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FEATURES|Columns|Female empowerment

SHADOW PLAY: ‘Dressing up helps us express our darker sides,’ said Herbie’s friends (Stig@Signaturelatex)

Does today’s fetish scene really empower women?

Fetish clubbing was not the empowering experience Scottish writer ‘Herbie’ expected — until she discovered Torture Garden. Here she reveals what some of the confident, vocal women in her circle of fetish friends really feel about feminism in a kink world

Once upon a time a young woman thought she might like to take a trip to a fetish club because she liked to wear tight and shiny clothing.

She didn’t spend a great deal of time thinking about why she wanted to go and it was long before the internet was around to tell her not to be a nervous newbie.  

So she wasn’t nervous and she went to her first fetish club. Nobody had told her what to wear; she just knew that she felt great wearing the black latex dress that had cost her most of her student grant.

That was 20 years ago, the woman was me, and it should have been a dark and stormy night. I was 18 years old and determined to see what delights were on offer.

Unfortunately I still sometimes have flashbacks about the horrors I experienced that night.

I was the only woman under 45, I stood out like a sore thumb in my latex couture among the leather waistcoats and black t-shirts, and I was the centre of lots of unwanted attention from men who insisted on calling me “mistress”.

This wasn’t what I had expected at all, and it certainly didn’t make me feel the way I thought it would. Which begs the question: what had I thought I would feel?

Afterwards I realised that I had expected to feel empowered and strong. But in reality I had felt like a scared piece of fresh meat awaiting carving by the resident male sub population of the club.

I fled that club as soon as I could and didn’t go near another fetish club till I discovered Torture Garden in London.

Yet the question continued to bug me over those wasted years. What had I expected to gain from being involved in the fetish scene, and do women really become empowered from involvement in “the lifestyle”?

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some wonderful women who I feel are kindred spirits. They are confident and vocal ladies. They too like the shiny stuff and are happy to indulge in a light spot of spanking before Sunday lunch.

They do the school run in five-inch heels and they care not a jot about the looks of disapproval at the school gates for their choice of red lipstick at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon.

I have been asked to keep their identities secret as they were speaking very openly, and I have respected this as I value their friendships (and I know how well armed some of them are).

Firstly, I decided to ask them first if they felt empowered by their fetishes.

The resulting discussion did surprise me because most of the ladies I chatted to said they hadn’t made a conscious choice to be involved in the fetish lifestyle — they were just being true to themselves and doing what interested them.

But why, I asked? Why do we do it? What motivates us to become involved in the first place and why do we carry on, even though sometimes we have negative experiences?

One woman I spoke to said she was motivated by increased control over the sexual experience. As a dominant she could ask for what she wanted without fear of her partner rejecting her.

“Yes, but it’s the same with me as a submissive” said another. “I don’t have to ask for what I want — it’s accepted that I can relax and just let go of control.

“I’m not asking for anything so I don’t feel so uncomfortable doing things that nice girls shouldn’t do. Sir tells me what he wants, and I feel happy when he is happy.”

So in other words, women seem to be getting their kicks from this fetish lark too.

One of the ladies talked about her first corset with a great fondness; the memory of it actually brought a smile to her face. Her husband loved her in it (he couldn’t keep his hands off her newly found hourglass waist), and she felt secure and supported when wearing it.

One of the ladies talked about her first corset with a great fondness. Her husband loved her in it; she felt secure and supported when wearing it 

She stood taller and was more aware of her body. It made her feel sexy! (A bit of a revelation to the 40-something mum of three who had forgotten she was a sexual being.)

And wow — the reaction from people when she posted the pictures online was overwhelming.

So you liked the attention, I asked? “Well yes of course, who doesn’t like a bit of flattery? But,” she went on, “I took it with a pinch of salt.”

All the women I spoke to had experienced the same overwhelming amount of attention online and at times some of it hadn’t always been positive. Two women had acquired stalkers and one had received death threats.

None of the women had encouraged these individuals but they did worry about some of the less worldly women who have taken to posting large volumes of pictures of themselves online.  

Miss X, a former model and now a professional dominant, said it was very concerning watching young women put so much of themselves on display.

“They seem desperate for validation and seem to have unreal hopes of a career in modelling after so much flattery.”

So to be blunt, men are very good at “blowing smoke up our arses” in terms of flattery if they feel they can gain from it. But is this unique to the fetish community or just a symptom of a manipulative society, I asked?

The general consensus seemed to be that it’s worse online, but if you have a bit of common sense, and don’t believe the hype, then you can survive fairly unscathed.

One lady had a great tip: ignore 90 percent of the first e-mails you get when joining a fetish site. “Those people probably send the same e-mail to every woman who joined that day,” she chuckled.

I decided to ask the women why they chose the clothing they did. The night before, we had been at a fetish party and a variety of corsets, latex, fur, heels and leather had been worn.

Miss K summed it up best when she said that her latex and lace dress was a way of allowing the person she had always wanted to be to “show to others”.

So in other words, by reconstructing the physical appearance, we are also reconstructing the identity? “Yes,” she said. “I’m letting my bad girl show.”

However, putting this inner “bad girl” on show had led to problems for some of them.

To turn a head or to hear a muttered “wow” is deeply flattering, but these women had all experienced the same thing: men who see a package, a walking fantasy, not a real women whose feet are throbbing, and who’s thinking about what’s for dinner.

This can often lead to disappointment on both sides. The women ended up feeling used and the men have their illusions crushed.

On the whole the women I know who are prepared to be open about their desires are in the minority and they have often had to pay a high price for their sexual freedom.

Judgement from friends and family, maintaining a hidden lifestyle, difficulty finding suitable partners, stalkers and harassment online are just a small fraction of the problems the women I have spoken to have experienced

So why do it? There’s a pay-off, they said. The feelings of empowerment can last long after a scene or club outing and the high can keep you smiling for weeks or even months afterwards.

What seems to be clear is that women empower themselves. The scene alone doesn’t offer empowerment, but is merely there to enable empowerment.

If you can take the best of what is on offer and avoid the murkier end of the pond, the fetish life can bring some fantastic highs.

Finally, I ask if — as these women seem to be suggesting — it takes bravery and a fair amount of stubbornness to continue to maintain a presence on the fetish scene, is it worth it?

“Hell yeah!” was their answer.

The feelings of empowerment can last long after a scene or club outing and the high can keep you smiling for weeks or even months afterwards

Friday, 22 June 2012


About the author:

Herbie (above) is a 30-something woman living near Glasgow. She is one half of Signature Latex and has been a regular on the fetish scene in London and Scotland for more than 15 years.

In a former life she was a music writer, but on discovery that her liver was filing for divorce, she effected a lifestyle change.

These days she rides motorbikes, spends hours sniffing thinners and glue and works 18 hours a day. She says she’s starting to wonder if the music industry might have been the healthier choice after all.

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