Repression and masculinity (2022)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

Okay, I finished reading Love or Greatness, the feminist inquiry of Max Weber ideas about manliness and leadership, and I want to write something about it. I previously wrote about how Weber probably wouldn’t consider BDSM a very manly practice and that the words dominance and submission mean very different things to him. So there isn’t a polarity between Love and Greatness for Weber. They can only exist in separation. While in kink, there is the conscious and consensual play, as in non-competitive and non-goal oriented. Weber believes in repression and asceticism, to take distance from love and desire (and other feelings) and devoting oneself to something rational and heroic-or greatness as he would name it. I guess this is how men learn to feel valued for their skills and achievements rather than for social and emphatic abilities. Yet, repressing something makes it pop up in another way. Usually unconsciously. Resentment is like eating poison and waiting for another person to die. Maybe this is why men buy sex or fuck the secretary on the business trip. Because they can’t repress their sexual desire, and they don’t have a space to act it out consciously. The mystical, as opposed to the rational, doesn’t exist anymore. You know God is dead, as Nietzsche would put it. There are no Dionysian orgies anymore, and religion is becoming less transcendent and more dogmatic. This is why tantra, conscious kink and new age spirituality are so popular nowadays. People yearn for the unknown.

Weber would gender this unknown as something feminine. Something for the wicked witches and divine goddesses. I think modern feminism has opened up this domain to men, and BDSM is a modality for it. An opportunity to let go of rationality and repression and practice being emotional and intuitive. Even in the dominant role, exposing my, often perverted, desires is vulnerable. If I don’t share my emotions, I simply become an object for another’s desire, like the rational flogging machine pain-2000 or shibari roller-coaster hang-around-upside-down. And then again, I’m back to repression and only being valued for my skills.

Feminist philosopher Roslyn Wallach Bologh, the book’s author, suggests replacing the “feminine-masculine” categories with “object-subject” because that makes them available to everyone regardless of gender. The subject is the outsider defining the world through their interaction with it, and the object is the thing being defined. If I try to transcribe this to my experiences with conscious sexuality, I end up with something along the following lines. First, we are both subjects, actively and curiously exploring each other. Our differences are the key, as we both might hold a missing piece of the other’s puzzle, like the dominant needs the submission of the submissive, and visa-versa. It is what attracts us to each other. The “subject-subject” relation defines polarity, where both parties have their agenda. Next, suppose one turns into an object, something with predefined properties, like beauty, youth, or flogging skills. It’s valued because it’s desired. There are plenty of kinks for this, like being someone’s footrest boy, trophy wife, or sex slave. But still, as I describe masochism in BDSM, it’s a controlled fantasy in a safe(r) space. A play. There is always a way out, an exit strategy. So I think the person remains a subject actively contributing to the connection. The last relationship Bologh describes is the “object-object”, where both people sees each other as a complementary function defined by an outstanding subject in a grand scheme. Like both dedicating ourselves to a god. Again many kinks are eroticizing this constellation, like being part of a Eyes Wide Shut cult, but still, again, it’s a fantasy.

This discussion of masculine or feminine always brings me back to a fundamental question. Is it okay to take any behaviour, call it a kink, like objectification, and lock it inside a conscious and consensual fantasy frame independently of how the world looks outside? It’s pretty evident that many of the kinks around female submission are related to Weber’s patriarchal and capitalistic worldview. But, on the other hand, BDSM can be seen as a parody of reality, a controlled environment to act out otherwise problematic desires, or research on our conditioning. In the end, I think it brings more good to the world.

But what about Weber and masculine submission? Many men I met are either bored of being the subject, the masculine, or the dominant. Or they find it too complicated, probably because they never got a chance to practice it. So instead, they learnt to be a functional cog in the big machine. Conscious kink’s safe(r) play is the perfect place to practice. It’s safe enough to be brave. Weber also wants men to be brave but at the same time expects them to repress their sexuality, which is impossible. Initially, there are two ways to be submissive, either towards the slave or the slut. So, the man can ask his dominant, usually a mistress, to repress his sexuality for him: metaphorically or practically putting him in chastity and enslaving his desire. But, of course, as sexuality is impossible to keep repressed, it will only reappear somewhere else, even more overwhelming, making him even more slutty. If the mistress shows that she can maintain control, his vulnerability will grow. Eventually, the slave and the slut will merge, and he will be a slave to his slutty desires, so to speak. Falling into the mystery, the feminine, and the unknown.

Weber has another, maybe more functional suggestion for repression. One way is devotion to God in a masculine way through rationality and asceticism, instead of mysticism like pagan rites. Or by a commitment to brotherly love, a companionship, like a warrior tribe. I see this idea being popular in the modern men’s movement, that a man needs his circle of brothers to keep committed to his goals. However, De Sade offered a radically different perspective; that sexuality is the way to break free from repression. Being active around the French revolution, he wanted to break the invisible chains of the church and royal houses by overwhelming the sense with pain and pleasure. Many of his books contain the theme of luring people into perversion to set them free. Comparably, Max Weber was active a hundred years later during the Russian revolution and when colonialism transformed into capitalism and communism.

There is a funny similarity between De Sade, that Weber considered socialism, or maybe bureaucracy, as the new invisible chains. So, according to him, the modern man needs to avoid falling into the feminine mystery and being stuck as a cogwheel in the giant machinery. Finally, looping back to BDSM, I think what it offers is a way to play with all these historical and social conditions. The next book to read is “Passion of Foucault”, written by James Miller, a history about this philosopher and BDSM practitioner’s life (I think) who supposedly was a colossal asshole.