Safe Words

Abby Ohlheiser: All the religious language of the last fortnight’s Perry and Ames fest ’11 (or should that be ’12) made me click on this tweet (despite the parenthetical clue) without thinking for a second that it would be a comment on anything other than something Bachmann or Perry have talked about–they’ve been using “bondage” a lot recently. (By the way: don’t google “perry bondage.”)

It was, in fact, an article about the sort of bondage with a bigger but quieter internet presence: BDSM, which stands for bondage, discipline, sado-masochisim. Essentially, the UK has an employment law that protects against discrimination based on religion or belief. How exactly that has played out previously, but recently failed to protect for those practicing BDSM, is explained in a Guardian piece by Jane Fae:

The heart of the matter was whether her lifestyle was capable of constituting a belief in accordance with the employment equality (religion or belief) regulations 2003, which have already seen beliefs in foxes’ rights and the hypothesis of man-made global warming – not to mention a belief in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting – all ruled capable of being protected philosophical beliefs. As debates went, this was possibly a tad above the pay grade of a local employment tribunal.

I’m not going to pretend to understand anything about British law (despite my recent addiction to Kingdom), but I can take a guess at why the court declined to protect in this particular case: Shame. Or, maybe, disgust.

Telling is the following quote from the piece, in which Fae recounts what happened when she was called in to assist the court’s decision:

But, the barrister asked: was I really suggesting that entering into a relationship in which someone else might tell you what to do, and where and how, was consistent with modern values? My answer was brief: “wage slavery.”

In this instance, “modern values” (usually a troubling expression when used by someone in a position of authority, and especially when used in the same breath as religion or belief), is weaseling public interest into protection against discrimination. It implies a necessity of “modern” consensus before said protections (which, to be sure, have been applied in many much-needed cases) may be granted. But it leaves open the question of who gets to define those values, and for whom.

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