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I had originally intended to write on something entirely different today, but I just read a post that got me thinking, so I’m going to tread carefully into the territory of women and submission instead.

Four things up front:

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

  1. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m addressing submission and domination that are consensual in nature. Situations in which there is no consent are entirely different, and merit their own discussions.
  2. Sexual submission and domination are only part of what I’m looking at. What I want to focus on is the impulse – socially, emotionally and sexually – to dominate or submit.
  3. There are dominant women as well as dominant men, just as there are submissive men and submissive women. Many people fall somewhere in between. Because I want to try to keep this from becoming a dissertation, I am looking at the prevalence of the desire (in women) to submit to powerful men, for the purposes of this discussion.
  4. A disclosure. I am not a submissive woman. It’s something of which I’m neither proud nor regretful. It’s just a fact of my personality. So, while many women look at this picture of Loki and get mildly to extremely turned on, I look at it and want to punch his lovely face. Nothing personal. I just won’t be ruled.

These points made, I respect the fact that submission appeals to many women. What’s more, I’m genuinely curious as to why this might be. What is it about submitting to male dominance that, against our own modern, feminist principles, appeals?

And that’s the tension, isn’t it? The 21st century woman is openly, and some might say, defiantly, empowered. We are shattering glass ceilings and railing against the “male gaze.” And yet, BDSM fairy tales, like 50 Shades of Gray that feature the explicit submission of empathetic women to complicated, dominant man, are ubiquitous, while Twilight’s Bella Swan, whose defining characteristic is, arguably, her submissiveness, has become something of a cultural icon, (though not unexamined).

Our culture has recreated women as powerful and empowered, and this is a very good thing. But biology is stronger than society, which is why it may be that, even as women enjoy a new found social dominance, so many are drawn, individually, to fairy tales of emotional and sexual submission, ie: 50 Shades.

Allow me to suggest, up front, that this is not a bad thing. Here’s why. I suspect that submissiveness is an evolutionary trait. I suspect that, through the millennia, submission has served a valuable function, which is why women are, generally speaking, quite aware of social hierarchies, even amongst other women, (I’m looking at you, mean girls). Dominance and submission are something a silent negotiation, a way of placing one person in charge so things get done, rather than having even more wars than we already do.

Following that thread, I’d like to suggest that submission has served women, evolutionarily speaking, particularly well, while dominance has served men. At it’s most basic, submission was (and in many places still is) a type of currency – “I will submit to this demonstrably powerful male and he will protect me and my young”.  We’re animals after all, and just as the males of most mammalian species vie for female attention through shows of aggression and dominance, most human women find dominant males to be undeniably attractive because that dominance signals the ability to procreate and protect. This would extend itself to being turned on, to varying degrees, by sexual domination and submission, quite naturally.

It’s something of a biological script, and those who follow it are, contrary to feminist theory and conservatives alike, simply following impulses that are evolutionarily hard-wired into the human brain. As a woman with a more dominant personality, even I can say that I see dominance in men as fitness marker. While I have no desire to be dominated, it does appeal on a very basic level, as a social indicator, if nothing else.

Biology moves slowly, much more slowly than culture. It may be that in several millennia, our wiring will catch up to our conscious minds, and questions of dominance and submission, and indeed, even of gender, will cease to be relevant. But they are relevant now. A tension exists in the social / sexual power dynamics of our culture. As a result, the relationship between women and submission remains an interesting, even pivotal, one – so much so that those of us who would punch Loki in the face, are, to some degree, aberrations.

All right, I’m looking down five discursive paths as we speak, so rather than get tangled up in an off the cuff ramble, I’ll end this post here. There’s too much to consider. Apologies for the lack of conclusion on this one, but I’ll be returning to this topic in future posts. In the meantime, I welcome comments, thoughts and input on this issue even more than usual.

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