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Are feminism and BDSM mutually exclusive?

As you'll all know from our introductory post, the short answer for us here is no. But on Twitter, the 50 Shades of Grey trailer has re-ignited the age-old debate of whether feminism and BDSM are compatible.

Here are some of the reactions on Twitter:

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Of course, the biggest problem with these perspectives is that they're looking at BDSM as an activity that occurs between a man and a woman, where the man is the dominant partner and the woman is the submissive. In reality, there are near-infinite permutations of gender and BDSM roles, and often the boundaries between these identities are very fluid. Many - if not most - of the people I know on in my local scene are gender-fluid to some degree, and very few of them identify straightforwardly as either submissive or dominant. There are many more than 50 shades of grey in BDSM and people can easily move back and forth between the gradations.

But what about people who identify as female submissives or masochists? They're still sometimes seen as part of the problem, as the Tweets above show. Jessica Wakefield wrote about this for Jezebel and The Frisky several years ago, to a mixed response. More recently, the topic has been addressed by The Belle Jar and Perks magazine, and I've written elsewhere about struggling to reconcile my own desires with my feminism.

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This is likely to be a debate that will never end, to a certain extent. There will always be people that view relationships in which a man derives pleasure from hurting a woman as misogynistic, regardless of whether the woman is giving her consent or enjoying the experience. And I can understand those objections; it can be difficult for those on the outside to imagine how these BDSM scenes can be separated from the wider world of everyday misogyny. Ultimately, though, judging submissive women for acting on their desires is both robbing them of their agency and denying that they might just be feminists themselves.

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