Within academic circles, dominance and submission is, in turns, conceptualised either as highly stable individual characteristics (temperament, character, genetics) or as highly dynamic properties of situations (relationship dynamics, trauma, life circumstances)(Burgoon and Dunbar 2000). In many of these characteristics, one or both of the character traits have been presented with a more negative slant; the analysis often leading to presenting the dominant as lacking social boundaries and the submissive as lacking personal strength (Orford 1986). Though there have been attempts at presenting a more balanced view the temptation of polarisation still persists.
Interestingly, popular media and recent portrayal of Dominance and Submission is even more singular in its representation. It is generally seen as a genetic condition separation the world, some people more so than others. When it comes to the judgement side however, the opinions are more split. Whilst there is a recent positive trend to representation of Dominance/submission, at close examination it appears that most mean stream portrayals are just as negative. 50 Shades of Grey the best example – the perceived Dominant a damaged character who is being “cured” towards mild and more acceptable play by his interaction with the innocent girl.
What fascinates me is that even within the BDSM community there is a tendency to lean towards the extremes of definition and to attempt to push everyone into these. First of all, here as well the genetic view of Dominance/submission characteristics perseveres, though representation is more positive. Where it becomes more interesting is that each grouping seems to be very clear of what makes a Dominant, a submissive and the smallest deviation is punished with open criticism and social pressure. A proper submissive follows orders without question by any Dominant, kneels in this way, reacts in that way. A Dominant does not do this or that. Even political and social attitudes are ascribed within social settings involving Dominance and submission. A Dominant is seen as a social aberration if he or she speaks out against the right to bear arms, identifies as a political liberal, does not knit (just as a random example).
In part the genetic explanation of Dominance/submission is one of the reasons we make it so easy to create a right/wrong narrative in how we define ourselves as Dominants and submissives. If it is a genetic condition then in each situation there is a right and wrong reaction – rather than a more fluid view of situational alignment between personalities. Genetics gives the lazy minds a way out – we do not have to think, to question ourselves. We know exactly what our place is, no matter how many people we once again ostracise and marginalise within our own groups.
Three things are fascinating about this:
- Humanity has a tendency to want to define itself in groups and declare all “others” as wrong – even if that particular group sees itself as persecuted minority anyway. Tolerance is not our strongest suit, not even when we ourselves demand it form others.
- Academia starting to try to differentiate further than just genetics might have it right – otherwise we close our eyes to so many aspects of the mental game of submission and Dominance. A submissive might not be submissive to any Dominant but just to the one they choose. A Dominant might not be dominant in every situation. It is a constant game of interaction and as such both sides have to react to who the other person is as a person, not as a denomination of Dominant/submissive.
- Popular media, academia, and those identifying as Dominant/submissive are all in the same boat – desperately trying to identify and classify without willingness to differentiate.
Does this help us any? No. It reminds us possibly not to constantly try to tell others what they are doing is “wrong” or at least not “done in the right way”. And that one applies to all groups, no matter how mainstream, ostracised or marginal. Just because we are the target of discrimination does not, sadly, make us in any way less willing to discriminate. Or put people into a box. And I am a prime suspect here – I am an academic after all.
Burgoon, J. K., & Dunbar, N. E. (2000). An interactionist perspective on dominance?submission: Interpersonal dominance as a dynamic, situationally contingent social skill. Communications Monographs, 67(1), 96-121.
Orford, J. (1986). The rules of interpersonal complementarity: Does hostility beget hostility and dominance, submission?.
Robinson, M. D., Zabelina, D. L., Ode, S., & Moeller, S. K. (2008). The vertical nature of dominance-submission: Individual differences in vertical attention. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 933-948.
A Variety of Chains excerpt
Slowly, he lowered more and more of his weight to rest on her until she could feel his hard and still clothed limbs against her nakedness. His arousal was unmistakable as it rested in the embrace of her body, only separated from her skin by the fabric of his trousers. His hand stroked down, over her hip to her knee, before he hooked a hand underneath it and brought it up to his waist, opening her further to him.
She wanted to blame the hour, so close to the fourteenth, for the wetness soaking his trousers, but knew that would not be entirely honest. Her body was wet with arousal and spasms of pleasure were tightening her womb. He started to roll his hips, stroking the fabric over a part of her that she had not realised could become so sensitive. With each stroke of his body against hers, something tensed in her a little more. His lips started to play with hers again, teasingly stroking over them and then nipping her with lightning speed. She needed something she did not know she needed, and with every second it seemed to come closer. The sound ripped from her throat was between a moan and a sob – and it stopped him in his tracks.
His brow came to rest against hers on a moan. “There is nothing I want more than to continue this so that when I ask you again if you have ever had an orgasm, you are in no doubt at all, but unfortunately now is not the time. Now is too close to midnight, and it would be careless of me to lose control.”
Kathryn McClusky is an ErGer – a rare and highly prized individual in the supernatural world.
She has spent her life running and hiding, but circumstances have changed and the only way to protect her family is to hand herself over to the Vampire Lord of London to face slavery or death.
Lucian Neben runs his London court with a stern but fair hand, but political pressures are building from both the human and fey worlds, and taking possession of an ErGer would cement his position of power.
Kathryn is vulnerable and broken almost beyond repair, but she holds in her hands the one treasure Lucian desperately wants – the possibility of home and family.
Can he teach her to open herself up; to choose to life, and him, before reality forces him to take her freedom?
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In “real” life, I am an academic with degrees in Political Science, Economics, Philosophy and Law and an insatiable desire to confound, baffle and disconcert my students. Someone once suggested to me the reason for my stories lay in the desire to offset the tedium and rationality of academic life. He wasn’t an academic or he would have known better. It is best to use research against tedium, students to offset the rationality and an unlimited supply of stressballs for the faculty meetings. The stories? Well, they are just for me – like a mental manicure.
I also write a blog on Feminism and Erotica – come talk to me:
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