Thu Mar 11, 2010
For the past couple of days, I’ve been reading “Whip Smart, A Memoir”, by Melissa Febos.
I will admit, it took some digesting for the past 24 hours. I started to write about my thoughts on it yesterday, only to realize as I discussed it with Elliott over dinner last night, that my theory and take after some reflection had completely changed.
When you self-identify with a misunderstood community, it can be difficult to separate your own emotions when reviewing something like this. Add to that complexity the fact that I believe there is not enough introspection of negatives within the community, and you would think I’d be leaping all over this book. However, at the end of the day I don’t feel like this was a book about BDSM at all.
I do not doubt that the author was paid to work in a dungeon for four years, nor do I doubt her stories of what went on there. Having never personally done much in the way of topping, professional or otherwise, I imagine there are others who would react with far more annoyance to her calling herself a dominatrix. The only experience I’ve had that I can liken it to would be how I felt after studying pilates for years, and doing well over 1,000 unpaid apprentice hours so that I could teach, only to have people who took a single weekend course also calling themselves pilates instructors. In other words, it sucked, to have something I believed in enough to learn as much as I could and be truly good at co-opted by someone who saw it as the next trend that they wanted to jump on. Those in the professional dominatrix field who are there by choice, love what they do, are compassionate towards who they do it with, and knowledgeable to boot, DO exist. Not in near the numbers as the type of dominatrix the book describes, but yes they are exist. Oh, and they’re better at setting boundaries, which is something the author is clearly not good at.
Anyhow, to me while that part of the book is annoying, in the end it wasn’t what really struck me. I’ve been reading all of these reviews, both mainstream and just Amazon user reviews, about how witty and insightful and feminist and blah blah blah this book was. I wondered why, as I read it, I didn’t find it funny or witty, or particularly feminist, just incredibly sad.
The thing is, if you are paying attention as you go along, Ms. Febos reminds us over and over again of two things: how smart she is, and how much she doesn’t care about other people. From the stories of how she left jobs, friends and lovers, all she cared about was getting “From Point A to Point B, no matter the cost”. To me, it just sounded like a sociopath talking. I mean she repeatedly brings it up, her lack of compassion for essentially everyone around her, at the same time justifying her actions as being those of a “social anthropologist”. The thing is, that doesn’t ring true. She never addresses wanting to find out about the root of anyone’s desires or why they come to her. Rather, she admits that the talking part of it post-scene disgusted her more than anything.
In the end, after reading through several years of her life, she supposedly has a couple of “breakthroughs” about her motivations and why she can’t give up that chosen field. Then she leaves it as she did other jobs, by sneaking out the door. The scene where she leaves her office job with nary an explanation, stealing muffins on the way out the door, sounds almost exactly like the scene where she finally leaves the dungeon. Oh, except that there she was just taking her own stuff.
In the end, the parallels she feels between heroin use and BDSM are never truly examined, not even a little. To me, this books smacks of exactly the thing that she kept hammering on – her desire to get what she wants and tell people what they want to hear. Getting from Point A (unknown and unemployed writer) to Point B, (critically acclaimed author) just involved using a misunderstood subsection of people she doesn’t care about. A drug-user getting clean wasn’t titillating enough for that to happen. S/M apparently was.