Dominant Women and Self Esteem


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ASK THE THERAPIST

April 1992

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1992 by William A. Henkin

<Q> Why is it so hard for some women to become truly dominant? Can you suggest ways a woman might learn to help herself become more dominant than she is?

<A> Numerous studies of American children show that boys and girls enjoy similar levels of self-esteem until they reach puberty, but that between about the ages of 10 and 13, as boys' self-esteem grows, girls' self-esteem plummets.

It does not take a sociologist to recognize a cultural basis for this divergence. As boys grow into men their bodies become harder and more angular; as girls grow into women their bodies become softer and rounder. The physiological changes of adolescence send signals to adults in the society that it is time to refine the childrens' expectations: little boys who were planning to become pilots and doctors are encouraged to do so with increased seriousness, while little girls who were planning to become doctors and pilots are encouraged to become stewardesses and nurses instead.

I do not mean to impugn the professions of nursing or stewardship but rather to identify a social bias that directs males toward lives rewarded by money, prestige, and power, and females toward lives rewarded by the kindness of strangers. Studies suggest that many girls see the increasingly obvious femaleness of their bodies as the chief reason options are abruptly closed to them. It seems to be this experience that leads their self-esteem to suffer. When their hopes, expectations, and strengths are repeatedly frustrated and denied during this important period of growth, their ability to assert themselves withers. Some such women never regain it.

It should come as small surprise, therefore, that many women find it difficult to become dominant in our society; but all need not be lost. Any form of assertiveness training, such as learning to say Yes or No instead of Maybe, or learning self-defense skills, can give a woman an increased sense of control in her own life. Such a sense of control frequently enhances her self-esteem and her experience of mastery in life – and, of course, practice helps. Various sorts of assertiveness courses are available in most locales.

Your question does not specifically address erotic dominance, but given the nature of this publication I'll take the liberty of carrying my answer one step farther. It is axiomatic that a person must have a sense of control in her own sexual life before she can effectively exercise control over someone else's, if the control is to be genuine and not just a kind of substitute for self control. And in order to be in charge of her own sexual life a woman needs to know what she likes sexually. Since women's sexuality is routinely denied or denigrated in our society, learning about their sexual likes and dislikes can be a difficult and guilt-laden process for many women. A few professional dominants do educational counseling with women who want to learn to enjoy their own erotic power, and women's sex classes such as those taught by Betty Dodson can be very beneficial, partly because they lend peer support to a woman's learning process, and partly because they provide hands-on techniques that high school sex-ed classes just don't offer.

With or without such groups, however, a number of dominant women have told me that a good place to start the learning process is with erotic fantasy and lots of masturbation. When a woman has learned the perameters of her own desire, by her own hand, under her own control, in her own space, and at her own good time, she is greatly empowered to let other people know how to please her.


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