Deirdre Skye (as a fan of Alpha Centauri, I heartily approve of this nickname), writing for Feminist Current, asks why it is that BDSMers get away with arguing that consent makes their particular brand of hierarchy AOK but we easily see through this ploy when it’s used to support other hierarchies.
Hypothetically, it would be possible for Walmart to create a new private school, Walmart Academy, which would allow parents to send their young toddlers for residential education through the age of 18. Walmart Academy could teach desirable employee traits as personal and civic virtues — or, indeed, as the only behavioral choices that wouldn’t lead to punishment.
After such an education, students would be given Walmart jobs for life. They would be cheerful in their work, trained never to express dissatisfaction, boredom, or anger. Each of them would want his or her job — some would feel their jobs were, in fact, necessary for their life satisfaction.
It is doubtful that many of us would be swayed by the notion that these hypothetical employees chose their jobs. In the same way, most of us would not be comforted if we learned that the North Korean people really did think their leader was a living god, or that they were quite happily starving.
We can see, then, that consent — even enthusiasm — of the exploited is not necessarily a useful paradigm for evaluating whether that exploitation is moral.
This principle is simple, even intuitive, in these situations.
So why does BDSM get a free pass?