On Femdom In Popular Culture

princessI guess one of the hardest parts of conventional heterosexual femdom is how damn disempowering it feels. Maybe some women get joy out of it in the porn and movie version, but in my perception, it takes the idea of female power and turns it into a grotesque parody, one propped up by a very narrow definition of attractive, garbed in clothes worn to thrill the audience but also reassure them that the boundaries of the dom’s power are entirely the time it takes them to wank to completion. I hate how angry and unhappy it makes us be, like we are uncomfortable in our own skin, that we deplore sex and men specifically.

I tried it as a teenager- I liked (and still like) the idea of getting power from my sexuality, liked the idea of men fawning all over me and certainly fit nicely into my dark sorceress fantasies. But in practice it was such a bother to get someone to play along- teenage boys aren’t, as an audience, adept and ready for consensual domination. The ones that are tend to have got there via porn made just for them. And if I’m good at anything its forming myself into other people’s perfect fantasy. But oh lordy was it a series of tedious tick boxes- no tension, no zing, so service-y.

I rejected femdom then as a fool’s game entirely for professionals and with nothing to offer for me. Given how it is presented, its no wonder there’s so few dominant women when people go looking!

On that line, people have occasionally found it remarkable that I refuse pro work. Wouldn’t it be perfect to be paid to be me? It’s not out of a rejection of sex work (I’ve made it abundantly clear I’m an ally, if often a clumsy one), but a distaste for the profession in particular because it is NOT me. I write, not to condemn the hundreds of women who pay the rent acting out a very specific and much beloved service- but precisely because it is next door to my vulnerabilities. For me, professional domination is taking an intimate part of myself and putting it to work for the needs of others. That’s the part of femaleness that makes me feel least powerful, the emotional shepherd part of the glorious indoctrination of girlhood.

And inversely, I don’t like that being a commanding woman is itself considered to be a niche fetish, with a special wardrobe that fits into no context except for that of the dominatrix- rule and people start cracking jokes about whips in the same way they’ll call you an aggressive bitch. People moan about the lack of clothing choices for dom men to be “fetish” wear, but a codified dom uniform for women doesn’t exactly scream inherently powerful either- maybe sore feet, sweaty and short of breath at best. I’m not saying you personally should give up your “mistress’ heels or whatever, but from my perspective if you have to wear a special outfit to be taken seriously, that awards the outfit more power than you.

Granted a lot of the other stereotypical female power things don’t help either. Step away from Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’s angry, black clad sisters and its all about The Goddess. Not any specific goddess, mind you, just middle class white folk’s idea of the primitive feminine- and that trip traps into sacred motherhood, where all I am goes from being the bedevilment of men, to the state of my womb. This is not an improvement.

Maiden, Mother, Crone… even with religions that are not some sort of cargo cult constructed to summon a hypothetical ancient tradition that’s more wishful thinking than a part of anyone’s heritage, religious history gives you shitty options. At the very best, you get a goddess who’s some sort of primal force, while the real women of the culture are getting their faces rubbed in the dirt, same as everywhere else and the religious women who get respect are paragons of self denial and chastity. Among the Christian saints, someone’s mother or someone who died a virgin are about your only options of your own personal halo. That puts the feminine-as-a-power-source as an awkward place for a barren woman to try to be. By choice, over about half my life, I’ve stopped up my womb with the best medical science can offer, with no plans to stop. The thing between my legs is strictly an organ of pleasure with an excretion mechanism piped through it. Making it so is my aberration and my actual expression of power over myself- being maiden/mother/crone by default is a profoundly anti-choice. Respecting women as the generative sex, and making that respect’s primary root, treats childbearing as the spontaneous reality for every woman.

Popular culture is getting a teeny, weeny bit better sometimes. I might personally find Game of Thrones an obnoxious work of historical fan fiction by someone who decided to cram every bad thing that ever happened in five centuries of European history into the lives of some truly tedious people, but at least Dany the magical princess queen gets to fuck and gets a wardrobe marketed to something much of the audience would wear of their own volition. But even she’s menstruating all over her dragon (and whose role in the story seems to be to allow the author to hammer you with how savior in a crown fantasies are at best childish, as you get to watch her ruin stable independent city states). And female characters who express power are usually trapped in the same binaries- they eschew their gender to take up swords, because somehow you can’t be both woman and warrior, or they are fundamentally the ping pong balls of male characters. It sucks to be reduced to the potential of your parts or your ability to make men feel lust or sympathy.

Taking this beyond well trod rant, as someone who is feminine and content with the whole cis thing (not exactly het, not invested enough to call herself bi), then as a woman who likes the whole power thing you run into the other problem, of the association of power with the masculine. I’m 5’5″ and approximately 135lbs in a world that values size. My voice is high, when power is signified by a deep rumble. That’s not even allowing for the well studied gender biases that show how easily what I say gets translated into something ‘shrill’ through to ‘crazy’ and so on.

Any power I have, that belongs to me and not my uterus or a work uniform is going to be about transcending that while not having to give up my cis identity. It is making those to whom I have power over listen, to metaphorically get on my level instead of demanding I tower above them. If there’s a part of femdom that is sex specific, it’s about navigating the gender boxes unique to women. The most powerful professional femdoms I know are not the ones skilled at pleasing clients, it’s the vocal sex worker activists who break the fantasy that they glide along in a sea of tribute and point to the very real stigmas they deal with. Its about making peace with the bizarre relationship humans keep making between penetration and dominance based on your personal feelings about your orifices and the use you want to put them to. Its about navigating the sartorial and making people respect whatever you choose, as well as finding your peace between the shared implications of a particular garment and your own feelings on the matter.

It’s about making power be in how you express yourself, not in how your are supposed to express yourself. But more than anything else, its about the acknowledgement of vulnerability. While cishetmaledom has its own challenges, femdom makes you have to make your peace with gendered assumptions, through conquest or acceptance, through playing the game or flipping the script or even doing a metaphorical table flip, and building your dynamic from the ground up. It is not and never will be the path of least resistance, not for you and not for your subs and the line of twaddle they’e been fed about true manhood. Femdom is about being you on your terms, and about choice in your identity.

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1 Comment

  1. Dionysus

     /  September 9, 2015

    The part about Christian saints is not accurate. Nearly every old church has some important female saints that don’t match the usual feminine archetypes.

    Joan of Arc is a good example – she is remembered as a warrior that died for faith first and foremost, though in the end her virginity is made out to be a big deal anyway.

    But then you have figures like Holy Righteous King (actually a queen) Tamar of Georgia, whose achievements include solidifying the fuck out of Caucasus, treating the Byzantine Empire like the little bitches they were at the time, founding the Trebizond Empire to prevent the spread of crusades into Caucasus, marrying the Russian prince and then accusing him of sodomy and exiling him after a more politically resourceful guy showed up, maintaining the country’s spy network and interrogation office, and generally being a full-time merciless badass.

    Modern depiction of the expectations from the medieval period is not very accurate. People were, after all, still people even then, and even then the personalities varied. Having one or two things as a taboo in society is one thing, but no civilization could ever afford discriminating based on personal traits, even if they were considered subversive or sinful. Well, most of the times. The exceptions are where a new religion is being introduced to a culture, or a new religious movement is gaining traction. Those are the only times when the zeitgeist allows actual extremism in discrimination, since people are swept up in their new beliefs and think of them as more important than their usual customs and relationships. This is why, for example, the Muslim countries of the modern day are so different from the ones from the Islamic Golden Age – the constant hostile cultural and political interaction with the west over the twentieth century has created a religious backlash which gave Islamic fundamentalism a lot more power than what it had before.

    That’s exactly why I share your dislike for the depictions in A Song of Ice and Fire – nothing like that is happening in that world at the moment, and it doesn’t make sense for close to all female POV characters to be so burdened by being women. It’s not too bad in there though – there’s still Arya, and that one Melisandre chapter, and while it’s a little annoying, the struggle stays consistent with the narrative.

    You would absolutely detest the Wheel of Time, though. It’s not even subtle there, the metaphysics of the universe dictate it. In order for male characters to be strong, they need to learn how to grasp and subjugate the mental image of One Power. In order for female characters to be strong, they need to submit and offer themselves to the mental image of One Power. And practically every interaction in the series is based around those dynamics, and even the female characters that we’re informed through the narrative are supposed to be considered overwhelmingly dominant still get their power from being closet submissives and convincing the universe that they will selflessly use their awesomes for other people.

    Both of those series are very well written, but those problems really stand out. It’s kind of a shame, because fantasy in general no longer has those kinds of problems on this scale as a whole. Generations of female fantasy readers and tabletop roleplayers has pretty much solved that problem – there is no longer a shortage of important female characters in fantasy, nor are they on average more badly written than male characters. Even more popular series like the Malazan Book of Fallen or the Cosmere novels generally don’t struggle with the female characters or give them traits that would not be given to the male characters solely on the merit of being female. But none of those series are as popular as A Song of Ice and Fire, or the Wheel of Time, or whatever other “NYT bestseller fantasy that explores gender dynamics but spectacularly fails at some points” will come around. The popularity of the HBO show and its inevitable influence on the next decade’s fantasy writers make it even worse.

    But in all honesty, I don’t think that the situation in literature is too bad. Female characters are still assigned submissive roles on the merit of being female, even when narrative is telling us they’re supposed to have the opposite personality. But it was way worse some time ago. A century and half ago, the conclusion of Venus in Furs was that it is impossible for a woman to dominate a man from heart, due to how the society allocates power. It was pretty much shouting “unless we change how shit works, this entire femdom thing me, my pal Rousseau, and you guys like talking about will remain as one or two scenes with giggling French girls flogging old men before being thoroughly fucked by the Real Manly Men™ in novels that will be burned eventually by the Catholics”. Today’s situation of the depiction of dominant women is a definite improvement over that – it’s still a caricature, but people have unconsciously accepted that wanting to dominate is not a gender-specific trait and that women who do it don’t just do it for men.

    It’s more complicated with submissive men – their existence has always been accepted, not because their desires were considered valid, but because men were always seen as natural perverts, and by being submissive they were just seen as perverting the gender-specific traits. But since they were accepted from the beginning, the society hasn’t made a lot of progress on their outlook. They’re still seen as being submissive because they’re perversely inserting themselves into female sexuality, not because submissiveness is a non-gender-specific trait that anyone can have.

    We’ll get there with time, though. No kind of society is immune to progress, and that includes kinky progress. I don’t know if the association of penetration with domination will ever be gone, but general trends will definitely continue improving.

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