother and a virgin, the suffering and all-tolerating embodiment of obedience. If one is morally opposed to BDSM imagery on the grounds that it makes suffering pleasurable, one judges the person who does fund suffering pleasurable, whether it be their own or that of others. Yet, as long as the conversation is still about images of consensual sex, pain looses its violence but becomes merely another form of pleasure. Capturing images of women portrayed as corpses in the streets does not sexuality the violence, but introduces the transient nature of beauty and sexuality into the aesthetic conversation. The domain of this conversation does not intersect or overlap the ethical domain. Judgment of the person who happens to be a woman through no choice of her own for liking being submissive or looking at such imagery, largely through no choice of her own as well in any meaningful sense of the word, sounds like a dictatorship where one can be condemned for merely having a predisposition to something aesthetically. Does that sound like the liberation of women which one is fighting for? Does a woman who likes S&M loose her power as an individual, or does she become even further empowered in the ability to choose her sexual preferences and home decor?

December 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIlya

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