Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A post in which I talk about being "nice."

This was originally a comment on Unspeakable Axe's post about the disparity between the number of books and other resources aimed at introducing female to topping, versus introduction males to bottoming.

My comment turned into an essay against the concept of "nice." So for posarity, and on the off change I have any readers left after the long summer hiatus I'm reposting it here.

I’m going to try and explain all the thoughts that are fluttering around in my head on this issue, but since I’m on day #3 of a horrible headache, it may not go so well.

I could really get to hate “nice.” I, like most females I know, was raised to be a “nice” person. The definition of “nice” shifts from person to person, but a few things seem to be constant: “nice” girls don’t hurt people , and “nice” girls don’t like sex. Needless to say, getting hot and bothered from hurting people while having kinky sex is right out.

Sadism is the refined art of being not nice. Exceedingly not nice. (And yes, not all tops are sadists. But let me get to that.) So is it any wonder that there are fewer female sadists around?

Now, as I said earlier, not all tops are sadists. But tops do take control of the power dynamic, sort of by definition. And that’s not “nice” either. Telling someone what they are going to do, to you, or for you, or in general is not “nice.”

“Nice” is putting up and shutting up, and doing what needs to be done, and not enjoying one damn bit of it. Or, at least, this is my understanding of the phenomenon.

To enjoy sex at all is breaking the “nice” paradigm. To enjoy kinky sex, more so. To admit to oneself that one enjoys things that hurt (oh so good!) is to warp “nice” all out of perspective.

But let’s be clear here. The glass (a little more honest) MY glass is only half full. Because for all that I like to think of myself as having broken the “nice” paradigm it lingers.

I’ve been reading Ellie Lumpesse’s (http://www.lumpesse.com/) masculinity interviews with great interest. In several of them, the men talk about the need to make peace with topping. This consensual power play we do SEEMS to go against the egalitarian feminist sensibility that most of us (I do hope!) hold. It doesn’t, I think we can agree. We do it from a place of informed consent, often warping the cultural perceptions around gender, power and sex, and it is a fulfilling part of many of our lives.

Take the feminist angle, and a dose of “nice” and no wonder there are not female tops coming out of the woodwork. Admitting that one likes to hit people and listen to them gasp on that edge of pain/pleasure: that is scary stuff. Even if the people you are hitting want it as much as you do, consented to be there, and are enjoying the heck out of it.

Getting out of “nice” is work. Work: reading, and thinking, and reading some. Finding a voice to say what one wants. Finding other voices who think like you.

And even then, even if you get that far, you find yourself back at “nice” sometimes, wondering if it will ever feel like it’s alright to want to what you do.

I could get to hate “nice”.


seraglioletters said...

A very nice mini-essay. ;) Well-done.

I. Mazzikin said...

I was always taught to be nice as well. "nice" in this sense being kind, gentle, respectful. Of course, I was just that kind of child growing up, and that kind of person in general. Being kind, however, sometimes involves hitting people with things until they gasp. :)

Middle aged submissive said...

So, are you saying that for a female to identify as either a top or a sadist, they have to fundamentally change the way they were raised? Surely many of the learned behaviours, such as being nice, therefore mean that for a true sadist to exist they can only have had either a damaged childhood and or a traumatic shock that has changed their view on "nice".

I don't believe that you can read about it and become un-nice. You are, I believe, wired that way (i.e not nice) from a very early age and exploring the desire to hurt or be hurt is almost inevitable, its just how we explore it that changes - whether through harming ourself or harming others.

unspeakable axe said...

Again I ask.

What's not nice about beating someone who wants to be beaten :)

Livetta said...

My head is swirling and digesting here now too... "Nice" as taught to young women is a most amorphous thing, rather blob-like. Thing that gets me is--and this is just another angle-- all those books aimed at the top who is "reading this because her (male) partner expressed an interest in submiting"? Topping becomes just another "nice" thing. For him, y'know? Or, it can. And that isn't a nice thought for a very different value of "nice." It speaks strictly to number of books being published with that particular angle in mind, rather than the any reluctance to own the act.

Keathwick said...

Remember those proto-memes that spread around our schools in paper and spoken-word format before we all had secret internet identities? At my elementary school, one of the inevitable questions was, "Which would you rather be: smart, pretty or nice?" It was only distributed among girls. The rule was that these three qualities were mutually exclusive. You could not be pretty and smart or smart and nice. I chose "smart," with barely a moment's hesitation. My friend chose "pretty," but she seemed strained, as if she were angry at me for my choice or at herself for her own. The more socially acceptable girls all chose "nice." Apparently, this was the "correct" answer, and suddenly I knew we were horrible beasts for wanting more. It was almost like we had to choose between loving ourselves ("smart"), loving others ("nice") and being loved by others ("pretty"), or at least that's how I interpret it now. The memory has ever since influenced my understanding of what it means to be "nice."

We are somehow taught at a very young age that it is wrong to love ourselves (physically or otherwise) and want others to love us--that it's wrong to want, even. Later, we are bombarded by messages that tell us to make ourselves smarter and stronger and thinner and more beautiful and better dressed so that in theory we can finally get that long-lost self- and other- love we were once told not to ask for, but somehow the words "confident" and "beautiful" become stand-ins for "socially acceptable," just as "nice" so frequently means helpful, useful, obedient, self-sacrificing, self-negating.

shadowedge said...

seraglioletters: Why thank you! I seemed a shame not to post it once it was written. :)

I. Mazzikin: Did the fact that you were: "just that kind of child growing up, and that kind of person in general," make it harder or easier for you to top?

Perhaps the fact that I was firmly squelched as a child for my violent tendencies has made it more difficult for me.

Middle aged submissive:
I'm not saying one has to fundamentally change the way one was raised: instead one has to either ignore or come to terms with a great deal of cultural baggage. I certainly don't think that sadists only come from traumatic backgrounds. I think a lot of us have a mild sadistic urge (schadenfreude, anyone?)that we do not act on for various reasons, including concepts that we were raised with like "nice."

And while one will not necessarily develop a fondness for any particular activity after reading about it, reading about something which one is inclined to already can lead to a revelation that this activity is something one is interested in.

unspeakable axe : Nothing, darling. but it is certainly not "nice". See my distinction?

Livetta: I'm of two minds on the subject of trying an activity on the behest of (which sounds better than "for") one's partner. On one hand, the phrase "try it, you might like it" springs to mind. On the other is the very icky phenomenon of doing something for one's partner that one has no interest in, and may, in fact, not wish to do at all.

It's a fine line to walk.

Keathwick: Damn, I love the way you write! And I think your anecdote hits the nail on the head when it comes to how females, especially, are taught to not want anything for their own sake.