The belief that the ratio between submissive men and dominant women wildly skews to have more of the latter is an incorrect hypothesis. Circumstances exist to hide the lifestyle femdoms, often in plain sight.
That’s a bold statement on my part, but I feel the perception of the ratio is largely a flaw in how we measure and look for sexual desire. Sure, studies of women describing their sexual fantasies show a paucity of dominant women. Studies also had a terrible time locating a bisexual man in a laboratory setting. The majority of the clitoris was only found in this century. We know both to be real.
Further, I think we are going about the pro versus lifestyle femdom question all wrong. The approach tends to be on if the “connection” of a professional and client is the same as a lifestyle couple. This is a problem in the limits of how we conceive of power and how it has been historically available by gender.
My argument is twofold: what a professional and client experience is no less “real” than what I do; and the frustrations with the system are the problem of one’s own relationship with power due to sexism. There is no real ratio imbalance on the basis of gender, just a really complicated mismatch between experiencing power for emotional and sexual gratification, and how women have access to power as a general thing.
Being dominant and enjoying having & using power are gender neutral activities.
Thus also is sadism, sexual teasing and exhibitionism, etc… I strongly suspect that paraphilia we more traditionally associate with men are also more evenly distributed. For example a man with 300 pairs of high heels is seen as a pervert, but the same collection owned and worn by a woman because it makes her feel sexy goes without notice.
I posit, all these kinks show up naturally in anyone, regardless of gender. In dominance, there is no reason to assume women are not suited to it. After all, women have demonstrated capacity and desire for real, non fetish leadership, both effective and despotic. Likewise, even within gender stereotypes, we cannot argue the potential for sexual cruelty is absent. Even if women were inherently kinder, the vast majority of people who experience sadism as a sexual kink can tell you that high levels of empathy are complimentary, rather than a barrier to it.
But, how we talk about women who lead, and women who lead conceive of themselves, occupies a different vocabulary set. The female dominants are here, they just don’t use the words we expect them to. And they probably avoid the leather bustier- although kink comes and goes in mainstream fashion, there is a paucity of cat suits in female heads of state, business owners, department heads, etc…
I think how we conceive of the roles naturally drives women away from identifying as dominant.
Discussing the protosexual (presexual?) evolution of desire, it is notable that, across the gender spectrum the fixation on who does what to whom doesn’t seem to show reliable correlation to where the person ends up. An overview of what we consume, as pornography, shows example such as cis-women enjoying m/m (including such targeting men), while the norm of kink development includes a plethora of anecdotes of random power set ups that stuck with us in age appropriate fiction or childhood games, playing captive, princess, etc…
Nonetheless, it is disingenuous to pretend that the current presentation of femdom in pop-culture is anything other than a male centred fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that women are only helpless puppets playing out crypto-slave roles, and are not part of the conversation as well.
It means gender and power are fucking broken, and this is naturally going to flow into every pocket of the world where both exist.
We did BDSM as a subculture a disservice when we obsessed over old-guard-leather and ignored the large contribution that femdom-through-sex-work provided in sustaining a “scene” of sorts. This wasn’t just pro-dominatrices, but all those nameless women who were the models for the fetish art, etc…
When de Sade penned his edgelord fantasy wankery, he was doing so in a world where S&M was already known to be a commercially available, a common part of sex work. He gets to name Sadism. Sacher Masoch, likewise, didn’t independently arrive on what he stuffed Venus in Furs with.
Sure, sex work in generally determined in service availability by he who pays the piper, but so also were the lives of wives. And nonetheless, women have, despite it all, actively and enthusiastically fucked. If women could manage vanilla sex of their own volition through periods when their ability to orgasm was itself in debate, why not dominance?
They say “Anonymous was a woman” to mean that a significant amount of things women say or do, when they get preserved, tend to lose their name in the copying process, like cropping the artist’s signature off the meme.
But we know women have always been there.
The problem is that over the last millennia, women have not been permitted to talk about sex openly, in a way that is celebrated and preserved, but we’ve definitely been having sex, talking dirty, inventing stuff, etc… And, as much as men have been recording sex from the narrations of their hand’s gratification on themselves, women have also been active partners, organizers, and so on.
Who really remembers “Anna” of the early 90s, organizer of the Boston Burger Munch? Or, in the Bay Area, just before that Vicki, Marcie? Laura Lee? STella? It’s recent history, but the Usenet BDSM communities that anchor our modern conversations of kink and make blogs like this possible. I digress because even today, there just isn’t the same emphasis on admitting that BDSM, as a community, functions under the labour and management of hundreds of women.
And the trick is a lot of these folks ID as subs, and there’s the loop back- there’s no connection with sexual dominance and social utility as a leader or mentor. Performing as a submissive woman, is the path of least resistance if you are a switch.
I can say, personally, that for all that people often imagine a dominatrix when they picture BDSM, the market, as a woman, caters to me as a submissive and is considerably more concerned with my gaze and common aesthetics there. Further, navigating the kink community, as a dominant you are fairly policed and limited by what you can do, and the most verbotten acts are typically the most typically associated with women.
Want my brains fucked out? Want to dress like a pretty pink pastel princess? Want to wander about in a cozy onsie or bunny slippers? Cry? Giggle? Love? Wait for the squinting in your general direction- all while some guy is still dictating what you can wear and do in your inbox.
Theatre preserved plays performed by Greek men, but not the active and lively mystery cults of women that ran in the same time. Likewise, we know about London spanking Madams of the Victorian period, but not the private bedrooms of the more ordinary married woman. And in our modern oral tradition, we remember gay male bikers in the late 40s, but have little love for newsgroup saavy women in the 90s.
That doesn’t make a good place to assert your sexuality, as a woman. Perhaps better than some, but if you have to play ball in a game you didn’t design, not only is it rendering you actively invisible by narrative, but it is punishing you for going out of bounds.
Economic Oppression Built This
A common conversation around the “fakeness” of pros is that they are just doing this “for the money”. The snap back of the past, on the allegedly shameful nature of taking money for sex work, is that the house wife does the same thing. That’s not an argument that ages well- the obligation for sex in marriage as a “duty” you assume for support is largely out of fashion, for all some world laws trail in archaic misery.
But the necessity of extracting money from the world to live means that women are still working on a system with underpinnings that assumed that you are an economic subsidiary of a male controlled household.
Bucking that system was a quick way to end up broke and even more powerless. The few women who clawed out independence still, more often than not, had to navigate the whims of a majority.
In the same manner that we don’t use leeches and antimony pills in medicine anymore, likewise, our ability to conceive of and grapple with consent has altered. Nonetheless, the whole financial and social system didn’t roll into a new format overnight. Regardless of if it isn’t actually a given now that women have a different financial situation than men, wages, etc… things just have not balanced across the board.
(Note: Get into a pay gap in a myth argument here and I will delete you.)
Therefore you have a paradox that your power is framed as a perception of your ability to extract money from men by performing traditionally female tasks AND that these tasks don’t need direct compensation and much recognition. You can hold a lot of soft power/social capital, but the hard power of being the origin part of the cash is generally just not given to women as much.
And our foundational archetypes often harken back to old role- in kink for women, rustling out the governess, nanny, mommy, goddess, nurse and so forth, of which frankly, I think a dominatrix, herself, is just part of that spectrum of power through roles.
As I said earlier, it’s not a closed loop of men- we women consume the same porn and inform our own identities based on what is available. The trick is that whatever fetish stuff that makes BDSM in us asks women to take on not just being dominant, but a dominatrix, by default.
A Dominatrix is to female power, what Drag is to being a woman.
It’s a caricature, one with an aesthetic that can, itself be fascinating, liberating or empowering, but a Drag Queen is not the same thing as being female (bio-queen or not). True, villains always have the best lines, and in practice the real professional dominatrix exists somewhere between highly useful sex therapist and immersive theatre, but nobody asks men to take on a whole vocation to get kinky.
Right, you might ask – you have argued why kink is hostile to women expressing overt sexual power at length, but how does this translate to the claim that femdoms are loose in the wild vanilla?
Maybe they don’t imprint onto BDSM that way due to lack of role models?
Look at what women do, not what they lable. Look at our attraction to men in distress in fiction, and our fixation on things like princesses in girlhood. Look at the perfectly evenly distributed desires in vanilla women to be sexually compelling and get what they want.
Consider how easily they accept the gender neutral parts of dominance, and how easily traditional masculinity can be framed as service. Make a partner feel incredibly horny and decide on who gets gratified, how? Get your way without a ridiculous fight?
Once you stop slamming women into leather bustiers and thrusting a client book into their hands, or coming at them like the french philosopher Rousseau did, so crazed to publicly expose himself to strange women in the hopes of getting a smack.
I think, as we get more social power, it may get better. I have already noticed the youngest cohort of female dominants embark on it with considerably more agency, carving themselves more feminine friendly, but gender not constricting identities.
I close this with the suggestion that if we are currently largely “lost” what we must do to be found remains a place for ourselves, and our own desires. And I continue to write under the stubborn awareness that just as art and writing that treated me as normal and worth catering to gave words to my own desires, so also will others find their way.
4 thoughts on “A Long Essay On The Lost Lifestyle Femdoms”
A meaty essay I’m going to have to reread. Some thoughts, if I may?
“A Dominatrix is to female power, what Drag is to being a woman.” That’s brilliant, especially the part about being “….fascinating, liberating or empowering,” but not the real thing. I suspect that playing the role gives people space to find their own preferences.
It’s noteworthy that we don’t have a term for the male counterpart for the Dominatrix, because that stereotype also exists and seems to operate in similar ways: the comically & imperfectly feminised micro-penised male, his masochism and low self esteem in a feedback loop… a mantle some men might find healing and liberating to wear to a session with a professional dominatrix, but a long way from what most women find attractive.
I think you are certainly right that the culture is shifting. There’s certainly more acceptance of women with power as unremarkable – e.g. a female boss is no longer an exception or a source of humour – but also *vanilla* Femdom/FLR pops up as a theme in mainstream media… e.g. Castle, Frankie and Grace, The Good Fight, and the movie The Long Shot. We’ve outgrown the trope where the strong woman is overcome by the even stronger man. Instead the sensitive man wins over the dominant woman by fitting his life to hers.
It’s going to be interesting for the next generation.
Thank you for writing this, it was an engaging essay aside from being thought provoking, especially for those of us “newer” to the scene with less perspective.
Excellent read! As a younger dominant woman, you vocalized a lot of my fears about entering the scene. I would also like to add, some common elements of femdom (specifically from porn) have some sexist undertones. I would assume that many dominant women are feminists, and critical of misogynistic ideals.
The primary example is the fascination with pegging. A brief scroll through the femdom subreddit would imply that every single domme must don a strapon. This is usually paired with humiliating a male submissive. While some may find this kink enjoyable, the fact that it’s become almost synonymous with femdom is
1) sexist, by implying that the dominant partner must be the penatrator
2) homophobic, by implying that a man receiving anal is something to be ashamed of.
Additionally, many dominant women may be turned off by this kink because it doesn’t actually pleasure the woman, furthering the narrative that being a dominant woman in the BDSM scene is performative and about catering to a man.
This problem can also be seen with ‘sissyfication’, or feminizing a man with the intention of humiliating him. I do not find being feminine humiliating.
While some women may enjoy this, these kinks, along with many others, are designed to cater to the male fantasy. In this age, most women are exposed to BDSM through the internet, and most online erotic media is catered to men. My current exposure to dommes is through the lens of a submissive male’s fantasy.
I’m hesitant to enter the scene. I am nervous that I will be expected to don leather and cater to a submissive’s list of kinks. While everyone has their own definition of what dominance means to them, I personally do not find the idea of dressing and catering to someone else’s fantasy empowering. I would much rather wear what I choose to, and find someone who is eager to please me.
I hope that the real world is different than the internet, but the portrayal of all dominant women being dominatrices has made me reluctant to join a community. Thank you for writing this, you really hit the nail on the head.
Fantastic essay. Lots of really interesting points!
I agree with Kristina’s comments. I’m also a younger dominant woman who is not particularly interested in the wider kinky/BDSM community, although I’ve been to one or two munches and I do occasionally lurk on the various subreddits.
My dominance is intrinsically tied to my femininity and my personal ideals as a feminist. I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to have sex with male partners anymore unless it was mutually satisfying, which resulted in me drastically changing my views towards PIV sex and introduced me to femdom. I enjoy having my pleasure be the focus of a sexual experience. The thought of a man in restraints is exhilarating; I enjoy making a man squirm and lose control, and the more outwardly ‘masculine’ he is the better. However, not one of these fantasies requires me to dress up in latex or wield a crop.
The gap between how the media and pop culture present female dominance versus how it can play out in reality in the privacy of our homes is, in my opinion, one of the major causes of why many women put off identifying as dominant.
I’m hopeful that with more education of what it means to be dominant and the advent of groups like r/gentle femdom, more women will come to realise that femdom is a broader church that we were initially led to believe. And that will also hopefully result in more female-led femdom erotica and pornography that isn’t created purely for the submissive male gaze.