This was going to be a comment on Ferns‘ recent post about the barriers young dominant women experience in coming into their sexuality, but it got out of hand and turned into a whole gender thing so it’s here now. All the disclaimers: floating around seemingly at random in terms of sexual identity as I do (switch/poly/queer/oy vey), dominance is a thing that I may experience very differently than most women who identify as dominant. I suspect there’s still enough overlap that I can talk about it, but maybe not. Anyway. Her early experience is undoubtedly a common one:
From my perspective as a young woman out in the world, I was never free to exercise any sexual initiative in the way I wanted. So I stifled it.
What I mean by that is that in NO environment was I safe or encouraged to behave in the way I wanted (predatory, aggressive, running the fuck) with men.
Because men COULD NOT FOLLOW.
As soon as I showed the slightest interest in any man, I was put on the defensive by THEIR aggressive behaviour and there was no way to manage that except to step back and become the gatekeeper.
I can’t even imagine how frustrating this would be. Obviously it’s happened; I’ve made advances and the response has been off-putting and over the top. It’s like when you go to scratch a dog behind the ears and he just can’t handle the excitement, he’s sure you’re best friends now and he wants to lick your face and knock you down with his crazy whip-tail and really all you can do is try to calm him down before you fall over. It’s not all that surprising. Heterosexual men are under overwhelming social pressure to be the aggressor in relationships, even if that’s not their personal preference. It definitely adds to the difficulty so many women have in being the aggressive/assertive partner. A lot of our perceptions about aggression and assertiveness are tied up in the idea of masculinity, which is going to make the process of forming an F/m relationship subversive to some degree. Some folks like being subversive, some find it frustrating that it has to be, but ultimately, it goes against the grain. It’s just harder.
For the most part, I was lucky. With a very few exceptions, I don’t date traditionally masculine men. Some are genderfluid, Most are queer to some degree, one was completely asexual*, and a couple were deeply, oppressively religious. Most of the rest of my partners have been women. They’ve generally been perfectly happy to let me be
a mean, egotistical maniac outspoken, aggressive, and downright bossy. (Well, minus the bossy part when dating a D-type.) Whatever power dynamic formed in each of those relationships formed independently over time to match what worked for us. I really can’t stress enough that I have been lucky as hell in this regard.
I started dating at fifteen. By eighteen I was consistently the more assertive partner in every relationship and the initiator of every one night stand. I didn’t think of it in D/s terms at the time, not because BDSM was unfamiliar but because the mix-n-match of behaviors I indulged didn’t properly fit D/s roles as I understood them. Hell, I still don’t know how to describe a relationship with a terribly conflicted Catholic man that consisted almost entirely of theological debate and ordering him to hurt me. Dominant masochist and evil temptress? Who knows. The point is, even though I had the freedom to be as aggressive as I liked most of the time within a relationship, doing so openly was still incredibly challenging.
There’s a social perception that comes with assertiveness, and it is decidedly masculine. I’m not remotely butch. I can dress the part, and have on occasion, but my default look is long curls and high heels. One of my many objections to cold weather is that it prevents me wearing skirts. But because I’m aggressive–because I reach for the check first, because I make the first move, because in some subtle way it’s typically assumed that I’m going to at least voice if not make joint decisions in a relationship–I’m called the “guy” or the “man” of the relationship. This started way back in undergrad, when I was dating a very butch but rather meek young woman. Over and over friends would laugh that “Nic is so the boy, it’s so cute!” (which pissed us both the hell off because no, actually, we were both women; there is no “boy” in a lesbian relationship**). It continues today with Spouse: a good chunk of our social group have taken to calling him my wife and I frequently have to correct people who assume ours is an F/m relationship. The former we don’t mind. Spouse is genderqueer and mostly indifferent to which gendered nouns and pronouns people use to refer to him. The latter is more problematic. One domme assumed that Spouse was submissive to me because he came to a party in high heels–that is, clearly I had feminized him, and feminine=submissive. One of the reasons he wears heels is to annoy me: I like being taller than he is. It’s ridiculous, and especially hard to understand given that in 90% of my public scenes, I bottom, and in all but one of his public scenes, he’s topped. But he’s not masculine. Must be submissive, right?
It is problematic that emasculation is synonymous with weakness. It is problematic that empowerment is in conflict with traditional femininity (apparently there’s not an accepted word. I looked.) This discourages women from being assertive, aggressive, or dominant: those of us who embrace female identity are told that we can’t keep it if we want to be dominant. For some, that’s a barrier that can be overcome. I have changed Spouse’s car battery in bright red stilettos while threatening the poor Southern gentleman who said “let me just get that for you, darlin’.” My automatic response to anyone who says “you can’t…” is to immediately and with complete disregard for personal safety or social consequences do exactly the thing I “can’t” do. For others, I imagine it’s just tiring. Simply expressing oneself authentically shouldn’t be a constant struggle, but norms being what they are, it is. For some women, the frustration of expressing dominance may just not be worth it, especially for those women who don’t know that there’s a kink community out there and that many men are dissatisfied with the power dynamics assigned to traditional gender roles.
It’s not just that men are raised and expected to behave this way, it’s that this behavior is synonymous with masculinity. If women are going to be comfortable with dominance, assertiveness, aggression, we need at minimum social acceptance to be these things without being denied femininity.
*Yeah. Ask me how well that worked.
**By which I mean: when referring to a relationship between two female-identifying persons who are not interested in queering their gender, it is inappropriate for an outsider to declare one of them the “boy/man/guy/dude/&c. It’s homophobic to force homosexual relationships to fit a heterosexual paradigm. If someone in a lesbian relationship identifies as a boy (or really anything else. Tiger. Shark. Martian. Level 13 doppelganger rogue) that’s great, no problem. Well, unless you go the doppelganger route: I’m not giving you a pass on the level adjustment, sorry.