Like nearly everyone else reading this blog, I’ve loved romance for a long time. I love the fact that it’s a genre devoted to a woman’s emotional journey, to the development of two characters as they grow and change because of each other. I love the way the genre takes sexuality seriously, and affirms that yes, this part of a woman’s life is important, is crucial, even, to her fulfillment as she develops in her self-awareness and strength. I know I’m not the first person to note that very little other media is devoted to this aspect of women’s lives from a woman’s point of view, as the drivers of desire rather than as simply objects of male desire, or the first to note how subversive and radical that is.
When I started writing Have Mercy, my first real attempt at writing romance, I thought a lot about what it means to be a woman with sexual desires in this culture, particularly a woman in the public eye, where every aspect of our contradictory relationship with women and sex is amplified. I realized that what seemed to be considered most deviant was a woman who actively wanted. Even in my own fantasies, I was afraid to let myself want– I had to turn myself into an object, someone to be wanted by someone else. What kind of woman, I wondered, could free herself enough to turn that social conditioning around? And what kind of consequences would she face for it?
But even after deciding that about Emme, my protagonist, I still couldn’t make myself cross the final barrier into femdom. I wrote and wrote, and there was something about my sex scenes that was just off. It wasn’t until I finally shared half a manuscript with Mary Ann Rivers that she did a close reading and pointed out all the clues that were lurking there in the text, and suggested that maybe, just maybe, there was a dynamic that I was writing around instead of tackling head-on.
And I was writing around it instead of just writing it because it was fucking terrifying.
Those social consequences I’d written for my character were the very ones I was afraid of facing myself, if I wrote femdom. Even if what I wrote was the mildest version of BDSM (and in many ways, it is), femdom is still sexually in-your-face. Shocking. Outside of the norm. If writing romance in general might give away the fact that you’re a woman who experiences desire, writing femdom might give away the fact that you’re a woman who should probably be locked in the attic because otherwise you’ll chain up innocent men and ruin their lives by sucking out their souls. Or something.
But the more I thought about Emme, and the more I thought about Tom, the more I realized that I couldn’t write their dynamic any other way. I’d written a woman who wanted, a woman who fought to be taken seriously at every turn, and to have one man who trusted her judgment, believed in her without constantly questioning her skill, her professionalism, her talent, or her very sanity would be such a relief for her. To have one man who just did what she asked, for once, would be so appealing. And as for Tom, to know a woman who was so competent that he could trust her, and could let go, would be the best gift he could be given. He would cherish being able to give love and affection without having to worry about whether or not she could take care of herself.
Starting off with one “what-if” that reversed a gendered stereotype– a woman who wanted, rather than a woman who was wanted– led me all the way to femdom. It doesn’t have to work that way, but it did for me, for this book, for these characters. I’d like to think that we’ll see more and more of this kind of dynamic in romance, that it will begin to seem less deviant, soon, not only because I love reading it, but because on a larger cultural level, it might indicate that we have finally begun to accept a more flexible view of sexuality, both male and female. I’m hopeful, since there have been some fantastic femdom books written by writers of this very blog, as well as some of my favorites: Charlotte Stein, Cara McKenna, and Del Dryden; and short stories by Anne Calhoun and Edie Harris in the Agony/Ecstasy anthology.
For writers, have you ever accidentally written a theme that scares you? For readers, do you have a favorite femdom book?