Many people equate BDSM with abuse, but in fact that community can teach us a lot of great lessons about healthy relationships. You might be shaking your head in consternation right about now. But playing with power dynamics or intense bdsmphysical sensation is not the same as being abusive, violent, or controlling.

In one of my previous lives, I worked for several years as a sex educator for a feminist sex shop. While I was relatively open-minded, I had a lot to learn. Because even if I wasn’t particularly interested in something for myself, I had to be able to speak knowledgably and non-judgmentally with customers, many of whom were trusting me with vulnerable information. In any given week, I might help a 70-year-old woman who’d never had an orgasm or a 40-year-old man struggling to open up to his partner about his desires to explore role play.

I learned a lot, not just about sex but about communication and boundaries and consent and exploration and healthy relationships. All things that you need to engage successfully in BDSM.

Most people, especially when playing with a new partner, have a get-together where they chat about their yes/no/maybe list. The “yes” list is filled with all the activities you know you enjoy, the “no” list is all about the things you do not want under any circumstances. And the “maybe” list can include things you haven’t tried yet but might be interested in or things that might be okay in certain situations.

This list is one of my favorite tools, and anyone—any gender, any sexuality—can use it, regardless of what kinds of sex they like to have. It’s a great way to think about what your own desires are. And when you do it with a partner, you get to see where your interests overlap, where you might do some new exploration, and where the hard boundaries are. This is just one way to get to that “enthusiastic consent” that so many people are talking about right now.

Or you can do a yes/no/maybe list about other kinds of physical and emotional affection. “Holding hands in public—yes! Hand on my neck—nope. Deep kisses—maybe, but only if we’re in a private place.” For survivors of abuse, this can be a useful bridge to regaining ownership of their bodies and their desires. Being explicit about what is and isn’t okay can help avoid triggering incidents and make them feel safer.

Using the list might seem a little silly or even boring, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you find yourself tongue-tied when talking about what you want, it can be a great way to lay your cards on the table ahead of time, when you’re more able to think clearly. Give it a try!

¡Me encanta nuestra conferencia! Es una gran experiencia donde 400 interces@s nos reunimos para aprender, compartir, llorar y reír. Y la parte más importante es que logramos conectarnos con nuestro movimiento, y con nosotros mismos. Durante estos tres días, nos inspiramos, adquirimos más conocimientos, y simplemente soñamos juntos con ese momento libre de violencia contra las mujeres.

Color-Logo-for-online-use---small“Ready, Set, Go” fue nuestro tema de este año. Cada uno de nosotros sabe exactamente cómo prepararse, y sin duda sabemos cómo avanzar, avanzar y avanzar. Estamos listos para intervenir y apoyar a los sobrevivientes en cualquier momento, todo el tiempo. ¡Esto es genial! Sin embargo, la mayoría de las veces no nos tomamos el tiempo para prepararnos a avanzar, y sin esta importante pausa nos mantenemos en supervivencia o en una fase de intervención continua, lo que nos impide llegar a nuestra meta. Es necesario crear este tiempo de preparación donde podemos respirar, analizar, y pensar críticamente sobre cuestiones que nos rodean y que nos ciegan.

Cada uno de nuestros presentadores de este año nos desafiaron a ver, actuar, y pensar de una manera diferente en cuanto a cómo apoyamos a los sobrevivientes. Katya Fels Smyth de la agencia Full Frame Initiative, explicó la importancia de ver las experiencias de las sobrevivientes de una manera más completa—tomando en cuenta su entorno, comunidad y fortalezas—con la finalidad de realmente apoyarlas. Connie Burk del Northwest Network nos ofreció un análisis crítico de la forma en que entendemos el género, el sexismo y el racismo y el papel tan importante que estos juegan en nuestro apoyo y compresión hacia los sobrevivientes y demás personas. Ruchira Gupta, fundadora y presidente de Apne Aap Women Worldwide, nos retó a organizar y confiar en las mujeres para realizar cambios sociales dentro de sus comunidades.

Como pueden ver tuvimos tres días increíbles, donde convivimos y nos propusimos hacer cambios profundos en la forma en que nos preparamos a avanzar tanto a nivel personal, como en nuestras organizaciones, nuestro trabajo, y nuestro movimiento.


I just LOVE our statewide conference! It is a great experience, where 400 advocates get together to learn, share, cry, and laugh. And the most important part is that we connect with each other, with our movement, and with ourselves. During these three days, we get inspired, acquire more knowledge, and simply dream together to be free of violence against women.

“Ready, Set, Go” was our theme this year. Every single one of us knows exactly how to get ready, and we definitely know how to go, go, go. We are ready to jump in and support survivors at any time, all the time. This is great! However, most of the time we do not SET, and without this very important pause we are stuck in a survival mode or in an intervention phase all the time, which prevents us from reaching our goal. To set, we need to breathe and take time to analyze and think critically about issues around us that blind us.

Each one of our speakers this year challenged us to see, act, and think in a different way toward survivors. Katya Fels Smyth from the Full Frame Initiative explained the importance of seeing survivors’ whole experiences—their whole environment, their community, and their strengths—in order for us to really support them. Connie Burk from The Northwest Network brought us the critical analysis of how we understand gender, sexism, and racism and the important role these play in how we support and understand survivors and each other. Ruchira Gupta, the founder and president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, challenged us to organize and trust women to make social changes within their communities.

As you can see, we had an amazing three days, not just being together, but really making some deep changes in the way we set ourselves, our organizations, our work, and our movement.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Our Refuse To Abuse® domestic violence prevention campaign with the Seattle Mariners was highlighted in the New York Times this past week, calling out the “proactive approach” and noting that “the campaign has promoted safe, healthy relationships.”

An important article on the racial parenting divide as the media continues to discuss Adrian Peterson.

Congratulations to Sarah Deer, named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow this week! “The MacArthur Fellowship will change my life in a number of ways, but more importantly it will allow me to do more focused work on the passion that I have for justice for Native women.”

Photo by Lesley Show

Photo by Lesley Show

We had a nice and sunny day the other day. In fact we had a few. And on one of those days, my 4-year-old daughter (who has a great fashion sense—which everyone knows does not come from me) got dressed and as we were getting into the car, my son commented that when she goes to kindergarten next week she won’t be allowed to wear “those shorts.”

Now, I’ve written before about my rants discussions with my son about sexism, but you know who really needs to hear my rant? The school. (And don’t worry—they will.) A school which in most regards I love. It is a school that embodies beloved community—their motto is that students will be responsible, respectful, and safe. It has more parents involved than I ever imagined possible. I like the teachers. I like the principal. And yet, here, in this beautiful place, they are sexualizing kindergarteners by having a dress code that includes edicts like “no spaghetti strap tank tops” and “no short shorts.” Sexualizing you say? Yes sexualizing. Why else would you make gender-specific dress code requirements? I’m sure they’d cite the usual reason: “distraction.” But shouldn’t we have higher expectations for people to not objectify young girls?

I cannot believe that this is the world we live in. Not only do I have to plead with my daughter to not wear pajamas, but I also have to police whether her shorts are too short or her straps too much like spaghetti. Our job as parents is hard enough—please don’t force sexism into it. There’s enough of that out there already.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Mo’ne Davis, Little League superstar, graciously signed balls in the L.A. Dogers dugout. Go, Mo’ne!

Who’s got the time to make a complete list of rules for women? This guy is asking for one.

You know the people who say stuff like “I’m not racist, but…”? There’s a new drink just for them.

I was 20 years old the year the O.J. Simpson trial made “gavel to gavel coverage” a new genre of television. I don’t remember where I was when the verdict was announced. The moments that left an impression on me were less dramatic. Certain conversations during that year were bursts of consciousness for me, as a young white person doing work against domestic violence.

It was obvious to me that O.J. had committed the murders. The story of jealousy, control, rage, fear was very familiar and utterly plausible. It wasn’t something I found even a little bit hard to believe.

The fact that so many people believed O.J. was innocent didn’t surprise me. I was used to massive denial of violence against women. Victim blaming was nothing new. Ditto valuing fame and football over women’s lives.

But one thing did give me pause: As far as I could tell, only other white people saw it my way. In a poll after the trial, 73% of white Americans said they thought O.J. was guilty. 71% of African Americans said not guilty. The split became a cliché about racial polarization in America. For me, it was a clue that my perspective was limited by my experience as a white person in a deeply racist society.


In the feminist, collectively-organized shelter where I worked, it was a given that dismantling structural racism was inseparable from our work to end domestic violence. But this was the first time that the awareness I had developed in learning to be an ally against racism bumped up against my own experience of gender oppression. The thing I knew for sure – about the insidious reality of men’s violence against women, propped up by cultural permission and silence – was in conflict with another truth. That the criminal justice system is thoroughly poisoned by racism. That the deck is stacked from policing to prosecution to prison and that dehumanization and disenfranchisement of African American people are more reliable outcomes than safety or justice.

(Of course, these truths aren’t contradictory at all. But back then I didn’t have the skills to form a coherent picture. The media coverage at the time was not much help. On TV, in the polls, even among friends, the question of guilty or not guilty felt like a divisive referendum on which deserved attention: racism or sexism.)

A light bulb went off when I realized: I don’t have to privilege my reality as the reality.

I didn’t change my mind on the facts. I was still convinced O.J. had murdered two people. But I stopped arguing for my point of view. I stopped asserting that I knew the truth. Instead, I tried to tell the truth about the reality that was so clear to me, and at the same time, tell the truth about the reality that was harder for people like me to keep in focus.

What sticks with me after 20 years is what it feels like to shift from acknowledging something is true, to integrating that truth into how I see the rest of the world.

There is a kind of revelation that is like looking at a picture with the page folded over, then lifting the flap to see what part of the scene was hidden before. This was not like that. This was like turning the page upside down and seeing a whole other picture emerge. And then questioning whether this way is right side up after all.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Anita Sarkeesian critiques sexism in video games. Angry gamers have been responding with harassment and threats so vile that she was forced to flee her house for safety.

This week, everyone was talking about anti-rape nail polish. Sounds great, right? Well, beyond the fact that women are once again being held responsible for preventing rape, chemists are pointing out that it won’t even work.

Beyoncé was brilliant at the VMAs, making ‘feminist’ the word of the week in pop culture.


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