You know what? Being a dominant dude is not ZOMG HORRIBLE

I’ve read this post on BDSM and the ensuing discussion of it on Feministe, and I am crestfallen (“crestfallen” – I like that word. It is underused and underrepresented, like many good things in life).

It’s not the issue affecting the BDSM community – not to mention people’s weird reactions to BDSM – that trouble me per se. I’m not part of that community, so anything I say is just a comment going out from the sidelines – not particularly interesting or insightful. It does bother me whenever people casually dismiss BDSMers as “those freaky people over there – let’s stay away, they might have freaky people germs”. The false dichotomy of kinkster vs. vanilla chaps my hide as well.

But. BUT! I’m not here to talk about all of that right now. I’m here to talk about whether or not dominant tendencies in dudes are de-facto a Very Bad Thing. Because I was reading the comments of a blogger named Pepper, and saw this:

Here’s some concrete examples of the kind of self-policing I do:

1) I’m very aware of the dominant streak in my personality. In social or group situations, I purposefully stay quiet, tone down my language, make sure others are heard, apologize for interrupting, and so on. I know that others listen to me more than they should, both because of my gender and this dominance aspect, and I try to counteract this…. [etc.]

Now, the way Pepper conducts himself is Pepper’s business. This is in no way a comment on Pepper himself. Whenever I’m in a feminist-oriented discussion, I instantly bristle at people who tell other people that This Is How You Should Act In All Circumstances and This Is How You Should Feel About This And That and Check Out This Excellent Feminist Apple-Peeling Technique I Invented, Bitch, Or Suffer The Consequences. So if I fall into the same trap, I apologize in advance.

The thing is, there are dominant people and there are dominant people. As a collective feminist movement, we often argue against general male dominance – but I feel that if I am with a man who’s got a dominant streak, I wouldn’t want him to feel permanently conflicted about it. If I choose to be with someone, then I choose to handle certain aspects of their personality.

Who I date or don’t date doesn’t really matter in the context of the larger conversation, of course, except for the fact that I recently had a conversation with someone that went along the lines of, “and you know, [dude I’m seeing] has SUCH a dominant streak” with the other person responding with a “wait, what? Aren’t you a feminist?” Well, yes, I am a feminist. This doesn’t mean I’ll automatically reject someone because they’re loud, or because they’ll go “you know what, you need to listen to THE MAN, i.e. me, right now” every once in a while.

“Dominant” does not necessarily mean “controlling” or “abusive.” It can mean a lot of things. Not all dominant guys are jerks, or bad listeners, or ego-tripping bastards, or male chauvinists. If a guy’s got a dominant streak, but happens to be secure with himself, he won’t mind if you challenge him. If you say, “actually, I’m not going to listen to THE MAN, i.e. you, right now – and here’s why.” And if you trust a guy – then you trust him to make certain decisions, without necessarily compromising your own integrity. Two adults can negotiate and renegotiate their roles as they see fit. It doesn’t mean they won’t fight – but then again, who doesn’t fight?

I suppose I’m bringing all of this up, because I am tired of the notion that there is just one “correct” way to pursue a romantic relationship in particular, and that if you don’t embrace certain social norms that (mostly) middle-class Western progressives follow, then you’re getting raped and abused every night, even though you’re too uncivilized and stupid to actually realize it – or whatever.

I mean, while the Not Encouraging the Weirdos policy is still very on around here, I can’t help but want to share when I go into my moderation queue and find gems such as:

“I see you published and commented favorably on a cartoon in which the man you are dating is depicted with clenched fists. It’s not doing a lot for your feminist image. I’m worried for you. Or I would be worried – if you were worth it.”

OMG I’M NOT WORTH IT?!?!?!?!

OK, but seriously now…

The dude I love clenched his fists – and ruined my public image…?

OK then!

When we speak of institutionalized male dominance and the way that individuals conduct their relationships, we must obviously admit that there is no crowbar separation between the two. I mean, that’s kind of a GIVEN (I hate it when people remind me of the fact – as if I’m five years old and just learning that people and ideas don’t exist in individually sealed vacuums). But, as trite as it’s going to sound, part of respecting a person’s agency is trusting their lived experience, and trusting how they feel about said lived experience.

Otherwise, the purpose is defeated. Squarely. In the jaw.

6 thoughts on “You know what? Being a dominant dude is not ZOMG HORRIBLE

  1. ‘…. part of respecting a person’s agency is trusting their lived experience, and trusting how they feel about said lived experience.’

    That’s my quote of the week, right there. I find it so funny that people who have the least life experience of the subject they have very loud opinions on are the quickest to patronize the more well informed party. The funniest thing of all to me is they think they’re pissing you off and all they’re doing is making themselves look extremely pathetic.

    Look up my tweets from Monday night and you’ll see an example of that. 😉

  2. I think, if you were able to do an analysis of every argument that ever ensued between man and woman, that you’d find – an astonishing number of times – that the point where the whole thing went south into loud-voiced anger was coincident with one or the other realizing they were probably wrong. Being right never made anyone any friends when the other person is expecting support; even though they suspect the premise of their argument is sketchy, or that they’ve mentally decided to go ahead with a course of action for other than sound reasons.

    It’s kind of a “Damn it! I didn’t think of that! I should have thought of that!”.

  3. Hi! I popped over here from your comment on Clarisse’s post, and found myself mentioned. Which is flattering – thank you.

    I want to say that my relationship to dominance is much more complex than just me trying to suppress it, though that’s the only example I gave in the other post.

    There’s lots of situations where I purposefully let it out. For example, it’s really useful when giving presentations or running workshops. A couple weeks ago I basically took over a charged conversation (white folks discussing anti-racist organizing) in order to keep it productive. It’s very cool that I can just do this sort of thing, and I’m more than willing to take advantage of it when I consider it appropriate.

    One of those places is in relationships. The women who are seriously dating me are partially doing it because of this dominant streak, so it’s a crucial part of dating for me.

    But there are other situations where it is definitely counterproductive. I end up spending a lot of time with one of my partner’s partners, who is a man with a submissive streak. He and I naturally fall into a leader/minion role, but at the same time I’m constantly checking in on his desires, ensuring he is heard, and so on – basically counteracting the dynamic. Given that people usually run all over him, he really appreciates this, and he and I are much closer because of it.

    Being able to consciously do this stuff is a much better situation than when I was younger and just sort of ran roughshod over people.

  4. I also think it’s strange that people think that dominant men can’t be feminists (or pro-feminist or whatever). Like if you’re dominant and a man you must automatically be all pro-patriarchy? The idea that all men must be stripped of any dominant tendencies to live in a feminist world is just bizarre to me. I can be a very dominant woman. I want a dominant man who can deal with that and not let me run over him (the same applies to women). Throw in my desires as far as BDSM and it becomes even more important. I’d be very unhappy if men aren’t allowed to be dominant. I’m also unhappy when women aren’t allowed to be dominant. I see no problem with wanting a world without dominance being the sole domain of men and yet still liking dominant men.

  5. Lucy, like you, I have my own dominant streak, and I want a dude who is able to handle that. And when I say “handle”, I don’t mean “agree with me all of the time.” I don’t know why it’s taken me such a long time to figure that out, but it did. As cheesy as it sounds, I want to be able to grow with the person I’m with, and for me, growing is impossible without a great deal of trust – in his leadership, in his decision-making, in his ability to set me straight if need be, etc.

  6. Natalia,

    Yes, that’s it exactly. I don’t need a man (or woman, for that matter, given that I am queer) who will just agree with me but one who can stand up to me and disagree with me. Especially on those few occasions when I’m wrong. 😉 I don’t want to be Katherine in “The Taming of the Shrew” (because that would be an obvious problem for me as a feminist), but certainly it’s nice to not have to worry about the effects of my dominance on a partner. As you say, it’s a matter of trust. I want a partner who will be a partner, not a doormat, not a boss.

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