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On The Apparent Over-Supply Of Dominatrixes

December 8, 2008

Michael Savage, the vulgar and reactionary talk-radio figure, has not proclaimed that “any heterosexual woman today over the age of 25 who grew up in America is basically a dominatrix.” He was responding to this story in his usual, measured, sensitive way (this is the guy who said that autistic kids were faking it for attention.)

First, I’d like to thank Media Matters for picking this up. Second, I’d like to thank Michael Savage for all the help! All of ’em? That’s great news! Now, I’m older than 25, and in my generation, female tops were, well, not so easy to find. And I looked! Really!

I guess I was just looking in the wrong generation. In my generation, you see, BDSM involved a set of skills. At some point, folks started using the phrase “safe, sane and consensual” (which started out, IIRC, as a banner in a parade). Well, all of those things involve learning. Safety requires that people have basic anatomic knowledge and an understanding of best practices. Any beginner’s guide to BDSM relates a lot of safety information. The limits of sanity are always somewhat controversial, but to the extent that means anything, it turns on community norms, which are themselves something that by definition one learns. And consensual: that’s an entire discussion, and establishing* meaningful consent is itself a skill, a form of communication to find out what one’s partner knows and doesn’t know, is interested in and isn’t interested in, likes, wants to do, and considers a soft or hard limit.

There are technical skills. How to flog, how to throw a single-tail, how to use electrical toys. There are plenty of variations to how to apply heavy sensations to cock and balls, and those are not the same as heavy sensation play on a vulva. And strap-on fucking in high heels takes a few tries to get right from what I’m told. Some folks are wizards at complicated rope bondage, while some kinksters prefer something utilitarian with cuffs and snaphooks; but whether the result is aesthetic or just positional, we’ve got to learn to produce the result.

And beyond the technical skills are the ones that, IME, really matter: the interactive skills. The ability to read one’s partner. The ability to produce the emotional, physical, personal results. I can’t speak for every kinkster, but in my experience, for most of us that do any topping, it’s among the most intensely other-focused activities. For me, when I’m topping, my basic goal is not to do whatever I want, and not even to do what my partner expects, but to give my partner the experience that (in my case) she is looking for. And I know from women who have topped me, even when the scene revolves around them “selfishly” “using” me for their pleasure, that itself is a careful construct — not that it isn’t fun for them, but making me feel selfishly used is quite a different thing from actually selfishly using me. (It is that difference that is embodied, I think, in the well-known joke from that Rosie O’Donnell movie, Exit to Eden: “Go paint my house!”)

Apparently, every American woman under 25 has learned to skip all of that learning and practice. Who knew?

I’d better tell Mistress Matisse, who was just noting that Malcolm Gladwell’s rule-of-thumb that greatness takes 10,000 hours of practice applied to her and what she does:

It’s a neat refutation of that nonsense I occasionally hear about how So-And-So is a “natural” dominant, and thus doesn’t need to educate themselves or practice their craft. It just happens, like magic. Hah. You may have talent, my friend, but the way you get to the Carnegie Hall of kink is practice, practice, practice.

What a quaint notion. She must be over 25. (And so is my spouse, who is a better top with each passing year. I’m very lucky.)

There’s a facetiousness in all of this: the notion that Savage has anything to say on the subject. He obviously doesn’t have the first idea what he’s talking about. If more evidence of that (or his general skin-crawling vileness) were necessary, look at how he can’t get his basic terminology right even to insult transpeople:

Half the women look like post-op transvestites

Emphasis supplied. Savage can’t tell the difference between a transvestite and a transwoman. He also can’t tell the difference between a professional dominatrix and a woman who insists that her partner do some housework:

You ask any heterosexual guy. Within a short period of time — what do you think it’s going to last? Ehhh — 90 days and after that you’re living with a dominatrix anyway, so what’s the difference? Why do they have to go to a professional?

What’s this really all about? Well, first, we’re in a recession, and Savage, who isn’t qualified to do much (he’s failed at a number of endeavors before finding a home spewing hate on the radio), has to continue to generate controversy by saying awful and stupid things. His audience retention depends on a mix of feeding red meat to the very worst and shocking the juvenile enough to keep them listening.

But second, and more importantly, Savage’s world is changing around him and he knows he can’t compete:

It’s any wonder I’m in talk radio. The safest place for a man to be today is in talk radio and listening to it.

This is right. He is part of a talk-radio movement that feeds on a dying demographic. The angry white male is the primary actor in the backlash against the Second Wave and the prime footsoldier in the conservative movement. But they are getting older and grayer, getting outnumbered and mattering less. Despite their best attempts to, as Buckley put it, stand athwart history and shout “stop!”, the world is changing. When Savage was young, in many places in the US a man could lawfully beat and rape his wife, and could not lawfully marry a person of a different race or have sex with a man. Now, the right to private, noncommercial sex with a consenting adult partner of one’s choice is the law of the land and marriage to the consenting adult partner of one’s choice is on the way. (Everywhere. We’re a ways away, but we’ll get all the way there. We will.)

To Savage, this means that people he used to be able to ignore, abuse or order around by force of legal and social inequality stand closer and closer to even ground with him. And on even ground, he can’t push them around. He, and people like him, can’t reconcile themselves to the world as it changes, and can’t make it go back to the way it was. So they have created an alternate universe, where they can all wish it away.

*”Establishing”, not “getting.” I’m not talking about “working out a yes” because there ought not to be any such thing.

Update: Liss McEwan made this the Quote of the Day at Shakesville.

h/t Jill.

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