That was my attempt at an over-the-top, sensationalist headline to introduce a piece on psychological research. It’s a time honored tradition, in which people writing about said research blow the findings out of proportion in the title, and don’t reveal until the second or third paragraph what the researcher’s findings actually were. So, do submissive men hate women? Let’s find out.
I recently came across this journal article by Will Damon while looking for something different but related. The study it’s based on is not recent – it was published back in 2003. Here’s the gist of it:
Damon hypothesized that dominant, heterosexual men with a BDSM bent would score lower in measures of self-esteem and higher in measures of sexism than men who identified as submissive. What he found was exactly the reverse – subs scored significantly lower in self-esteem and higher in sexism than either doms or switches*.
Interestingly, the study measured both “hostile sexism” – the overt, male supremacy, female sex object stuff – as well as “benevolent sexism” – the women are pure, fragile snowflakes in need of male protection stuff. I assume (though I don’t know) that would include some of the “women are inherently better” reverse sexism seen in female supremacy circles. If that’s the case, I might have expected to see that measure be somewhat higher in the sub group, but they actually were higher in both sexism measures (the difference was a bit more extreme on the benevolent measure, though). It should, of course, be noted that while these differences across groups were statistically significant, their scores weren’t that much higher than doms – meaning that doms were still pretty sexist. Combined sexism scores for doms = 3.23, switches = 3.53, and subs = 3.91, so not a huge spread. Here’s where a comparison to a non-BDSM control group would have been interesting and useful, but the study didn’t include that.
The self-esteem issue wasn’t so surprising to me. Damon based his hypothesis about doms potentially having low self-esteem on previous research that showed prejudice against minorities and women in non-traditional roles correlated with low self-esteem, as did spousal abuse – which only makes sense if you think doms dom because they want to keep women “in their place” or because they want to be abusive. This particular study didn’t support the idea that doms choose their role as a compensatory mechanism. Of course, certain individuals might be motivated by low self-esteem, but it’s not true of doms as a group. One reason Damon proposes for subs being lower in this measure is that doms are in a role which aligns with traditional masculinity, while subs are in a role which conflicts with it. I think that’s probably right – it takes a considerable psychological toll to be going against the grain of societal expectations, and the rejection people experience when they do that can be a big hit on self-esteem.
So, the important question for me when faced with research like this is, so what? How are the findings practically useful? The first thing that comes to mind is the difficulty some subs have in finding a partner – either long-term or just for play. The message here is: Boys, check your sexism and realize that you are not a worm.
Of course, difficulty finding “the one” could be due to any number of reasons, from having a small local pool from which to find a compatible partner, to general social awkwardness, to a hundred other reasons. But if you’re in that position, making sure you’re not a sexist douche or bringing a crushing load of self-esteem issues with you should be high on the list of things to work on. That shit’s not sexy. For myself, I won’t be bothered with a partner who doesn’t identify as a feminist or feminist ally – I have no energy or inclination to argue about my basic humanity. And I’m not qualified to be a therapist. So work on your stuff, please. It’s way easier to attract a suitable partner when they can focus on the positive things you can bring to the relationship, instead of the negatives they would have to deal with to be with you.
The other thing that comes to mind is the need to do away with strict adherence to, and policing of, gender binaries. But geez, that's a doctoral dissertation in itself.
*The usual caveats about this type of research apply. The sample size was relatively small (although for a study of this type, not terribly small: 143 doms, 101 subs, and 98 switches). All were given self-report surveys which were designed to measure self-esteem and sexism, but only a small sub-sample participated in follow-up interviews which were more in-depth. Also, there was no non-BDSM “control” group for comparison. So generalizing to the larger BDSM community may or may not be warranted.