The essay for my Queer Theory class… hopefully it’s somewhat coherent, I’m not quite sure if it is.
A man and woman go out to dinner at a restaurant. The woman opens the door for the man to enter the establishment, she pulls out the chair for him before he sits down, and when the waiter comes to take their orders, she orders for the both of them. In this situation, who is submissive? Is it the man, is he being lead and treated as a subordinate by his mistress? Or is it the woman, is she an adept submissive who is serving her owner by taking care of his needs?
A man and woman are in their bedroom, the woman is on her knees and receives a slap to her cheek, then a hand in her hair, gripping it and pulling it back tight. She is spit on as her face is made to look upward, and then slapped again. The man sits on the bed and drags her with him, tugging her across his knee to give her a spanking, not satisfied until her ass is a bright shade of red. She is screaming and struggling, but despite being physically capable of freeing herself, she does not for fear of repercussions. Is this scenario depicting abuse, or simply play?
Both of these scenarios show potential ambiguity within power exchange relationships, but in very different ways. The first demonstrates the diversity of what power exchange relationships can look like, the second is a more shocking representation of what play can look like, and how to an outside observer, it could appear to be abuse. The point of both of these is to show the diversity and fragility of what could or could not be consensual power play activities. There is not just one way to experience or practice relationships of this type.
Often when subjects such as sadomasochism, or BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/submission, and Sadism/masochism), are explored relationships which break social norms are analyzed, such as gay or lesbian BDSM relationships, or heterosexual relationships in which the normative power structure is reversed: the female is dominant, the male is submissive. The paring which on the surface goes along with societal norms is sometimes dismissed as patriarchal because the male partner is dominant while the female partner is submissive. Despite what seems like a patriarchal situation, male-dominant/female-submissive relationships are built on both parties having equal power over the relationship, though unequal roles in power exchange scenarios.