Written in October of 2005…
I started researching fan fiction, the creation of stories centered on characters or storylines of preexisting media texts, after I came upon a website for such creators and consumers. Recently one particular phenomenon has attracted my attention: heterosexual relationships wherein a character, depicted in her “home-text” as a strong, independent, modern woman, is willingly submitting to a relationship with a man who is possessive, protective, and not overtly sensitive to her. Upon first glance, this phenomenon appears to be mired in contradictions. However, it was in reading the well thought-out piece by Baumeister that I began to see these phenomena less as contradictory and instead as complicated.
The concept of erotic plasticity was new to me, but to me it makes sense. From an evolutionary stance, I’ve always heard that men select their mates based on the female’s ability to healthily reproduce, while women select based on the male’s ability to provide for any children. In this sense, women have to be choosier about mate selection, as they can only reproduce perhaps once a year, at the very most, while men can beget more offspring in the same time range. Extending this arrangement to civilizations where sociocultural norms reinforce this notion, coupling with the double standard, then I can easily buy into Baumeister’s argument.
The idea that women are more flexible in their sexual behavior and attitudes really crystallized for me in the argument that women are, essentially and literally, the gatekeepers to sex (I’ll stick with heterosexual coupling here due to my phenomenon of interest). It is a woman’s agreement with the man that actually determines the occurrence of a sexual act (except in those highly deplorable acts of rape or nonconsensual sex). A man can plead, say he loves her, wear her down until she consents, but it is the woman’s change of attitude and/or behavior that signals acceptance for such an act. Yet, at the same time, women are reported as frequently fantasizing about sexual submissiveness, even to the extent of finding this depiction in pornography as pleasurable. I found this odd, as such depictions sound very similar to rape-myth, and that is supposedly not liked by women.
Thus my confusion when I read women writing stories starring women, such as Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whom I know to be strong women, where the woman highly desires having a man possess her and force her to submit to his sexual attentions. I’ve read a lot of research that says modern women do not enjoy such situations, and that only men are turned on by them. Yet right there in Baumeister’s argument is a possible explanation. Women are the gatekeepers in a sexual relationship; it is their say so that determines when and to what extent a sexual act will occur.
Now, it can be argued that the change in a woman’s intention is due to influence from their partner, or from self-awareness to changes in their own desire. But another part may be that women want to experience a level of pleasure from the encounter, but it can take longer for women to reach this level than it does men; in order to maximize this pleasure potential, women have to control the initiation of sex. But they want the man to bring them to this level.
Hence women fantasize about men making them acquiesce, but in a tender way, so as to maximize this potential. It’s not that they want to submit to the man’s wishes, but that they want to control to progress of the sexual encounter so as to appease their own wishes. Thus, writing fan fiction about strong women liking to be submissive isn’t a contradiction. It highlights the complex nature of control in the progression of a sexual relationship. Just because a strong woman submits, this doesn’t mean she is going against her nature and being weak. Instead, she is playing into her nature by establishing her control over the progression of the sexual encounter. She is, in fact, having her cake and eating it too.