Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gender and BDSM

When you come across a heterosexual male submissive in a book, often he's a powerful male who needs to be able to be relieved of responsibilities for a while -- it's an escape for him. For example, a CEO of a large company, or perhaps a police officer... someone who needs to let someone else be in charge for a while.

But most female submissives, as written in books, need someone to take care of them. For whatever reason (finances, lack of responsibility, some emotionally crippling issue), they aren't capable of standing on their own two feet, and they need a dominant man to take care of them.

I know there are exceptions to the rule for both cases, not all male submissives are Super Alpha Males with the exception of the woman they submit to, and there are a lot of female submissive characters who are capable of standing on their own two feet without a man to take care of them. I'm just saying that it seems to me, in the majority of heterosexual BDSM books my first two statements hold true.

I write strong female characters who choose to submit. Or maybe it's not a choice, maybe they are just wired that way, but that's a whole 'nother discussion. The point is, I write strong women characters who are surviving on their own just fine when they finally meet the Dominant of their dreams. In an online discussion about Safeword Rainbow I saw someone say, "If Viv can take care of herself then why is she submitting to him?"  That's at least one person who thinks all submissive women are weak, or who doesn't understand a strong women can choose to submit.  

I enjoy books where the submissive is male, mainly because I can usually relate to the male submissives (as they are written in books) more than I can relate to the way so many female submissives are written.

I'm not criticizing any specific book where the female can't stand on her own two feet, as there are some very good books written from that standpoint. In fact, it's a nice fantasy in some cases, to be totally taken care of. I'm just pointing out the gender difference. It's more of a statement about the way our society is structured than a statement about any specific book.

There is something else about the "savior Dom" scenario that bothers me. If the submissive isn't capable of standing on her own two feet, then once she's living with the Dom she doesn't really have an escape clause. At what point does it become, "I consent to whatever you want to do to me because I've got it made here and if I move out I have no way to rent an apartment or even buy food", instead of "I could easily leave and support myself if I wanted, but I choose to live here and submit to you".  The first is not true consent in my eyes, but the second is. I can think of a few books where the author uses the first scenario to create what amounts to a TPE where the slave is eventually truly trapped, and they are great books as far as fantasy BDSM goes.  If you want to use finances to turn it into "coerced consent" or even "forced consent", then sure, it can make for a fantastic fantasy.... and perhaps that's why this scenario gets used so much.  Or in the case of the truly savior Dom, the kind who saves and then insists on a college education and then helps them find a good job, maybe we should blame all of those Disney princesses who needed their prince to come along and save them. But then, I'm not exactly normal. I prefer The Paper Bag Princess to Sleeping Beauty.

Again, I'm not slamming books written this way, I'm just looking at the big picture: Submissive male characters usually get to be alpha males in their outside life and submissive only with the woman they love; while it seems to me most submissive women characters are written as helpless females who need someone to take care of them.

I don't think there is anything wrong with enjoying a book where the woman needs someone to step in and save her, I've enjoyed plenty of them, and if I'm in the mood for a "real slave" sort of book then sometimes that can fit the bill perfectly. Overall though, I much prefer to see a strong and capable woman submit to a strong and capable man.

How do you prefer the female submissive to be portrayed?

4 comments:

  1. The hard part about talking about this is that we may have been talking about a different subset of books. Most of the female submissives I read are portrayed as being very strong to start, that's why it's such a big deal for them to submit, so I'm not feeling the helpless female vibe you described. And submissive males are so freaking -rare- that it's hard to even come up with a generalization for how they are, but I would tend to agree that they are alpha outside the bedroom. But then, from my reading experience, that means most submissives are pretty in-control of their situations, as a juxtaposition to their bedroom submission, not just the men.

    In fact, one of my favorite BDSM books, Accidental Slave, I thought the heroine really went too far protesting. I'm trying to think about the more helpless female subs I've read about, to see if maybe I'm just missing something. Maybe I am, to a point, because I think of a book like Breaking Free by Cherise Sinclair. I can see how she's a helpless female, needing the hero to come rescue her, but she's also strong in her own right. Even survival of her situation takes strength. For contrast, look at Mirror to my Soul by Joey Hill, where the heroine saves herself. This was a let-down to me. So yes, my Disney viewing childhood is probably influencing my preferences, but that doesn't really have anything to do with BDSM, in my opinion. The dynamics of their relationship are something to be negotiated, etc, but when it comes down to it, my baser instinct knows that a man is stronger, better at hunting, useful for protection and I want my mate (even in fantasy) to portray those skills. That's what makes it a romance. Take Anders from As She's Told. Obviously he controls her, but if he didn't also protect her, it wouldn't work as a romance.

    This is also colored by the fact that I really like the non-consent fantasy, so when you say that it's not true consent (which is completely true), I'm like - sign me up. Even something that's not really bdsm, like Midnight Man by Lisa Marie Rice: he saves her, and takes her away to his safehouse, and then she feels obligated to have sex with him. She even says so! It also happens that she is attracted to him and he ends up loving her, etc, so everything works out neat and tidy, but that's still survival sex. And even as I'm aware of that, I find it hot, for the fantasy. Thinking about that in real life terms is a different story, then it's just creepy. I only recently read Comfort Object by Annabel Joseph and it was a great book and so hot, but again, a very bad setup for real life.

    I think romance and erotica get a bad rep for setting up false expectations of encouraging fantasy. All fiction is fantasy. Yes, it varies on how close you're writing to life, but in the end, it's someone's fantasy. And the irony is that romance is a fantasy that is pretty common in real life, whereas other genres, like sci-fi or serial killer thrillers, are more rare and would actually promote falser expectations. That is, if we are assuming that genre fiction is making commentary and suggestions on life, which I do think, but only in a very vague, "make you think" kind of way.

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  2. Amber brings up a lot of good points. I don't like "neat and tidy" in any book. And I don't like a submissive who has no struggles. No one can make me believe that a sub or slave (male or female) goes through every day in full contentment with never a peep from their egos; no self-doubt, confusion, frustration, etc. I want some realism!!!

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    1. I understand what you are saying Saundra, as a submissive woman with a retired Navy husband and 2 older children still at home, I have to be powerful, but that does not mean there isn't bleed over into our D/s relationship. It always has and unlike most Doms he gets it. That's why we are still together. He knows I can't do it all and have dignity and self assurance. We still share. He makes the major decisions and I make the everyday decisions and hand out punishment for the kids. A good example of bleed over happens when I am taking care of home business and he jumps in as the Dom, I usually react with soething like shut your pie hole I have this. Followed by the stink eye from his Dom. We have to give and take because we have a complicated dynamic relationship full of reality getting in the middle. We balance everything and talk way more than the average couple. I have still not found a book that juggles that much reality and makes the D/s element work. The closest I have come is Cardinal's Rules by Tymber Dalton and she still skims over the "real" issues and only the Doms pops his and her corks when the stress is too much. The only place I have to give up all control is at out local BDSM meetings because they think I am disrespecting him if I am not meek. I find that some of the BDSM community thinks you can't have a relationship different from their and it be real D/s. People are always afraid of things they don't understand. The other play I am completely submissive is inside out bedroom where we have privacy. That doesn't just mean in bed, but anything that happens there. That's the only way to get away from the kids. My youngest daughter is total D and doesn't get why I am submissive to her father, so we have taken this part of our life out of our home life to stop the questions and weird looks. K Teenagers make D/s difficult. That's anyother reality issue that would be fun to attack.

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  3. I don't like neat and tidy either, there have to be problems and struggles, you've got to have conflict.

    Most feminists seem to have a problem with BDSM as a rule, but my version of being a feminist is that I have the power to submit if I choose. No one is making me, it's my choice.

    Maybe it's just the books I've read that make me think the majority are about rescuing.

    In As_She's_Told, Maia is living on her own and taking care of herself just fine. Their relationship is not about her needing someone to support her financially or even emotionally. They come together because they both want the same thing in a relationship. He eventually does take her income from her, but he makes a point of leaving it in an account she can access for what, a year? I'm good with that, as their relationship is already established before that happens. And if Maia ever did decide, on one of their discussions about it, that she wanted out, she'd likely be able to find a better job and support herself still, since she's been working all along. I was very comfortable with their dynamic.

    In Comfort_Object, she was surviving just fine on her own, too, until someone got her fired. That changed their dynamic, but once she was a few weeks into it I felt like she knew she had enough paychecks in the bank that if she'd really wanted to leave, she could have, and would have had enough of a cushion to hold her while she found another job.

    I actually loved the way Mirror_to_My_Soul played out, as it empowered her in a way that she needed. While we're talking about Joey W. Hill, Natural_Law pretty much explains the Alpha Male who submits that I was talking about.

    Amber's point about the non-consent being hot (in fiction, not in real life) is perhaps one of the reasons this is used so much. It's a bit of a challenge to write a realistic non-consent that takes place in the US with our current laws. But when one person is the sole financial support of another, and he can say "she can leave at any time if she wants" and that be technically true, he also knows he can get away with treating her as "less" than he could if she had her own income, or were able to support herself. She's trapped and he knows it. In a way, our society will also view her as "less valuable", since she's not producing an income. That just makes her value as a sex object that much more titillating, doesn't it? So, yeah, maybe that's more of the reason than some sort of statement about gender views in society. But, maybe not. I mean, the same could hold true of enslaving a male submissive, couldn't it? But it's somehow hotter for the male submissive to be this powerful male who is under her thumb.

    I totally agree that all fiction is fantasy, and that readers need to keep a firm handle on that fact. But I also think you can get some basic views of society in general by looking at that society's fiction.

    Charlaine Harris has talked about how she used prejudice against the vampires as a metaphor for racism, and it feels like Alan Ball has run with that theme even more than Mrs. Harris did. But, I'm rambling and way off the subject, so I'll stop.

    Thanks for the comments - lots of food for thought.

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