(TW: sexualized racism + misogyny, slavery) Discretion is highly advised.
Apparently, for some people (usually white in my experience), it’s difficult for them to comprehend the perspective that BDSM kink culture is neck-deep in racism and misogyny, particularly in the sexualization of racist-misogynistic historical practices. It’s become quite clear to me over months of pointing out the eerie similarities between the master/slave dynamic that’s common place in bondage subculture and the master/slave dynamic that was quite vividly practiced through patriarchal gender roles between men and women, as well as slavery…that many people struggle with being able to draw parallels between the techniques of torture slaves were subjected to and the methods of punishment “subs” are subjected to in kink culture. From the whipping to the gags.
It’s been communicated to me, based on the hesitant and confused reception of this argument, that I’m going to need to get visual. This post will include illustrations and imagery that may be potentially disturbing to some viewers, as well as triggering to people who feel mentally disarmed by images of black slavery and female oppression. This will not be my final post on the topic, but it will be an introduction to much larger, much more elaborate posts addressing the racist-patriarchal narratives usually replicated in kink culture (this does not exclude femdom kink practices, which I’ll be writing about in future posts).
I’ll first like to point out the gag. A torture device used to stop, “Negro Heads, with punishments for Intoxication and dirt-eating.”
[Slave Mask: Image Reference, NW0191. Source:Jacques Arago, Souvenirs d’un aveugle. Voyage autour du monde par M. J. Arago … (Paris, 1839-40), vol. 1, facing p. 119]
While the tin collar…
[Slave Mask Image Reference, NW0192. Source: Thomas Branagan, The Penitential Tyrant; or, slave trader reformed (New York, 1807), p. 271. (Copy in Library Company of Philadelphia; also Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-31864)]
…was used to punish “drunkenness in females,” and the mask on it functions as a “punishment and preventative of….dirt eating.”
In some cases, along with the gags, “…a flat iron goes into the mouth, and so effectually keeps down the tongue, that nothing can be swallowed, not even the saliva, a passage for which is made through holes in the mouth-plate…when long worn, [it] becomes so heated as frequently to bring off the skin along with it.” - US Slave: Slave Tortures: The Mask, Scold’s Bridle or Brank.
Here’s another illustration of a tin mask sometimes used by Brazilian slave masters for reasons documented as to stop, “…[slaves] who were prone to eat earth or dirt to wear…”
[A water color by Jean Baptiste Debret (held by a museum in Rio de Janeiro); published in Ana Maria de Moraes, O Brasil dos viajantes (Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, 1994), image 469, p. 93. Also published in Jean Baptiste Debret, Viagem Pitoresca e Historica ao Brasil (Editora Itatiaia Limitada, Editora da Universidade de Sao Paulo, 1989), p.128, a reprint of the 1954 Paris edition, edited by R. De Castro Maya). (source: University of Virginia)]-
[Scold’s Bridle: This was a metal frame place over a woman’s head. It had a bit that stuck in her mouth to prevent her talking. The scold’s bridle or branks was used in Scotland by the 16th century and was used in England from the 17th century. It was last used in Britain in 1824].
Made by blacksmiths, the bridle was a cage-like device, made from iron. It was approximately nine inches high and seven inches wide, and was fitted to the woman’s head. The most basic type was made of a band of iron, which was hinged at the side and had a protruding part, or tongue piece, that could be flat or with a spike, which went into the woman’s mouth, to hold her tongue down. Another band of iron went over her head, the front of which was shaped for her nose to go through. Depending on the design, the bridle could be uncomfortable, painful or torturous, and scarring of the tongue was not uncommon. Some had a bell secured to a spring, which was attached to the bridle, so the wearer could be heard as she approached.
Some houses had a hook in the wall at the side of the fireplace where the wife would be chained, until she promised to behave herself and curb her tongue. Although sometimes fitted to a nagging wife by the local gaoler (jailer) at the request of her husband, or by the husband himself, it was more often a punitive sentence ordered by a magistrate. Judicial bridles were more elaborate than the basic type; they always had at least one spike and they could be locked. They also had a chain attached to the side of the bridle, with a ring on the end. This could be used to publicly humiliate the woman by leading her through the town, or staking her at a designated area for a set time period. The amount of time the bridle was worn could be from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the seriousness of the offense, during which time the miscreant would not be able to eat or drink. It was also said to be used on witches to prevent them from chanting or casting spells.
It’s pretty evident that when some women, especially women of color , argue that BDSM kink culture has an overwhelming amount of racist-misogyny embedded in its practice of reenacting bondage and inequitable dynamics, they have a reasonable argument worth considering. It’s not difficult to understand the viewpoint that some kinks take things steeped in the actual subordination and oppression of people and turn it into a sexualized drama that’s just “fun and games,” for the (hopefully consensual) participants involved.
If you are engaged in kinky, consensual sexual activity, your gut-reaction is most likely to defend something you’ve learnt to enjoy despite its highly problematic elements. However, the primary intent of this post isn’t to persuade you to stop practicing these things, but to come to realize that kink culture is still affected by whiteness and patriarchy while relying on it all the same. Relying on the use of sometimes and somewhat altered methods of torture to be able to act out scenes that induce discomfort and/or pain and to keep within the narrative of unequal power relations and acted abuse.