Kathy Miriam on the collective practice of transforming sexuality

“It seems to me that gaining actual control over victimization means stopping it. That means gaining power through political action that will stop the perpetrators. But, in my opinion, it also means creating a culture of dissent capable of confronting the “plague,” the depth of conditioning that women suffer, one by one, in a society where one out of three women is a survivor of incest. Radical feminists, wary of individualist solutions (such as therapy) to a political problem, have paradoxically made the individualist assumption that any woman can change her psyche at will and suggested that personal transformation is not a high priority for radical feminists. But the depths of memory tell us otherwise; memory tells us that decolonizing our psyches is indeed a necessary focus for feminist strategy and that it cannot be an individual task. If we agree that oppression is internalized (and this is the best way we account for the appeal of sadomasochism) then we need a way to transform this internal level of oppression that is not dissociated from external collective, political struggle…We need, in my view, something parallel in function to the consciousness raising of the early years of the second wave movement, namely: a method of collective, critical self-reflection capable of moving between the raw areas of memory on the one hand, and invigorating our understanding of what is to be done, on the other. In other words, why not open a new conversation among radical lesbian-feminists about sex, including sadomasochism?…As Jeffreys puts it, “Though many of us have experienced fantasies and practice which incorporate SM values of dominance and submission, we also have experience of positive sexuality with egalitarian values…We can have a sexuality which is integrated not into our oppression but into our politics of resistance.” I see this as a process of reflecting on sexuality with an eye to the ideal, the ideal of decolonizing the body and freeing the lesbian imagination to resist with all its strength the anesthetizing effects of a pornographic culture. I see a new wave of consciousness raising as critical to a new position of reflexivity, the ability to reflect on and change ourselves, collectively, as part of the process in which we fight the world men have made and create the world as feminists imagine it could be.”

From “From Rage to All the Rage: Lesbian-Feminism, Sadomasochism, and the Politics of Memory” by Kathy Miriam in Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties edited by Irene Reti (HerBooks, 1993) p. 44.

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