Thinking Kink: Masculinity and Submission

When women are portrayed as submissive in popular media, the reaction broadly seems to be either "that's hot" or "that's offensive." When men are portrayed as submissive, the reaction is more likely to be one of pity or derision. I recently attended a play party and got chatting with a male dominant while a male submissive was strapped to a nearby spanking bench and flogged by his female dominant. The submissive was young, slightly built, and wearing only a skimpy G-string. The dom I was conversing with admitted he found it hard to watch another man being dominated, because he felt the male submissive was letting their side down. "I want to say, 'be a man!'" he admitted, although he went on to say he respected that submission made this particular man happy. In her essay "Maid To Order: Commercial S/M and Gender Power," Anne Mclintock points out that "S/M theatrically flouts the edict that manhood is synonymous with mastery, and submission a female fate." Indeed, the media fascination that results every time a powerful man is caught associating with a dominatrix implies an ongoing curiosity about BDSM's power to invert gender stereotypes.

From Flickr user RachelKramerBussel.comBut, as I mentioned in my last post, the tendency to see a man being dominated by a woman as a jokeworthy subject implies at best a discomfort with a man being submissive, and at worst, such a strong refusal to believe women can truly have any power over men that any scenario depicting this must be comical or unrealistic. The episode of Secret Diary of A Call Girl I wrote about in my last post shows Belle hollering instructions at her sub—currently cleaning the toilet bowl with his tongue—while she casually flips through a magazine. It's undeniably humorous, not least because we're seeing a man is his late 50s wearing nothing but a PVC thong and apron, on his knees doing housework. But, the episode seems to ask, what kind of "real man" would actually find this erotic?

The discomfort with men being submissive is often reflected by a prurient media that loves to know the filthy details of any kinkster's activity just so it can disapprove of them. When Max Mosley was outed as having enjoyed an S/M party with paid female participants, the British tabloids—known for being jingoistic, homophobic and hostile to any woman who isn't constantly displaying her breasts—had a field day. The concern was ostensibly whether the party had overtly Nazi themes, but I suspect this was largely a pretext for outrage so that the media could then reveal all the filthy, kinky details of precisely what Mosely got up to. What everyone really wanted to know was, how could this powerful man enjoy being treated like a little beyotch by a group of women? Although Mosley did play some dominant roles during the party, the (now-defunct) News of The World also reported with glee that he "enjoys being whipped til he BLEEDS" (their caps). A public male figure may manage to move past a sex scandal if it's clear he's retained his manly, dominant role throughout (think Bill Clinton), but if he's allowed himself to be whipped and had his backside shaved by bossy uniformed women? Nope, we can't respect him "as a man" any more.

A recent episode of the BBC's Sherlock Holmes series, "A Scandal in Belgravia" reinforces this prejudice against maleSherlock ends up on the wrong end of Irene Adler's riding crop submissives. The clients of the seductive dominatrix Irene Adler are mostly men working in positions of authority—she mentions a policeman, Ministry of Defense official and a forensic scientist. Adler's work is dismissively described by Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's uptight brother, played wonderfully by Mark Gatiss) as "recreational scolding."

Perhaps the tendency to trivialize female domination comes from the need to reassure oneself that male submission is not "real," and therefore not a threat to men's sense of their own power. And yes, Mycroft is right that in this case, female domination is just a job that involves play-acting fantasies. But why then do Adler's male submissive clients discomfort Mycroft so much that he accuses Adler of "catering to the whims of the pathetic"?

The ongoing association of submissive behaviors with femininity, and femininity itself being seen as a demeaning state, is troubling for us all. It can't just be that masochism is considered unmanly—after all, inviting and enduring huge amounts of pain in the boxing ring, the football field, or in war are viewed as extremely masculine. If Max Mosley had been left bloody after a hearty session of rugby, all well and good. But to be left thus because you invited a group of women to flog your backside? Our reactionary media is still struggling with that one.

Photo credit: rachelkramerbussel

Previously: Belle De Jour and the Professional Domme, The Female Dominant in Pop Culture

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Thinking Kink: Masculinity and Submission

I found it very interesting with the resent media interest in D/s and BDSM due to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey that although submissive woman where by and large being portrayed by the mass media as simpering weak woman who were proof that in fact secretly all woman want to be dominated and chained to the kitchen sink there was no mention of submissive men AT ALL. Yet in my experience and certainly within my local kink community I would say that the number of submissive men outweighs the sub females at least 2 to 1. It would seem that submissive men are such a challenge to the media that unless ridiculing them there only other option is to ignore their existence at all.

Mollyxxx

BDSM, Submissive Men, Power and Economics

I think a lot of our idea of what submissive men are "all about" stems from our exposure. I will admit that when I worked in the phone sex industry, I struggled to find a place in myself that respected my submissive male clients, so much so that as I grew and moved forward in my life I found myself often turned off by partners who had once turned me on, just knowing that they might have submissive tendencies. That part of me is in the past now, thank goodness, but I still understand where the feelings came from....

In the world of professional BDSM, the strange power dynamics of sex work are even more confusing. Most clients I saw considered their power to stem from their money and their ability to make it. Giving that power to me was their "submission" and usually something that gave them a sense that they were now entitled to demand to be "dominated" in very specific ways. The dynamic was not sexy for me, which is why I shied away from most BDSM themes when I was in that field. I saw a lot of very desperate people, living the same sad stories over and over, obsessing about power and money and sex in endless cycles of binging and debt.

The overwhelming image is that women want to be dominated by men and it's super easy to find guys who are into it, because all guys are supposed to be into that sort of thing.... but that if a man wants to be dominated, he seeks out a professional who knows what she is worth and can communicate it in a hourly rate. The idea of "financial domination" takes this to the extreme - I once made $3000 in one day from a client who asked me to continuously increase my rate until he could no longer afford to talk to me. When this is what the world sees of Domme/sub dynamics, it can be hard to compare it to a relationship style that has been so prolifically represented in literature and film as sexy and desirable. We need more great books, movies, blogs and TV series which present submissive men as the happy, sexy creatures they can be!

Also..... submissive women

Also..... submissive women aren't always as "accepted" as we would like to think. As an example, a judge in Winnipeg is suffering a career-ending blow because photos she took with her husband in which she appears to be enacting a submissive fantasy have surfaced. Journalists writing about the subject have unanimously spoken about the photos as something her husband did to her and not with her, more than suggesting that she must have been manipulated into her position.

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1219618--nude-photos-judge-lori-...

Thank you so much for your

Thank you so much for your interesting comments, Bex. Perhaps you should be one of the people creating positive images of male subs, as it sounds like you have had some fascinating experiences!
I agree that the portrayal of female subs is definitely not unproblematic. This is something I will be looking at a lot soon. As you say, an inability to view female submissives as possessing choice or agency of their own is often a big part of the problem. I think some people genuinely believe a woman could not want to participate in a sub role unless she has been coerced into it by a man. But I will save my musings on this for future posts - so keep reading!

Submissive men MIA?

Thanks for your comment, Molly. I have certainly heard from several other people in the scene that there are far more submissive men out there than people realise. Why this fact is conveniently ignored by the media does seem to point to mainstream discomfort with men who wish to be dominated. The fact that the portrayal of submissive women is still so troubling as well, as you point out, perhaps also implies the media's inability to understand that anyone might want to consensually surrender power.

art and visual erotica that depicts masculine submission

Though it isn't as active as it once was, the Male Submission Art blog presents examples of imagery depicting male submission along with often-insightful analysis. Its author aims "to challenge stereotypes of the 'pathetic' submissive man." Though it is NSFW, it is not a porn blog, and I recommend it to anyone interested in issues around submissive masculinity.

Thanks!

This is a fascinating site, many thanks for this. I can see it being very popular with a lot of folks!

that men *can't* be submissive

"...the tendency to see a man being dominated by a woman as a jokeworthy subject implies at best a discomfort with a man being submissive, and at worst, such a strong refusal to believe women can truly have any power over men..."

I actually would rephrase that.

I actually think it's a mistake to believe it's about women at all.

I really don't think it is actually.

I think its about "a strong refusal to believe that men can truly be submissive".

In any form.

Julia Serrano touched on this in her book "Whipping girl.. on the scapegoating of femininity"

It's this same idea that causes young males to deride each other as "fags" in a teasing, but slightly corrective way, whenever they sense any femininity or perceived weakness of submission or frailty on the part of their friends.

They are trying to point out to their friends something they think is going to hurt them in life or is not ok, and thus correct it by a bit of teasing.

The truth is, it's not about women at all.

Dominant women have been known to exist for a long time.

It's not about the Dominant women, it that the dominant women are just another reminder of male submission.

Male submission does exist,

the discomfort lies not with women in roles of dominance, but in a refusal and discomfort in accepting submission in men.

Submissive, and/or feminine men, make society very uncomfortable.

It was not as much Marlyn Mansons music or Michael Jackson's music that made people as uncomfortable as it was the fact that they are both very feminine people. Even though they are (or were in the case of Jackson) both very dominant men.

It was their femininity that made people uncomfortable.

A submissive male is the lowest form of life in our society.

It's that, that needs to change.

It's ironic, that both men, and women have voiced opinions that either submissive men, or submissive women are "betraying their gender".

Is it possible that these people are just uncomfortable with some aspect of themselves?

Just like homophobia which has been scientifically shown to be linked to suppressed homoerotic tendencies in the homophobe, is it possible that the men who are uncomfortable with submissive men, and the women who are uncomfortable with submissive women, are truly just uncomfortable with some submissive aspect in themselves?

Perhaps, secretly, they think some aspect of that submission they are seeing in the submissive man or woman is kindof hot, and they are afraid to look at that aspect in themselves.

Homophobes can be very violent to gay men and lesbians, and transgender people.

Perhaps it's no different with kinkaphobes.

Perhaps it's not the problem with the existence of submissive people.

Perhaps the problem lies in themselves, the person who is uncomfortable with it.