Above is a very controversial photo by Saudi artist Aziz Al-Qahtani. This photo, among others, has caused a lot of negative reactions from viewers for numerous reasons. In particular, his photo captures the very opposite of the socially accepted gender narrative of ‘dominant man, submissive woman.’
I’ve been writing extensively lately, but unfortunately all my writings are half-finished or I am reluctant to post them. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research for my academic life on human sexuality and gender. So far, I’ve come across great research on gender norms, and I’ve related it to my personal life. Gender roles such as ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ are not innate, but rather are socially constructed.
I have not clearly stated on my site about my sexual identity: In my personal relationships, I am a femdom. A femdom is a woman who is sexually dominant and typically holds authority in her relationships. There are many stereotypes associated with female dominance — many which don’t attribute to me personally. For instance, I am not a leather-clad ‘bitch’ who acts in a vulgar manner. Nor is my dominance about physically punishing men into submissiveness – my partners willingly and eagerly submit. I identify more with the notion of ‘female-loving authority’ where I am more like an authoritative, disciplinary, yet loving female-figure. I simply assert my own needs, yet I also am loving and nurturing in return. So, consequently, I like submissive men. Yet contrary to what one may assume, men who are sexually submissive in relationships are quite dominant in their career, personal lives.
In the West and beyond, female dominance is not the societal norm. For the most part, many societies are patriarchal. Patriarchy in society influences how gender roles in sexual relations are conducted. For instance, men are pressured to be masculine, which translates into dominance. In sex, men are supposed to take on a role of control and dominance over women. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be ‘feminine’ which is attributed with passiveness, gentleness, and submission. Of course, many of us do not adhere to these gendered norms, but they are still very powerful. More importantly, these roles are expected.
I am dominant as a woman. However, my sexual dominance is something I often disguise initially. I am usually discrete about my sexual assertiveness with clients unless they signal that they desire to submit to me. In my personal relationships, I usually start off mimicking traditional female gender roles in sex — being gentle and passive. What can explain why I follow these gender narratives? Because it’s the norm, and to be ‘safe’ I conform. I often state about myself, “I appear like everyone else, but internally I am an out-caste.” I am quite sure I am not alone in that feeling.
Gender narratives of women as ‘feminine’ and men as ‘masculine’ have become social norms. Therefore, physical sex also has gendered norms. Following gendered norms is met with social acceptance, and deviance from norms is met with rejection. Humans are social beings, therefore we often avoid behaviour that leads to social rejection. Of course, we are fully aware that social rejection causes undesirable outcomes, such as depression and loneliness.
So what are the implications for those of us who do NOT follow the ideal of our sex? How do men cope when they do not fit the ideal of ‘manliness?’ If a man acts submissive during sex, he may face rejection by his female partner as she has adhered to gender norms prescribed for sex (that men should take control). Men also face rejection by society in various ways when they do not exhibit ‘masculine’ habits. For instance, non-masculine men are often called derogatory terms likened to femininity in terms such as ‘sissy.’ Both sexes endorse these gendered narratives also by refering to non-masculine men as ‘unmanly.’ I’ve seen many articles online where husbands confess they are secretly submissive and they are seeking advice on how to approach their wives about femdom. These men are worried that their wives will reject them for their ‘strange’ fantasies. They have a valid reason to believe their wives may reject them, because many women often expect and desire men to ‘take control.’ Likewise, dominant women may feel reluctant to demand their sexual pleasure because their male partner might adhere to the narrative that women should ‘submit’ during sex. Many women fear of being labeled as a ‘slut’ if she displays her sexual talents/desires too openly.
I, like many others, feel these patriarchal gender roles during sex are flawed. For one, one-sided sexual intercourse (where men orgasm, and the woman doesn’t) creates tension between male and female lovers. Wonder why many women aren’t that horny or suddenly lose interest? Such women have either have never orgasmed, or they are not getting good pleasure from their lovers. We cannot blame men who lack sexual skills, but rather we should look at how society undermines female dominance in various forms (porn, the Media, education, etc).
The norm of women being submissive and passive about their sexuality has also caused rebellion in men: many men express a desire to have a dominant woman. Many men are tired of the ‘masculine’ pressure of being dominant and always in control, especially in sex. Yet this desire is often not openly expressed, because again, there is negative social consequences for not following social norms. I argue that a lot of these men resort to prostitutes, as prostitutes are often more exposed and accepting to variations of sexual identity.
Women who are sexually assertive also have their own worries. Women, like myself, can be hesitant to express their sexual needs with new lovers. Many men are not used to the idea of female dominance, even though ironically a growing number of men are expressing a desire for female domination. The double standard still exists in society where women are stigmatized for being sexually ‘enlightened’, whereas men are not. Even women themselves reject other women who are sexually assertive. I am fully aware that I will be judged negatively if I am open about my sexual escapades and fantasies, as I am at high risk for being stigmatized and thus rejected. Often, I tell a ‘white’ lie about my sexual history in order to avoid stigma. For instance, if a ‘normal’ friend (someone who doesn’t know I’m a prostitute) asked how many men I’ve slept with I will give a socially acceptable answer: “Maybe 4 or 5?” I have also downplayed my sexual experience when I’ve dated ‘normal’ men by acting ‘innocent.’ People often manipulate the truth to avoid being castigated. Society tends to term people who don’t conform as ‘deviants,’ which has a negative connotation that such people are morally bad. Yet who dictates what is morally correct or not? I do believe in social norms, but the problem with Western Liberal social norms is that they often don’t reflect the entire population. That’s another debate in itself.
Thankfully, there are outlets for alternative sexualities. However, the stigmas remain, and will continue to remain because such practices are a threat to dominant discourse. The point is, there is no universal script of sexuality and gender, despite society’s attempt to maintain one.