Spanking, Brits, and what if we didn’t?

So a couple of weeks ago Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar wrote about the errors of trying to extrapolate from a specific to a general explanation or experience of kink. She used the example of how corporal punishment (the so-called English Vice, or so I’ve heard it – I’ve heard other usages of that term too) seems so powerful:

Even the comics when I was growing up normalized hitting children, Dennis bent over his fathers lap, in a position very similar to the over the knee spankings Carter describes. the usual closing frame of every story. Or teacher, with his cane, so embedded in the British psyche that a german kinkster recently expressed confusion as to why our kink scene is so dominated by school role plays.

I weighed in with my usual half-baked thinking:

As for school discipline, I grew up shortly after corporal punishment in state schools was banned so never experienced it in that context but it was a huge part of the literature I read (Famous Five, Beano (as you cite), and so on). I think there’s other subtexts there that probably need an entire blog post to explore and ponder (and I still wouldn’t have any answers). And yet, I do know that those techniques are among the hottest play scenes I’ve done.

And so Jemima wanted me to write about those subtexts, and I was tired and busy that week, never got around to it and now I’ve forgotten what they were in the first place! I’d probably disagree now with what I thought at the time anyway if I could remember what it was, and write something different.

But I find fascinating the topic of how deeply ingrained the whole school discipline/corporal punishment is in English kink (and in kink scenes in communities descended largely from British communities, such as in the US). A long time ago (relatively speaking) I recall someone explaining to me when I disagreed that porn creates kink, how the prevalence of certain play, and citing the CP norms in particular, are propagated by their prevalence in porn. The implements that crop up are not native or natural to their social environments, but influenced by the ways in which they are portrayed in the imagery that we use to explore our kinks. Which are heavily based in British historical social norms.

Allan Ahlberg’s brilliant collections of schoolyard poetry (poetry about school life for preteens) are worth seeking out; in particular, I’m thinking of one poem in Heard It In The Playground (Amazon link) in particular, which can be found reproduced here (it’s the last poem in the blogpost). That was a real part of growing up, that memory that it used to be allowed (I was 2 when state school CP was banned).

The crooked handle cane (that’s the looped over end, like a shepherd’s crook) is such a potent symbol of the unforgiving, ritualistic application of humiliation and pain, in the collective memory.

Of course, BDSM canings (and other implement-based CP scenes) have absolutely elevated the ritualistic element of corporal punishment for the sake of enhancing and drawing out the maximum relish and pleasure from the experience. But there is no reason why we need to use those implements rather than others, or those reasons (built around corrective/retributive punishment), to build up that ritual of fear and pain.

– * –

I had fun thinking about what forms kink might take in some future/parallel world where communist/feminist egalitarianism held sway. To ask the same question about how kink without the school CP background might look, presumably one need only look at kink in non-English-speaking scenes. I don’t have that breadth of knowledge of other cultures to draw on those examples. But I wonder what could be done to invent a replacement instead?

The first things we need are a social situation in which the (feared) pain takes place, and a means of delivering that pain.

The situation must have a means of singling someone out (or making them feel singled out); it must be unavoidable once they have been singled out (although variants of fantasies might allow nominating someone else); and a clear purpose or intent of the person administering the pain. It should also be something that would seem like a regular, even commonplace, event in whatever social circle it takes place in.

Common examples might be rites of passage: Dreams of Spanking has a few examples of spiritual passage, including one in which the bottom performs t’ai chi moves and the rationale for the spanking/punishment play is in fact to demonstrate transcendence and thus be accepted as a master; some cultures have quite extreme examples in r/l, and in modern Western culture versions include various types of “hazing”. A crossover with another type of kink play might be some form of medical check-up, perhaps to assess pain response (the original purpose of the “Wartenburg wheel” with spikes arranged around the outside of a wheel, for running over the skin). Brushing nearer the original concept of punishment, there might also be a “forfeit” theme in which the “loser” or last-placed person receives a pain ritual.

The means of delivery (i.e. the type of pain play) around which the ritual is built needs to have features that allow the anticipation to be built up: preferably without being seen, so that means it makes a distinctive, threatening sound (like the whistle of a cane, or “snap” of a leather belt against itself) and perhaps can be used in a gentle, non-painful way first – ideally, in a way that implies the person delivering the pain is getting ready (the way a tap of the cane to take aim is used). It should also have the ability to be sudden. The cane works for this especially well because the stroke always produces a “whistle” to make the recipient’s body tense, though often not quickly enough.

Some people are fans of counting strokes in caning or spanking scenes. I’m not, but some element of that as part of the ritual might be good.

Finally, there should be an element of the recipient having to make preparations: e.g. stripping a uniform or quasi-uniform to expose part of their body; assuming a particular position or location on command; perhaps providing the equipment themselves.

Here’s one scene idea that seems to fulfil all these criteria:

“Electrical Nervous Response Check-up”.

Specific concern after the company health checks means that one or two of their employees are asked to take an extra, routine, test: they are singled out in front of everyone and asked to go through into the medical office. The medic asks the recipient to set up the equipment, wheeling it from the cupboard, plugging it in and selecting the correct attachment. The equipment is a violet wand. “I’m going to need you to take off your shoes and socks, and your top, please. Thank you. Now, close your eyes and keep them closed, so conscious reactions don’t spoil the test. That’s good. I want you to open your legs and stretch out your arms like a star. Excellent.” Perhaps the medic dabs something on various points where the wand is to touch the skin, either as aiming markers or as base readings for the reaction when that touch occurs. Then the medic turns on the wand and its distinctive sound is heard for the first time. The medic uses the wand on a lower setting first to check the contacts are all working as they should. Perhaps the medic only turns the current on when they’re just about to touch it to the skin – or maybe the medic varies whether the current is on or off in between touches.

Longer contact may be necessary, as might additional areas of touch (requiring more clothing be removed). Perhaps more baseline readings are needed so the wand buzzes but a non-electrified item is used to dab the skin.

Of course, any flinching or opening the eyes is going to mess up the test and require repetitions. The entire procedure is carried out as though it is a routine test, a ritual that must be carried out for the satisfaction of the company’s rules. Just as there is no explicitly sexual content in a ritual CP scene (though some can be added), this scene is non-sexual in presentation (unless added). The sexualised part comes in the relationship to the ritualistic procedure.

– * –

The Guardian website yesterday had an interesting article in which Martin Robbins analysed data and metadata about porn pay-per-download site Clips4Sale. There’s a blue circle of “spanking” and CP-related items in the top right hand of the “fetish map” Robbins provides. The biggest links out of that cluster that are easy to follow anyway, seem to be to “bra and panties”, which is a part of a “bondage” cluster (other links seem to go to a cluster of various types of female dominant fetishes).

The terms that appear in the “spanking” cluster seem to be familiar from the CP lexicon of Western Anglophone kink, but whether that is evidence of porn influencing choices, or porn reflecting choices, is impossible to say.

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About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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