Widgets Magazine



Whether or not you like the word “feminism,” ideas regarding men, women, equality and justice are spoken, understood and discussed here on Stanford’s campus. It’s important, for example, that women speak up for themselves and empower themselves; it’s important that men understand masculinity and understand that it isn’t an iron cage; it’s important that we as Stanford students understand the gendered world we live in.

All well and good — but at first look, that doesn’t match up at all to what I do on my Friday nights.

How can I, as a confident, assured and healthy woman at Stanford, keep being my kinky self and maintain my dignity? When I’m submissive during a scene — say I’m passively letting my wrists get cuffed to a St. Andrew’s Cross or eagerly obeying commands — am I doing things that I should feel ashamed of, things that would make me a “bad feminist?”

In the late ‘90s, feminist writers seemed to think so. The idea that any action or interaction that even looked like it replicated male-over-female power structures in real life was inherently bad or anti-feminist was a very loud idea indeed, especially in the context of the revolution in women’s rights. Any man in power, any woman in submission: These all seemed to be hostile and threatening ideas that needed to be fought with angry voices and pointed literature.

But I’m a feminist too. It was surprising at first when I realized that the things I do don’t make me feel guilty in the slightest.

Outside of the San Francisco Citadel, we’re all just people walking down on a city street at night. Of course, most of us are excited to get there and have detailed plans of what we will do once inside. Yet, there are rules. The second we walk in, however liberating or wonderful that may be, you don’t see the orderly line of kinky people paying for their ticket instantly devolve into a dominatrix-laden, naked flogger-fest orgy. I would pay extra to see that, if it happened — but the kink community is not lawless. That doesn’t happen.

We describe many of the interactions between each other as “play.” Knife play, pet play, temperature play, impact play — notice the difference between these and “assault,” “bestiality,” “fire and arson” or “physical abuse.” Play has to be negotiated, organized and arranged by a consenting individual or individuals in a way that establishes the preferred power dynamic, hard and soft limits, likes, dislikes, honorifics. Everything. We need to share our desires, the things we avoid, the hesitation we might have. We’re people, after all — when men need reassuring that their dominance in the one-hour scene doesn’t make them “a bad, sexist man” and women need reassuring that their submission doesn’t make them “a woman-hating anti-feminist,” that’s when negotiation does its job and resolves those conflicts. So much of kink is just play, after all.

Nobody is saying for a second that play is real life. When Tybalt kills Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, panicked theater-goers don’t hurriedly call 9-1-1 and trample each other in their haste to distance themselves from the crazed murderer. They’re watching a play, not a murder. In exactly the same way, the cries of “yes sir” and “yes, mistress,” the ropes and cuffs, the floggers and riding crops that I play with are seen as just that: play.

I have zero tolerance for when people don’t follow these rules. Impact play without consent is abuse. Humiliation without consent is harassment. Polyamory without consent is cheating.

I got a message from FetLife, a kinky social networking site, just last month that sounded like it had been written by a drunken high school junior. The sender was rude, arrogant and commented about my body like it was a commodity that he had rights to by sheer virtue of having 26/Male/dominant on the top of his profile page. When I told him that we hadn’t agreed on any dynamic that could have possibly explained or excused the way he was talking to me, he seemed generally surprised.

“But…don’t you like being dominated?” he asked, and I couldn’t help thinking that this kid didn’t understand what the culture of the kink community was actually like.

When I can actually negotiate submission, though, it’s so much different. When I have the ability to dictate whether or not I want the flogger in my hand or the flogger on my back, their nails on my skin or mine on theirs, it makes kink out in my mind to be the very opposite of an anti-feminist thing. Rather, it feels empowering. It’s the choice that makes it for me — the knowledge that the dynamic is in place because, while negotiating in another room with another person as two individuals on an equal footing, I decided that I wanted this.

As a woman in the kink community, I can get what I want and what I desire, whether or not that want is for dominance or submission. Neither the people in the community nor the institutions that support it stop my efforts; there is no unspoken rule floating in the air stating that women should be this way or that way.

That’s the biggest reason why, as I help my partner adjust the leather cuffs around my wrists, my inner feminist sits back, relaxes, and enjoys the show.


Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 “at” stanford.edu.

  • Nicolette Hart

    I absolutely agree with the author. “How can I, as a confident, assured and healthy woman at Stanford, keep being my kinky self and maintain my dignity?” Just because you like kinky things does not make you a bad person, a slut, or even someone who can be talked down to in public. You can be an independent, strong and educated woman, feminist and a submissive all in one. In fact, many people involved in BDSM are highly educated people holding important jobs in this country!

  • not who you think I am

    Nothing wrong with being a slut either! As long as it’s consensual, sexual openness is totally awesome as well c:

  • Yes, very true! I know totally what you mean (wink) 🙂