“To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object.”
— Simone de Beauvoir
The way I interpret this, it has something interesting and poignant to say about kink. It draws the clear distinction between the oppression women experience, which is a site where we are denied agency, and submissive women who are engaged in an act of agency when they choose to submit. Submissive women are not betraying the cause of feminism. They’re owning their sexual desires. And their being able to do that safely and with respect is a feminist cause, just like all women being able to have the consensual pleasure they desire is a feminist cause.
The quote also articulates the ways that men who sub maintain their male privilege despite the fact that they sub and receive social stigma for doing so. The stigma—including verbal as well as possibly physical abuse—that men who aren’t considered to be fully living up to their masculinity receive is wrong and should be contested, but it’s also qualitatively different than sexism. When a man chooses to submit, he only has part of it — what it’s like to choose. And he knows what it’s like for society to judge him for that. But women are not allowed choice in wider society. Whether a woman is submissive or not, her experience of oppression is the experience of being made a “passive object” over and over rather than making herself one for a set period, in specific circumstances, for her own pleasure. Submissive men intimately know the pains of expressing their gender in ways that are considered a challenge to the system, and there can be a tendency to forget that women live with something different that they do not have to know. Submissive men face prejudice and abuse, but still have male privilege.