Valuation and social theory
This is coming from several places, and probably the easiest place to bookmark them is with Kink in Exile. There are several blog posts going up that deal with the way malesubs are viewed. The thrust of the posts is that many malesubs feel devalued for a variety of reasons. The extension of that is that FemDoms also feel devalued because of these same reasons.
This brings me to a couple of the most common complaints I’ve heard FemDoms and malesubs make about each other. Some malesubs are nasty, rude, just want to get laid, and don’t see the Dominant Woman as a person. Some FemDoms are cold, distant, unapproachable, and don’t see the submissive man as a person. If those seem like different strands; then bear with me while I try to tie them together. I see them as symptoms of the same sickness that infects our entire (Western) culture. Namely, the gender straight-jackets that are imposed on both women and men in the name of normality.
It ties back to several posts at The Good Men Project that talk about, essentially, what is masculinity and what does it mean to be a man. That stuff is maddening to me because so few people seem to be able to get past the idea that “masculinity” means “the quality of being a man” and “man” means “an adult human male.” Being “an adult human male” is only really different, at a meta-scale analysis, from being “an adult human female” with respect to sexual organs.
From the moment of conception…or at least as far back as when the sonar-tech identifies the sex of a baby – boys and girls alike are bombarded with gender-normative messages. Boys clothing is blue and functional and has trucks and footballs on it. Girls clothing is pink and frilly and has sugar and spice and everything nice (which is a gender-normative message of its own). Boys get action-figures (dolls) of super-heroes and army soldiers. Girls get dolls (non-action-figures) of babies and fashion accessories, impossibly-sculpted-bodied smiling women (I’m thinking “Barbie”). A boy likes to jump in muddy puddles and drive toy trucks. If a girl plays it mud, it’s to make mud-pies and she plays house.
I recently took my twin sons to McDonald’s for a happy meal, and one of my twin sons received a “boy” Happy Meal with a cool alien in it and the other a “girl” Happy Meal with a pink sneaker that flashes a light when a button is pressed (I’m not upset that one boy got a “girl” toy – I’m upset that they got DIFFERENT toys and now fight over who gets what). But it doesn’t take a gender studies major to see that boys get an active toy that is based on imaginative play, while girls get a collectible and passive toy that neither encourages mental nor physical activity.
When I go to the park, I see girls as young as eight carrying a younger sibling around on their hip and, effectively, filling in for mommy. I’ve yet to see a boy do the same thing. I’ve heard girls told they are “a good little mama” for cuddling a doll, but when my son does the same thing, no one says “good little papa.” But if my son gets up after falling down and doesn’t cry, he’s “a tough little man.” A little girl who falls down and cries? No such comment.
These are cultural gender roles, being practiced to perfection. Some are subtle, som are not. But every one of them gets taken deep into my kids’ minds to determine what is “normal” for boys to do and what is “normal” for girls to do. How strong is it? A few weeks ago, one of the twins suddenly refused to eat strawberry yogurt because “pink is for girls!” Did I mention this happened just after he was teased by another kid at the park for having a lisp? And that the taunt delivered was “Baby girl! Baby girl!”
So let’s look at this cultural definition of manhood. What is masculine? Take a look at what wikipedia says:
In many cultures, the basic characteristics of masculinity include physical prowess (strength, fitness, and a lack of laziness), courage, wisdom, and honourable or righteous behavior
A typical near-synonym of masculinity is virility
Cicero wrote that “a man’s chief quality is courage.”
Scholars suggest integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships, and virility in male-female relationships.
Now some of these things are simply traits of being a grown-up. Courage, wisdom, righteous behavior (however that is defined), integrity, and equality are things that are equally attractive in women as they are in men…so having those qualities cannot somehow be linked to genderized differences. In fact, a woman who doesn’t exhibit those behaviors is likely to not be well-trusted by those around her. In a word, she would be found to be “childish.” Good God, I am attracted to Mistress Delila because She puts a premium on health, I value Her wisdom and seek Her counsel on nearly everything, Her sense of responsibility and integrity is HIGHLY attractive…and she is no less a beautiful woman for all of that. In fact, those qualities MAKE Her a beautiful person, and not just pretty to look at. They do not make Her masculine, they complete and compliment Her Woman-ness.
But there is a lot in there that is simply skewed. Virility is simply the ability to procreate. And while there is a passage into adulthood, in a biological sense, that includes becoming fertile (for most), no one can actually look at another and adequately determine how fertile they are. So a limp dick, a vasectomy, and puberty all have the same impact on whether or not a boy becomes a man? If it came out that Arnold Schwartzenegger had erectile dysfunction (with his history of steroid abuse, it isn’t far fetched at all); would he be any less manly? Does taking Viagra suddenly restore “masculinity?”
This last point is not just for an off-the-cuff laugh. Due to my uncontrolled high blood pressure – and to the strain of these bullshit cultural masculinity tropes – I have struggled with ED for years. Not only did it make me feel less of a man, but it made the women in my life feel less of a woman, less attractive, less worthy. On the nights when the Viagra (or other pill) worked, was I more of a man? It’s important because I, and others I loved, hurt for years over that point.
The larger point is that it doesn’t matter if a person agrees with these things, they are part of our cultural identity (see above ED discussion) and they are transmitted to us and upon us simply by the fact that we live in the culture in which we live. We may react against parts, or even all, of these gendered identities, but they are real and they are thrust upon us whether we like it or not. Even when we actively reject them, they bubble unbidden in our subconscious minds.
And we take that with us wherever we go. We can’t help but do it. Not actively disbelieving those lies caused a lot of hurt in my life – and not just me, but my kids and the women to which I was married. Broken homes don’t just happen.
So here’s a big part of our gender myths that impact directly on D/s people – and it isn’t a newsflash. Men are dominant. Women are not. Men are strong and decisive and in charge. Women are not. Men always want fuckee-fuckee with any available cutesy-ness and, in fact, cannot stop themselves from going fuckee-fuckee with EVERY cutesy-ness, even if she isn’t really THAT cutesy. Women do not ever want fuckee-fuckee, even with the most beautiful man in existence…but they will fuckee-fuckee because they are emotional creatures who do things they don’t want to do for people they love because that’s what love means to a woman.
Think I’m talking about a past generation? Think again. Yeah, it’s a bunch of lies piled higher and deeper and more damaging with every iteration.
It doesn’t just hurt people…it destroys their lives. Because we are all born with a certain amount of who we are determined (I saw the VAST difference in my twins’ personalities within SECONDS of their birth), there is a certain way we would be if everyone just let us develop organically. Like a tiny bamboo shoot, however, we are bent and twisted by tiny degrees. For some of us, we are just bent in ways we’d grow anyway – so it’s no big deal. But some of us are bent in ways that are not only diametrically opposed to the direction we want to go, but bent in ways that actively stunt our growth and happiness.
I was born with a need to be submissive in my primary intimate relationship. It is no more a choice than is my heterosexuality. I can’t explain why I need to submit any more than I can explain why I am sexually attracted to women rather than men. I just am.
I dated two girls in high school, and went on a grand total of five dates. You know why? Because those are the only two girls who ever asked me to go out. And they got pissed off at me because I wouldn’t “make the first move.” If only they knew that the key was to give me permission to act!!! (Incidentally, I understand now, with a few decades worth of experience, that a lot more girls were interested…even some of the ones I was interested in…they just didn’t take the lead.)
And why is it that thought – giving me permission to act – never crossed their minds? Cultural programming. Male equal initiator, female equal receiver. How many lonely men and women are there tonight because they have simply forced themselves to conform to cultural gender norms?
So the stereotypical “do-me” malesub finally gives up the controlling and powerful image of what it means to be a man, what it means to be masculine. But, too often, he ends up stressing the rest of the stereotype because he has to make sure everyone knows he’s a man. The stereotypical “Ice Queen” FemDom gets free from the “powerless and submissive” crap force-fed to girls, but they end up stretching themselves into the rest of the stereotype in order to maintain “femininity.” (And I realize that, for some, these roles are the “real me.” Happy for you – live it up!). This cultural cocoon in which we live virtually demands and forces us each to do this to some varying degree. To draw on the psychological theory of Maslow, we are constantly “becoming” our submissive or dominant selves because we are constantly learning about our selfs, and we are constantly learning how our culture has twisted or tied us and finding ways to unwrap who we really are.
In larger culture, men who don’t act “masculine” (because they like ballet or are submissive) are subjected to the full range of social pressure to conform (and the same goes for women who aren’t “feminine”).There are three possible reactions to this pressure: 1) We change our behavior to conform and die a slow horrible death as we go through each day of our lives; 2) we hide who we really are – we are “alpha males” at work or in sports, but submit in the bedroom; or 3) we embrace our submissiveness and withdraw, to some extent, from society. (There is a fourth option (so rarely taken that I hold it to the side) – personified by maymay – which is that we embrace our submissiveness and demand openly that we be given the freedom to live openly as we truly are…thank you for waging that battle on behalf of all of us, maymay.)
This process of forcing men to choose a stereotypical charade of masculinity in order to join society or to live authentically and painfully outside of society IS DEVALUATION because it holds the message that an individual is only worthy of consideration, respect, love, and equality to the same extent as to which they are able to conform to cultural gender standards. FemDoms are also subjected to this, not just because they love the men who are devalued, but because Western society also doesn’t truly value Dominant Women.
For a long time, I tried the first way of dealing with my submissive needs. I tried to ignore it. I tried to put on a John Wayne mask and macho my way through life. I felt so empty inside, though, like you could drop a pebble into my soul and never hear it splatter. I watched an older brother literally kill himself with booze and drugs because it was the only way he’d allow himself to deal with the painful realities of life.
So then I tried method two. My charade in the workplace simply alienated those around me. My honesty in the bedroom cost me two marriages. So I turned to porn to meet my submissive needs, internalizing far too many of the stereotypes I found there. With Mistress Delila’s love and patience, I’ve been able to untangle many of those tropes, but I know that others lurk beneath the surface. And while porn also left me empty and aching for a real person, it also kept me sane and helped me understand what it is that I want in a relationship.
So I have found my way to the third way of dealing with misfitting into society – I have largely withdrawn. I have few male friends, and, in truth, I rarely enjoy the company of other men. Beyond my work, I have few connections to society – although my church remains important, but only because I can see it as a vehicle for social justice.
Unfortunately, I found BDSM society to be built largely upon the same stereotypes that repelled me from general society. To some extent, new people are subjected to the same strictures of cultural formation when they come into contact with with sub-culture of BDSM (I do not believe it is counter-cultural – and there’s at least one whole post to explain why…[puts it on the to-do list]). Each of us, male and Female, are subjected to existing frames – do-me and Ice – and the labels that come with it. Sociological labeling theory gets into detail about how each of us then pick up on the cues to become what we are being told we should be. In other words, we escape from one stultifying stereotype (western culture) only to find ourselves being shoved into another stultifying stereotype (BDSM culture).
So there is the root of our common enemy – a simple inability to accept variation among individuals and to grant freedom to adapt gender roles into what comforts us and fits us most. It is planted in the soil of patriarchal sexism. It is fertilized by the self-reinforcing attitudes and media portrayals that cannot see D/s as normal and loving when it is the man who takes the lower-case term. Hell, it is nourished by the inability to separate male submission from Female Domination (another notch on the to-do list is made).
What can we do? Well, I’m not interested in turning my life into a public forum so I can force an inch worth of change in society. Simply put, I have too much to lose that could never be regained to do that (if you don’t understand that, consider yourself lucky…or perhaps excessively unlucky [freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose]). So I simply cannot be a foot-soldier in the battle for an end to the devaluation of male submission. But I can use my anonymity to fearlessly expose that devaluation and provide sufficient ammunition to those who do and will wade into open battle.
Because THIS HAS TO END. It hurts too much. More than that, it is morally wrong to force someone into a closet just so they can cling to the little joys of their life. And make no mistake, no one lives in a closet by choice.
Patrick Moynahan used to say, “Facts are stubborn things.” So while some may want to debate and dissemble as to whether devaluation of male submissives is a real problem, I’m more interested in changing our culture to save lives and spare pain. If you aren’t angry; then you aren’t paying attention.