The Accidental Femdom Writer

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?

And, since this is shameless self-promotion, have a buy link: Have Mercy at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble

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6 Responses to The Accidental Femdom Writer

  1. Rhyll Biest says:

    I really only enjoy reading romances that have what I think of as ‘strong’ heroines, i.e. they’re courageous in that they have enough gumption to take risks, to risk vulnerability, to risk stepping outside the box of ‘normal’ femininity and sexuality. I would love to see more stories where the heroine takes the risk of initiating sex and talk about desire, rather than waiting to be pursued. I love me an alpha strumpet.

  2. Jessi Gage says:

    When I was a teenager, I was brave. I initiated. The idea of sex was the most stimulating, exciting idea I could possibly fathom. But religious view of sexuality confused me and made me question my own body, my desires, my relationship with God.

    In my late thirties, now, I am growing into the confidence to balance these two parts of myself, the sexual woman who knows deep in her marrow that sex is supposed to be awesome, cataclysmic, special, not something to be performed as a duty for one’s spouse, not something to be ashamed of, not something to be avoided in civilized conversation.

    Today, I can balance this acceptance of my carnal side with my love for Jesus and what he did for me on the cross. It’s not God that fucked up sexuality. It’s religious men. It’s not the Bible that confuses the issue, but prudish interpretations and misconceptions.

    Romance novels are the number one place I’ve turned to to fuel what I know in my heart to be true about my sexuality. Without the intelligent and sexy writings of you ladies who run this blog and many other talented authors, I doubt I’d be anywhere near where I am today in accepting who I am.

    I hope I give my readers confidence in return. I hope my writing delivers a glimpse of revelation to girls like me who have been told one thing about sex and wondered how that can possibly be true when their bodies tell them otherwise.

    Thanks, Shelly Ann, and the whole wonk crew for all you do!

    • Shelley Ann Clark says:

      Yes! Romance novels are the one place I’ve found a celebration of women’s sexuality, where I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin. There are plenty of novels out there with unexamined issues of their own, it’s true– after all, they’re written by women like us, raised in this contradictory culture. Of course we’ve internalized these messages. But on the whole, aren’t we lucky that we have this form to help us work through it all? What a privilege to write for other women, and to read other women’s (extremely personal) work for us.

      Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Tamsen Parker says:

    To me, the best and most satisfying romance is about when two characters who complement each other in a way no one else could find each other and figure out how to be together.

    Everyone’s love story is going to look different and my favorite books are the ones in which authors can take a story which would not be my love story and get me so invested in the characters that I *NEED* for them to be together. Regardless of their sexual orientation, kink or other traits we may or may not share, I really believe in their HEA. Maybe I started out uncomfortable with how they got together or possibly I’ve wanted to strangle one or both (or all? Bring on the menage!) of them at some point, but at the end of the day what matters is that the writer has me convinced that this is these characters’ love story and I’m just lucky enough to get to watch it unfold.

    That’s the power of any good story, right? Being able to get you to identify with someone who isn’t exactly like you.

    As a reader, I like Mina Vaughn for some humorous, lighter femdom; Joey W Hill if you want to go kind of hardcore; there’s some femdom mixed in with pretty much every thing else in Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series and of course, Cara’s Unbound killed me dead.

    As a writer, everything I write scares me at least a little bit (does that mean I’m doing something right?), but what I’m working on right now probably scares me the most. I’m going to have to work awfully hard to get readers on board for this HEA. Challenge accepted : )

  4. Fiona McGier says:

    One of my books has a blind Psychologist as the hero, and the woman he falls in love with is ordered by her boss to seduce him, then write an article exposing him as a fraud. She’s sexy, aggressive, and always gets what she wants…but having no way to visually excite him is a real challenge for her.

    One reviewer said she was “too hard to like”, and another said that she “raped” the hero. Sigh. Since I put a lot of myself (pre-marriage, of course!) into the heroine, I was really disappointed. But then today’s reviewers all seem to prefer young virgins with low self-esteem who are “taken over” by billionaires with BDSM proclivities, who teach the young girls that pain is good and hurting makes you orgasm. Cause that’s realistic sexual dynamics, right?

    I can’t often find the kinds of books I like to read so I write them. Obviously I’m writing for a very small audience!

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