I usually try to be more inclusive with pronouns, but this topic seems very specific to submissive women who submit to men so I’m going to focus on M/F, but there are many parts of this that are going to apply to the role regardless of gender so bear that in mind.
It’s no secret that some feminists have conflicts with submissive women. The concept that feminism gives us the right to CHOOSE to submit is often lost in the translation. Not only do you have the right to submit, but you have the right to be a housewife, and a stay-at-home mother, and still be feminist. The whole point of feminism is that no one is telling us who we have to be.
Despite that, I’ve been told “You’re not a feminist.” “You have no right to say you’re a feminist if you submit to men!” “You’re holding women back!” or “You encourage men to treat us all like we’re submissive.”
But feminism is about choice. Submission is my choice and I’m open about it. The fact that I sometimes submit to men doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be a feminist. It certainly doesn’t mean that I want to have all my rights stripped away so any passing guy can tell me what to do. Far from it! I choose who I will submit to and I don’t believe submission should be forced on anyone, ever.
But sometimes it is pushed into my face how different my view can be. It took years for me to be able to call myself a feminist, and even now people will say things to me that will shake my confidence that I have the right to declare myself as one. Mostly it’s women who have attacked me for the choice— and I see the fear in them that my choice might somehow spill over onto them.
But it isn’t just women who think I don’t have a place as a feminist. Male Doms have also told me that as a submissive I should reject the idea of feminism. Because of that I get anxious, and nervous even talking about this subject. They all have it wrong though. I don’t choose to be submissive because I believe that women are naturally subs, or that men should naturally be in charge.
I don’t choose to be submissive because I think that’s my place in the pecking order as a woman. I choose it because I enjoy it, and it suits my personality. It’s who I am on the most basic level. I’m not submissive to everyone. In fact, I can be quite dominant to some people and I’ve had plenty of submissives of my own. But I need a relationship I can be submissive in to keep my life stable and content.
I think a lot of people misunderstand the core precepts of feminism too. Because of the name it’s assumed it’s all about women and their rights, but it’s not. It’s not lost on me that the very fact it’s an issue is because a lot of men have problems with anything they see as feminine. Therefore femin-ism is something to be laughed at and certainly not for men.
But it’s not just about having the right to vote or paying the same wage to all genders.
In a perfect world men would feel entirely comfortable openly being submissive and letting other people take charge instead of being bullied over it, but I guess we’re just not there yet. While women are still working towards equality with pay gaps in the workplace, and an unfair burden of chores on them at home, especially around childcare, men also still struggle to have the right to be anything less than dominant.
And I’m not talking about a BDSM context here where reverse gender norms are actually more common. I’m talking about regular life. Men who ‘let’ their wives run things are considered ‘pussy whipped’ and mocked for it. Men who identify as feminists or stand up for women are ‘cucks’. Anything less than projecting an alpha male style dominance still seems to be a problem for many people.
Toxic masculinity is a problem for everyone, and no one is really sure what to do about it. As a submissive woman my views are often disregarded on this topic, even by other women. Inside the BDSM culture my role is perfectly accepted, but outside the response varies.
For instance, someone recently asked for an example of positive masculine traits in a group I’m in about mansplaining. I said ‘Protective’ and I got a lecture on how no, protective is toxic because it encourages men to be violent and treat women like children. Needless to say, I didn’t disclose I was a submissive to this woman because I knew it wouldn’t go over well.
But I don’t think protectiveness is a toxic trait in itself. It’s only toxic when you use it to control people who don’t want that. If you don’t want it in your relationship then it might feel toxic to you, but I think protective is an ideal quality in a mate for me.
Of course, maybe their definition of protective is flawed. After all many abusers use needing to protect someone as an excuse to isolate them. (This isn’t a tangent; I promise. It’s all connected.)
But there is a difference between protective and controlling. There’s a difference between being protective and treating someone like a child. And obviously being protective doesn’t automatically mean you have authority over someone.
Not all women want or need to be protected, and many of them see a man trying to protect them as a sign that he’s asserting his will over them. And that’s understandable, because sometimes that’s exactly what is happening.
In a lot of ways this ties into a consent issue. Whether your relationship is BDSM or strictly vanilla you still have a right to boundaries. If it’s something that you don’t want from a man in your life, then it should be discussed. It goes without saying that any men who don’t listen to your limits are men you shouldn’t be with. You have a right to say “I don’t want you to try to protect me from things. I can handle it myself.”
But to return to the definition of protective, we do have to realize that people look at it from different angles. I mean for me… I think being protective of a partner is natural. It doesn’t matter what your gender or orientation is; when you love someone, you want to keep them safe. I’m a submissive woman and I still try to protect the people I love, including my Doms.
But when people use the word protective, they often equate it with taking away control, stifling someone. They see it as a kind of forced submission. Probably because many of us have experience with parents trying to protect us as children. Keeping us safe meant curfew, rules, and even spying on us.
Parents often try to control a child’s every action. They want to know where they are at all times. They want to decide who you can be friends with and where you can play because they have to keep you safe. And there is some truth to that. Children haven’t fully developed their sense of self-control or ability to make good choices so a certain amount of that needs to be handled by the parents.
Children start to rebel at those tight structures as they get older, and they should. It’s how they form their own independence. But it does leave some with a lingering dislike of being told what to do.
And sometimes people have abusive partners in their background who tried the same controlling behaviors. A lover who said you couldn’t dress the way you wanted because it wouldn’t be safe. A boyfriend who said he didn’t want you going out unless he was with you because he needed to protect you, but really, he was just afraid you might find another guy you liked better.
All of that happens under the guise of being protective. None of it is a healthy form of protectiveness for an adult partner.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. That’s not the only way to be protective of a person. Sometimes being protective just means worrying when they are late getting home on a stormy night and calling to make sure everything is okay. Sometimes it’s making sure their tires are in good shape. Or offering to take care of the house chores so they can get some extra rest because they aren’t feeling great. That’s the kind of protectiveness you should see in a partner, in my opinion. It’s a positive trait in any partner.
In a D/s relationship that protectiveness will play out different. And this will probably feel controlling to people who aren’t in those kinds of dynamics, and that’s where consent comes in. The protection of a Dom comes with rules and safeguards that should not be put into place unless the submissive wants those things.
As a submissive woman, I want both kinds of protectiveness. From my Doms I want them to keep me safe by controlling my actions in the agreed-upon limits. From a romantic partner (and those aren’t always the same thing) I want loving concern, and care which can be a form of protectiveness.
But wanting that protectiveness in my partners doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist and we need to normalize separating people’s roles in a relationship from their rights as a human being. Jut because I submit doesn’t mean I want to be paid less at work. Just because I’m a submissive doesn’t mean I should be expected to work full time and do all the housework too.
I’m going to leave you with one last thought to tie it all together. In my opinion, a BDSM dynamic, when managed the way it should be, can be far healthier than a regular relationship. The emphasis on consent and on communication gives you more tools to make your needs and desires known. And the emphasis on the submissive always having the power to say stop, which the Top must obey, gives the people in the relationship equality. Even if it doesn’t seem very equal from the outside.
Being a submissive and a feminist should never be an issue in the scene, because that equality is built into the dynamic in many ways. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand the community at all.
Maybe if all relationships had that kind of structure, women wouldn’t need to think of protectiveness as a toxic trait.
It would just be part of the conversation. The woman would be fully able to say ‘no thanks’ to anything she wasn’t comfortable with. When your relationship is built on discussions about hard and soft limits, safewords, and what you need and desire, it’s a lot easier to get what you want.
That’s not to say abuse can’t happen in a D/s relationship. Abusers are everywhere and the BDSM community is especially seductive to them. But if you are using healthy guidelines to set up a relationship, which includes discussion and setting boundaries and limits, you will very quickly be able to tell abuse from dominance.
And protectiveness from toxic behavior.
That’s all for now. Remember stay healthy, and stay home if you can because we’re not out of the woods yet.
12 Replies to “Can you be a feminist and a submissive?”
You touch on so many important points, the most important one being, it’s all about choice.
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“Not only do you have the right to submit, but you have the right to be a housewife, and a stay-at-home mother, and still be feminist”….this line….being a house wife and a stay-at-home mom is unpaid, real work. And it’s so devalued in society because of patriarchy. Like you said….it’s one thing if it’s her choice or another if that’s is what she’s been trapped into doing.
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I completely understand that feminism and the right to choice includes the right to be a full time home manager and carer.
Submit as a term confuses me. Is there not a give and take in every relationship?
And ‘give’ and ‘submit’ seem to be very different outlooks to the same act. Give implies choice to accept the view of another and is active, while submit implies not making a choice and letting another person do so. At least in my book. And is not feminism to me at all.
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There is give and take in every relationship, of course. And even in D/s relationships it goes both ways though outwardly it can appear one sided. I’m not sure I understand the rest of your comment.
Give and submit /can/ be used similarly but they aren’t always. I think, possibly you might be talking about active versus passive submission? I did an article about that at some point but I can’t seem to find it. Basically as a submissive you have two modes… actively submitting which is working hard to follow the rules, asking for what you need, etc. And Passive submission which is maybe more of what a brat does. A brat acts up and gets in trouble, and then accepts the punishment as they have accepted someone’s authority over them.
But being either active or passive about your submission is still a choice. These are consensual relationships we’re dealing with here so even if it’s passive there is still agreement and consent. And the people in the relationship can still be feminists.
The term submit itself bothers me personally I suppose irrespective of its dictionary meaning. It is often used when giving is done by the female and not when the giving is done by the male in my experience – a usage with gender bias. My personal feeling is that there are better words that are gender neutral that do not invoke gender biased rules. I hope this explanation of my comment is more clear.
Thanks for your reply. I googled submit, it says – accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.
Feminism to me is about value for all roles and a society where hierarchy that makes one more powerful than the other is not necessary here, because value for all and all roles create mutual respect and make the need for one gender to be acknowledged as a ‘superior’ or dominant force unnecessary.
So the term submit doesn’t work for me with it’s dictionary meaning. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the term, not the act of giving, that doesn’t go with feminism in my book.
Yes the definition says you are submitting to a superior force or the authority of another person– but it doesn’t say anything about gender as a requirement. And I think that’s where you got confused. If this was about submitting to someone because of their gender you would be right. it wouldn’t work with feminism, but it’s not.
Gender is irrelevant in submitting in a D/s relationship, except in that you may have a personal preference for your partner’s gender.
Submitting to your partner in a BDSM relationship is acknowledging they are Dominant /not/ because of gender, but because they are the partner you’ve chosen. You aren’t submitting BECAUSE they are a man (or a woman, or nonbinary). You are submitting because they are the person you choose to submit to.
You can submit to anyone of any gender. And of course in many BDSM relationships both partners are the same gender. I assure you that the word submission is 100% gender neutral and can apply to any gender. The fact is… I know more female Doms than male Doms. I’ve had Doms of all genders that I have submitted to. I know many male subs, who despite being male do submit and consider themselves submissives.
Sure, historically speaking it’s often been the women who had to submit, but that’s history. We are talking about consensual relationships where choices are made and believe me there are just as many men out there submitting in a BDSM relationship as there are women.
I have a problem with the word submit and it’s meaning and anything it implies as imbalanced power dynamics kind of go over my head or make me very cautious 🙂
Don’t bother with it, I just felt a different opinion brings interesting conversations.
Each one of us is entitled to our point of view and perspective, as it comes from seeing different aspects and ways of life.
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You are absolutely allowed to have your own opinion and I love when we get to discuss these things in comments so feel free. I enjoy the debate.
From my perspective you are making assumptions about the word, maybe because of your own experiences or things you’ve read. But the word submit is used in so many different connotations and most of them are not romantic. Lords, serfs, etc, have always been required to submit to those higher in rank. At work you submit to the authority of your boss. There is no gender bias inherent in the definition or word unless you give it one.
I think most often where I see “women submit to your men” it’s connected with religion. You hear a lot about wives submitting to their husbands because that’s how religious men control women. That seems common in most religions across the world and I think is where a lot of women end up having a bad feeling about the word.
But.. when you look deeper, beyond their narrative that they find useful for control, you also have plenty of historical texts saying ‘children submit to your parents and be obedient.’ ‘Men submit yourself to God’s will.’ ‘Servant submit to your mistress/master.’
So for me… I use the word as it’s meant to be used and I go into it without making any assumptions. I don’t think women are naturally submissive. I think some /people/ are naturally submissive and others naturally Dominant.
Yes, you are right! I am not able to feel comfortable with the word at all because I associate it with religion gone wrong.
And also because a strong hierarchy in personal relationships doesn’t work either for me or many people I know.
In fact those in our circle that have not understood this suffer a deterioration in family relationships. The desire for a lack of hierarchy can go quite deep and affect the way people relate to each other within the family.
I find this discussion really interesting. Am not sure it will change my perspective but it will certainly give me a way to understand a perspective thatisdifferentfrommine. Thank you for that!
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I love this! My Dom likes it too. I’ve been a feminist for years. While I don’t believe every choice is a feminist choice (this is where we disagree a little), I don’t believe BDSM is inherently un-feminist. Some people love the catharsis of submitting. I believe BDSM might still exist even if there was no patriarchy. The difference would be, without patriarchy, there wouldn’t be so many people saying women MUST be subs or men MUST be Doms. People wouldn’t tie roles to genders. Thank you for pointing out that your role is not about whether you are male or female. When 50 Shades came out, I encountered a lot of newbs who had a sexist component to their BDSM.
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I’m going to be honest with you. I was told so often for so many years that a submissive couldn’t be a feminist (by Doms, by other subs and by feminists!) that it took me a while to reach this understanding. The Doms I have now are VERY pro-feminism and we’ve had a lot of talks about this.
I absolutely agree that submissive or dominant leanings have more to do with society, or innate personality and nothing to do with gender. I’ve known many naturally dominant women and that belief that they are just dominant until the right man comes along causes so much trouble for them. It drives me nuts lol.