I’m Assertive Because I’m Weak – And Unashamed

Girl with coat collar over lower face
Image courtesy of Trey Ratcliff (CC BY‑NC‑SA 2.0).

I have read that American women feel obliged to seem cheerful and friendly to strangers, even when they’re actually grumpy or scared.

Not being American, this was difficult for me to believe until a domme friend told me about something terrifying that happened to her, just walking to the train station.

Maybe you’ll think it was nothing. All that happened was that a man came from nowhere and gave her a bear hug. He hit on her, she laughed and got away, and he probably still thinks it was okay.

I was horrified. “I would have screamed!” I told her.

“That’s what I should have done!” she agreed. And she clearly felt guilty for not being assertive enough.

There is no shame in weakness and fear. Or in power and privilege – if you learn where the whip lands.

But my reaction comes not from courage or confidence, but from profound awareness of weakness.

And unashamed fear. My grandmother barricaded the door every night after her stepmother remarried. Where I come from, girls just a little older than me, or from very slightly different families, were being told to do this whenever they visited relatives or friends. When I left home for college, I remember how strange it was when male friends thought nothing of hugging me or setting foot in my bedroom.

People always think that traditions of female modesty are about the patriarchy guarding their reproductive property. But they’re more than that. Modesty is also about acknowledging the gaping power differential in those societies. It gives the powerless permission to resist the powerful – and feel good about it.

Do you know what the Qur’an says about women’s voices? “Be not soft in speech” (Surat Al-‘Ahzab 33:32). Be loud, be unpleasant. You were not put on this earth to please everyone.

“Be not soft in speech.”

My heart aches when I imagine a teenage girl in America telling a teenage boy that she’s not comfortable with what he just said. The boys I grew up with would have apologised immediately. I got the impression it was both ego-boosting and humbling to be reminded of what they already knew, that they were in a position of sexual power. And their opinion of the girl would have gone up, not down – and why not? Strength is strength.

But in America today? Five years ago I told a few college kids that I wasn’t used to guys discussing what kind of tits they preferred in front of me. They were nice boys. They simply didn’t believe me.

I don’t think I’ve ever received a single apology from an American man for overstepping my social boundaries. From a domme, yes. As a straight female submissive, it’s disheartening to think I might have to expect less from male dominants.

You were not put on this earth to please everyone.

But dommes know how it feels, too. Perhaps it takes experience to appreciate how hard it is to assert yourself when so many instincts and conventions are screaming at you to be pleasing to the big man and get your ego out of his way.

I’ve also started to wonder if the problem is that these men don’t feel powerful. They can’t even recognise my guarded formality, or others’ anger, as a sign of our weak position. Maybe that’s why they interpret pushback as attack, rather than defence or appeal.

I can’t blame them for not feeling protective when they don’t know their strength. But I wish I could show it to them.

I still don’t know how to explain it to a man who doesn’t know it in his bones. But I know what I want them to know: There is no shame in weakness and fear. Or in power and privilege – if you learn where the whip lands.

If we value unequal power relationships, both ends matter.

Postscript: As of 22 March 2014, I have finally met American men who apologise for pushing boundaries. This is progress.

6 thoughts on “I’m Assertive Because I’m Weak – And Unashamed”

  1. Really interesting post, especially to me as an American woman. When I think about how we treat male-female power gaps, I do see a big difference in the behavior expected from a Dom versus from just any man.

    To me, that difference is a good thing, because in day-to-day life, I DO want to feel equal in power to a man. (When you say “I’ve also started to wonder if the problem is that these men don’t feel powerful,” I agree but I don’t think it is necessarily a problem.) ONLY within the special D/s agreement, both parties agree that one holds power over the other.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed your take on this! Very thoughtful writing :)

    1. Thank you – you have put your finger directly on the bit I fussed about! Here is what I concluded from the fussing, but didn’t include in the post:

      (a) I don’t think men have to feel *more* powerful than women to be gentlemen. Women on an equal footing apologise to each other all the time. I think the key is not feeling so threatened about whatever power you do have.

      (b) On male-female power gaps – I have to agree that gender equality in vanilla life would be a good thing. It makes better allowances for individuality and provides a necessary check on abuse. But I think we can also agree that there is a gap between what should be and what is. Currently men are still sexually privileged, and as long as that privilege exists, I want it to be used for good.

  2. It makes me very, very sad to realize that what you say is true of most American men.. It makes me feel even more alone in the world. Of the men I know only about 10% would sincerely apologize for overstepping a lady’s social boundaries.

    But please do keep this in mind…there are still about 10% of us left! :)

What do you think?