As women navigate the intersecting meanings of feminism and submission, some struggle to reconcile their feminist politics and submissive practice (i.e., belief in equality and desire to yield authority). Bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) has been examined through diverse feminist lenses, including radical feminism, postcolonial world-travelling, and a sex-critical approach. However, scant empirical research focuses on the intersection of feminist and submissive identities. The purpose of this collected papers dissertation was to better understand the identity navigation of women in the BDSM community who identify as feminist and submissive. Two studies were conducted to explore this gap.
Study #1, a structured literature review of BDSM, examined how feminism and submission are discussed related to women who are feminist and submissive. Data were collected through a library database search, Google Scholar, reference scans, and Google Scholar Cited by. Important segments of data were identified and analyzed. Four themes emerged: feminism in the context of BDSM, normalization of BDSM, navigating identities, and power as transgressive. Implications focus on three areas: the importance of consent, transgression, and diversity; helping women understand and navigate identities; and reducing stigma through education.
Study #2, a phenomenological study, explored how 23 women in the BDSM community perceive and navigate their feminist and submissive identities. Data were collected through interviews. Inductive analysis revealed six themes: feminist identity as distinct from feminist values, the complexity of submissive identity, women learn to accept their submissive identity in different ways, BDSM community perceived as generally accepting of feminist identity, feminist community perceived as not very accepting of submissive identity, and being out as feminist and as submissive. Implications focus on four areas: exploring how women challenge oppressions; understanding how women understand and negotiate consent; learning about how individuals learn about, develop, and engage in BDSM D/s relationships; and examining how college women experience these identities, feminism, submission, consent, and abuse while they develop as individuals.
The findings can apply to counseling, feminism, sex education, higher education, adult education, and human resource development through incorporation into curriculum, training, and policies. Research and practice can be enhanced through exploring how consent is understood, operationalized, and violated; broadening discussions about identity development; and increasing awareness of how adults learn.