Tag Archives: women

On Submission, Strong Women & The High Alpha Male

Black and white of a woman wearing black boots and ball and chain by Ellen von Unswerth for On Submission, Strong Women and The High Alpha by Malin James

Ellen von Unwerth, from Revenge

I had a brief conversation the other day that got me thinking. I’m going to paraphrase chunks of the exchange rather than quote directly (because consent), but I’ll stick as close to the original as I ethically can.

So, here’s the opener:

Hi Malin. As a high-alpha male, I appreciate strong women. Dominant women are a rare challenge. I love your work – it gives me a lot of insight into how strong women tick. 

Given my initial response, the smart thing to do would’ve been to ignore it and move on. Unfortunately, those three sentences annoyed the fuck out of me so I responded with this:

A rare challenge…interesting. Care to unpack that?

Here’s his response:

Sure! For alpha males there’s nothing as exciting as an alpha female. Alpha females handle themselves, which is great (and rare with women in my experience, IMHO), but even more exciting is the challenge I mentioned. When a strong woman breaks and submits to you, that’s the biggest high you can get as a Dom. All women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man and being the only man that an alpha female submits to is a fucking high.

So…setting my visceral response aside, what he’s essentially talking about is a fetish for strong women. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Strong women rock in all kinds of ways because there are all kinds of ways in which women are strong. Where it goes wrong for me is in why he appears to fetishize a particular kind of female strength.

He doesn’t love strong women because he thinks strong women are interesting. He doesn’t love strong women because he wants to submit to a worthy Domme. He doesn’t even love strong women because he thinks an alpha female is the only kind of woman who can match his “high alpha” self. He loves strong women because they’re a challenge.

Let me rephrase that. He loves strong women because making a strong woman “break and submit” to him is a challenge.

The attraction isn’t in the woman. It’s in a narcissistic fetish for a certain kind of power. He wants to be the very special, uber-alpha male who breaks an unbreakable woman and makes her submit. He’s not fetishizing her strength, he’s fetishizing the idea of being the only one who can strip her of it.

Needless to say, I’ve got a few issues with this. The first is that it devalues the actual submission of actual female subs (many of whom are fucking bad-asses). The second is that it makes the “strong woman” in question a challenge (ie: a thing to surmount) rather than a person, and any view that reflexively turns a person into something other than a person is pretty much a no-go for me. The third is that this appreciation for strong women is entirely ego driven. Here’s what I mean….

If you work from the stated assumption that “all women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man” (*eye roll*), you get the implication underlying the attraction –  that any guy can make a submissive woman submit because women are, by nature, submissive. It takes a “high alpha male” to break the “rare” dominant woman.

That particular appreciation for female strength has nothing to do with respect or actual, you know, appreciation. It’s a purely reflective thing – the value of her strength is in how brightly it highlights his.

Full disclosure: I have a button here. Though I’m not a Domme, I am naturally dominant with a wide streak of  don’t-tell-me-what-to-fucking-do. I’ve written about how my natural dominance attracted an ex who was, to put it bluntly, a diagnosed sociopath who loved me best when I was needy (“but only for him”) and who wanted to “crush me and break me and make me his”. (Direct quote. Fuck it).

That’s not to say that this gentleman is a sociopath. To be honest, I don’t think he really understood what he was saying. It just rubbed my fur backwards and, once I got over my initial annoyance, I didn’t like how it unpacked.

Essentially, this kind of attraction turns a very specific form of female strength into fetishized commodity while dismissing all the other ways in which women are strong. In other words, it turns female dominance into a kind of drug that makes a certain kind of man feel special. It has nothing to do with the woman or her dynamic with that man. It has to do with the ego boost that comes from fucking her in a particular way.

It also turns the “rare” alpha-female one of two things:

  1. a disposable experience, or
  2. a possession to groom and keep.

Either way, it’s no good. Every woman does not crave submission, and those that do should have autonomy within their submission. Anything else falls back on a cultural mode that normalized a husband’s right to spank his wife for failing to make the perfect pot roast.

In the end, there’s a fundamental difference between spanking Lara Croft and spanking Lara Croft’s alpha female glory to the breaking point. The spanking isn’t the issue – it’s the motives behind it that makes the difference between awesome and toxic. If a dominant woman (or man) trusts you enough to submit to you, even if only for a night, that should speak to the connection and trust between you, not to your prowess as an alpha.

Fetishize power in a partner. Revel in it. Love strong women. Love strong men. Just don’t turn whatever happens into proof of your Domminess. Don’t fetishize the ego boost that comes with “breaking” someone you perceive to be strong. Sex and submission aren’t about how alpha you are. They’re about feeding off each other’s strengths – that’s the real fucking high.

NB: I realized after I posted this that I should clarify some terminology as usage in that conversation got fairly muddy.

“Alpha male” and “alpha female” don’t equate to Dom and Domme (or sadist or top). All alpha means it that someone has what might be called a dominant personality. Some alphas have personalities that are more dominant than others, as do some betas, etc. All dominant people are not alpha, nor are all alphas dominant.

Alpha, dominant and Dom are often equated in casual conversation, which is fine insofar as it goes. It’s just important to acknowledge that a person’s alignment in social hierarchies may differ than their (natural or chosen) position in sexual power dynamics.

As for the term “strong women”, it most definitely does not apply exclusively to dominant women or alpha females. Some of the strongest women I know are subs. Sexual wiring has little, if any, bearing on a woman’s integrity, resilience or strength.

Guys & the Girls Who Want to Watch: On Homoeroticism

A black and white photograph of two men embracing for Two Guys and the Girl Who Wants to Watch: On Homoeroticism by Malin James

Erotic postcard by Jim French

Roughly two years ago, I wrote a post asking this question:

What is it about two men having sex that turns so many women on?

That post got a lot of generous responses from men and women all over the sexual spectrum, including Exhibit A (though I had no idea at the time it would begin much more than a correspondence). His response, in particular, stood out because it underscored something I’d been suspecting – that the appeal of homoeroticism is, perhaps, even more common (and complicated) than I’d originally assumed. So I set the question aside to think about it.

Two years later….

I’m finally writing the follow-up thanks, once again, to Exhibit A, who retweeted the original post last month. While I’m usually a bit sheepish about letting a topic drop, I’m glad of it in this case. After two years, my thoughts on this issue have matured in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated when I first posed the question.

The biggest adjustment in my thinking was my realization that, while m/m sex clearly appeals to a lot of women, it also appeals to a lot of men who identify as flexibly straight (as opposed to bi). This realization made me curious about how it appeals across gender divides and sexual identities. But first, I want to address the question I originally posted two years ago. Why do women think m/m sex is hot?

As with so many things, the appeal of homoeroticism is intensely subjective, so there is no one answer, but I was able to slot the responses I got into three general categories:

  • Homoeroticism appeals because I like good looking men, so the more the better. 
    • Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Homoeroticism appeals because it gives me access to something I otherwise don’t have access to.
    • Not surprising given our cultural attraction to voyeurism, taboo or potentially transgressive sex; and our obsession with the mutual incomprehensibility of the opposite sex.
  • Homoeroticism appeals because it subverts a dominant paradigm.
    • Also pretty self-explanatory, but worth breaking down a bit.

That third category refers to the fact that, in mainstream porn and media, the traditional understanding is that there’s a power imbalance between men and women when it comes to sex. While this paradigm is shifting thanks to shows like Jessica Jones, Masters if Sex and American Horror Story: Coven, it’s been a standard for so long that this power imbalance is a cultural assumption for a lot of people. This leads to the common perception that men are sexually dominant (ie: guarded or inaccessible) while women are open, emotional and vulnerable.

The m/m fantasy subverts this expectation thanks to a different cultural assumption—one that presumes that two guys will avoid this paradigm more naturally than a straight pairing. Of course, this is ridiculous because sexual dominance and submission are about interpersonal dynamics and not about gender, (which is why M/m pairings are so hot). Regardless, a lot of women admit to being turned on by m/m sex because they assume the men involved to be enjoying a level playing field – both actors are sexually assertive while remaining emotional vulnerability.

This idealization of male sexual agency tends to lead to romanticized readings of m/m dynamics. I’ve read more than one study in which women thought m/m sex was because the guys were “equal” “open” “real” and “vulnerable” in a way that they hadn’t witnessed before.

Of course, we’re talking about fiction in most of these cases—specifically porn. The popularity of m/m pairings in slash, porn and erotica reflects a certain kind of female fantasy—one that subverts dominant paradigms and gives the illusion of emotional access to men in sexual contexts. And it does all this by appropriating a somewhat romanticized version of what people imagine happening when two guys fuck.

Sidebar

This form of appropriation is important but it’s also complicated enough that it requires its own post, so I’m going to leave it there for now and come back to it later. (Hopefully in less than two years).

End Sidebar

While the fictional portrayal of m/m sexual dynamics appeals on one level, the reality of gay sex appeals on another. So, while some women (and men) fantasize about general aspects m/m sex, others engage it more specifically. In otherwords, some women want to watch their man fuck and / or get fucked by another guy; and some guys want the same thing.

I can only speak for myself when I say this, but my desire to watch my partner with another man has nothing to do with the romanticization of m/m sexual dynamics, and everything to do with our relationship and all of the complicated, nuanced reasons that make it something we both think is super hot.

Which brings me to the selective appeal of homoeroticism across genders.

Awhile ago, I wrote a story called “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” about a woman who gives her boyfriend an m/m encounter for Christmas. It plays to a lot of my own kinks—voyeurism, dominance and, yes, homoeroticism—so I was really happy when women and men seemed to like it though they seemed to like it for different reasons.

Women liked it because the idea of watching their man with another guy is goddamn hot (because it is). Men seemed to like the wish-fulfillment aspect or it. The male protagonist wants to suck cock and get fucked, and his girlfriend makes it happen. It’s a portrait of the gray area between gay and straight, set against the backdrop of a loving, if unconventional, relationship.

That gray area is where homoeroticism appeals to me.

Don’t get me wrong – homoeroticism is hot for a lot of reasons, and it can subvert dominant paradigms. But that’s not why I love it. I love it because it breaks a barrier—one that often sits between a man and a woman, as well as between two men.

Unless you bury the needle at either 0 (exclusively straight) or 6 (exclusively gay) on the Kinsey scale, sexuality is more fluid than we tend to realize. The sexual behaviors sanctioned by mainstream society don’t always allow for safe experimentation within the gray areas. Homoeroticism, whether engaged as fantasy or more directly, is one way of experiencing a fuller range of sexual possibilities than might otherwise be available to strictly heterosexual pairings. What’s more, it makes those possibilities available in a relatively unthreatening way.

Homoeroticism is a way of romancing “the other”, whether “the other” is a partner of the same (or opposite) sex, or some unexplored facet of yourself. Ultimately, humans crave understanding and connection. We’re curious. We want to know and touch. A fascination with homoeroticism is one way we can taste things we don’t normally find on our plates.

The Joy of Sucking Cock

Black and white picture of a kitten with a bowl of milk staring into the camera. Tongue in cheek illustration for The Joy of Sucking Cock.Last November, Girl on the Net posted this in response to an article by a guy who felt that, while going down on a woman is tricky,  “the penis is a simple thing – it’s hard to get things completely wrong.”

Girl on the Net did a brilliant take-down of that bit of silliness, which I totally recommend reading. So, why am I bothering to write a post about this when GotN already did it so well?

I’m not actually. Her article got me thinking. One of the things I love best about oral is that anyone can do it in a way that is authentic to them. Here’s what I mean….

Sucking cock is often thought of as a form of submission, but it can also be a spectacular way to top someone (“I don’t care how badly you want to come down my throat. Don’t.”). It can be a sweet, Sunday morning blow job or a filthy face fucking in a bathroom stall. It can be a homecoming or a good-bye. It can be reverent or carnal. It can be anything you and your partner need it to be. In fact, some of the most memorable sexual moments of my life have been blowjobs because they were authentically perfect for the finite moment we were in.

I’ve written before about how my first time giving head wasn’t fantastic and that it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I gained a real understanding of what I call The Joy of Sucking Cock ™. Up to that point, my experiences with giving head were tinged with insecurity. I approached each one feeling as if I didn’t know what I was doing, but that I’d better figure it out, which is why those early years were more about experimentation than enjoyment.

It wasn’t until I made a sloppy, chaotic mess of it that I really understood how wonderful sucking cock can be, because my sloppy, chaotic mess turned him into a writhing, desperate shadow of his control-freak self. That’s when it finally clicked and a feedback loop formed – his pleasure gave me pleasure, which gave him pleasure and so on…. It’s that feedback loop that I crave now when I give head (or have any kind of sex) – the mutual enjoyment that turns us both into animals until someone comes.

That’s why I rarely think about what I’m doing. Sort of like how you’re not supposed to ask the caterpillar how it walks, I try not to pay attention to anything but my partner and what feels good at the time. If you ask me to do that thing with the roof of my mouth again, I probably won’t know what you’re talking about but the odds are that I’ll accidentally do it again because it feels good. That’s The Joy of Sucking Cock.

Screen Shot Google Search "blow jobs" 1/19/16

Screen Shot Google Search “blow jobs” 1/19/16

So, let’s drill down into why this is important. We live in a culture where, for better or for worse, the emphasis in mainstream media has been placed on prowess rather than enjoyment, which is why newsstands are full of women’s magazines selling the arcane wisdom you’ll need if you want to “blow his mind”.

Even if we set aside the subtly toxic, hetero-normative fact that these articles place the emphasis on the woman’s ability to perform [insert sex act here] like a pro, the paradigm is still problematic because these articles aren’t nearly as empowering as they initially appear to be. They are, in fact, disempowering because underlying the conveyance of the must-have information is the implication that if you’re not doing it “like this”, you’re doing it wrong.

“Like this” can be anything from using vise-like suction, (thanks, Cosmo), to looking at him while you suck his cock because “he’ll think it’s hot”.

What’s wrong with using (non-injurious levels of) suction or looking up at him while you give him head? Absolutely nothing. Those are legitimately awesome (and super hot) things. What I object to is the emphasis on her performance rather than their mutual enjoyment.

That’s really at the heart of this for me – the mentality that sex is, in the end, something you perform, rather than enjoy. It’s as if we’re all supposed to be mainstream porn stars rather than regular people engaging in a super pleasurable, shared activity. This emphasis on performance is the biggest reason for my ambivalence about oral when I was younger. Without even realizing it, I’d absorbed the assumption that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do it, which fed my insecurity, which got in the way of our mutual enjoyment, which blocked the feedback loop, and so on.

I mean, let’s face it, outside of keeping your teeth off his cock (unless that’s been negotiated beforehand), there is no one perfect, blow-his-mind technique. There are only the things you try and he loves, and that changes with every partner and, quite possibly, every blowjob. Knowing and discovering those individual ticks is a massive pleasure that has nothing to do with performance. It has to do with pleasure – yours and his. That’s where The Joy of Sucking Cock is.

Sinful Sunday: Cunt

“An ancient title of respect for women, the word “cunt” long ago veered off this noble path.”

– From Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, by Inga Muscio

Apparent 3/4 nude of author holding the book Cunt over her cunt.

I read this book a lifetime ago when I barely knew my own anatomy. Re-reading it now, I’m struck by how deeply it affected my thinking on feminism, semantics and the female body politic.

I love the word cunt. It’s strong and forthright. It stands straight with its shoulders back. It takes your measure and meets your eye. It’s the opposite of an apology. It’s the kind of word that owns itself, and asks you to do the same.

To see more Sinful Sunday, click the pretty lips….

Sinful Sunday

In Praise of Feminine Things (A Rant)

Photograph by JeanLoup Sieff

Photograph by JeanLoup Sieff

Things have been a bit serious around here lately, so I wanted to do something light and simple. Sadly, bunnies have been well and truly covered (thank you, Easter) and the killer risotto I made last week won’t fill a whole post. So. Setting aside the adorable and delicious, how about we talk about lipstick and lingerie and that dress that makes you look like you belong in a Hollywood film. You know – feminine, pretty, girly things, and our somewhat conflicted relationship with them.

Warning – this may turn into a bit of a rant. I just had a maddening conversation with a woman who claims that “girly-girls are weak, lame tools of the patriarchy”. I’m a femme in every sense of the word, but I am anything but weak. Loving the fact that my panties (I actually hate that word – alternatives anyone?) are shell-pink lace, doesn’t make me any less of an intelligent, autonomous, ass-kicker of a woman.

Here’s the thing. Despite what many would say, the relationship between women and beauty is not simple, nor is vacuous, silly or something to be dismissed. It’s a cultural reality, one that is complicated and intensely specific to every woman who engages it. Given that I’ve already written about my passion for corsets, let’s take, for example, red lipstick.

I love red lipstick. I always have. I love the ritualistic process of putting it on and the subtleties in the shades. I love the unapologetic artifice of it and the fact that, when I wear it, my partner is very likely going to end up wearing it too. Same goes for anything that touches my lips – every glass I take a sip from will have my mark on it, like a pretty, blooming kiss.

Do I do it to attract men? Nope, though I don’t mind if I do. Ironically, I’ve been with more than one man who wished I wouldn’t wear it. Apparently, it’s hard to get out of collars. I also don’t wear it to impress or intimidate other women. I don’t want to intimidate anyone, though I also won’t stop wearing something I love because it might.

My go-to red, Black Tie by Lipstick Queen

My go-to red, Black Tie by Lipstick Queen

So, why do I have six different shades of red lipstick even though most days I wear peppermint chapstick (it’s delicious, okay?). Because it makes me feel sexy and feeling sexy pleases me, just like wearing garters under a plain black skirt pleases me, or slipping on a ridiculously expensive silk something under jeans or wearing my favorite perfume. These things, as frivolous as they seem, are an expression of my femininity, and I find great power in that.

Dismissing or marginalizing a woman’s attraction to feminine things is not only judgmental, it’s counterproductive. It suggests that a woman can’t be more than one thing at once – smart or pretty, kind or sexy, feminine or powerful – and it’s indicative of a trap we’ve fallen into as a culture. Yes, women need to aspire to more than just beauty – that goes without saying and, as the mother of a daughter, you can bet I put way more emphasis on how well she prints her name than on the hair clips she wants to wear. I want her to kick the ball and build the tower and make the puzzle, but that doesn’t mean she can’t have pretty hair clips too.

Our standards of beauty are maddeningly exclusive and women shouldn’t be made to feel that there is one objective ideal to which we must all aspire. My emphasis here is on FEELING beautiful and the fact that it’s okay to want that. It doesn’t make you weak or vacuous. It just makes you someone who loves a gorgeous bit of lace or the perfect pair of heels.

Wanting to feel beautiful doesn’t make you a tool either. It doesn’t mean you’ve drunk the patriarchal Kool-Aid and chosen girliness over ambition, influence or power. That’s like saying a woman can’t have a PhD. and rock her FMP’s. The desire to enjoy feminine things does not negate intelligence, ambition or strength. In fact, I would say that there is a very real power to be had for women in the things that are often dismissed as “girly”.

There is power in femininity, just like there is power in masculinity. The interesting, and often overlooked thing, is that they are complementary powers. Women don’t need to give up certain signifiers to hold their own with men. In other words, you can skip the pantsuit and still be a bad-ass. Yes, that means you might be sexualized, but a pantsuit isn’t necessarily going to protect you from that. If the sleek, black skirt makes you feel powerful, wear it and use your intelligence, wit, skill and ambition to assert your presence in that room.

It’s all about the effect these feminine things have on you. If you wear the sexy lingerie to impress someone else, you may or may not be satisfied with the results. Wear it to please yourself and baby, you’re gold. You’re a goddess and nothing can get in your way.

Some women don’t want or need “the trappings of femininity” (as my absolutely fabulous grandmother called them) and that’s fine. It doesn’t make them any less of a woman, nor does it nullify their physical or sexual beauty. But it also does not make them superior, more confident or more powerful than women who enjoy some or all of the trappings.

There is power and confidence to be had everywhere, from the perfect white tee-shirt to the prettiest, most expensive silk stockings. Do what makes you feel like a gorgeous, fucking Amazon of a person. Do it and do it a lot. Walk into a room so happy with your perfectly straight seams or your glossy hair that your confidence make you 10 times your physical size. Do it regardless of your weight, height or ethnicity. Do it whether you’re flat-chested or apple-thighed. If it pleases you, do it. Rock those feminine things.

Femme Fatales & Dames

My daughter was sick for most of last week, so I spent a lot of time on the couch, jotting notes on a legal pad. One of the things I scribbled was something I’ve been mulling for awhile – different portrayals of women in media, and how archetypical images of femininity and sexuality can affect a person’s development. On a whim, I made a list (because I freaking love lists) of women that I’m drawn to in film and history. It’s short so I’ll include it here:

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944)

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944)

Boudica (the Celtic queen who led an uprising and killed a lot of Romans after they raped her daughters)

Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer’s. Of course)

The female vampires in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Lauren Bacall

Myrna Loy as Nora Charles

With the exception of Boudica, who is in a class all her own, every woman I listed falls into one of two categories – dames or femme fatales. There are a lot of superficial similarities between the two – dames and femme fatales have a certain energy about them, a sexual assertiveness for lack of a better word, but beneath the superficial gloss they are actually fairly different, as was my attachment to them at different stages in my life.

Femme fatales are the image I was most attracted to as a girl, so their influence wove itself into my sexuality at a pretty young age. Moreover, femme fatales have been around for centuries, while dames are a 20th century phenomenon.  The femme fatale first manifested as a supernatural evil – Lilith, lamias, succubi and vampires. Later they took the form of dangerously sexual and often villainized women, like Mata Hari.

The femme fatale, as  a figure, is problematic. She was, quite literally, created to embody the perceived evils of an assertive (i.e.: predatory) female sexuality, a sexuality that is almost always punished. While I’m aware of that now, I didn’t know that as a girl, so my attraction to this type of woman was fairly simple. Because of that, I’m going to skim the deeper cultural issues attached to the femme fatale (for now – I’ll eventually write a post on it), to focus on her relevance to a younger me.

The Brides, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The Brides, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

When I a kid, I was, like a disturbing number of people, made aware of how vulnerable I am. My response to this realization was multilayered. On the surface, I became mousy, quiet and reflexively apologetic. I shrank and made myself as small as I could, driven by anxiety and the desperate need to avoid confrontation. Beneath the surface, however, my real, private self was angry – massively angry, all the more so because I wouldn’t allow that anger to show. By the time I was thirteen, I was a seething ball of sweetness. As my sexuality kicked into gear, I bifurcated all the more, becoming the ideal good girl on the surface, while having violent sexual fantasies in the privacy of my head. That was the year I saw two movies that influenced my sexuality to a great degree – Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula and Batman Returns. These movies introduced me to the femme fatale.

I remember watching the scene in Dracula where the three brides ravish Jonathon Harker. It’s a sexualized assault wherein they seduce and then literally consume him while he writhes in horrified ecstasy.  As I watched that scene, something in me clicked. I wanted to be one of those brides. I wanted to wield my sexuality like a weapon, just as those women did. Of course, they were punished (stake through the heart, beheaded, etc) and, of course, they were subject to the control of the man who had made them, but I didn’t care about that then. What I cared about was that they were predatory women, claiming what they wanted without remorse or apology. It was a revelation to me.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)

Then I saw Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, a different sort of femme fatale, one that I identified with all the more because I felt like her mousy alter ego, Selena Kyle, who was pushed out a window for being too clever. Rather than die as she should, she resurrects herself and becomes something else, something hard and sexual and overtly predatory (once again, the predatory). She goes from being a victim to owning and asserting herself in a way I could only dream of.

For me, the femme fatale represented overt, rapacious sexual freedom. More to the point, the archetype was a picture of the violent reclamation of sexual agency that I desperately needed. As a result, my early relationships were fraught. I was angry and deeply hurt, and I wanted to make other people, especially men, hurt too. I was a toxic mixture of hollow weakness, rage and simmering sexuality and, as a result, I did a lot of damage, both to others and to myself.

Enter the dame. The definition of the word “dame” varies greatly, so here’s what I mean when I use the word. A dame is a woman in full possession of herself. For me, Lauren Bacall is the ultimate dame – smart and sexy, cool under pressure, holding her own in every situation. Whereas femme fatales seduce on instinct, dames watch. They play power dynamics like hands of poker. They make moves, but only when they’re ready. Femme fatales are about carnal impulse. Dames are about control.

By the time I entered the The Reconstruction (the period in my early twenties that directly followed my inevitable breakdown), the archetype of the femme fatale had welded itself to my sexuality so, rather than uproot it, I tried to explore it in a healthier, less aggressive way. I needed agency, a sense of autonomy and power. I enjoyed the slightly wicked, predatory streaks in in my sexuality and I didn’t want them to go away, I just wanted to be in control, wielding them, rather than letting them wield me.

Bogie and Bacall (1944)

Bogie and Bacall (1944)

Around that time, I went on a Lauren Bacall binge. Even at eighteen, Bacall was something. Paired with a man over twice her age, she held her own so well that when she cocks her head and teaches Bogie how to whistle, you know he’s the one in trouble, not her. Even when he holds her jaw as he kisses her, you get the sense that she is allowing it because it pleases her. She is a fully present partner, owning her half of that kiss. That’s why their chemistry is so insane – she’s right there with him every step of the way. Now, that’s a dame.

So is Myrna Loy, though in a very different way. As Nora Charles, Loy was unfailingly charming. She had such a light, funny social grace that it’s only when you really pay attention that you see her gently maintaining the upper hand in nearly all of her interactions. She’s at the top of the social curve, not for any overt reason but because she’s open and confident, so confident that she literally has nothing to prove.

Myrna Loy (1926)

Myrna Loy (1926)

The difference between the femme fatale and the dame is the difference between what I aspired to at two very different stages in my life. I needed the agency and self-possession represented by both, but beyond that I wanted control after I had so thoroughly lost it. I wanted calm where there had been chaos, perspective where I’d had none. I wanted measured looks and unflinching gazes and dry observations and crooked smiles. I wanted to relax and finally be myself, without apology or aggression. So I embraced the dame and subconsciously rebuilt myself in a different mold.

It would be easy to think of the these figures as constructs – personas that were / are separate or laid over my actual personality, but that would discount the fact that for many people, personalities are fluid. We all have baseline characteristics – compassion, cruelty, extroversion, introversion – but different people bring out different qualities in all of us, just as different events change and shape who we are. The femme fatale and the dame are that for me – responses to events that shaped the woman I became.

Iconic figures are complicated and how we related to them is even more so, but for me, they were a mirror, not only into what I was, but into what I wanted to be. They were something to pattern on while I explored and found myself. I didn’t (and don’t) try to be predatory or sexual or wry or watchful. At various times, in various circumstances, I just am, all while maintaining the priority of trying to be an essentially good person. I will never be fully rid of the anger, but because these two different versions of feminine sexuality resonated so deeply at pivotal times, they allowed me to stop being the apologetic mouse with the target on her back. The femme fatale took me too far to one side, whereas the dame helped me find my natural self.

On Corsets

Vogue 1939. Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher

Vogue 1939. Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher

It’s no secret that I love corsets, both for their aesthetic value and for the sheer pleasure of wearing them. I’ve worn cinchers, under-busts, Sweethearts and Victorians but none of them have felt so right or so comfortable as the custom corset I had made last year by the brilliant modistes at Dark Garden in San Francisco. It took three fittings to get my black brocade beauty to fit like a glove, but it does. It’s perfect and I would wear it every day if I could.

Someone once asked me why I love corsets so much – they’re commonly thought of as anti-feminist and uncomfortable (they really aren’t, if you’re wearing the right one). Plus, lets be serious here, I don’t exactly have full, swelling breasts to showcase. In fact, if anything, my figure is quite spare, or “minimalistic” as one lover once put it. What could a modern woman who wears yoga pants and workout gear most of the time possibly get out of something so lush and apparently torturous as a corset? Well, I’ll tell you. Power.

I didn’t wear my first corset until I was in a stage production of The Seagull in my early twenties. I’d done quite a lot of Shakespeare, but it wasn’t until I landed a role with an deeply funded, very established company in San Francisco that I got to wear proper period costumes. At the first fitting for a dress that would involve layers of petticoats and skirts, I was laced into a corset for the first time. The other actresses made a show of complaining about how hard it was to breathe, but I didn’t. I was quiet, because I’d never been so relaxed wearing anything in my life.

That corset was a plain, steel-boned muslin thing – there was nothing sexy or elegant about it, but I felt beautiful. My tightly compressed body felt  efficient and spare – strong, for lack of a better word. I walked more gracefully, laughed more spontaneously and held my own in conversations that would have intimidated me had I not been wearing that old-fashioned, arcane thing.

Custom corset by Dark Garden

Custom corset by Dark Garden

A different part of me emerged. Suddenly, I was confident and socially nimble because, for some reason, wearing the corset made me feel like I could get away with it. I hadn’t yet realized that being myself was not something to get away with, but my natural right. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin.

After the production ended, I saved my money to buy my own corset. I didn’t want a one of the pretty fashion corsets I saw in clubs. I wanted the real thing, which would cost me more than $300 at a time when I could barely pay my rent. The scrimping was worth it though. After six months of austere living, I bought a rose and gold pinstriped silk over-bust that I wore with everything from slacks and suit jackets to white oxford shirts and pencil skirts.

The thing I’d been taught to think of as a torture tool of the patriarchy had, very ironically, given me access to the social autonomy that my young, insecure self so desperately craved. If I could find strength in something that had, historically, been seen as an oppression, maybe my love of red lipstick and high heels wasn’t such a cop-out either. Maybe real power came from pleasing myself, rather than worrying about the male gaze and what my fellow feminists thought.

A woman’s relationships with make-up, lingerie, high heels – all those things we think of as commercially “feminine” – are intensely personal; it’s too easy to dismiss them as simple bids for sex appeal. While it’s true, corsets have been fetishized, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as the woman wearing it feels genuinely happy. Corsets are sexy, and I feel sexy when I wear them, but the reason I feel sexy is very specific to me.

Note: This isn’t meant to imply that not liking corsets (or make-up or heels or any of the rest of it) is a feminine failure. It just means that every woman should feel free to pursue the things that make her feel goodwhether it’s Nike’s or FMP’s.

To me, corsets feel good, like very comfortable armor. When I’m wearing one, I relax and when I relax I am fully myself. My energy concentrates and drops into my hips and my dominant, predatory impulses rapid fire. I feel sharp an subtle. Far from being restrictive, corsets unlock me. I breathe more easily when I wear them. I stand taller. I let myself occupy all the space I want, which is generally quite a lot. For me, corsets have less to do with their effect on other people, and everything to do with their effect on me. They are a kind of second skin, one I no longer need to wear to feel like myself, but which I value and always will.

Though I love reading them, I don’t often have a chance to participate in any of the wonderful memes this writing community has to offer. This week, I’ve accidentally written a post that fits two different prompts – the Kink of the Week is corsets (which inspired this post) and Wicked Wednesday is all about trying new things. Given that my first time wearing a corset was so pivotal, I thought it would fit. Click the badges below to read more entries in both! 

 

 

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The Pussy Pride Project

"The Great Wall of Vagina" by Jamie McCartney

“The Great Wall of Vagina” by Jamie McCartney

For all that I write about sex, I’m a pretty private person. Wrapped up somewhere in being a dominant, introverted voyeur is the impulse to hold large parts of myself in reserve. Of course, there are people whose natural, infectious joy bumps me off the sidelines – people like Molly Moore, the curator of The Pussy Pride Project, (and the mistress of many things. The woman wears multiple hats and looks lovely in all of them).

I’ve been following The Pussy Pride Project for awhile. I don’t like body shaming, (or any shaming for that matter), and the idea of a sex positive project aimed at highlighting women’s relationships to their genitalia appealed a great deal. Of course, if didn’t occur to me to contribute until Molly asked me to, and so, because it’s Molly, I’m setting my reticence aside to discuss my cunt…because, to me, it will always be my cunt and not my pussy (no offense preferrers of “pussy”. It’s just a semantic thing).

To be honest, I was pretty ambivalent about my “female parts,” as my mother calls them, for much of my life. And really, when you grow up thinking of your genitalia as your “female parts” you’re probably not going to get all attached and romantic about them.

Despite that, some of my earliest memories involve sexual pleasure, which was a mysterious and much sought after thing when I was little and having orgasms by accident. As I grew older, I explored many aspects of my sexuality, but I never took the time to deliberately acquaint myself with the portions of my anatomy that produced all that sweet, random feeling because we didn’t talk or think about that in my family. Oh, my goodness, no.

The question of grooming went equally unaddressed. I left it all wild and silky, not because I preferred pubes, but because it never occurred to me to go bare. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, when a partner shaved me for the first time, that the eroticism of being hairless made itself known. With each pass of the razor, the place I’d always thought of as my “female parts” became, irreversibly, my “cunt.” The orgasm I had directly afterwards was a game-changer. He went down on me, smiling the whole time like the keeper of ancient secrets, and I came so hard I nearly passed out. Since then, I have always shaved or waxed or done some combination of both, not because I want to fit some modern, hairless aesthetic, but because I feel everything so much more without pubic interference. I wouldn’t bother if that weren’t the case. I do it purely to please myself, and the results are worth the effort.

Despite all that, I didn’t give my cunt serious consideration until after I had my daughter. I know that I’m stating the obvious when I say that your body changes a lot during pregnancy and birth, but I was unprepared for how much. In my case, my body changed for the better, though it took several months and many ice packs before I wanted to find out.

Before my daughter my clitoris was temperamental and somewhat “demure” as one lover called it. My labia were fairly flat and unobtrusive. Everything was seemly – my vagina and its attendant parts folded themselves up into a tidy little package that responded when opened but didn’t make demands.

After my daughter was born, things got interesting. Suddenly, my clit was fuller, more prominent and much more sensitive, (ie: “demanding”). My outer labia, once so discrete and lady-like, is now fuller as well – so full that they look sort of plushy and plump, even when I’m not turned on. The folds of my inner labia have changed as well. They look more ruffled and pink, and the one on the left sticks out, so that every now and then my cunt looks like it’s sticking out it’s tongue. I love this, by the way.

Compliments…I have been complimented, which is lovely and curious. I’m always happiest when compliments have less to do with aesthetics and more to do with how my body responds. My cunt has never been called “perfect” though it has been called “perfect for me.” Frankly, I don’t know if there’s any such thing as “the perfect pussy.” I suspect not, just as there’s no such thing as perfect breasts or a perfect cock. I do think, however, that there is such a thing as the perfect fit, but that subjective assessment depends entirely on who you’re with.

At this point in my life, I can say that I have a fondness for my cunt, though it still confounds me at times, especially when the stimulation that works one day, doesn’t work the next. Even that makes me smile though. Like many women, I’m complicated and slightly perverse. I love what I love, and I want what I want, and though my heart is strong and constant, it is anything but predictable. I love that my cunt reflects that.

If you’d like to read more posts in The Pussy Pride Project, click HERE. Or press the the picture of the pretty, suggestive flower. I know I would….

Pussy Pride

Pillow Talk Secrets: Happy New Year

PIllow Talk Logo - girl with black hair on pillow making red pouted kissy faceTamsin Flowers, Jade A. Waters and I are ringing in the New Year with the latest Pillow Talk Secrets session. This time, Tamsin took advantage of the reflective nature of the holiday to  ask Jade and I for our thoughts on 2014 and our hopes for the new year. Of course, we turned the tables on her and made her share too!

Below, you’ll find an excerpt from the conversation. Just click the link that follows to read the whole thing on the Pillow Talk blog. We’d love to hear your reflections on the year that’s passed, and goals for 2015, so please feel free to leave a note in the comments. We love it when you do. And now, without further ado, I give you the first Pillow Talk Secrets session of 2015! 

PILLOW TALK SECRETS

Tamsin: Hello ladies. How are you both doing today?

Malin: So good! How are you Tamsin? Jade?

Jade: Great! So nice to be here with you both.

2015T: It certainly is good to meet for the first time in 2015 – Happy New Year to you both and to all our readers!

J: Yes, Happy New Year! *Blows party whistles* *Throws confetti*

M: I love the New Year – it always feels good to start fresh. *removes confetti from hair* 😉

T: It is great to have a fresh start. Now, let’s get going on today’s business – our look back over 2014 and our look forward over 2015. I’ve got a few questions to put to you two – starting with what was the most surprising thing writing erotica taught you about yourselves last year?

M: Oh boy.. Well, I think the  biggest thing it taught me was that I’m far more comfortable with myself sexually now than I’ve ever been. I don’t seem to have the hang-ups that plagued me as a younger, non-erotica writing woman.

J: It certainly does have that effect, doesn’t it? Something about writing erotic things adds to one’s erotic nature, I think.

T: I agree. And on a similar note, the more erotica I write the more comfortable I am with the fact that I’m an erotica writer. At first I didn’t want anyone to know – but now I take the opportunity to tell more people and most of them receive it very well.

J: I just love that feeling! I find the reception being positive is true, too.

M: Yes! It’s kind of funny to realize how much apprehension you can have about writing erotica when you first start playing with it. It’s nice to let that go as you develop as a writer.

J: I wrote about that acceptance of myself as an erotica writer back at the end of 2013 – and this year, having been one with it and really truly loving it, I would say the most surprising thing I learned is what a damn work horse I can be. I mean, I know I go at it sometimes, but I’ve had to pull back from working myself to exhaustion a few times. That was a shocker. I’m sure you both can relate to that, too.

T: Absolutely – that was one of my answers – I’ve surprised myself with my sheer doggedness when it comes to getting stuff done!

M: I never would have called myself a workaholic until this past year, but I’ve been surprised, like both of you, by how much it’s actually true. I guess loving your work brings that out!

J: Yes. But one of the things that’s helped is that you both have been around to “talk me down” when I’m taxing myself. I think that’s one of the greatest things we’ve done for one another (besides all the “talking up,” of course).

M: Yeah – that support really has been critical. It’s easy to push too hard, or get too low. Having two partners/friends who can offer that bit of perspective is just invaluable.

T: It is a wonderful thing, and I wouldn’t be without you two! Now, what’s the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned about the industry over the course of 2014?

M: For me it was a fairly general realization. I was surprised by how unstable the market has gotten recently, and yet, within that, how many other options writers have. That and how unfailingly supportive other writers are.

T: That was totally going to be my answer – just how fantastic the erotica community is. We might supposedly be competing against each other but every writer I come across is generous with their support.

J: Yes. It’s a tight-knit group – probably the most lovable and delightful group of all the writer groups I’ve worked with. Considering how much flak the genre can get, it’s wonderful to have that support.

T: If we don’t help each other, who will?

J: Right!

T: Now, turning to what we’ve all been writing, tell me each of you, what was your hottest sex scene of the year?

J: I don’t know if I can pick one! One? Hmm…Malin, what’s yours?

M: Hey! Look at you tossing me the ball!

J: It’s a damn hot potato!

M: Well, okay…. Let me see. I’m not sure if it’s my hottest, but one of my favorites is in a story coming out in Best Women’s Erotica 2015. The story is called “Star F*cker” and the heroine has sex with a hot actor in an elevator. I really, seriously loved writing that scene.

J: Oh my god, I love “Star F*cker.” I’ve read this one, people – you’re going to die it’s so good.

T: It was definitely super hot! Let’s just have a couple of sentences to give our readers a little taste…

Click HERE to read the rest of the conversation… And Happy New Year!! xx.M

 

Ownership: On Sexuality & Feminine Relations

Black and white image of nude woman sitting up proudly

Photographer’s model, circa 1910. Image courtesy of Flickr.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about ownership—ownership of myself, or rather, of my sexuality – and how it affects the way I engage the world and other women.

Even as I write this, I realize that I’m walking a fine line. What I want to say is so specific that it goes well beyond splitting hairs, so before I jump in without a foundation, I’d like to take a look at the culture of female relations. I want to look at how women treat other women, because whether it’s in the name of decency, religion or gendered feminism, women tend to treat each other like shit.

Now, there are massive exceptions to this. I am lucky enough to be close to women who are extraordinarily supportive, accepting and kind, and I’m intensely grateful to have them in my life. They are the sort of women who don’t like being told that their friendships with men are suspect; that submission in a woman is an insult to feminism; that sexual agency is a threat. They use words like “cunt” and “slut” with broad, unconstrained grins, or decline to use those terms as a matter of personal taste without taking offense when others do; they talk about sex with frankness and curiosity. They don’t weight their worth by who, or when, or how they fuck.

I’m hardly the only woman who enjoys healthy, caring, supportive friendships like these. And yet, women exist in a self-imposed hierarchy, one where sexual agency is often viewed with suspicion. Women long to be “perfect,” and yet we secretly hate the sexy doctor who is both an excellent mother and a wildcat in bed, (though perhaps not at the same time). The mere existence of this idyll is often viewed as a threat – a condemnation of other women’s failure to achieve perceived perfection. But rather than turn the focus inward, to ask ourselves why this woman’s status should affect our own, feminine culture teaches us to get catty and bitchy and cliquish. And that’s before you even start to deal directly with sex.

A woman’s sexual agency directly engages male sexuality, so the pervading notion in our culture is that a woman in full command of her sexuality is, by extension, a sexual threat, not to men, but to other women. How can you trust a woman who might just fuck your man? It’s an ancient anxiety that has thrived within the parameters set by gender, (rather than equity), feminism, and which now greatly influences the manner in which women police other women.

This is where my thoughts on sexual ownership come in. It still seems that to be strong, feminist, and thoroughly modern, a woman should play down her sexuality. Granted, it’s all right for her to have one now, but really, many women would prefer not to have it made plain. When she does not temper herself for the comfort of others, she is often labeled a slut and a whore, judged with immediate, knee-jerk invective and distrust, not so much by men, but by other women.

I’m thinking here of the girls who watch with grim satisfaction as the class slut is sexually assaulted by a pack of alpha males; or of good, Christian women who assert that a whore cannot be raped. The office slut… the waitress who holds your boyfriend’s gaze rather than demurely look down… the woman with whom your husband is friends. All traditionally suspect.

This is a very old phenomena. It’s The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible. It’s Vanity Fair, The House of Mirth and Anna Karenina. It’s the in-built cultural assumption that a woman in full possession of her sexuality is somehow a threat, always and still to other women.

I’ll be honest. I’m tired of women looking at each other with distrust. I’m tired be being evaluated not by what I say or do, but by the tenor of my sexuality. It’s the tradition of female relations that has been passed down for generations. It’s the reason my mother tried to steer my away from Marilyn Monroe. It’s why she always hated Angelina Jolie. They are figures of unabashed female sexuality, and of course, “sweetheart, that’s not the sort of girl you want to be.”

Well, actually it is. It is precisely the sort of woman I’ve become after years of apologizing and placation. And I will not pass that legacy, the one that shamed me for being sexually appetitive, on to my daughter. I will not teach her to value other women’s comfort over her own authentic nature. I will teach her not to worry about what other women do with their bodies, because being secure enough not to judge is the height of self-possession and therefore of power. I will teach her to own herself.

This is what I own:

  1. I own that I don’t know how many sexual partners I’ve had. I lost count in my twenties and have never much cared.
  2. I own that whatever that number is, I wouldn’t mind if it were higher, and I fully intend to let it creep up naturally as I continue to live my life.
  3. I own that I don’t care too much what other women think of me. That concern burned itself out after much pain and confusion over many, many years.
  4. I own that I do care very deeply what my friends think, as my friends judge me on the basis of my actions, not by who or how often I do, (or do not), fuck.
  5. I own that I am an inflexibly dominant woman. I am not a Domme. I enjoy dominating partners who enjoy being dominated, but far more reflective of my place on the power curve is that I do not, under any circumstances, tolerate having someone else’s will imposed over my own, unless I choose to allow it.
  6. I own that this inflexibility is the result of damage incurred when I didn’t know better. It is the result not of strength but of weakness – years of historic weakness on my part, which I’m terrified of  conjuring again.
  7. I own that I am a good woman, not because it comes naturally to me, but because I care enough to try.
  8. I own that I will be goddamned if I inadvertently teach my daughter to weigh her own worth against any measure but her own.

This post is not meant to be prescriptive. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to suggest that anyone should engage their sexuality in the way that I have deemed appropriate for me. I would however suggest that perhaps, we might be happier as a culture if we concern ourselves less with what other people are doing, and instead spend our energies and attentions on own behaviors, insecurities, sexualities and loves. There is enough love and self-possession and joy for everyone.

I dream of a day when women stop reflexively seeing a woman in full possession of her sexuality as a threat. I would like women to feel secure enough with each other to simply enjoy their own lives. I would like to see that day, but if I can’t, I hope my daughter does.