Friday, August 24, 2012

Letter to the book-burners

Dear Wearside Women in Need,

I am dismayed by the article that appeared on the BBC website today, describing how your charity plans to burn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.

I am not planning to read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I agree that the character of Edward Grey is a stalker and potentially abusive. (Also, it is a very badly written book.)

However, Edward Grey is not abusive because he is into BDSM. He is abusive because he is a stalker who denies Anastasia's autonomy and consistently ignores her boundaries.

The book does not describe BDSM as it is practised by the majority of the BDSM community. BDSM practitioners generally abide by the ethos of "safe, sane and consensual".

There may be abusers who try to hide in the BDSM community, but they are no more numerous than abusers who engage in vanilla sex.

BDSM is not abuse. Please do not conflate the two.

May I refer you to a couple of articles and books which may help to clarify the difference for you:

Furthermore, book-burning is what fundamentalists do. It is profoundly against democracy and the free dissemination of ideas. I do not like Fifty Shades of Grey because it is a gross distortion of BDSM, but at least it has enabled a conversation in the public square about what BDSM is actually about.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Endless Knot

Paperback, 49 Pages
Price: £5.99 
Ships in 3–5 business days
Poetry of place, experience, the seasons, and the sacred. 
Written over many years, these poems are the distillation of experiences of ritual, landscape and mythology. 
Lovers of landscape and nature will enjoy this collection. 
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Also available as an eBook (suitable for Kindle and other formats)

Monday, August 20, 2012

"We", or "I and thou"?

So I went to read a (very long) blogpost about relationships, and how being in a relationship makes people want to refer to themselves as "we".

OK, I confess that I haven't read the whole paper (it was more of an academic paper than a blogpost), but my first thought on reading the author's tweet about it was, "no, I want to be 'I and thou' / 'me and thee' with a partner, and I want that to be reciprocated. In other words, I want to be intimate, but I want my autonomy respected. (I'm thinking of Martin Buber's ideas about "I/Thou" here, too, where the other, the Thou, is sacred and beloved and respected.)

So I tweeted in reply: "hmm, not sure about that, I'd rather be a me and a thee." (I then went off to read the article and posted the comment on which this blogpost is based.)

The author of the article tweeted back "I guess u dont think not wanting to be a 'we' makes u incapable of forming an ongoing romantic relationship? "

To which I replied: "No, I bloody well don't, and I find that insinuation offensive."

And he replied: "not meant as insinuation just clarification that you take the thesis to be wrong."

He then tweeted: "Is your objection to idea of forming a 'we' that you think such a notion undermines autonomy?"

To which I replied: Yes.

Harry Hay came up with the idea of Subject-Subject Consciousness to describe relationships where both partners are equal. He criticised most heterosexual relationships as being Subject-Object relationships, where the man gets to be the subject and the woman is the object.

Luce Irigaray came up with a similar concept, intersubjectivity. Pemberton (2004:252) writes:

Of course the subject is always subject in her own eyes when not objectified and displaced by the gaze and the analytical grid of the other. Subjects speak, think, act, love, cry, scream, ululate, make love, feel fear, carry history, dream dreams. They do this best in a radical intersubjectivity[.]
  (from a chapter in Juschka, D.M., ed. (2001) Feminism in the Study of Religion: a Reader. London and New York: Continuum.

The trouble with a heterosexual "we" is that it is all too likely that the woman's subjectivity and autonomy is subsumed in that of the man.  Even if the man is trying to be feminist, trying to regard the woman as a subject in her own right. (Maybe this kind of subsumption can occur in same-sex relationships as well, but I do not have enough experience of them to be able to say.)

I am reminded of that advert from the mid-nineties where a couple is speaking to camera. She says "we want to be out painting the town red". He says "we want to be settling down and having a baby". Clearly there is a huge disconnect in their ideas, so that their use of "we" is completely meaningless - and you are left wondering whose agenda will win out. Will they settle down and have a baby, or will they be out partying all night?

Kahlil Gibran wrote a beautiful thing about marriage (I have boldened the bits that I think are particularly relevant to this discussion):
 You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
 Now that seems to me to be a recipe for happiness.

There is also a Celtic wedding vow:
You cannot possess me for I belong to myself. But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give. You cannot command me for I am a free person.
Another recipe for happiness.

I am not saying that being in a relationship that involves being "we" rather than I is necessarily a recipe for loss of autonomy and a subsumption of one person into the other, but there is a considerable risk of that happening.

Someone suggested to me a 40:40:20 rule for successful marriages. That is, you spend 40% of your leisure time doing stuff on your own, 40% with your partner, and the other 20% is variable depending on circumstances. I think that is an excellent idea.

I think that, all too often, what is described as "fear of commitment" is actually a fear of loss of autonomy. A guy once said to me, in all seriousness, that he didn't want a girlfriend because if he had one she would tell him that he couldn't have a hi-fi system. Presumably there are actually people out there who tell their partners that they can't have things, but it's not something I would ever do. I mean, I would expect to negotiate large purchases if they would impinge on necessary expenditure like rent and food, but otherwise I would not want to tell my partner how to spend his/her money (and certainly would not tell them what to do with their existing possessions), and I would not expect him/her to have jurisdiction over my expenditure or possessions, either.

The other problem is, if I am in a relationship with another person, and I say "We think x, y, and z" then I presume to speak for my partner. Unless I have consulted him or her about his/her opinions, and established that s/he really does think x, y, and z, then I have no right to include him/her in my expression of my opinion. Similarly, if someone invites us to dinner, or away for a weekend, I think that I can accept on my own behalf, but not necessarily on behalf of my partner (they might not want to attend for a variety of reasons).  Despite best intentions at the outset of a relationship, it can become all too easy to assume that you know what your partner wants, accept things on their behalf, express opinions on their behalf, and so on.

It used to annoy me intensely when an ex of mine, who could not drive, referred to my car (which I always drove, had bought, paid for, insured, paid for the repairs and road-tax on, and so on), as "our car". In what sense was it "ours"? If he had contributed to its purchase, maintenance, tax, insurance, and been able to drive it, then it would have been "ours". But it was, in every sense, mine.

So no, my relationships will remain "I and thou", subject and subject, intersubjectival. I will respect my partner's autonomy, and will expect him or her to respect my autonomy. We will not grow in each other's shadow. And I expect that our relationship will be all the happier and healthier for it.