“Mistresses, Madams and Super-Heroes: The Rising Affection for the Dominatrix”
In a previous publication, with the audience studies on-line research journal Participations, I listed a short range of stereotypes found in popular culture of practitioners in the BDSM ‘scene’ – BDSM referring to Bondage, Domination and Sadomasochism, a range of practices and lifestyles which are part of the playing out of narratives or scenarios of power exchange, both sexual and non-sexual, for the pleasure of all involved. These stereotypes I labelled: the Mature Dominatrix and her typical partner, the Young Male Sub; also the Vamp Dominatrix and the Public Authority Male Sub. The Mature Dominatrix is a sexually rapacious yet motherly figure, often from a working-class background, epitomised – or perhaps established in our imagination by – the great British madam, Cynthia Payne. Typically, this stereotype will be seen with her binary opposite, the naïve, weedy Young Male Sub who is humiliated by her admonishments and punishments. The Vamp Dominatrix is a more enchanting, sensational stereotype, she is younger and more attractive and is more likely to appear to be middle or upper class, or perhaps an exotic Other from France or Japan. She is far more dangerous in her practices than the Mature Dominatrix, and so is easily able to take in hand the Public Authority Male Sub in his more hard-core punishments. He requires, and can afford, relief from his important role in society as judge, politician, senior police officer, and so forth. The Mature Dominatrix typically appears as part of a satirical comic episode or advertisement, and whilst the Vamp Dominatrix also appears in such an episode, the laugh is more on the Male Sub than on the dangerous female herself. It is not too hard to see that part of the popular consumption of these stereotypes, one of the things that allows them to be popular, is the satirising of the normative behaviour of the masculine male by causing him to submit to a dominant female. The submissive female does not conform to our sensibilities: the woman who wishes to submit to a dominant male, despite being in a role-played SM scenario may be regarded as setting back feminism about fifty years.
Today, I would like to move on from these stereotypes to explore representations of the Dominatrix in the context of representations of women, apply some key critical frameworks and highlight some other roles and environments in which she operates, sometimes under a very different guise. Very little is written about the Dominatrix as represented in the media, and what can be found is within relatively recent work that is principally concerned with the increase of ‘tough’ or ‘dominant’ roles for women in the movies from the 1980s onwards, and it is to some of these sources that I would like to turn before I propose a number of things.