The Myth of ‘The Myth of Female Masochism’

Some, or perhaps many, feminists would have us believe that women absolutely hate the idea of being spanked, and I have no doubt that some, or perhaps many, really do. We are told that notions to the contrary are nothing more than a fiction concocted by men, or by that sinister formation of latent ideological forces that feminists call ‘the patriarchy’, as a way of keeping women in subjection. This view was pithily and quotably encapsulated by the Canadian feminist writer Paula Caplan in the title of her 1993 book, The Myth of Female Masochism.

It is not my purpose to dispute her argument that if, as a culture, we generalize that female sexuality is masochistic, we risk giving tacit encouragement to abuse, or even enabling it. Nobody should condone abuse. But I am going to propose that it is itself abusive to generalize the other way, to insist that female sexuality is never even mildly masochistic, in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

A good place to start is with the various polls and surveys of women’s sexual preferences that have been conducted over the last decade and a half. In 2007, a poll for the British magazine Glamour discovered that 30% of the women in the sample fantasized about being spanked, while the numbers went up slightly to 36% in a scientific survey of a sample of 1,516 Canadian women that was conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal in 2014. So that averages out at around one in three. Interestingly enough the figures are reversed in some European countries: in the Czech Republic it’s one in three who dislike the idea of being spanked, and in 2018 a Spanish survey found that as many as 70% of the sample of 4,000 women enjoyed it.

Before we give a rousing chorus of ‘¡El spanka por favor!’, it’s as well to recognize that, just because women fantasize about spanking, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want the fantasy to come true. But it’s also as well to remind ourselves of a French poll of 2012 which found that an average of one in four women had actually been spanked by their partners, with significantly larger numbers (nearly half!) in the younger age groups. So whatever caveats need to be acknowledged about polls and statistics, and whatever pinches of salt ingested, it seems undeniable that there’s a lot more spanking in some women’s lives than is dreamt of in feminist philosophy.

It is worth pausing over the national variations, which suggest that this phenomenon is partly a matter of culture rather than biology. One reason for the large numbers of spanking-positive Czech women is surely something to do with this:

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The country’s annual Easter Monday pomlazka custom is widespread and long-established.

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It’s often raunchy, but absolutely mainstream.

Some feminists like to describe it as a tradition that men love and women hate; but surveys find that in fact it’s only 15% of women who feel humiliated or frightened (and, therefore, 85% don’t). And it means that, for the Czechs, spanking has an available connotation that’s positive rather than punitive: this is a culture where you get spanked because somebody likes you, not (or not only) because you’ve been naughty.

And here’s another familiar holiday custom being celebrated in the Czech Republic:

But that’s one we see all over the world…

In 2020, the internet was full of computer-generated, personalized ‘letters to Santa’ from grownup ladies who wanted to tell him how naughty they had been, and to take the consequences:

Other modes of communication were also available:

And, as you can find abundantly illustrated all over this site, there’s no shortage of women who willingly pose for Santa pictures in that vein, and evidently love it.

This is a very widespread trope, but obviously we mustn’t kid ourselves: it represents a tiny fraction of the innumerable Santa pictures out there. But the point of interest is that, within this tiny fraction, by far the largest number of those who allow themselves to be photographed being spanked by Santa, or mock-spanked, are women. (And that’s not something I say with a blind eye to other orientations; the next largest group are gay men, and straight men are a long, long way behind that.)

My hedging there is also to the point: much of this is ‘mock-spanking’, the idea and the image without the act, and of course there’s nothing whatever wrong with that. But does it ever go further, especially in the more straight-laced Anglo-Saxon ‘one-in-three’ cultures that don’t have the pomlazka tradition or anything like it?

We might look for anecdotal evidence in one category of women who used to be at significant risk of getting spanked in the line of professional duty: actresses.

But nowadays it’s a safer life in Hollywood, and elsewhere in the entertainment industry: the danger has greatly subsided, and our prospective sample size diminished, thanks in large part to the efforts of those feminists who have persuaded the makers of movies and theater that those of us who enjoy M/F spanking scenes are shamefully glorying in domestic violence and sexual assault, and that such scenes should therefore not be made. Of course, we shouldn’t expect any actress in a spanking scene to confide her private feelings about making it: the product is ours to view, the process hers to tell or conceal as she chooses. But it is worth mentioning one piece of trivia concerning one modern actress:

Laura de Carteret, who played a minor role in the action thriller Shoot ’Em Up (2007), about the efforts of a macho drifter (Clive Owen) to save a newborn baby from the villains who murdered its mother. Another incidental piece of child protection comes when he encounters another mother (de Carteret) chastising her young son, and turns the tables on her: ‘How would you like it if I spanked you?’ he asks her.

The pedantic answer is that, technically, we don’t get to find out, because he doesn’t spank her in the strictest sense of the term, only smacks her bottom. But going with the flow for the sake of argument, the answer is that she doesn’t like being ‘spanked’ one little bit. Quite unlike Laura de Carteret, who, according to the DVD commentary, was uncommonly excited at the thought that she was going to be ‘spanked’ by Clive Owen!

Staying with the performing arts, let’s simultaneously broaden it out and narrow it down by homing in on a genre that’s specifically aimed at women: male strip shows, which sometimes involve audience participation, of a passive kind.

And since I did bring up the stricter definition of spanking, it’s worth noting that some ladies who are brought onstage at these shows will find themselves getting this:

And liking it!

The toxic wing of feminism insists that M/F spanking imagery is ‘offensive to women’. Well, it obviously isn’t offensive to a significant number of women, because they participate in creating such imagery, voluntarily and mostly without financial reward. And they are not fetishists at play, either: I have no reason to suppose that the women featured here are anything other than ordinary people enjoying themselves, as distinct from committed members of an inward-looking, self-validating spanking subculture. Just as important, they are not typical of all women, only a percentage: a very sizeable minority in some countries, a remarkable majority in others. And most important of all, they are not the victims of some insidious process of cultural brainwashing.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating often: I have no quarrel with the liberal, egalitarian wing of feminism that wants us all to live in a free and safe society. So do I. But that noble objective is not advanced by, or even compatible with, telling people that an aspect of their sexuality is aberrant, or ‘wrong’, or even mythical. That isn’t just offensive to women: it’s offensive to humanity.

And this…

is, or ought to be, offensive to nobody.

8 thoughts on “The Myth of ‘The Myth of Female Masochism’

  1. James Scribner says:

    How could you discuss this subject without any mention of Sheldon and Amy on Big Bang Theory? Amy was played by an actress who has a MENSA level IQ and an actual degree in Psychology and was one of the highest paid actresses in TV show history. 

    Like

    • Harry says:

      Three reasons.

      Firstly, they are fictional characters in a TV series, and this phase of what is a much larger unfolding discussion deals with an aspect of female sexual psychology in fact rather than fiction. There was some coverage of the fictional dimension, mainly in historical terms, in the previous installment of the series, here.

      Secondly, I know nothing about how the actress herself felt sexually about the scene and I refuse to speculate without evidence, which would be an invasion of her privacy. If you are drawing a connection between the facts that she agreed to do it and that she isn’t stupid, then that is a fair point. But the stupidity that characterizes some censorious modern reactions to spanking scenes is also not the subject of this article.

      Thirdly, in covering a very large and complex subject, I can’t promise to include everybody’s favorite example, though you might want to consider the possibility that maybe I am keeping Big Bang Theory up my sleeve for a different article later on.

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  2. ourbottomsburn says:

    This point demonstrates your theme because spanking is always more interesting when it’s a part of real life.

    Like

    • Harry says:

      Thanks. Though the larger point of that strapline is to differentiate what I write about on this site, including and especially mainstream fiction in all media, from the kind of porn material which otherwise dominates online discussion of the subject, and which has nothing at all to do with real life.

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      • ourbottomsburn says:

        As I was writing my comment, I felt you would correct my interpretation. It’s important that you define the message of your blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Harry says:

        I take the point. When I first wrote the strapline back in 2015 I was mainly trying to define what I intended to do in terms of its being non-porn (and, to some extent, even anti-porn). What I hadn’t anticipated was that, from a different perspective, it could be taken to mean ‘real life’ as distinct from ‘fiction’, which of course would raise tricky ethical issues concerning abuse. I hope that my statement of principle on the ‘About’ page makes it quite clear where I stand, but I do sometimes feel the need to reiterate it.

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  3. Pat Hall says:

    Very well said. You do great work on this blog and this post is exceptional. All that said, why wouldn’t you classify the spanking in Shoot ‘Em Up as a spanking? I usually delineate the difference between a smacked bottom and a spanking as context, and repeated smacks. What separates the two for you?

    Like

    • Harry says:

      Thanks.

      I discussed the semantics of ‘spanking’ and ‘smacking’ very early in the life of this site, here – but the site has so much in it now that I’m not surprised you haven’t found it yet.

      I think the question of where to draw the line broadly depends on what it is you are trying to define. I think of a spanking as a coherent single action, rather than a loose series of similar repeated actions, which I would call a smacking. In other words, my differentiating boundary falls between, on the one hand, the ad hoc smacking of the girl’s bottom (whether once or repeatedly) while she’s upright and on her feet, and, on the other, her being placed in a special position to receive the smacks: the position is what makes it a definite thing in its own right, something more than ad hoc.

      I often say that it’s not a proper spanking if it isn’t OTK, but to an extent that’s a rhetorical point; less narrowly I also accept OTS and SLB (sous le bras, a position widely favored by the French) as falling within the boundary. But it is worth observing that OTK is the one and only position where the usual objective, and therefore the primary connotation, is spanking: show someone a picture of a girl facedown across a man’s knee and they will almost certainly interpret it as a spanking even if it’s actually what I call Faux-TK, OTK without spanking. Show them a picture of a girl OTS or SLB and they will likely interpret it as her being carried by the man, even if what is going on is actually a spanking.

      I think this as an important matter because, as I have said before, if we start talking about any smack on the bottom as ‘spanking’, we are contributing to the devaluation of our own lexical coinage, lowering our standards and setting ourselves up for disappointment. And that’s why I’m very keen to preserve the semantic distinction between ‘smacking’ and ‘spanking’.

      Like

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