As I have already discussed in a previous post, Meghan Murphy had an article published on rabble.ca discussing the case of the RCMP officer currently under a ‘code of conduct’ investigation by the force, sparked by the appearance of photographs on a fetish social web site known as fetlife.com. I was extremely critical of the article, for a number of reasons. Certainly I was not alone, and there were a number of other comments posted on the original article, as well as extensive discussions on Twitter, some about her article and some actually involving her.
Yesterday, a follow-up post appeared on her blog that, in an extraordinarily derisive manner, told us that “it’s not about you,” suggesting that those in the BDSM community that got a little put out by her comments needed to, in her words, “get some perspective.”
Alright, let’s do that, shall we? At least, allow me to offer my perspective. Which actually leads into the first part of the problem… In her latest post, Ms. Murphy is incredibly critical of all of the people who discussed their personal perspectives, preferences and beliefs. She goes on to state the fact that she gets exactly the same response every time she critiques porn, prostitution or the burlesque industry. Now, when the same thing happens over and over again, there is always a possibility that you are contributing to problem, and possibly you might want to consider how and why that occurs.
So let me start with why, in my post, I discussed my experience. Firstly, and fundamentally, it’s the only thing I can speak about that is truth. Reality is a social construction, and the only person we have control of in that exercise is ourselves. There is already a lot of information out there (in the news, on blogs and on Twitter) offering takes on what the investigation of Jim Brown is about, what he is claimed to have done (or not done) and how bad (or good) a person he is supposed to be. I cannot speak to any of that, in that I don’t know him, the details of the investigation have not been published, and I am not responsible for the investigation. Different people have different perspectives on this. The one thing I do know is that there will never be one, single, cohesive objective ‘truth’ about this situation; there will be multiple perspectives, fuelled by multiple agendas, and driven differing views of whether what emerges from the RCMP investigation, the independent review of that investigation, or any newspaper reporting of it, are (or even can be) reasonable representations of the truth.
There is another, much larger issue at play here, however. If you are going to adopt critical theory as a stance (and if you choose to explore power structures and dynamics, as Ms. Murphy claims, that is exactly what you are doing) then one of the first things you must address is your own biases; how do you, as an analyst, narrator or commentator, introduce bias into your interpretation of what you are discussing? My identifying as being kinky, and specifically, being a male who enjoys submitting to a female, was not desperate pleading of, “but I like it,” as Ms. Murphy suggests. It was not about defending my personal interests, or even the larger community. I declare my biases, because they influence my perspective. Certainly there are those that will as a result dismiss that perspective, but that isn’t something that I can control.
Do I even pretend that everyone else was doing the same, and in so doing adopting an appropriate critical stance? Not a chance; I don’t pretend that we live in that self-aware a world. In that respect, however, Ms. Murphy gets a free pass right to the head of the line (for I’m nothing if not generous). In her first post, Ms. Murphy did not declare her bias, although it has certainly emerged through her subsequent comments. Some of the more polite characterizations in her most recent post were, “I really don’t care about ‘kink’ or about ‘kinky people’. It just doesn’t interest me.” And in a Twitter post over the weekend to the world at large, “In other news, I really don’t care about your SECRETNAUGHTYOHSOBADANDWRONGANDREBELLIOUSKINKY sex life.” There were other comments, but I don’t use those words on this blog.
And that’s just fine, if you don’t want to discuss BDSM, what it means, how it is practiced and the many protocols that those who subscribe to a philosophy of ‘safe, sane and consensual’ actually adopt. The challenge is, she does want to do that. But she wants to discuss BDSM, only she wants to do so in the very narrow confines of the boundaries she sets. Specifically, in her words, “…the phenomenon of sexualizing male violence against women and male dominance is of interest to me. And it is that, and only that, which I was addressing in my previous post.” If she wants to define her arguments on the head of a pin, she is more than welcome to do so. Putting sharp boundaries on a conversation, however, doesn’t give you the right to make blanket, bald-faced assertions in whatever tone of voice you want, and not leave yourself open to challenge.
So let’s explore what some of my issues are with her original article, shall we? For they are numerous. For starters, she continues to perpetuate the on-going fallacious assumption that all BDSM and kink are about is a male dominant and a female submissive. She makes the assertion that there is no boundary between private fantasy and public responsibility, and that it is impossible to establish or maintain these boundaries. She conflates BDSM with misogyny. And, without explicitly saying so, she strongly implies that those who have fantasies involving kink, involving power relationships, involving BDSM, should not be in positions of power.
All of those assertions are problematic, not just for me, but for a much larger community of people. They are a community in whom many, if not most, are not violent and are not misogynistic, are happily and gainfully employed in various positions of power, and who — exactly because of articles like these — fear for their livelihoods if their interests and preferences were exposed. Who fear, for we have a word for such things, discrimination.
In saying that, I’m not trying to say that no one is violent, no one is a product of abuse, or that no one engages in misogyny (or misanthropy, for that matter). But the BDSM community is in fact cited as one of the few who openly, rationally negotiate about sex and how it will be engaged in (something that most of us we would much rather not do; and, by not doing so, perpetuate so many of those cultural stereotypes that Ms. Murphy is railing against).
Ms. Murphy says that her concern is context, and that is what she is trying to explore. My basic issue with her first article, and most particularly with her second, is that there is little to no exploring going on. In my view, she wants to define her context, and impose it on others like a bludgeon. She has a position she is advancing, and she has no interest in anyone with an alternative perspective. On her Twitter feed, she is wholly grateful for positive messages of support, and wholly combative with those who have a different view.
And so, at this point, my issues are way beyond content, and take a whole lot of exception to style. Which is unfortunate, because in her second post, Ms. Murphy actually makes some good (and more nuanced) arguments. In fact, arguably, it would have been far better for her to make the points in her second article first. Except that they are completely overshadowed by rhetoric and tone that, quite frankly, leaves no room for intelligent or reasoned discussion.
Of course, you might ask at this point, “Why bother? What’s the point in responding when, in her words, in her tone, in her over-the-top derision, she makes it all too clear that she is only interested in debating the topic she chooses, within the boundaries she sets? Why bother even trying to challenge that?” And those are fair questions to ask. It’s her blog, after all. Except for this. When something gets passed off as ‘journalism’ (as her post was in being re-posted on rabble.ca, and as she self-describes herself in her Twitter profile) then there is a standard of integrity that is implied. And if something doesn’t meet that standard, it needs to be challenged.
An early tweet about this episode highlighted the problem quite profoundly: “Main media issue with the RCMP case? People who judge his proclivities are free to come forward, and those who don’t have to stay closeted.” There is a reason I write under a pseudonym; I have to, and Ms. Murphy has done me the courtesy of proving why several times over. But, while we hopefully live in a society that is accepting that silence does not equal consent in the bedroom, it seemingly does on the internet. And so, in the face of fallacious information and derisive dismissal, I choose not to be silent.