Letter to Joanna Russ

Dear Joanna,

I’m writing in response to your essay, “Pornography for Women, by Women, with Love”, particularly the views you expressed about dominance/submission and SM. It seems that your opinions are somewhat ambivalent. For example, you disapprovingly write about women’s fantasies about submissiveness being rooted in patriarchal values, such as the belief that women should not be the instigators of sexual activity. In the same essay, however, you touch on SM pornography specifically in a slightly more permissive light. Prefacing with a comment about how SM pornography is not so offensive to you, you declare that “male fantasies of violence, either accompanying sexual activity, serving as a precondition for it, or as a cue to it, are attempts to partly undo the violence in the “respectable” part of the culture, where violence has been substituted for sexual enjoyment”. Somehow you make a distinction between violence as a tool for sex and sex as a tool for violence. You seem to be of the opinion that as long as violence is not the goal of these fantasies, then they are at least tolerable, but still not what women want. Am I right?

I’m interested in where you draw the line between violence and the simulation of violence. Do you believe that even just simulation is upholding patriarchal values? Also, do you think that it is impossible for a woman who identifies as masochist or submissive to be acting purely on her own self-interest or pleasure? Also I wonder why (at least in this essay) you attribute only dominance to men and submissiveness to women. In both SM fantasies and realities, there exists the opposite (female dominant, male submissive) and everything in between (lesbian SM, for instance). I know many feminists of your time disapproved of SM in any form because they believed that it always replicated patriarchy, even when men did not participate. What do you think?

Lastly, I’m wondering about whether your views on these subjects changed after your correspondence with Mog Decarnin. From her letters, it appears that she participated in the SM community and was even a member of Samois, a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization. It looks like she’s giving you a lot of information about these lifestyles (Letters from Decarnin to Russ, 1980s). Would this cause you to write your essay differently?




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