In this essay I will be attempting to explore the idea of Fetishism as well as it’s role in today’s society and today’s culture, in particular I will be looking at Freud’s notion of fetishism, though I will also steer away from this classic explanation in order to talk about decadent and pre-oedipal fetishism as discussed by Amanda Fernbach, I will also refer to her discussion of Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs first published in 1870 and how this relates to fetishism today, in addition I will also relate this to a particular fetish that I wish to discuss and one that has been widely publicised recently- feeders and their feedees. I will be discussing the negative attitudes towards this, including comparison to abuse and eating disorders as well as to S&M (sadism and masochism/ sado-masochism) and dominant/ submissive relationships. I will also refer to a number of people who have been and/or still are involved in feederism and what they feel about the practice. After discussing this I will attempt to determine whether or not fetishism is a necessary part of desire and also try to establish, why if it is the case the fetishism is necessary, why this is. However I believe that this question first necessitates an understanding of desire itself and I will discuss this in terms of Kojève’s understanding of Hegel’s notion of desire.
Kojéve argues that it is desire that humanizes us, and that it is desire that gives us a sense of self, he states that ‘desire of a being is what constitutes that being as I and reveals it as such by moving it to say “I”… desire is what transforms being’(Kojéve, 1947/1980, p 7), Judith Butler reiterates this point by saying that, ‘in the formulation “I desire x” the I emerges as if by accident, subjectivity is unwittingly created and discovered through he concrete expression of desire’ (1987, p66). According to Kojève ‘desire is only human if one desires, not the body, but the desire of the other… that is to say he want to be desired, or loved, or rather, recognized’ (1947/1980, p6). Kojéve continues to discuss desire in terms of his idea of recognition and explains how the protagonist (the desirer) and the desired other (the object of his interest) must eventually confront one another, driven by their desire for recognition. However, if either side is killed as a result of this confrontation, the killer can no longer obtain recognition, it becomes impossible therefore the solution to this dilemma is that the two, both the protagonist and the desire other must assert themselves as unequal through the means of this confrontation, this involves the necessity of one to surrender to the other, to fear the other and that one ‘must refuse to risk his life for the satisfaction of his desire for recognition’ (Kojéve, 1947/1980 p8).This means he must begin to recognize the other as his master, and himself as the slave (Kojéve, 1947/1980, p 7-8). Subsequently, this means that the protaganist is left to take on the role of the master, therefore he/she has all the agency and control over how he feels, what he wants, and what he foresees for both his/her own future and the furture of the other. This notion can be quite clearly linked ot a number of fetishistic practices that will be discussed later.
Because, as Freud’s states, although the person who has the fetish acknowledges it as an abnormality, very rarely associates the fetish with suffering or negativity, it was a secondary finding for Freud. Freud continued to announce that the fetish is a substitute for a penis, he elaborates by explaining that in early childhood the male does not realise that his mother does not have a penis, and so when he sees her penis-less body he is both horrified and worried about his own penis, so he averts his gaze, the object that he is then looking become a substitute for the mothers penis and therefore become the basis for the fetish ‘the horror of castration has set up a memorial to itself in the creation of this substitute. Furthermore, an aversion, which is never absent in any fetishist, to the real female genitals remains a stigma indelebile of the repression that has taken place’ (Freud, 1977: p351-2).
Freud continues to explain the purpose of the fetish to the fetishist, explaining that while it acts as a reminder of the fetishists victory over the ‘threat of castration’ (Freud, 1977: p353) it also prevents the fetishists aversion to female genitalia manifesting itself as homosexuality, the fetish achieves this by ‘endowing women with the characteristic that makes them tolerable as sexual objects… probably no male human being is spared the fright of castration at the sight of a female genital. Why some people become homosexual as a consequence of that impression, while others fend it off by creating a fetish, and the great majority surpass it we are not able to explain’ (Freud, 1977: p354). In fact a feedee (which we will discuss later) states that ‘being a feeder or feedee is not really a CHOICE, any more than one's sexual orientation is a choice’ (Betsy, 1998, online).
As Freud himself states, based on the information discussed above one might expect that the fetish have a phallic form, given what it is a substitute for, he gives the example of a nose fetish to explain this, however, as Freud also states, this is not always the case. Freud continues by stating that ‘the foot or shoe owes its preference as a fetish… to the circumstance that the inquisitive boy peered up at the woman’s genitals from below, from her legs up: fur and velvet… are a fixation of the sight of pubic hair which should have been followed by the longed for sight of the female member: pieces of underclothing… crystallise the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could still be regarded as phallic’ (Freud: 1977: p354-5).
There have been many variations on Freud’s ideas recently, Amanda Fernbach presents an alterative to Freud ideas regarding the origins of an individual fetish, suggesting that fetishistic behaviour is the result of separation from the mother, she states that ‘though it is not legitimised, some theorists and practitioners of psychoanalysis have argued that the pre-oedipal phase that gives rise to separation/individuation anxiety can also support a fetish’ (2002: p 30) meaning that it could be the separation from the mother rather than threat of castration from the father that causes or aids a persons fetishistic habits. Fernbach also quotes Gamman and Makinen who says that ‘fetishism is as much about the disavowal of individuation (separation from the mother) as it is about sexual difference’ (2002: p30). Fernbach also discusses Moorjani who contests Freud’s notion completely by creating what she calls ‘matrix fetishism’ (2002: p30) she goes on to state that ‘ in men matric fetishism arises out of an earlier pre oedipal identification with the mother-father phantasmatic, which is seen as whole and complete in opposition to gendered bodies, which are seen as partial and incomplete’ (in Fernbach, 2002: p30). Moorjani continues to state that as a result of this the male turns to transvestitism in an attempt to unify the male and female, by masquerading his male body as a female he becomes a matric man fetish (2002: p 30-31).
Fernbach also introduces the concept of decadent fetishism, which she says is ‘concerned with the disavowal of cultural rather than corporeal lack’ (2002: p26). Fernbach also discusses the two ways in which she believes decadent fetishism can occur ‘either by disavowing one’s own lack from a position of cultural marginality, or by disavowing the cultural lack of the Other from a position of cultural centrality’ (2002: p26). Bennet compares both Freud’s classical notion of fetishism to Fernbach’s more contemporary theory of decadent fetishism, he argue s that in ‘psychoanalytic theory the concept of a fetish applies to the specific sexual trigger of an individual, be it latex, high heels or whatever. In out modern context, however, a fetishist is not necessarily someone who requires a fetish item in order to become sexually simulated, but rather the fetish acts as a supercharger to empower their sex/social life’ (in Fernbach, 2002: p27).
I will now go on to discuss a particular fetish, namely feederism, which requires the involvement of both feeders and feedees, ‘a FEEDER is a person who enjoys encouraging and/or helping another person to gain weight. A FEEDEE is a person who enjoys gaining weight, especially when assisted by a feeder, and in the context of a sensual and/or sexual relationship’ (Betsy: 1998: online). One feeder gives reasons why he enjoys the act and states that ‘the feeder/feedee loves the perversion, to convert a thin trim lean ("attractive") body into a soft soggy wobbly fat mass. The adjective "spoiled" and decadent sounds sweet!’ (Anon, UD: Online). There are of course mixed responses to this fetish, there are those who praise it, those who accept it and those who see it in a negative light, and see the feeder/feedee relationship as bordering on abuse or S&M and condemn the way in which it seems necessary for both dominant and submissive to feature within the relationship. Channel 4 screened a program documenting the journey of a woman named Gina and how she became a feedee ‘When Gina advertised for a boyfriend at the age of 24, she already weighed over 28 stone. But such was the desire of the man she met and married for a 'fat girl' that she ultimately reached nearly 60 stone in weight and qualified for the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest ever woman model’ (Anon, 2005: online) Within this the boundaries that separate fetishism and abuse are discussed ‘it is this female helplessness – encouraged and engineered by male partners – that pushes fantasy over the border into abuse…You can hold somebody prisoner in a house or in a cellar, or you can hold them prisoner in their own body’ (H. Blank in Anon, 2005: Online).
The main issue here is that of consent and that itself can be tricky, even when consent is given by the feedee this is often the result of body image issues and underlying psychological problems, even eating disorders. As Blank states ‘there are cases where feeders claim that they are in a feeder-feedee relationship with full consensuality, but that can be very hard to determine’ (H. Blank in Anon, 2005: Online). There are many people who liken feeding to abuse, one man even goes so far as to compare it to rape stating that ‘the act of feeding, force feeding against someone’s will is like forced sexual penetration’ (Anon, 2002: Online). It could also be likened to abuse in that when a person reaches a certain weight and continues to increase in size there can be no question that they are in fact endangering their own health, therefore when this happens as a result of somebody else forcing or even encouraging the person to do so it becomes at least partially their fault.
The notion of a feeder/feedee relationship has also been likened to S&M and dominant/submissive relationships, and the master/ slave dynamic can be seen clearly in Kojève’s discussion of desire. Fernbach also discusses this type of relationship and refers to Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs wherein ‘fur figures as a central prop in the masochistic drama of willed masculine disempowerment and the creation of correlative negativity, the feminised agent of power and domination’ (2002: 183). This would be seen as a fetish in Freud’s classic sense, as previously stated, and as Fernbach points out ‘fur and velvet… are a fixation of the sight of pubic hair…’ (2002: p185). Fernbach quotes a slave contract that was signed by Sacher-Masoch, of which particular sections can be related to the idea of feeding ‘your body and soul too shall belong to me, and even if this causes you great suffering, you shall submit your feelings and sentiments to my authority. I shall be allowed to exercise the greatest cruelty, and if I should mutilate you, you shall bear it without complaint…’ (in Fernbach, 2002: p184). This relates to the feeder/feedee relationship in that it refers to an ownership of another’s body and in that the feeding of a person until they are morbidly obese can quite clearly be likened to mutilation. A reason given by one feeder for enjoying feederism was ‘the thrill of domination/submission (to control / to be controlled). The feedee is tied down like a prisoner and then forced to eat, shown how she gets fat by pictures. It's not the feedee’s intention to fatten up, but an erotic kick to be forced to do it’ (Anon, UD: Online) this clearly supports the suggestion of abuse being linked to feederism.
However, there are those who see the notion of feeding and feeders as a positive thing, and argue against the notion that these relationships are one sided, one feedee says ‘I think another thing that is misunderstood is that this practice needs to be consensual on the part of BOTH persons, and most people think it is usually one-sided, which is generally not the case. I would NEVER recommend that a woman attempt to gain weight for her partner if it were not also her deepest desire’ (Betsy, 1998: Online). Another way in which some people contests the negative stigma attached to the idea of feeding is that many refer to themselves as being ‘active in the size-acceptance movement’ (Betsy: 1998: online) or even contesting stereotypes and ideals that are prevalent within today’s society, as one man says ‘the women are breaking through the taboos and restrictions surrounding eating and women’s bodies. Through their eating and weight gain, they are taking back their bodies from a misogynistic culture that dictates everything they should do with and put in to their bodies. That takes a lot of courage to do, and weight gain is just one way that some women do it’ (Anon 2006: Online) in fact a popular term within these communities is that of ‘BBW’ (big beautiful woman). However this is something which others have contested by saying that size acceptance would mean not having to enlarge their partners, as one person argues ‘feeders are not a part of the size acceptance movement because of the very nature of their desire to change the size of their partner’ (Anon, 2002: Online). When we consider Kojève’s statement regarding the way in which human desire is the desire for recognition it is interesting that one feeder claims a reasons for enjoying being a feedee is that ‘Nobody can overlook a fat body. It makes you powerful and un-ignorable’ (Anon, UD: Online).
Another way in which feedees have been viewed in negative light is the suggestion that they may in fact have eating disorders many of the women who get involved in FA (fat admirer) relationships start off overweight. Like Gina (mentioned earlier), they describe feeling unwanted and unloved as a result of their size. They do not fit current ideals of extreme thinness in young women, and some have the body image problems typical of people with eating disorders’ (in Anon, 2005: Online). One woman suggests that many so-called fat admirers may not even be aware that many of the people in their social circle may be struggling with an eating disorder, she goes on to argue that ‘in this climate, admitting that some fat people have eating disorders is like putting ammunition in the hands of everyone who seeks to “cure” obesity - to say nothing of modest weight gain - through the humiliation and shaming of fat folks. In this fat phobic mindset, thin people with eating disorders require compassionate treatment (or, more disturbingly, are heralded as icons….), but fat people with eating disorders are lazy and deserve what they get’ (Anon, 2006: Online) she also suggests that peoples negative attitudes and ideals regarding weight could be part of the reason for the negativity surrounding feeding.
Having looked at the classic notion of fetishism as well as more contemporary understandings of fetishistic behaviour, such as decadent and pre oedipal, and having explored the wide and varied definitions and explanations for fetishes it seems as though it is a culture that may not be as much as a minority as people want it to be. After looking at feederism it also appears as though if people are willing to essentially harm the ones that they care about, for the satisfaction of their own fetishistic desires it would seem that, at least in some cases fetishism may well be a necessary element of desire. It may be that the level of necessity depends on the fetishised object itself, in some cases, as Freud states ‘the meaning of the fetish is not known to other people, so the fetish is not withheld from him: it is easily accessible and he can readily obtain the sexual satisfaction attached to it. What other men have to woo and make exertion for can be had by the fetishist with no trouble at all’ (1977: p354) if this is the case then maybe the necessity depends on the accessibility of the given object within ‘normal’ society. However, if this is the case, it may also be true that the necessity of fetishes as a whole will decrease given the increasing accessibility due to new technologies such as the Internet, especially with the availability of websites and video-sharing. Having said that, if we are to consider Kojève’s notion regarding desire constituting a being, if fetishism is at all a necessary part of desire for an individual, then it is essentially also a necessary part of that person’s realisation as a human being, and his/her self-consciousness. I will conclude that I believe Fetishism to be a necessary part of desire for at least some individuals, but that necessary or not those who have them appear to embrace them rather than shun them and for that reason I believe that fetishism will always be a part of our society and our culture, as Freud states ‘though no doubt a fetish is recognised by its adherents as an abnormality, it is seldom felt by them as the symptom of an ailment accompanied by suffering. Usually they are quite satisfied with it, or even praise the way in which it eases erotic life’ (1977: p351).
- Anon, (UD) Introduction to the World of Feeding, [Online] Available from http://rubensfeeder.tripod.com/intro/newbie_intro_e.html. (Accessed 02/01/2008) Unknown
- Anon (2002) Force Feeders?[Online] Available from http://www.rotunda.com/people/yohannon/feeder_response.html Accessed 02/01/2008) Unknown
- Anon, (2005) Fat Fantasy or Domestic Abuse? [Online] Available from http://www.channel4.com/health/microsites/0-9/4health/food/ove_feeders.html (Accessed 01/01/2008) Unknown
- Anon (2006) Feed Me! [Online] Available from http://fatgrrl.com/?p=220 (accessed 02/01/2008) Unknown
- Betsy, C.B. (1998) The Fat Admirer's Haven [online] Available from http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Zone/4984/fatadmirers.html (accessed 01/01/2008), Unknown
- Butler, J. (1987) ‘Historical Desires: The French Reception of Hegel’, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. New York: Columbia University Press, 61-99.
- Fernbach, A. (2002) Fantasies of Fetishism: From Decadence to the Post-Human, Edinburgh University Press
- Freud, S. (1977) Fetishism, The penguin Freud Library, Volume 7 On Sexuality. Ed A. Richards Hammondsworth, Penguin p351-357.
- Kojéve. A. (1947/1980) Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, Edited by A. Bloom, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, pg 3-30