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.
“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.