Submission and Masculinity

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January 1993

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1993 by William A. Henkin

<Q> How can I reconcile being a submissive male in a world that demands dominance from a male?

<A> In last October's GP a woman asked a similar question: she wondered how to reconcile being submissive with being a feminist. I asked what she meant by "submissive," then asked what she meant by "feminist," since both terms are frequently debated by people who use them to self-define. I think you, too, may be bound to some extent by your assumptions about definitions, and so you may be freed somewhat by thinking about your behavior instead.

Engaging in submissive behavior for erotic pleasure is not the same as being a submissive. It is, instead, a way to get what you want – just as engaging in dominant behavior is a way for someone else to get what s/he wants, or for you to get what you want at some other time, with some other person, or in some other set of circumstances.

Nor does engaging in submissive behavior for erotic pleasure imply that you are submissive or engage in submissive behavior for any other reason: professional dominatrice have frequently said that their clients include many high-powered people who are extremely dominant in their professional and social lives, and who need a break from being in charge.

So the short form of my answer is, the world may seem to you to demand dominance from a male, but your Master or Mistress demands something quite different in the dungeon or bedroom: get out of that suit and down on your knees, boy.

The long form is what I said to the self-defined feminist submissive last autumn: your question implies that being submissive means you have no power, which is a notion I dispute. You can't give up power you don't already have, so the more power you have the more you can give up, and, consequently, the more erotic your submission can be. When I top I don't want to play with someone who thinks badly of him- or herself: I want someone's bottoming to be a worthy gift. Similarly, when I bottom I give a great deal: a top who can't recognize my gift is not likely to be able to receive all I have to offer, nor is s/he likely to be able to give much back to me.

This is also why submission can actually build your power: when you discover how much you have to give, and how valuable it is, and that you are able to control yourself enough to give it away when you choose to do so, you can realize who new levels of true pride in who and what you are.

The world you perceive, in which dominance is demanded from a male, is not a world that recognizes the value of females or the feminine components in males; nor does it value the traditionally feminine qualities inherent in service, submission, or surrender. As a result, we who live in this world are always, to some extent, cut off from others, and from essential parts of ourselves as well. When we can discover the power and grace that come from gracefully turning our power over to another, we can also discover the limits stereotypes impose on us, and the freedom that lies in living for our experience rather than our labels.

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