As I was giving rope tastings at a recent event a woman said to me, “I didn’t know chicks could do that.” I was so floored, so confused, that I didn’t even respond. I had tied her up and she’d had a wonderful time. That was what mattered. And while her preconception (and her language) were problematic, at least my presence as the lone female rope top at the event made a difference.
I’d like to say that was an isolated event but most of my female friends in the rope world have had similar experiences, and worse. My good friend circleoflight recently told me she doesn’t tie in public any more: “Each of the times I’ve tied in a public space a man has come along to offer ‘help.’ Once it was to give me a ‘proper’ piece of rope to finish a tie. Several times I’ve had men enter the scene in progress and touch my bottom without my or her permission. Because I wasn’t hurting her enough or she wasn’t restrained enough in his opinion. Men often stand in ear shot and say things like ‘not bad for a girl’ or ‘I can’t believe she knows that trick.’ It makes me not want to bother and I wonder how many other competent female tops have just given up rather than deal with this behavior.”
So, what gives? Is rope only a men’s game? I don’t think so – or at least I don’t think it should be. I don’t like seeing anything divided along gender roles and kink is no different. Sadly, the world doesn’t operate according to my preferences. The prevailing norm in public play is men in the Top or Dominant role while women are expected to be the bottoms or the submissives.
“In private, I don’t believe there is any real difference between a female or male rope top. The practice of shibari itself is very personal and individual. In it’s simplest form, shibari is a top, a bottom, and the rope. Any variables in dynamic, roles, intentions, participants, gender etc. only matter to the individuals involved. It’s not until we enter the public arena that these factors outside of ourselves begin to have relevance. Then we’re dealing with normative social influence. Males make up the majority of tops in both the BDSM and Rope communities, and this lends itself to the perception of patriarchy and gender bias.” – The Soulless Ginger
From fashion to porn women are shown as owned objects. The discourse on women as public property is wide and varied and because kink is just another slice of society, this attitude bleeds into the scene. And it doesn’t only come up when women are topping. Many venues and parties have to stress only touching with consent and even with this listed in the party rules and sometimes posted on the walls, men need reminding.
“Being a female rope top is hard, and if one more person makes a joke about how that’s because we do it in heels and corsets I’ll scream. I mean yes, rigging in those things is hard, but what’s really hard about being a female rope top is how no one takes you seriously. It seems that no matter what you do, people assume you’re there to get naked.” – CindyLouWho
And I’ve had that experience too. I was playing with a male partner who was also a switch: we did a scene in the main room where I was stripped down to panties in the stocks and he was flogging me. We had a small, respectful audience. A little later that evening I had him tied to the interrogation chair and as we were beginning our scene a man came into the room, put his hand on my hip, and said; “I liked it better when you were naked.” What would make him feel like that was appropriate?
All of us who frequent and create sex positive spaces need to recognize that simply calling something a safe space doesn’t make it so. Party organizers, Dungeon Monitors, and members of the community all need to be aware of the prevalence of this behavior and work to prevent it before any more players are made to feel unwelcome. It shouldn’t be our job to educate the ignorant one person at a time, but if we don’t do it who will?
As a community our diversity gives us strength. We can all learn from each other if there are a variety of voices to be heard. But if we let things distill down to ‘one true way’ thinking there will be no new ideas put forward.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, The Soulless Ginger also notes; “Honestly, I haven’t experienced any of that [bias] first hand as a female rope top. If anything, those gender biases have been to my advantage and helped to create more opportunities for myself and my partner to perform and present in the public scene. My journey in rope has been facilitated by the over-arching perceptions of a female’s role in Shibari both as a bottom and a top. Are there challenges and benefits to being a female rope top? Yes. Do they matter? Only in the way we let them.”
She’s got a point. If as a female rope top we’re looked at as a novelty we can use that attention to our advantage and work to change minds. Even if the initial interest comes from less than ideal motivation, in the end those watching may see that women can be just as skilled as men. Maybe even more-so. The nature of rope work is that it requires close, intimate contact and attention to detail. Skills that are typically attributed to women. So even those with a gender bias should lose their own argument.
I’m contrary by nature and being told I can’t do something is great motivation. I find myself eager to improve my own rope skills and tie in public as much to buck the norm as for my own pleasure.
I urge everyone who has been discouraged or who is self conscious to push through their fears and insecurities and get out into the public scene. There are more of us than you might think, and we deserve to be seen and to be respected.
Because yes, chicks can do that.