The desire to explore the limits of power and submission is not a male compulsion but a human one.
[This electronic document was produced with optical-character-recognition software. As indicated, it consists of portions of Chapter 7 of Princess at the Window--FC ]
The man, whose name is Warrick, is six-foot-three with broad shoulders and rippling muscles, He is naked except for a towel draped over his hips, and he is flat on his back on a bed. Iron cuffs attached to lengths of chain encircle his wrists and ankles.
Rowena, the woman, is young and slender, with waist- length blond hair. She stands over him and shakes her head when his eyes implore her to remove his gag. She strips the towel from him and tries to climb astride his body, but he struggles violently and she falls back. She tries again, and this time his resistance is so strenuous that the entire bed moves along the floor, and his wrists and ankles become smeared with blood. “You stupid man,” she says to him. “Why cause yourself pain over something you cannot prevent?”
She removes her clothing and tells him that, while he may fight her, it will do him no good. She begins to caress
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him and sweat breaks out on his brow as, despite the outrage he feels, his body begins to respond to her. The sight of her breasts swaying above him, the sound of her panting, and the feel of her hair on his skin all arouse him. He wages a bitter internal battle as she slides his erect penis into her vagina. He continues to struggle and strain. But all his willpower, all his conscious effort, is not enough. Finally, she brings him to orgasm.
A. servant is sent to minister to Warrick’s injuries, to bathe him, feed him and help him with his bodily functions while he remains chained. The next night, his struggles start his wounds bleeding again as Rowena visits him three times, coaxing an ejaculation from him on each occasion. The following evening, she returns another three times. She examines him closely, remarks on his body, uses him. Despite the fury that burns in his eyes, he is powerless to stop her. Not once is he permitted to speak to hen Later, Rowena will recall how exhilarating it was to have him completely at her mercy.
On the fourth day, he is released, given a set of clothes and threatened with death should he ever show his face in the vicinity again. But the year is 1152, and Warrick, kidnapped from an inn by bumblers unaware of his identity, is an English lord who does return—with his army. He orders Rowena transported to his castle and locked in the dungeon. Before he leaves, he sets fire to the bed on which he had been confined and gathers up the chains.
After spending three weeks in the dungeon, Rowena is taken to Warrick’s room. He threatens to beat her if she faints and informs her he intends to repay her in kind. After warning her never to interrupt when he’s speaking to her, he orders her to strip. He assures her that, should he not find her sufficiently arousing, there’s nothing stopping him from having as many as ten of his men rape her while he looks on. As she undresses, she watches him positioning
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the chains and pleads with him, promising not to resist. But to no avail. She lies down in the centre of the bed and he orders her to spread her legs. She’s told to spread them wider, and he then chains each to a post. He secures her wrists and pushes a gag into her mouth.
Gradually her trepidation subsides as he begins to coax a sexual response from her. He caresses her gently, persistently. She begins to arch against him. His touch becomes rougher. When he enters her, her eyes fly open to see the triumph in his. “Now you know how it feels to have no control of a traitorous body,” Warrick says to her. “You made me want this, despite my fury, so I have made you want it, despite your fear.”2 Soon she is screaming in orgasm. Afterward, she thinks it inconceivable that she found anything pleasurable in such an experience.
Hours later, Warrick returns to the room where Rowena has remained bound and gagged. When she closes her eyes to block him out, he orders her to look at him. “Whenever you are in my presence, wench,” he says, “you will look at me unless I tell you otherwise. Do not make me repeat it.”3 She is forced to do so as a servant feeds her and attends to her other needs, but she manages to look through him rather than at him. He punishes her by having intercourse with her again.
The next morning, he takes her before she is fully awake. Twice more he returns. The following day, its the same. On the fourth; she is released from the chains, but Warrick has a reputation for exacting revenge in excess of the crimes committed against him. Rowena, who belongs to. the upper class, is now dressed in the clothing of a servant. She is told that she is to refer to him as “my lord” and will be whipped if she fails to comply. She is now his personal attendant, required to wait on him during meals in the dining hall, clean his room and launder his clothes.
She is ordered to prepare Warrick’s bath and told to
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undress him. When she recoils against removing his lower garments, he threatens to chain her to the bed again, and so she sinks to her knees as commanded. “‘Tis quite satisfying, seeing you in that tumbled position,” he says. “Mayhap I will have you serve me at table just so.”4
She is forced to wash and then dry him. “On your knees again,” he says. “And take care, wench, that you do not miss a single drop of moisture. Do I catch a chill because of your negligence, I will beat you for it.” While she is performing these tasks, however, it becomes clear they are both sexually aroused. When she balks, he tells her it’s his right to have sex with his servants “at any time, in any place.”5
He drags her to the bed and uses his superior strength to keep her there. Then he kisses and caresses her ‘relentlessly until, overcome with sexual hunger, she shames herself by obeying his command to beg him to take her.
Afterward, Warrick taunts her by reminding her of her capitulation and she thinks, “All the power was his. He had control over her body, control over her emotions, control over everything she did. She could not even get angry without his leave, for he knew well enough how to frighten the anger out of her,”6 He pulls her onto his lap in the dining hail and, in front of everyone, touches her intimately and then orders her to wait for him in his bed. He humiliates, her by giving his daughters the fine gowns that had once belonged to her. He tells her she is stupid. Even when she comes to him willingly, he restrains her hands during love-making.
The above narrative isn’t found in a pornographic video produced by chauvinists and then rented from seedy triple-X outlets by male sex offenders. Nor has it been stopped at the border and examined by customs agents before being allowed into Canada, despite its blatant domination and’ submission theme. Rather, all of the above takes place in a romance novel written by a woman for other women.
As we’ve seen earlier, feminism has been heavily influenced by people such as Catharine MacKinnon, who insists that “pornography, in the feminist view, is a form of forced sex.”27 According to the Violence Panel, pornography is one of a number of under-acknowledged “forms of violence” against women. This report says that while
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“Canadian feminists have been working toward recognition of this strong link between pornography and violence, harm and degradation of women and children,” “civil libertarians and some arts groups” equate anti-porn measures with censorship (the implication being that no feminists have concerns about censorship, and that one cannot be both a feminist and a civil libertarian).28
The feminist anti-pornography lobby has been so adamant in this respect that many people now believe it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s a direct connection between porn and rape. It hasn’t, and there isn’t. If you put a group of young men in a room and show them videos containing violent sexual material, their adrenaline levels will increase and they will demonstrate a propensity to behave more aggressively than usual. But anything that causes higher adrenaline levels will produce the same result—including twenty minutes on an exercise bicycle, or watching violent material with no sexual content whatsoever. Unless we’re prepared to ban exercise bicycles, jogging and large numbers of mainstream films, there's no reason to scapegoat porn.29
Other people consider the fact that sexually explicit material has been found in the home of serial rapists—or that a few of these criminals have declared, in a new twist on "the devil made me do it" defence, that porn caused their horrific behaviour—to be evidence of a link between crime and porn. But that overlooks the millions of people who use pornography and don’t turn into rapists. It also ignores the fact that some criminals blame the Bible for inspiring their crimes. If we’re going to hold porn responsible, there can he no reason not to indict the Holy Book as well.30 [The e-mails from Ms. Malenfant contain various condemnations of pornography and sexual liberalism in general--but never a word against Ms. Laframboise's views on any such. That fact is just one of many revealing how selective and self-serving is the righteous indignation of these two people.] [Back]
According to feminist anti-porn activists there’s only one way to interpret a photograph depicting a woman restrained and gagged. The notion that it might be harmless
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sexual entertainment, produced and consumed by consenting adults who understand the difference between fantasy and coercion, doesn’t even make it into the discussion. Rather; such an image is viewed as part of a training manual for misogynists who, according the Violence Report, force their wives or girlfriends into similar poses once such ideas have been implanted in their heads.31 (In Only Words, a collection of anti-porn lectures, MacKinnon says that permitting men to view porn is like telling a trained guard dog to “kill.”32)
Such thinking extends beyond feminist circles, In what is known as the Butler decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1992 that pornographic materials that place Women “in positions of subordination, servile submission or humiliation” violate “the principles of equality and dignity of all human beings.” It further proclaimed that “[c]onsent cannot save materials that otherwise contain degrading or dehumanizing scenes” since, in its opinion, “[s]ometimes the very appearance of consent makes the depicted acts even more degrading or dehumanizing.”33
Referring to the findings of the controversial American Meese Commission investigation into pornography, among others, the court said that since “a substantial body of opinion” considers such material to be harmful to women, it isn’t necessary to actually prove this. In the court’s view, not just feminists but the Canadian public in general considers this sort of porn dangerous.34 As a result, such material (when it appears in gay publications, men’s magazines or explicit videos-but not elsewhere, apparently) is illegal in this country.
In order to come to such a decision, though, Canada’s highest judicial body first had to arrive at a moralistic judgment. There’s no law against tying up another consenting adult and having sex with them. There’s no law against role-playing sexual fantasies in which one partner kisses the
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other’s feet. Therefore, when the court called depictions of these perfectly lawful activities “degrading” and “dehumanizing,” it was making a statement about what kinds of sex it thinks are healthy and what kinds it thinks are pathological-in the same way that some people still declare gay sex to be “abnormal.”
Next, the court accepted the argument put forward by the feminist Legal Education Action Fund (whose brief was co-authored by MacKinnon) that this is an issue of male freedom of speech versus female safety.35 In the name of promoting female equality, then, the court chose to believe that men and women are fundamentally different with respect to what turns us on-a profoundly sexist doctrine.
Such ideas should give any thinking woman pause, because underlying them is the notion that no self-respecting female would have the slightest interest in sexual fantasies that involve power struggles. The court seems convinced that no healthy woman would fantasize about chaining a gorgeous man to the bed and having her way with him for seventy-two hours. It clearly cannot conceive of any woman in her right mind day-dreaming about being kidnapped by a tall, dark and handsome stranger who finds her so alluring he can’t keep his hands off her, who is so overcome by desire that he rips the clothes from her body, pins her down and drives her wild with sexual pleasure.
Not long ago, “pure” women - the sort that men brought home to their mothers - were expected to view sex as nothing more than an unpleasant duty. Those who acknowledged their own libidos were considered aberrant. In 1858, for example, a British surgeon named Isaac Baker Brown introduced clitoridectomies as a “cure” for female masturbation. While nineteenth-century medical and religious authorities also condemned male masturbation, girls weren’t simply warned that such activity would cause them to go insane; there was concern they’d end up in brothels. 36 [Not only fear that they'd "end up in brothels", but horror at the general prospect of female "unchastity", was the reason for desperately wanting to stop them from masturbating. (The reporter's word 'girls' above is unclear, but the discussion in her source for this information, Alex Comfort's The Anxiety Makers, contains many details of these efforts as directed at very young females far from puberty.)] [Back]
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Today, women are being told - by mainstream feminism and the Supreme Court of Canada - that “good” girls aren’t interested in sexual fantasies that involve domination, submission or bondage. We’re told that only men (violent, nasty ones) get turned on by such things. We’re told that we shouldn’t look at these sorts of images, think these sorts of thoughts or participate in these sorts of activities, since they lead to a wide range of social evils. We’re told that, if our sexuality isn’t as strait-laced as the court assumes it to be, we should feel ashamed, dirty, perverted, abnormal.
But the truth is that women do find porn - kinky or otherwise - arousing. In 1987, Time magazine estimated that women were renting as much as 40 percent of X-rated videos.37 A British women’s magazine readership poll published in 1993 found that 83 percent of women acknowledged being aroused by porn, while a joint Details and Mademoiselle readership survey that same year determined that 21 percent of female respondents enjoyed explicit videotapes and that one in four had been tied up during sex.38 More to the point, no one remotely familiar with the sort of contemporary women’s romance fiction I’ve described above can possibly deny that plenty of women are interested in sexual fantasy material that involves overt or implied bondage. Despite what anti-porn feminists would like to believe, many women are also turned on by scenarios in which females are kidnapped and threatened with rape.
Let’s be clear about this: female consumers are the reason the $855-million (U.S.) per year romance industry exists.39 While men purchase most of the material we normally think of when we talk about pornography (such as Playboy, Penthouse and explicit videos), and while we may quibble over who reads other types of erotic literature, there’s no question that women buy the vast majority of romance novels. If domination and submission held no
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allure whatsoever for women, if every last one of us was interested only in unmistakably consensual sexual fantasies, the kinds of novels I’ve described wouldn’t be readily available in every general interest bookstore.
Elizabeth McNeill’s 9 1/2 Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair appeared in 1978. We’re told that McNeill is a pseudonym for the “New York career woman” who experienced these events. The book begins, “The first time we were in bed together he held my hands pinned down above my head. I liked it. I liked him.” The intense, obsessive, extreme relationship that follows includes blindfolding, bondage, spectacular sex, beatings, and public humiliation-all of which end when she suffers a mental breakdown. The book remains popular and has engendered a movie, suggesting that large numbers of people find such ideas arousing.
But it is perhaps the Beauty trilogy, by American author Anne Rice, first published under the pseudonym AN Roquelaure between 1983 and 1985, that demonstrates most clearly that the female erotic imagination is as varied as the male one. The first book, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, based roughly on the fairy tale in which the entire castle falls asleep for a hundred years, begins with the prince taking fifteen-year-old Beauty’s virginity prior to kissing her awake. What follows is a novel of “tenderness and cruelty,” in which Beauty is one of a number of young men and women required to complete a term of sexual servitude in the kingdom of a powerful queen. Tormented
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by female as well as male masters, the slaves are routinely slapped, spanked, paddled and lashed in these novels, which feature both heterosexual and homosexual sex. They are required to perform demeaning tasks and are subjected to ritual humiliations.
Women have been dealt a full share of all those qualities that make us human-the ones we are proudest of as well as those that most disturb us. Each individual possesses these qualities, although they may differ in strength from person to person and ate affected by the way other tendencies combine and interact within our psyches. That there are people-both male and female-who are left stone cold by the above sorts of explicit material is beyond dispute. - Noting the enormous variety of sexual responses among individuals, anti-censorship feminist Carole Vance has formulated what she calls her “One-Third Rule.” She says:
“show any personally favored erotic image to a group of women, and one-third will find it disgusting, one-third will find it ridiculous, and one-third will find it hot.”51.
Among those who are turned on by such material, there is infinite variety as well. Many people are titillated by specific elements and repulsed by others. Some individuals are so discomfited by their positive response that they’re barely able to admit to it. Others happily imagine, read about or look at drawings, photos and videos of dominance and submission scenes, but stop there. Some enjoy play-acting these sorts of scenarios with consenting adult partners, while others push things even further by participating in activities that approximate the real thing-as the author of 9 1/2 Weeks did. As well, there are a minority of individuals who step over the line from legal to illegal activity, who force unwilling sexual partners, or children, into taking part in this sort of activity. It is at this point that such behaviour becomes morally objectionable, that the term “violence” becomes appropriate. [Sadly, the fact that it is so easy to misstate oneself, and even easier to be misread by others, does not deter a person who is determined to accuse someone.] [Back]
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Although raised as a Roman Catholic, I abandoned the Church during my teen years because I wasn’t prepared to accept its view that I should feel guilty shout impure thoughts as well as actual deeds, While murder is a terrible crime, I don’t view murder mystery writers--who think about these matters a great deal--as having sinned. Nor do I believe that an actor who goes through the motions of killing someone is guilty of any transgression. There is a difference between thinking about something and actually doing it. There is a difference between fantasy, play or pretence and the real thing. In the words of one of the men interviewed by Wendy Dennis for Hot and Bothered: Sex and Love in the Nineties:
...I find the idea of overpowering a woman sexually and taking her against her will extremely erotic. That’s rape, and I would never dream of acting on that desire in reality because rape is vicious and horrible. There’s a difference, though, between having an erotic desire and acting on it. A fantasy is a pretend story...52
Dennis begins the first chapter of her book with the following: “I won’t divulge all the dirty details of my sexual fantasies here, just a few choice tidbits. I will confess up front, however, that they’re not even marginally politically correct [original italics].” She goes on to explain that, over the years, she’s had difficulty reconciling the content of her submissive fantasies with the modern, assertive woman she knows herself to be. “In the juiciest variations, I willingly submit while Mongol hordes of broad-shouldered, masterful, slavering men do unspeakable things to my body,” she writes. After interviewing hundreds of people in cities across the United States and Canada, Dennis reports that what we humans find sexually arousing runs the gamut:
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.what’s “interesting” to some is conventional - beyond words to others. If I tell you, for instance, that some couples revitalize their sex lives by lighting candles in the bedroom and taking baths together, some of you are going to think that’s baby stuff. If I tell you that some couples watch porn regularly, or make their own dirty movies, or make dirty movies with other couples and watch them together, some of you are going to say that’s disgusting while others will say, “Yeah, tried that...what else have you got?”53
When Dennis asked people specifically about their sexual fantasies, she found no less variety:
I heard female fantasies that involved a woman masturbating in a roomful of guys, being tenderly caressed by two adoring men, being the only woman on a plane hijacked by Iranian terrorists and being savagely “taken” by them in the cockpit, having her pussy licked by a German shepherd, seducing an uninitiated teenage boy who was hired to clean out the garage, servicing a hundred guys in a hotel room, all of them eating beer and pretzels and waiting for their turn. “I assure you,” she hastens to add, that the people “having these fantasies are solid citizens and contributing, productive members of society.”
As a rebellious teen, I was also disinclined to feel guilty about being sexually active before I was married just because the Catholic Church said I should. There are a great many things in this world that are unjust or otherwise unacceptable, that are worth getting upset about, but
(assuming that people take precautions against disease and ---->
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are responsible about birth control) in my view sex isn’t one of them. We all do enough things in our lives that we should rightly feel ashamed of, there’s no need to add con-
sensual sex that harms no one to the list--regardless of how bizarre it might be. [Back]
Some of us like spicy food and exotic flavours, while others prefer simpler fare. Similarly, people who abhor horseradish no doubt find the slogan on the label of one brand that talks about enjoying “tears of happiness” incomprehensible. Why would anyone want to eat food that practically curls your hair, they might ask? How could it possibly be a pleasurable experience? I suspect the answers to such questions have much in common with why some people enjoy being spanked or fantasize about having another person at their mercy in a sexual context.