Take a look at the picture. It is from a Bars and Stripes episode named "Silence is Broken", but I call it "Girls With An Attitude". We have Leia-Ann Woods with her usual bitchy snarl, Niki Flynn giving us her best "I'm appalled!" look, and Adele Haze as the overburdened peacemaker. What is all the fuss about? Well, from what I understand, it starts with Leia making a pass at Adele - the usual cinema verite stuff. So this displeases Niki, and Leia calls her a nutter. Imagine that! Niki, of all people... Anyway, after this insult, violent mayhem ensues.
Such is the power of words. If you read my Non-BDSM Guide to BDSM Terms, you know that I am keenly interested in the subject. Most philosophers are - words are just fascinating little things.
In role-playing and corporal punishment, words can be a powerful turn-on. A kinky friend of mine thoroughly enjoys being called a "whore" or "slut" during a scene. Is that because she just happens to like these expressions, per se? I don't think so. Imagine that someone were to write her an email saying: "You should be ashamed of yourself, indulging in this BDSM filth that promotes violence against women! You are a disgusting whore!" Knowing my friend, I doubt she could rise to the dignity of feeling bothered by such a slur from an obvious simpleton. But I am sure that she wouldn't enjoy the word from that kind of source, either.
So where's the difference? Needless to say, it's in the context - an "in character" BDSM scene is totally different from someone sending you hate mail. It's not really the literal meaning of a word that makes us feel a certain way, it's the context - the intention and the attitude of the speaker, for one thing. The words themselves are quite harmless. They are mere tools - what matters is how you apply them.
Not even the worst insults are "bad words" in themselves. Take, for example, the word "nigger". That one is (rightfully) considered extremely offensive. Literally, it means "black", derived from the Latin word "niger". Which isn't all that horrible, is it? But the point here is that the word has a very bad history - which is just another term for "context". For centuries, it has been used by white people as a slur against those with darker skins. We avoid the term because, in most contexts, it implies racism.
Note that we don't mind if Eddie Murphy uses the word. Quentin Tarantino movies are full of it, too, but no one in his right mind believes that Tarantino is a racist - for one thing, he regularly casts African-American actors. On the other hand, if some moron from a white supremacist group were to use the very same term, we would be alarmed. Again, it's all about the context. We should be concerned about the speaker and his attitude, not about the mere language he uses. There are no "bad words" as such, and you are not going to eliminate bigotry simply by outlawing a list of certain terms.
Still, some people argue that words themselves are dangerous, and they promote their little taboo lists. Politicians, religious fundamentalists, lobby groups and plain old "concerned citizens" all have certain words they don't want you to say. They will pretend that it is all for your own good (usually "protection of the family", the all-time favourite excuse for censorship). The real motivation is to gain and uphold power. Controlling language is the best way to control thought.
In truth, words never harmed anyone - attitudes do. A supporter of censorship will always refuse to acknowledge this very significant distinction, and he will try to blur it with over-simplified arguments that ignore context.
Interestingly, most of these types (the self-appointed language policemen) also have a big problem with BDSM as an activity, and they use the same approach here. They will take what we do out of its context and look only at the surface - a domme spanking her sub is basically "the same action" as a husband hitting his wife or a mother hitting her child, so therefore, it is "abuse". When the censorious nitwits realize that the claim is just too damn stupid to be supportable, they will retreat to the weaker, but equally fallacious position that BDSM at least "encourages abuse".
All of this is nonsense for a very simple and, one would think, obvious reason: BDSM is consensual while abuse isn't. It is neither equivalent to nor does it encourage real violence. Again, it is the context of the action that makes all the difference. Like any word, the basic act of spanking someone is really "neutral" in itself - what matters is who the two individuals are and what intentions they have.
It is so clear that, on the face of it, the point doesn't even seem to be worth mentioning. But because what we do and the feelings we have are so powerful in their own way, we sometimes become fraught with doubt ourselves. Questions arise, such as: can I really be a submissive woman and a feminist at the same time? Or, can I honestly say that I oppose torture when I get turned on by images that look like torture?
Of course we can. But it's an insight that requires a lot of self-exploration and isn't always as "easy" as I've made it out to be. I had the same questions myself and I still wrestle with them sometimes, because the journey is never fully over. However, we should always keep in mind that it's not merely what we do, it's our attitudes that matter. We mustn't confuse ourselves (or let ourselves be confused) into believing that adult consensual BDSM is objectionable somehow. It is not, and moreover, we should not be afraid to let others who don't share our kink know why that is.