Submission and Masculinity

One of  my many, many pet peeves with the kink scene is the conflation of submission and femininity. Aside from my own irritation with it, it probably causes most of the trouble submissive men have accepting themselves, and with coming out as submissive to their partners.

So what the fuck is with assuming that submission and femininity are linked? Well, as much as we like to tell ourselves that the scene is the special magical place where we can be ourselves without worrying about what society tells us we should be, any subculture is still a product of the host culture it grew in. And the host culture, in this case, has some seriously fucked up ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman and how the twain must never ever meet.

There’s this idea that to be a woman is to be delicate and pretty and submissive, and to be a man is to be rugged and strong and dominant. If you grow up in a culture like this, it’s hard to avoid absorbing the idea that submission is fundamentally feminine and domination is fundamentally masculine. I’m not saying it isn’t stupid and wrong to assume those things are inextricably linked, just that it’s a reality of the culture we live in.

As long as everyone stays in their boxes nobody has to think about how stupid those rigid little boxes are, but when people do anything the least bit similar to something in the ‘wrong’ box, everyone freaks out. Given the way we worship masculinity and revile femininity, it’s considered sort of understandable, if not precisely approved of, for women to try to be like men but if a man tries to be the least bit feminine, well clearly that’s the end of the fucking world.

And that’s where submissive men get thrown into so much trouble. If submission is fundamentally feminine, but these men are submissive, then instead of questioning the validity of these stupid gender roles we assume that they’re not real men. Even worse, submissive men assume they’re not real men, that being submissive means they’ve failed at being a man and now have to give up all of their masculine traits, not just the ones that aren’t working for them. I see question after question on fetlife from men who don’t understand how they can be submissive and not want to be feminized or called a worthless worm.

Speaking of which, I believe that’s where the worthless worm thing comes from. If a man can’t be a “real” man (that is, dominant), he must be somehow subhuman, good for nothing, worthless. How can we keep everything rolling along the way it always has and keep from having to think any uncomfortable thoughts if we don’t slap down anyone who dares step outside their box?

Male domination and female submission don’t involve anyone trying to step outside of the cramped little boxes society’s gender roles create. Female domination and especially male submission completely trash those boxes, which is terribly uncomfortable for people who want to believe that there’s just one way to be a man and they’re doing it right, that it was worth it to cut off all those pieces of themselves so they could fit in the man box.

Given the fear of not being manly enough and the way we devalue everything even slightly “feminine”, of course submissive men worry that no one will ever love them. And of course people who aren’t already critical of stupid gender roles believe what they’re been told all their lives about what it means to be a man.  As hideously unfair as it is to assume that submissive men are broken, it’s kind of a tall order to ask someone to instantly throw out everything they’ve ever believed about what a man is supposed to be. I’m not saying it’s fair, but everyone needs a little time to adjust when they get a shock like that.

Anyway, the point of all this rambling is that it’s fucking stupid to assume that submission and masculinity are incompatible. Come on, people. What’s more masculine than showing off how much pain you can take? Or more gentlemanly than devoting yourself to making your partner happy? Or more courageous than opening up completely to someone?

For me, submissiveness and masculinity are two great tastes that taste great together. If you don’t want to mix masculinity and submission that’s absolutely fine, but if you think they can’t mix, you can go fuck yourself.

Moderation note: there will be no whining in the comments about how masculinity is practically a dirty word these days and how can I possibly think femininity is devalued when everything is so easy for women lately. Problem comments will be edited or deleted.

27 thoughts on “Submission and Masculinity

  1. “If submission is fundamentally feminine but these men are submissive, then instead of questioning the validity of these stupid gender roles we assume that they’re not real men.”

    Gender fixity and the associated notion that submissiveness in a man means that he’s not a ‘man’, are simply a bad smell emanating from the rotting corpse of patriarchy.

    I may have quoted this observation by feminist writer Lynne Segal before, but it bears repeating:

    “…there are gentle, caring, celibate, submissive, unassertive, dependent and passive men, just as there are lusty, authoritative, aggressive, insensitive, dominating, independent and assertive women. We all criss-cross these supposedly gendered lines, displaying greater variation within our own sex than between sexes…”

    The trouble is that when we go into power exchange mode, we often unconsciously carry a lot of ancient patriarchal baggage with us. Given the extent to which we are programmed with this shit at a very early age, it’s scarcely surprising.

    But yes, done mindfully well, female domination and male submission can help us to get out of jail free.

    • The trouble is that when we go into power exchange mode, we often unconsciously carry a lot of ancient patriarchal baggage with us. Given the extent to which we are programmed with this shit at a very early age, it’s scarcely surprising.

      Exactly! I know it’s basically unavoidable that people come into the scene with a bunch of baggage about gender, but I wish more people saw that for the problem it is.

  2. I host a monthly event for new people in the community, and I see this among most of the submissive men to some degree. You’re right, it’s hard to shed decades of programming and cultural reinforcement. But once we make up our minds to do that, we then become an example for others, proof that masculine submission is not only possible, but big chunks of sexy. Then it becomes a matter of slowly changing minds by the way we live, one by one.

    • we then become an example for others, proof that masculine submission is not only possible, but big chunks of sexy

      Yes! Masculine submission is so very very sexy.

  3. Seems like every time I lurk in my favourite group on FetLife, there’s some submissive dude posting a question there…but before he can cut to the damn chase, he has to write five paragraphs about how he’s a totally new paradigm in male submission – a crazy contradiction that will surely melt our puny brains – a sub who’s tall! And strong! And manly! And assertive! And totally gives people orders at work and stuff!

    I understand why these dudes feel the need for these huge disclaimers. I really do. But it’s a struggle not to snark at them. Especially since, if they only looked around a little, they’d see that male subs come in all different shapes/sizes/temperaments.

    I think I just get annoyed by anyone thinking they’re a special snowflake.

    • Ugh, I’ve seen that so many times. I mostly don’t comment on those threads because I know these guys just haven’t learned yet that it’s totally normal to be masculine and submissive *at the same time, my god*, but I don’t always have it in me to be nice to yet another guy acting like it’s unheard of for a submissive man to be masculine.

  4. I think I just get annoyed by anyone thinking they’re a special snowflake.

    I tend to think of them as guys who are so put off by the “sub = weak” trope that they are making a point to distance themselves as much as possible.

    • Sure, but you can vouch for a manly submission style without claiming to be the only manly-man submissive ever.

      It’s one thing to go “I dislike the stereotype of the weak, wormy submissive. I’m not like that at all.” It’s another to go “OMG you guys…you may not believe this – I mean, I don’t wanna blow your mind here, or anything – but I’m a big powerful masculine dude who is also submissive!!1!!!!!!!! I’ll just stand back a second and let that sink in.”

      For all of these guys’ alleged “manliness,” their spiel comes off as really insecure. I find it far more appealing and, yes, masculine, when a guy can just calmly state what he’s into without any apology, explanation, or disclaimer.

      • On the one hand I can definitely understand wanting to distance yourself as much as possible from the idea that all subs are weak little sissy boys, and getting the idea that subs are never masculine from the fact that so much femdom porn is absolutely awful, but it just bugs me when people assume they’re unique snowflakes.

        For the same reason, I hate the oh-so-common question ‘Is anyone else into…?’ Come on people, it’s the internet. There is always someone else who’s into the same “weird” (not so weird) fetish you are. Every time that question comes up, it seems like the real question is either “I’m not a total freak, am I?” or “where are the hot ladies who will fulfill my fantasies?”

        • OMG it makes me so insane when someone asks “Is anyone else into…?”!!! Especially because every time I’ve seen a dude ask this on FetLife, it’s about some huge, practically mainstream fetish that he could just fuckin’ look up and find a billion discussion groups full of aficionados.

          Like…nobody’s ever been like “does anyone else have a sexual fetish for lentils?” It’s always something like pegging or being watched while you jerk off. Meh.

          • My perspective is a little different because I grew up without the internet; believe me, if you lived out in the sticks, you really didn’t have the resources or opportunities to see if “anyone else likes…” And even now that anyone can look things up in minutes, it’s still easy to feel alienated because chances are you dont’ know anybody *in real life* who is into [fill in the blank].

            Fetlife is where a lot of newbs end up (kind of like Dennys at 3 am), so it’s natural for them to ask those kinds of questions. Yes, yes, there are dozens of groups on this or that fetish, but give the newbs a break. When you’re only just discovering your kinks, it feels like you’re the only one who has them.

          • Apparently nesting doesn’t go any deeper, so I’ll have to put my reply here.

            When you’re only just discovering your kinks, it feels like you’re the only one who has them.

            That’s why I usually don’t reply to those posts on fetlife – I feel for those guys, but most of the time I just don’t have anything nice or helpful to say to the 73rd guy to ask if anyone else likes pegging.

            Part of it’s probably a stylistic thing for me. I’m the kind of person who lurks for while before ever posting in a group, so by the time I get around to saying anything, I’ve seen a lot of the topics that come up over and over. Of course, if said topics didn’t come up over and over, then it would be a lot harder for people to finally figure out that they’re not unique snowflakes and their kinks aren’t even unusual.

  5. LOL, coming into this conversation, at the risk of making another “I’m a manly-man!” disclaimer, funny enough, one of the personal experiences and part of my history that I tap into getting into my sub headspace is the fact that I’m a former US Marine. No one would call being a Marine or other elite military role unmasculine (or at least wouldn’t do so twice). Service in one’s national military is obviously highly-regarded and honored by most patriotic people anywhere. And it’s hardly any secret that many women think there’s nothing hotter than a man in uniform (one could almost say that a uniform fetish is probably the most common there is among ostensibly “vanilla” people). We used to joke that even the ugliest and most luckless Marines in my platoon would stand a fair chance of getting laid after the Marine Corps Ball or during Fleet Week (when we’d often be wearing some variant of our dress blue uniform).

    One thing that most people don’t often think about is that, by definition, military service is a form of extreme and ascetic submission itself, thought not in a sexual context. I learned more about being made to do things I didn’t want to, having to grin and bear pain and discomfort, and having to maintain high standards of things like cleanliness, grooming, physical fitness, etc., than I ever would have learned in a D/s context.

    • One thing that most people don’t often think about is that, by definition, military service is a form of extreme and ascetic submission itself, thought not in a sexual context.

      And that is exactly why I’m so glad I didn’t have to go with plan B after I graduated college. Plan B was joining the navy, and shockingly enough I do not do well taking orders or having less than complete control over where I decide to live. It would’ve been cool to learn to use firearms, though.

      • One of my better regular date ideas is to take women shooting for the first time. I’m not sure how well it would work with a potential dominant though, because I have to be the one bossing them around about safety rules and proper fundamentals of marksmanship at first.

  6. I don’t mean to be flippant nor trite, but regardless of what the majority believes about anything, there is no box to be put into, nor get out of. Except those we chose to put upon ourselves.

    • For someone who doesn’t want to be trite, you’re doing a fantastic job of being both trite and unhelpful. You’re basically telling people they should just stop caring what other people think of them as if that’s news. Aside from being thoroughly insulting to their intelligence, that’s also a waste of everyone’s time. To quote from the post I already wrote about just how unhelpful that is:

      It’s seriously insulting to act like submissive men asking for advice are all too stupid to realize that they should just stop caring what people think. If your problem is that you’re worried people will think less of you/that you’ll lose friends/that no one will ever want to date a submissive guy, then it’s pretty fucking obvious that you’d be happier if you somehow didn’t care what people think of you. The problem is that it’s not a simple thing to do, which is another thing that makes that advice thoroughly unhelpful.

      Sure, you can argue that it’s silly to even want to be friends with the kind of close-minded jerks who would look down on someone for having a harmless kink that doesn’t involve them, but what good does that do someone who’s worried that everyone he cares about will abandon him? Seriously, you’d have to be a sociopath to just not care if your friends stop having anything to do with you.

  7. Just stumbled across this and wanted to say a huge thankyou.
    Am in the process of developing a loving relationship where Her tastes and needs are given prominence. Her biggest fear was that I would ‘lose’ my manliness (masculinity). Slowly she is finding how much my focus on what makes her happy, makes me happy. Our only blow-up in two years was when she thought it best to end the relationship as it was ‘unfair’ to me. I pointed out that she is thinking she knows better than me, what I ‘really’ want/need/like/love despite what I ‘say’ makes me happy.
    The pampering, the care I show her family (we are in our 50’s) and the support when she seeks my advice, all help her sense that she has a ‘real man’. She has to justify my ‘ameilabie wimpiness’ to some of her friends, yet she is learning to be proud and happy with what she has found: someone who loves her and seeks to enhance her happiness as the their prime goal of the relationship. To this she adds the corollary that my happiness is her responsibility. Thus we have a balance that works for us.

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