I was thinking recently about the idea of dominance. Maybe I was prompted by the rash of recent football players at the center of a domestic abuse scandal; or maybe by current events which bear witness to one group imposing power over another. The inspiration isn’t important. The theme is the same: one person or group acts in a way that clearly defines a more powerful partner.
In her book, Remastering Jerna, author Ann Somerville writes, “The craft of a master is not imposing dominance, but winning submission.”
Winning submission? What a concept. Isn’t it just easier to use force or power? Well, of course it is. But as I do with most common beliefs, I’m going to argue. And my argument here is that easy isn’t always the most rewarding. To win submission implies a level of comfort between people, a certain intimacy, a trust that one person won’t intentionally hurt another. One says to the other, “I give into you.” And that doesn’t happen overnight. It comes with a lot of effort – work to build trust, work to establish ground rules, work to develop a connection.
And so my consideration of dominance moves out of world events and into the realm of relationships. More specifically, how do we allow others to dominate us (or not) in our relationships and why? That’s a pondering I think is worthwhile for all of us to make. How much energy do we spend trying to maintain dominance? In what kinds of relationships are we comfortable playing a more submissive role (at least some of the time)? How often do we share the dominant or submissive role with others?
It is no secret that in the 21st century, traditional male and female roles hardly exist anymore. More simply put, we are all just responsible for more. (Please forgive me for speaking broadly here to make my point.) We all work. We all juggle. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted!
It’s no wonder that the Fifty Shades of Grey series was so hugely popular among women. Within the pages of her books, E.L. James basically told women that it’s ok to give up control and just enjoy themselves. To take some liberty here… she tells us that it’s ok for us to find pleasure in being submissive. Holy cow, Gloria Steinem, watch out! Haven’t we worked for 50 years to change that expectation of women?
We have, in fact, changed the expectation of the “little woman.” The woman who was once found in the kitchen with three babies wrapped around her is now dropping one baby off at daycare, climbing the corporate ladder, and leading high performing companies. That’s pretty awesome. I’m proud of us. But that said, I also know how exhausting this new reality is – not just for women, but for the men in our lives who are trying to figure out where they fit in this new dynamic.
And so I’ll admit what few people say out loud. Every once in a while, I like to be submissive. I like to shed myself of responsibility, be naked of restraint, and let someone else be in charge. This does not make me a doormat and doesn’t imply that I have self-esteem issues. It just means that – despite the hard shell and resilient spirit – I’m human.