Thinking Kink: Belle De Jour and the Professional Domme

By the time the real-life memoir of "happy hooker" Belle De Jour was turned into the TV series Secret Diary of A Call Girl in 2007 (appearning on ITV2 in the UK and Showtime in the US), most of what made the book so controversial had been toned down, blanded out, and soft-focused into some vaguely naughty after-hours viewing. However, when the inevitable "S&M" episode cropped up during the first season it did actually provide information rather than just stereotypes to a vanilla audience, albeit still within the realm of white, heterosexual, cisgendered BDSM.

The episode begins with Belle (played by Billie Piper) receiving a request for domination from her accountant. Since the series attempts to portray prostitution as a legitimate career choice for smart, strong women, perhaps it was always unlikely that viewers would see Belle in anything but a dominant position. This is in keeping with the book, although it's worth noting that whilst Belle is never submissive professionally, she writes about having enjoyed masochism and humiliation in her private life, which is conveniently left out of the series. The assumption that a strong woman must be sexually dominant stands, at least for the purposes of this TV show (with its accompanying implication that submissive women must be weak. But more on that later.)

Image of spanking show by Flickr user tetradtx

When Belle tells Stephanie, her agent, about her plans, Stephanie muses "I was a domme for a while...You do this job long enough, you want to kick the shit out of men eventually." If this attitude was coming from a male dom speaking about female submissives, it would be considered seriously objectionable—yet a woman harming a man is treated as joke fodder. Is this an honest acknowledgement that being a dominatrix may provide women with an outlet for their anger at male oppression, or is it hypocritical to laugh about violence against men when we roundly condemn the trivializing of violence against women? Perhaps the most important distinction to make is between "kicking the shit out of" a consenting submissive (male or female), and doing genuine harm to a non-consenting victim.

Some viewer education is at least provided when Sirona, a professional dominatrix, gives Belle a lesson in dominating. Naturally, Sirona is a severe-looking, over-made-up older (white) woman with black hair, clad in a black PVC corset, pencil skirt and spike heels. Sirona brings in her "slave," a man who is forbidden to speak, made to strip and kneel, and drink out of a dog bowl. This mostly seems designed for comic effect, although Sirona does explain later that slavery is "a huge relief" for some people because it means relinquishing power. "It's not him doing these things, his mistress is 'forcing' him." She busts some myths about the role of a dom/me when Belle asks "What about the sex?" and Sirona responds "There is no sex." The exchange that follows—"How do you know when you've finished?" "My watch peeps."—did make me smile.

Sirona also shows Belle how to 'warm up' a person when spanking them, and tells her which body areas to avoid hitting—some valuable practical advice for anyone looking to get into domming. Later, a latex-clad Belle converts her flat into a "dungeon" (which involves a lot of hefting furniture about and trips to the local adult store), then guides the viewer through a "play scene," telling us "everything's worked out in advance—the script, the scenario. Even the insults I'm going to use." We also see her "checking in" with her submissive by offering him safewords as she rests her spike heels on his chest: "Red, amber or green?". He says "green," assuring the viewer that his moans are ones of pleasure.

Belle keeps her 'sub' in lineHowever, the scene unravels when Belle lets her anger over a fight with her best friend seep into the scene. She returns to her sub and flogs him savagely—and doesn't stop straight away when he calls "red." She later apologizes but her sub is clearly cowed. It's doubtful a male dom treating a female sub this way would make it onto mainstream television, because accusations of glorifying violence against women would start flying pretty quickly. Does this display a double standard in the treatment of male subs (their distress not being taken seriously), or a realistic acknowledgement that the dangers of BDSM are different, possibly less, for men than for women?

Either way, this episode did illustrate how and why BDSM can go wrong, something newcomers to the scene should be aware of. Belle concludes that she is not cut out for being a domme and that "hurting people is a very special talent." An important line to end on, which reflects the concerns of some kinksters—namely that the mainstreaming of BDSM can lead to the untrained pushing themselves beyond their capabilities and their partner's limits.

Top image from Flickr user tetradtx, bottom image still from YouTube.

Previously: The Female Dominant in Pop Culture, Did Sex and the City Get BDSM Right?

Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

BDSM Roles

One of the issues I really know of no interesting examination of in media is the difference (or sometimes blurred line) between fetish gratification and BDSM exploration for other reasons (exploration, pleasure, discovering new sexual dimensions, etc). The wider community often seems very confused about this. I would welcome any information regarding mainstreamish examination of this topic.

Perhaps there is a reason for blurring?

I'm not sure I quite understand the distinction you're making. Isn't fetish gratification also about exploration and pleasure? I agree that fetishism doesn't always involve sex or even sexual excitement, and the media doesn't always point this out (although the Secret Diary episode does clearly divorce sex from domination) in its rush to sexualise everything. However, I do think there is also strong interlink between the things you describe...can you give me a specific example of the difference you mean?

Violence against men

I think that a woman saying she wants to "kick the shit out of men" is fundamentally different than a man saying that about women, just because of the power dynamic. That being said, I don't promote violence against people of any gender.

Thinking Kink: Belle De Jour and the Professional Domme | Bitch

Hey! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you
knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having problems
finding one? Thanks a lot!