I’ve recently had an conversation with a about male submission with a sub who was just beginning to explore the lifestyle. It went something like this:
‘Honestly, one of the issues I had was that being a sub would affect my confidence, and you have made me feel much better.’
‘What do you mean, the effect it would have on your confidence?
‘Just it would make me feel bad about myself.’
‘Why would being a sub make you feel bad about yourself?’
‘Because you’re inferior.’
‘Being a sub makes you inferior?’
‘I think so. That’s the general perception.’
‘Degradation and humiliation as part of a scene is one thing, but that’s not representative. I would never seriously say my subs are inferior to me.’
‘Don’t you look down on your subs?’
‘No, definitely not.’
‘It’s amazing you think that.’
It is should not be ‘amazing’ that I think that – in fact, I would argue that that is the attitude all Dominants ought to have, and most indeed do. It is however not surprising that many people, especially looking in through the frosted glass of vanilla relationships, will take it as read that the submissive side of the dynamic is inherently inferior.
On the surface, this perception seems fairly self-explanatory. After all, in many dynamics, the submissive is frequently degraded and humiliated, beaten, punished, and subject to daily rules and restrictions, and not solely sexually – many Dominants will frequently monitor the minutiae of their submissive’s lives: what they eat, how much water they drink throughout the day, how they dress, whether they get enough exercise…
Without any understanding of power exchange, and the hours of conversation which go along with it, it is easy to see how that could add up to the idea that the submissive is inferior to the dominant and, consequently, that anyone who chooses that position is weak and spineless (or being coerced as part of an abusive relationship, but abuse is a separate discussion altogether).
The idea male submission is weakness is a modern one
In my opinion, however, the roots of this idea lie in broader modern societal expectations and trends, rather than the specifics of the lifestyle. The concept of submission is and always has, by dictionary definition, linked with weakness or inferiority – it is a passive state, arising from unfortunate necessity, as a consequence of being in an unfavourable position in one way or another.
However, the modern world is increasingly enamoured with individualism and ultimate personal autonomy. The perceived value of social conformity has drastically fallen to the new generation, with a number of studies showing that older individuals are more likely to conform than younger individuals, 1 as the decline of collectivism has become increasingly apparent over the last forty years or so. 2
Where once submission to higher authorities – the Church, the government, the local community – was once a highly desirable characteristic, in the age of the internet, ‘conformity’ has been bandied around like an insult. Personal identity, self-determination and a stress on ‘uniqueness’ have become, quite paradoxically, the status quo. Both to the left and right of the political spectrum, there has been a veritable obsession with the right of self-expression; from demanding various legal impossibilities to protecting the absolute right of free speech, no matter the point of view, the entire political spectrum can essentially agree that what they want is to have the right to do whatever it is that they want. It is no longer fashionable to respect anyone’s authority but your own.
Thus, we live in an age where everyone is trying to grasp at as much personal autonomy as they can. It is then hardly surprising that most people cannot justify someone willingly and actively giving up so much of it.
So, then, submission, to the minds of the majority, must be a character flaw – the mark of someone with no back bone, someone who cannot think for themselves, who looks to others because they are not strong enough to stand on their own and decide for themselves. 3 There is no more scathing criticism than that in the modern day and age.
In truth, however, submission is neither a product of oppression or weakness. 4 In fact, it takes a very strong person to embrace that part of their nature, despite the societal pressures to the contrary. Just because a sub defers to their dom does not mean that translates to other areas of life – just you try and give someone else’s submissive an order, and see what happens. I assure you, you won’t get meek compliance.
Submissives are very often formidable people and, just because they trust and respect me enough to submit to me, isn’t a reason for me to think any less of them. On the contrary, their submission frequently leads me to look to how I can be a better domme, and make the best use of that trust and respect.
1. Robert L. Klein, ‘Age, Sex, and Task Difficulty as Predictors of Social Conformity‘  27(2) Journal of Gerontology pp. 229-236.
3. This is probably a more commonly a criticism of submissive men, but I will write about that in a separate post.
4. Of course, there are submissives of whom the stereotype is true, just as there are abusive Dominants, of whom that stereotype is true, as indeed there are weak or abusive people in all walks of life. They are however not representative of subs and Doms in general.