I apologise now… this really is TL:DR but I have failed to edit it successfully due to time and passion. Gendered expectations are just such a hot topic in myhome that I struggled to cut it down. Really, read the opening two paragraphs and the last one…unless you’re a glutton for punishment, which I suppose if your reading a BDSM blog meme, you might be!
If, like I do, you reject the idea of gender as a binary concept determined by the genitals and reproductive organs you are born with then there is very little left to unpick with this quote.
The characteristics that make someone dominant or submissive are not pre-coded to a body shape, type or gender. However, society teaches us that certain body shapes, types and genders should behave in certain ways and if you don’t fully understand yourself it might be easy to fall into those patterns.
There is a massive assumption that society is male dominated. There are many ways this is structurally reinforced, but it is not necessarily enforcing something that was a naturally occurring because of inherent skills or superiority.
I grew up in a very heteronormative environment. In an engineering industrial town like mine you might expect a culture of dominant masculinity, but in fact society outside the workplace was broadly matriarchal. If you ever saw the 1980s sitcom “Bread”, although stereotypical, the strong female matriarch was broadly representative of many of the families I grew up alongside. The male role models in the local society were in no way weak, as the quote may imply, but women ran the families.
One of the ways the idea of male dominated society become the norm, as the originator of this quote implies is by implying this pattern of behaviours is universal, but towns like my home town, fishing communities on the east coast of the UK and countless other societies around the world prove this wrong. They are erased and discounted.
The same things can be said the way men and women are expected to behave- the characteristics and physical qualities they are supposed to aspire to. Some things you can control or attempt to control, but lots of features are completely random. Those who don’t fit are erased or ignored or made fun of.
There have always been fashionable ways of being male or female. Heels, wigs, make up, modes of speech and behaviours have been perceived as the height of masculinity at some points and femininity at others.
When I was young, my friendship group had a top ten model of masculine features our future husbands would have. We were very egalitarian, in that we had two models, one for physical guys and one for nerdy types. When I look back and think about our ideas, we never once discussed different ideas for relationship dynamics or different sexualities. We assumed we knew everything and created our own feedback loop based or our limited experiences.
This quote has the same trend towards confirmation bias. When we surround ourselves with people who confirm our ideas or live in a narrowly defined society it can be hard to break out of that model.
Over the last few years, after having children, I have been considering gender as a way of understanding myself and as a thing that defines them. I have realised that the ideas I absorbed as a child were placing unrealistic demands on me, and as someone who has a demand avoidant presentation of autism, I needed to address this to reduce my underlying anxiety. I had ideas about who I should be, what I should achieve and how I should relate to people that were based only on the reproductive organs I was born with. I didn’t want that for my children.
I currently employ a young man, the 15th man I’ve employed to work in my home. He does what lots of people might consider to be “women’s work”, helping with cleaning, domestic organisation, shopping, the school run and throughout all of this, being a role model for my children, who because of their autism need more support than we can manage with two pairs of hands.
Employing men started as a very conscious choice to provide role models for my sons, but this project very quickly derailed. The first male we employed was not lovely and is in prison for what he did to my children. Then my children found enough vocabulary to let us know, that despite being penis owners, we had made faulty assumptions. They are not boys.
Our home has evolved into a very gender neutral zone. You don’t achieve this by ignoring gender but by challenging the assumptions that are made based on gender. We employ men because I don’t want those assumptions about “women’s work” to influence my children. I want them to learn to clean, learn to cook, learn to code, learn to take joy in sport, regardless of how they identify on the gender spectrum. Their natural male role model, The lovely Mr Hunt, is busy as the main breadwinner, but having extra hands allows me to go to work as well, and the children are not really aware of how much our income is reliant on Mr Hunt. Equally working from home allows him to be very present and part of the child care daily routine. Having another person to support me through the household chores keeps the balance.
I want my daughter to be strong and successful and to be surrounded by people who don’t judge based on either her genitals or her presentation, and she is a very girly girl. Right now, she’s too young to really understand the politics of sexuality, but not too young to know already assumptions are made about her based on her gender. Wanting your daughter to grow up to be a strong woman with endless possibilities is not really a radical form for parenting.
My older two children are my role models. They are not scared of their autism, but more than that, they refuse to get into a box just because it would be easier to meet society’s expectations than to challenge them. And meeting the world head on like that takes bravery. They have rejected a binary gender model and identify in different ways as non binary. Much as this brings many challenges, they have released themselves from a whole host of assumptions that may otherwise be made.
From their modelling, I have realised just how much of my presentation was masking to fit an identity I had been given, rather than one I genuinely felt. They have changed me and freed me to be open to who I am rather than trying to live in an identity that didn’t ever feel like home.
Whilst I was completely reconciled to my submissive needs, I could not match these to who I was in a physical sense. Yes the quote is about masculine and feminine but I felt my physical presentation matched masculine ideas more than feminine ones. Learning to love who I am without the overlay of gendered assumptions removes a lot of the anxiety about where I didn’t fit. Some of those things are behavioural, but some are physical. I can do nothing to change my 6ft height or my size 10 feet, did nothing to choose them, but struggled to balance that with the model of female I was shown. I especially struggled with how this was supposed to fit in to a model of submissive femininity.
Reading stories of men with a wide range of masculine attributes who were submissive really helped me become more confident and comfortable. There were more of these available in the mainstream than stories of tall, strong women or AFAB people. The more stories I found that either had a thread of Femdom, or had men kneeling for femme presenting male partners, the more secure I felt. I still don’t find stories out there that have AFAB people or women who are ex rugby players or bouncers kneeling for anyone. Not least for petit, delicately feminine ladies, like my wonderfully toppy friend. And for the time being, there are some (but not nearly enough romances or queer erotica) that include non binary characters in any capacity.
Enjoying femme presenting people with sexually dominant characteristics is not limited to men. Being a femme presenting dominant is not penis envy, but a secure identity in its own right. Having the confidence and space to be that person though is an expression of feminism, but not as it is expressed in this quote as misandry but as a true equality that doesn’t need to be gendered to be affirmed. We erase successful female leaders by describing their leadership qualities as masculine, erasing their femininity and making it as assumption that penis born people will more naturally have these attributes and that these women are anomalous. We repeat and teach our children these things through structural and confirmation bias, making it harder to break out of a repeating pattern of thought.
We damage people by splitting characteristics whether emotional, behavioural or physical into gendered boxes with limited choices. Society would be better served if we lost the gendering of characteristics completely.