It’s Dominance and Submission, Not Better and Worse

a pair of metal handcuffs in the open position
Image by cdogstar / CC BY

“You know, you shouldn’t sell yourself so short,” she says.

“Oh?”

“You have a lot to offer. You’re smart. A beautiful girl. I don’t know why you let yourself be overshadowed like that,” she says.

Now I’m confused. I know that I sometimes have a habit of being self-deprecating, but it’s something I’ve been working on a lot. And for the life of me, I know I wasn’t just doing it. “What?”

“You’re someone’s submissive,” she says, in an annoyed tone that lets me know that she thinks the context should be obvious.

“Well, yes,” I say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I just can’t understand why someone who has all the things you have going for you would let anyone treat you like you’re inferior to them,” she says.

I laugh reflexively, covering my mouth. Half to brace myself and half to make it a little quieter so that it won’t come out with the booming volume that its strength threatens to unleash.

She still looks alarmed at the laughter, even though it’s stifled.

“I don’t,” I say, once I’ve recovered my composure.

It’s Dominance and Submission, Not Better and Worse

It’s one of the most difficult things for people new to the BDSM scene to grasp: In many kink relationship dynamics, Dominance and submission are equal, complementary roles. One person voluntarily surrendering control to another.

Why would one person give power to another if they didn’t consider themselves lesser?

Because it’s beneficial. And we do it all the time outside of D/s. Social psychologists call this phenomenon “proxy agency” and “proxy control.”

As Albert Bandura writes:

Theorizing and research on human agency has been essentially confined to personal agency exercised individually. However, this is not the only way in which people bring their influence to bear on events that affect how they live their lives.

In many spheres of functioning, people do not have direct control over the social conditions and institutional practices that affect their everyday lives. Under these circumstances, they seek their well-being, security, and valued outcomes through the exercise of proxy agency. In this socially mediated mode of agency, people try by one means or another to get those who have access to resources or expertise or who wield influence and power to act at their behest to secure the outcomes they desire. No one has the time, energy, and resources to master every realm of everyday life…For example, children turn to parents, marital partners to spouses, and citizens to their legislative representatives to act for them. Proxy agency relies heavily on perceived social efficacy for enlisting the mediative efforts of others.

People also turn to proxy control in areas in which they can exert direct influence when they have not developed the means to do so, they believe others can do it better, or they do not want to saddle themselves with the burdensome aspects that direct control entails. Personal control is neither an inherent drive nor universally desired, as is commonly claimed. There is an onerous side to direct personal control that can dull the appetite for it.

*

“So you see,” I tell her. “It’s not about being better or worse. It’s just another form of cooperation.”

“Huh,” she says. “You know, I learn something new every time we hang out.”

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