A Woman's Right to Be Spanked: Testing the Limits of Tolerance of S/M in the Socio-Legal Imaginary

53 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020

Date Written: August 17, 2008


What conditions must be in place for s/m sexuality to be tolerated in law and culture? In this article, I consider the film "Secretary" as a lens to explore the imaginative limits of our socio-legal culture regarding sadomasochism. In Part One, I compare "Secretary" to the film "91/2 weeks". I deconstruct the narrative and aesthetic components of the two films that uphold their contrasting normative visions, arguing that Secretary did indeed chart new ground for the sadomasochist sexual subject. Yet a close discursive analysis reveals that Secretary relied upon other hegemonies to make the s/m couple acceptable and intelligible: their whiteness, their attractiveness, their male-top/female-bottom gender dynamic, the mildness of their kinks, and their interpolation into the law of marriage. In Part Two, I consider Secretary in relation to a trilogy of British cases on s/m, R v. Brown, R. v. Wilson, and R. v. Emmett, and one American divorce case on s/m, Twyman v. Twyman. Reading these cases in relation to Secretary reveals the extent to which tolerance of s/m in the socio-legal imaginary is contingent upon marital privacy and spousal fidelity. This comparative analysis seeks to reveal the complexity involved in assessing the (counter) hegemonic impact of these recent socio-legal texts on s/m.

Keywords: sexuality, law, socio-legal, sadomasochism

Suggested Citation

Khan, Ummni, A Woman's Right to Be Spanked: Testing the Limits of Tolerance of S/M in the Socio-Legal Imaginary (August 17, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1255022 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1255022

Ummni Khan (Contact Author)

Carleton University ( email )

1125 colonel By Drive
Ontario K1S 5B6

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