Natty got several posts up about this before I managed to, but I'm not bitter or anything. ;) But since Natty got her posts up before me, I feel *totally* justified in focusing on the things that really bugged me about the article. There were some good sides to the piece, and for a moderately mainstream examination of DD, she did portray a couple of different viewpoints.
HOWEVER. Whether because she wound up writing for Bitch Magazine, or because of her own biases, the structure of the article, the framing of quotations from her sources, and her choice of sources she quoted at all really reinforces one end of the spectrum of domestic discipline.
By beginning and ending the article with an extended discussion of sources like "Loving Domestic Discipline" and the people who believe in the whole "surrendered wife" thing, readers unfamiliar with the range of approaches to DD are likely to come away with the idea that those attitudes define DD. Throughout the article, Wakeman failed to draw a distinction between the different ends of the spectrum. For example:
The crux of domestic discipline is that women's behavior is inherently rife with transgressions, and the discipline provided by their intimate partner will be a leveling force... In addition to disciplinary spankings, MrLovingDD also advocates "maintenance spankings," which, he explains, "help to build on the existing levels of the woman's obedience, respect, and honesty. Mija... describes DD simply. "To be really trite, take the Volkswagen ad. 'On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers.'" In their figurative VW, Pablo... disciplines Mija.... "I decide that there's some sort of goal I want to achieve and he enforces it," explains Natty... who writes about her DD relationship on a blog called The Punishment Book....(Yeah. Cause Natty is the *only* woman writing here. Hmpf. ;P )
By framing the quotations from Mija and Natty this way, Wakeman implies that they believe gender is the central dynamic in domestic discipline. I think, had I not already known Mija and Natty, I would believe that they also believe the point of domestic discipline is to rein in women, whose behavior is "inherently rife with transgressions." Now, I don't presume to read their minds, but I'm pretty sure that neither Mija nor Natty really agrees with MrLovingDD.
The repeated focus on the male/female dynamic set a tone for the article that rubbed me the wrong way. It reinforced the (imo) misogynist beliefs of the LovingDD types, and undermined the feminist possibilities of other ways of doing "this thing we do." It would be as though she were writing an article about Christianity, and framed it to imply that all Christians are of the Jerry Falwell type, even when she was quoting people with more liberal views.
In order to do that, Wakeman had to exclude a portion of the DD community. In her mind, it is a small section, perhaps not relevant to the larger discussion. Buried between parentheses in the middle of the article, she noted
Theoretically, a man can be the submissive in a heterosexual domestic discipline relationship, and a DD relationship can be same-sex, but based on both Internet presence and the couples that I interviewed, it's far more common to find heterosexual, female-submissive practicioners.
Let me speak up as one of the people interviewed for this article. I am in a same-sex relationship, and we practice domestic discipline. I have a blog, and I am one of the writers at the Punishment Book. And I have some opinions as to why it's far more common to find heterosexual, female-submissive practicioners of DD.
Groups like "Loving DD" specifically exclude couples who don't match their vision of why domestic discipline is necessary in relationships. They deny that anyone who practices outside of the male-dominant, female-submissive paradigm is truly engaging in domestic discipline, because they adhere to the misogynistic belief that women should be sumissive to their male partners. All women. All partnerships.
Last fall, when W and I were struggling to figure out how to navigate this thing we do, we tried joining a couple of other bulletin boards. We tried a few, and weren't having much luck. I finally snapped when the moderators of the least annoying board I found moved my introductory post to the BDSM forum, insisting that because W and I are both women, what we do is kink, and not discipline. So I started This Thing We Do, and discovered a lot of other people who have felt excluded from other DD forums for a lot of reasons.
Just because people are excluded doesn't mean they don't exist. Fifty years ago, there weren't many black people in Ivy League insitutions. Was this because black people weren't intelligent enough, or because they were specifically kept out of those institutions? Yet, there were those who made an argument that intelligence was inherently tied to whiteness. Right now today, same-sex couples are denied the right to marry, with the argument that marriage is about heterosexual partnership. Does this mean that same-sex couples don't exist, or that they don't make long-term partnerships, or that they don't do any of the things straight couples do? (Well, according to my mother, the big difference between my lesbian relationship and my sisters' straight ones is that W and I spend a lot of time working on communicating well. But I wouldn't argue that it's our homosexuality that makes that happen!)
So okay. Some of this is irritation at all of the ways my relationship is dismissed, and most of that is not Wakeman's fault.
But at the same time, I am annoyed by this exclusion as a feminist. People tend to fall back on gender as an explanation for behavior at points where gender is not, in fact, the cause. Whether it is domestic discipline or the discussion of who is responsible for doing the grocery shopping, gender cannot be the answer.
Very often, I will hear straight people talking about their relationships, ascribing the challenges to the differences between men and women. Some of our (perhaps less enlightened) straight friends say they wish they weren't straight, because they think their relationship problems would go away if there weren't those gendered differences.
I am here to say that relationships--straight, gay, polyamorous--are WORK. They take work. They take HARD work. And they take a lot of it. And domestic discipline takes work. It isn't going to save you the trouble of learning how to communicate with your partner. It doesn't excuse you from being able to express your needs and desires. All DD is is a tool couples can use.
Taking gender out of the equation forces me and W to look at ourselves. It forces me to take personal responsibility for this need. I do not need it because I am a woman. The reason W does *not* need it isn't because of her gender, either.
Accepting myself for who I am is a radical act. It challenges the idea that there is only one way of doing things, only one way of being a good (take your pick: feminist, woman, Christian, pagan, black person, abuse survivor, healthy adult...). And it does challenge me to think about why it is that I have these needs. If the answer is not "because I am a woman," then I'm left with a lot of work to do on understanding myself and who I am.
I suspect some of the reason that W and I were excluded from other forums is that some people don't want to have to do the work of understanding themselves and their relationships. It is easier sometimes to exclude dissenting viewpoints, in order to not have to examine your own experiences too closely.
And Wakeman's article gave those people an out. It left a broad path by which readers of the article can dismiss DD as misogynistic, and reinforced the tendency of feminism to exclude what isn't comfortable. It also allowed those who believe that DD works because "women's behavior is inherently rife with transgressions" not to challenge that belief for themselves.
I'm not completely certain why this thing we do works, but I know it's not because my behavior is any worse than W's. I don't know why I need external discipline, but it's not because I am submissive to W.
To me, the best of feminism comes when it challenges our assumptions about how people interact with each other in the world. Wakeman's article, for all of its positive sides, doesn't do that for me.