I'm going to share a secret with you all (okay, knowing me and my penchant for oversharing, it might not be a secret at this point): I enjoy reading a little non-con now and then.
Especially f/f non-con. Also, f/f/m bondage--in fact, while m/f BDSM doesn't really float my boat at all, throw a second woman into the mix and it's like popcorn with a gallon of artificial, imitation, butter-flavored topping for me. So sinful, so delicious...
Although I've noticed of late that these particular scenarios have been making less frequent appearances in my repertoire of fantasies, and I've been wondering exactly why that is. And why they were such reliable sensual fodder for me in my youth.
Unlike my blogging buddy Leah, I came to my affinity for girl-on-girl action early on--before I knew sex was more than kissing, even. I can still remember myself at age ten or so making my Barbies kiss each other, often while Ken watched from the sidelines, calling instructions and encouragement. I also remember "mean" Barbie making "nice" Barbie do things she didn't want to do (mostly cook and clean and stuff, because hey, I was ten), and the thrill I got from imagining myself as "nice" Barbie, subservient and sweet and infinitely biddable, going about my tasks, eager to please "mean" Barbie and earn more kisses. In these games, Ken was often involved peripherally, a guiding hand to the system of reward and punishment, alternately praising both Barbies when they pleased him, and ratting out "nice" Barbie when she misstepped, and making suggestions for suitable retribution.
Yup. I can hear Hank Hill's voice in my head as I type this: "Only ten years old, and already the girl ain't right," LOL.
I've read a bit on the dwindling prevalence of rape fantasies among women (most memorably Nancy Friday's Women on Top, which combines research and scientific speculation with some blammo one-handed reading--no dry academic analysis to be found there, heh). She posits that the rape fantasy--once a staple of Rosemary Rogers and the rest of the old guard of romance novelists--was popular among women raised before the sexual revolution because they were raised to be "good girls" and "good girls" don't have sex--especially not for pleasure. It seems strange for me to think of a time when the only acceptable sexual equation was 1 penis + 1 vagina = 1 baby, or where noted sex experts insisted that cunnilingus (or anything extraneous to the above equation that might gratify a woman sexually) interfered with fertility and was therefore to be eschewed by married couples.
Keeping in mind that we're not talking about actual rape, but rape fantasies, the premise is that removing the power of consent freed women from those daunting social strictures. To remain a "good girl", one had to keep one's legs together. Withholding consent was one way for women to give themselves permission to have sex--and enjoy it--without the shame of being labeled a fast woman. It only stood to reason that a romance heroine raped by her hero would then fall in love with him--the man who'd given her that pleasure and allowed her to transcend the dictates of those ingrained pressures in the only way possible. And because he invariably married her, in the eyes of society at the time, she'd done no wrong.
What does this have to do with my diminshing love for f/f non-con? Everything, really.
I remember hiding my Barbie play from my mother. It was a secret, shameful joy for me, tainted with the inherent understanding, even then, that were I caught, those Barbies might end up in the trash and I might end up in a counsellor's office. I suppose I ought to have given my mom more credit than that, but homosexuality in general was still largely in the closet at that time. I'd never seen two women holding hands or kissing, had never even heard the words "lesbian" or "bisexual". I had no social yardstick by which to measure my feelings. I only knew they were not the norm. And the fact that both Barbies still liked Ken only confused things further.
Looking back on it now, I realize that having "mean" Barbie dominate "nice" Barbie was my ten-year-old way of giving myself permission to fantasize about f/f sensuality while still being "a good straight girl". "Nice" Barbie never had a choice--she did what she was told, and took her rewards and punishments without complaint, free to enjoy them as much as she wanted because the burden of accountability had been removed from her. Ken's presence in the scenario increased the sense of security and freedom from judgment, because when he was dictating the action, even "mean" Barbie was liberated from the power and responsibilty of autonomy, so the shame of those feelings was one more step removed from them.
And having recently had "the talk" with both my parents and my kids, and finding them accepting, though not enthusiastic, about my attraction to women, I've discovered I don't really need the fantasy anymore. And when I do have it, I'm no longer "nice" Barbie. I'm not "mean" Barbie, either. I'm strong, dominant Barbie, the tender alpha in the scenario, not forcing but seducing. "Nice" Barbie might be confused and unwilling at first, but she comes around because she knows it's okay to feel and act on an unexpected attraction to another woman. The fantasy has become tempered by me giving myself permission to like what I like.
What does all this have to do with f/f(/m) romance? Plenty.
There are plenty of women out there who have no compelling feelings of attraction toward other women, but who still enjoy reading and watching f/f erotic material. For many of them, it's kind of a secret shame, complicated by the fact that they're straight and don't want others to speculate about their sexual orientation. For them, there may be a certain comfort to be found in books like Mackenzie McKade's Lisa's Gift, where the two straight women are friends, love each other and share incredible intimacy, both emotional and sexual, within the insular comfort of an m/f/f BDSM relationship. The hero's dominant guiding hand liberates them from choice, from shame, from confusion. They can have sex with each other and enjoy it, and it's okay. Straight women can read it and enjoy it, and it's okay.
In another way, it skates very close to the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon, where it's socially acceptable for women to be sensual with each other so long as it's at the behest of a man, while those who exclude men are still considered anathema. The whole, "Those lesbians are going straight to hell. Soon as I finish watching these chicks on the TV washing cars and rubbing their wet, slippery bodies all over each other, I'm going to go cast my vote against same-sex marriage," kind of attitude.
I'm kind of wondering whether women as a whole will ever reach a time when the majority of us, straight or queer, will give ourselves permission to like what we like, without that external stamp of approval. Because freedom without autonomy may be comforting, but it isn't exactly freedom, either...