Thursday, November 29, 2007

Feminization of Submissive Men

Feminization of submissive men is a common theme in D/s and BDSM. It is heavily portrayed in femdomme and BDSM art, pornography and erotica. One of the recurring themes is the man who has his traditional male sexuality feminized out of him. In contrast the domme/woman, whether she is overtly interested in sex or not, maintains not only an image of virile sexuality, her sexuality contains the implication of dominance that the man lacks, which is traditionally masculine.

Male feminization often has a decidedly non-sexual suggestion to it. A common image is men dressed as maids, doing housework, and portrayed as being forced into a caricature of the traditional woman's role. Even within a sexual context, since the feminized man is seen as non-sexual in a male sense, this aspect of him has been marginalized or neutered away. He is systematically reduced to a eunuch, then the cuckold, forced to sit by and watch, often dressed in exaggerated "girl" costumes, commonly portrayed with a small penis which is controlled and negated in some chaste device, while well endowed, studly, masculine men have sex with the sub's domme, ironically with her often being dominated by her commanding male lover. The two (or more) of them flaunt their sexual activities, drawing painful contrast to the sub's impotence. The focus of humiliation and ridicule by a woman, groups of women, and often men is central in these scenes and fantasies. The sub's sexual participation is often reduced to her domme and lover's post coital "cleanup." The sub is often expected to take the passive or receiving female role in a homosexual encounter with the domme's lover - her "real" man. Attendant to these images are often masculine women and cruel vixens who the sub can now only covet without consummation with the ultimate message being that the domme disregards them sexually and dismisses them as men.

Personally I have never been attracted to feminization or any of the attendant scenes or roles, however I accept that they obviously have appeal to some, perhaps many. Normally I would be happy to view it as harmless fun between consenting adults, which within the context of fantasies and sexual play, it is.

The problem is that this image is so prolific in the D/s and BDSM world that it unfairly extends to many of us who want, or are open to, a submissive role with women but are not interested in, and in some cases flat out repulsed by, these characterizations. Outwardly and inwardly we become guilty by association. In the mainstream media, the vanilla world and even among many in the D/s and BDSM world, the feminization of men is arguably the most ridiculed and loathed image we have. Those among us who seek a S-D/s relationship clearly don't want to be associated with it. It can create guilt, confusion and self loathing for even having such desires that so many, often including those who fantasize about them, see as repulsive.

In the broader sense this image of feminization is a problem in society as a whole and a continued struggle in the post feminist age. In our still patriarchal society that which is feminine is still regarded as weak; that which is masculine is still regarded as strong. As long as these attributes stay within the confines of our collective expectations there isn't a problem, or an overt problem, but once they stray, there is a huge problem. As a side note I would suggest that it is especially timely right now as we are headed for presidential elections. The fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman is among the issues that challenge her. I won't turn this overtly political since that would take our attention elsewhere, but I'll sum it up by saying that as a society we pay token lip service to women. We put them on pedestals as long as they exhibit the attributes that we consider in line with our images of femininity. These include the ideals of physical beauty, virginity and loyalty, respect, obedience, nurturance, selflessness, and a certain feminine strength that is less physical and more focused on duty to home and family. Once women divert from this image, we have problems. We still have the age old tension and conflict between the admired mother and the reviled yet desired whore. We still have a sense of the wife/woman as possession.

Two deviations threaten the model. One shatters the illusion of the female image we have created and has been knocking women off that pedestal for years, sadly at times to devastating ends. The other deviation is even more threatening in a patriarchal society:

One is when the woman takes on the attributes of men; the other is when the attributes we have placed on women are present in men.

We hate weakness outside of its feminine context. Thus the most loathsome thing in our society in this regard is feminization of the masculine, of men. It speaks to the assumed weakness of the feminine and underlying fear we have as a collective consciousness.

For example, in spite of whatever progress has been made in pop culture and society, homophobia is still a big problem. Since as a society we pay token homage to the mother, as long as she fits the construct we have created, the underlying message is that as men, we can only go so far to affiliate ourselves with women in this context. From the "mamma's boy," to "the sissy," to the "henpecked, pussy whipped, husband," we have nothing but disdain for such men. We draw a straight line to the conclusion that men who don't take on the traditional role with women - that of boss, the physically stronger, the decision maker, bread winner, leader, provider, and ultimate authority - are weak, thus feminine, thus hated and ridiculed, possibly feared underneath it all.

The flip side of this is the attachment of masculine traits to dominance in women. Within the femdomme and BDSM culture the masculine woman is the antithesis of the feminized man. Why is it that a woman has to take on the attributes of men to convey her wisdom, power, command, and dominance? I would suggest that it does us all an equal disservice. Although the image to the vanilla world of such women may be less reviled than that of feminized men, it is none the less disliked, ridiculed and often hated. When isn't their a rumor mill about any powerful woman that she is either "a bitch," or "a lesbian," or she "hates men?" In many ways it is an even worse trap for them. The options are to become this kind of woman, or they remain or reveal themselves to be weak and unable to lead when the first signs of vulnerability arise. A recent online article, the source of which I apologize for having forgotten, told of survey results that show that within the public and political world, we are more accepting of powerful men who shed the occasional tear than we are with women making similar public displays. It is now finally seen as compassion when a man shows some kind of public emotion and we can empathize with him and admire him, yet when women do it it is either seen as weak or insincere manipulation. On the one hand this is good news for men (as long as their display is minimal and rare) but a step backwards for women.

The larger point is that we still think in base literal and symbolic terms of physical strength as the ultimate guiding principle of power. Of course it is intellectualized and displayed nationalistically in our strength as a nation in times of war; it can be synthesized into a symbolic strength represented by money, power and position, but they are all extensions of our fear, at times obfuscated as admiration and ultimately our submission to one more powerful than we...and we still expect it to be a masculine image. Does the threat of violence keep everyone in line? If so, how do we break this image and cycle so that we might emerge to create a society that isn't based on response to the ever present threat of violence, but one that is based in wisdom and compassion? Whenever our decisions are made and their subsequent actions taken based on greed, self interest, unbridled desire or fear, we run the risk of failure. Just look at our country and the current state of our political world as an example of this.

Both genders appear to be hopelessly stuck. How do we separate the idea that strength and dominance is masculine and that vulnerability and submission is feminine? Or, short of that, how do we let go of the stereotypes and negative meta messages that are attached to them. How do we get to a place where women can be commanding, dominant and in charge without always being seen as "masculine" or "trying to be like men," and men can be vulnerable and open to a world where they can be submissive without being weak, "like a woman" and assumed to be latently gay?

Once we can start to overcome this in a way that has something approaching societal acceptance and approval, more men will be willing and eager to follow their often ignored instincts and desires to be vulnerable, and open up the submissiveness within their nature. Women can begin to take the reigns more in relationships without feeling like their men are pathetic, weak, deserving of ridicule, or they themselves are going to be seen as masculine or bitches and experience their own sense of humiliation because they recognize their desire and ability to flourish in their leadership which is now still outside of mainstream acceptability.

I recognize that a lot of the images I have described are based on cliches and fantasies and that there are no doubt plenty of S-D/s relationships that don't have this dynamic. I aspire to one myself. But as long as the loathsome images of submissive men as emasculated, feminized sources of extreme ridicule and humiliation exist, there will be untold numbers of men who may well keep their longings for a non feminized submission to themselves because in the end, guilt by association is powerful. No one wants to risk unwanted humiliation and loss of self esteem because we are mistakenly placed in a category to which don't completely belong.


SplasherGirl said...

Wow! That's the best argument I've ever seen against a live-and-let-live attitude toward feminization. It's not going to change my behavior, because I'm just a live-and-let-live sort of person, and I never had any interest in feminization to begin with, but I'm still impressed with the argument.

As I'm sure you've gathered by now, my style of domination is purely sexual, and it depends on my being female and my partner being male, in a context where there isn't any doubt about what we mean by female and male.

Fortunately, on those occasions when I've coached other women in my kind of kink, they'd had little enough previous exposure to female domination that I was able to describe it for what it is, without having to overcome the negative stereotype that you describe. As you say, if I'd run up against the stereotype, I might have failed in my proselytizing, and that would have been a great loss, both to those women and to their partners.

mnwhr said...

Wonderful post. I believe that the pervasive images of feminized men allow those in the mainstream to view d/s relationships as truly deviant as opposed to existing on the same spectrum as vanilla sexual behavior. But I also think that this stereotype is a result of our (American) societal need for dichotomies. We have trouble defining things simply in their own terms it's easier to find something to measure it against, even if the comparison is not accurate.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. A subject as complex as this deserves as much exposure as possible. This is a brilliant start.


Mystress said...

When I was looking for a submissive male, I was very clear in that I wanted a very masculine man. The last thing I was interested in was a sissy or femmy sort. For Me, there is no allure in a man in a dress, and I sure as heck don't want him wearing or even eying My under garments! That being said, I was shocked at how many men applied that wanted Me to do exactly that to them. Some of them would ask Me over and over. What part of NO didn't they understand?! So many wanted the 'forced feminization' or to be humiliated. I had a very hard time understanding this, and to some degree still do.

What I did have in mind, was more of the Arthurian mode, that of a Knight serving his Queen. For a Queen is not a male oriented female, she is strong and proud within her feminity, just as the Knight that serves Her is strong within his masculinity. This sort of man is known as the Hero. His strongest desire is to please and serve, but from a place of strength, not weakness. He also desires the one he serves to be a strong female image, not a woman with masculine tendincies

Because I was also want him to be a pleasure slave, that would mean that for Me, all of his masculine skills and abilites as a lover would also be required. Strength and stamina being primary amoung them.

So, what I sought was a sensual paladin.. and.. I was blessed that after years of searching, we did find each other. We are both exactly who we are comfortable being.

When Paladin kneels to Me as a knight of My realm, there is not a flicker of anything feminine about him. He is a strong and proud man who desires to be of service to Me. And when I Command him.. I am both soft and strong.. but there is nothing masculine about it. We are excacty who were are within our roles.

Thank you for the insightful information and the chance to be reflective about it,
best to all,

NTM said...

Thank you all for your comments. It is encouraging to see that people recognize that there are those of us who seek S-D/s relationships without loss of masculinity, and that there are women who seek such men.

lianneofkaos said...

I found this entry by accident, looking for comments dealing on "post-feminism" and it sort of struck me... given the age of the post, I hope you dont mind my commenting from my side of the thing.

I'm a pre-op transsexual, with submissive tendencies I'm just starting to re-explore after years of repression. The repression came from wanting to avoid exactly what you're talking about here:
reinforcing the gender-biases in strength and weakness, domination and submission. Oddly, my interest in forced-feminization came from wanting to leverage it as a way to break through the repression and percieved humiliation of being transgendered. To make 'excuses' of being dominated as a rationalization for giving up the 'strength' of my male birth-sex for the 'weaknesses' of the female-gender.

So in one sense, I commend you for posting this critique of the attitudes that lead me to repression in two different ways. In another... I hope you don't see me as an example of what you're referring to.

Anonymous said...

Have you read any Bitch Jones? She has some similar comments on feminization, like here. Her blog often has interesting feminist analysis of these sorts of tropes.