You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
I’m reading a book about Max Weber called Love or Greatness by feminist philosopher Roslyn Wallach Bologh. She says that if Marx was the man who most clearly defined the economic interworking of patriarchal capitalism, then Weber defined the sociological counterpart. I’m still just beginning this reading adventure, but the early chapter about manliness made me want to muse about men and dominance. It is similar to the ideas of masculinity from Male Fantasies: Volume 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History by Klaus Theweleit that I wrote about in my text Like the ocean.
As I understand Weber about manliness, it is the concept of let-the-best-man-win. That evolution happens when ideas compete against each other. And it is a gentlemen’s game taking place inside the framework of civilization. The strive is for the greater good, and it’s bigger than egoistic individualistic gain. It’s rational and beyond emotions. So, in many ways, it is a cold approach to relating. In the best of worlds, ideas fight for dominance, and in the worst-case, people and countries. So when many people first hear about dominance and submission in the context of BDSM, then this is what they think about, and I think it is a big mistake.
In Weber idea about manliness, there is a winner and a loser. It is a competition. By definition, the losing party in an election is not a winner. They get to be in opposition, or as a sports team can be the underdog, but everyone is ultimately fighting for dominance. And in these games, men have an easier time winning due to how historically the rules have been created. BDSM, on the other hand, is not a competition in the way I approach it. There is no winner or loser. Instead, the two roles (dominant and submissive) are mutually beneficial to each other.
When I meet beginners about to step into submission for the first time, there is a common misunderstanding that the dominant will be a big bully that aggressively puts them in place. That will force them into submission. And when reading about Weber’s view on manliness, I see where this idea is born. While in BDSM, what is often described afterwards is the dominant as an artist or craftsmen carefully weaving something beautiful from the submission. People feel led rather than forced. And they, “the looser” in manliness competition, are the centre of attention. And they are met with love.
So, being dominant in a BDSM context is the opposite of Weber’s manliness. It is about empathy rather than coldness, feeling rather than rationality, and compassion rather the competition. I often teach a MEN IN POWER AND SUBMISSION workshop with the subtitle “Leave your silly domination strategies behind, face your shadows and surrender into the brotherhood.”. I encourage the group to acknowledge the hierarchy, maybe at a festival or community, and consciously and consensually use BDSM to step beyond it. And many men find it so challenging to dominate when they are encouraged to stay connected. It is the opposite of the patriarchal society that Weber describes so well and what we men learn.
Putting this in a tantric perspective, I think BDSM is a more feminine practice. And it makes sense, for what so many women long for is to be led in their “way”. That is empathic, compassionate, and touchy-feely. I think Weber would describe this as striving for love rather than greatness. I often tell new submissives that the more they dare to share their emotions (what affects them how), the more control they give control to the dominant. And the more dominants dare to show their perversion and desire, the more attractive they become because they are no longer just an experience, a slap on the ass, but a whole other kinky universe for the submissive to discover. It comes down to vulnerability.
Once I experimented because I met many women that men have mistreated or that are disappointed in modern masculinity. It is either too toxic or too equal or both. So when I asked them what is the biggest problem with men today, the most common answer was their lack of vulnerability. In other words, that men suppress their emotions and needs until they become either passive-aggressive or overly aggressive. So then I asked men if they agreed? If vulnerability is the big issue for men. Most understood what the women meant, but they put another word. They said courage. That men are not brave anymore.
So maybe that is what male dominance is all about. Men being brave and understanding that leading a submissive woman is very different from running a company. However, I’m sorry for this a very heteronormative rant here. There is obviously also a huge benefit for men exploring submission and playing around with gender and BDSM roles. But I want this musing to focus on manliness, especially how I understood Weber’s views on it. Because I think the domination taught in a patriarchal society is very far from BDSM. Or at least my BDSM.
And I understand that it is confusing because many of the dominant male archetypes are taken from hierarchies of patriarchal society: successful businessmen, military and police officers, bad boys, and strict headmasters. Maybe it’s the best our complicated minds can do: sexualize the power hierarchies from everyday life because that is our reference point. And that’s how it comes back to how new submissives except to be bullied by a coldblooded leather master. But often end up simply feeling loved.
There is a similar expectation also going in the other direction. That some submissive woman wants to fight for power, just momentarily to test if their dominant is strong enough to handle them. And I hear some new dominant men talking about it like they need to break down their submissive. Maybe this is a trace of Weber’s manliness carrying over into the BDSM relationship. In my experience is that the more both partners trust in their relationship, the less they need to fight for the different roles because both know that they are both winners in the end.