Going to Extremes: An Alternative Perspective on Women, DD & Work

Several months back, I wrote an article suggesting the not-uncontroversial opinion that women who desire to explore their feminine side may be better off avoiding male-dominated activities and career fields. ("Does DD Work at Work?") If we don't want men in the "blood hut," the argument goes, maybe we should stay away from the dragon hunt. The article suggests that, generally speaking, a woman participating in male-dominated activities may be asking for trouble in a relationship, because doing so violates male-female archetypes and gender roles to the point where a relationship -- particularly a traditional DD (domestic discipline) relationship is impossible to sustain.

What follows is a radically contradictory perspective on the whole "women on the dragon hunt" issue. (As a woman, I categorically reserve the right to change my mind...)

For the last few months, I've been inviting myself along on the dragon hunt by participating in intense martial arts training. I've done this in an effort to explore further my growing theory, touched on in the last article, that to be soft and feminine, a woman may be need to first create a foundation of strength. ("If DD Is the Glue, Do the Parts Really Fit Revisited") Though the article in question was specifically about financial strength, I've often found that to test a theory, it's good to start by taking it literally. So off I went to "get strong" in the most literal sense of the word.

Getting strong literally and physically was new to me. While I have in the past engaged in intense, hyper-masculine mental activity by working as a political consultant, doing anything physically intense with my body has been radically new territory for me.

I've always been the sort of person who felt that gyms and exercise of any kind were the work of the devil and I wanted no part of it. Furthermore, I have always seen those physical activities as unfeminine and therefore not something I wanted to engage in. (I actually still believe this, but read on for why engaging in unfeminine activities might be the easiest way to get feminine.)

"Getting strong" in the literal sense, then, has involved spending the past four months engaging in serious, hard-core daily weight training and aerobic conditioning, along with daily martial arts training emphasizing intense, real-world boxing and streetfighting techniques.

The martial arts training I've been doing is heavy on the hand-to-hand combat. Most of the people I've been training with are men in their 20s who train seriously for martial arts competitions. To hold my own in this environment (and I'm proud to say that I am holding my own and more) requires pushing myself to new levels of physical and emotional toughness far beyond what I've ever done before. This extreme level of "playing with the boys" requires getting (literally) dirty and sweaty and doing lots of very "unfeminine" things in a very unfeminine, unforgiving environment. In short, it's participating in the dragon hunt on a very primal level.

Recently, I've noticed that the more I push myself to express the masculine part of my nature during training -- ie, the physical and emotional strength required to keep up with the men, the need to "play hurt" and not show any weakness, etc. -- the more feminine, submissive and sensual I feel when I'm finished.

When I'm paired with a sparring partner who challenges me to tap deeply into that masculine power, I leave feeling strong and energized, but also with an intense desire/need to express the DD/submissive side of my personality. I feel very similar to the way I feel after a particularly effective spanking.

On the other hand, when I train with a weaker (usually female) partner who does not physically or emotionally challenge me to dig into my inner masculine, I leave the training session feeling weak, frustrated, angry and vulnerable in an unpleasant way -- exactly the way I feel when a spanking doesn't "work."

In short, the more I allow my inner masculine to express itself freely and without judgment or reservation, the more I seem to be able to tap into my inner feminine and my desire to be soft, vulnerable and submissive. This reaction at first seemed paradoxical to me -- but given that virtually everything about DD seems to be in one way or the other paradoxical, I figured I must be onto something.

I'm now wondering if I've been doing it all backwards when it comes to the struggle to balance my desire to be feminine and to experience the benefits of DD with my partner in private vs. my need to be independent and assertive in my career.

A bit of backstory, for those just tuning in: As most of you know by now, I also work in politics as a communications strategist. Politics, like martial arts training, is an intense, testosterone-driven environment, albeit the less literal and more metaphorical kind. My DD partner also works with me as a political consultant, and as a result, I'm constantly feeling the need to hold back my masculine, aggressive tendencies in an effort to balance my desire to be feminine in the relationship with the need to play hard-ball with the political boys.

What winds up happening, though, is that I get trapped in what's essentially a watered-down version of both. Perhaps a bit like Hillary during her campaign, I feel caught in the worst of both -- unable to be soft and feminine for fear of being eaten alive by political colleagues, and unable to be as aggressive as I feel I need to be for fear of damaging my private relationship with my partner. So instead, I'm perpetually trapped in the androgynous blank pantsuit that is neither male nor female, and thus disappointing and frustrating to both.

But given my recent experiences playing hard with the boys at martial arts, I wonder now if the answer to balancing these two conflicting needs/desires is to push to the extreme in one area in order to create a corresponding need to express the other -- to push more towards the dominant/masculine in the appropriate areas of my life in order to create the opposite, submissive/feminine impulse in my private life.

Those of you who have experienced DD firsthand know, of course, that the DD lifestyle is inherently an extreme expression of archetypes and gender roles. By its very nature, DD calls for an exaggerated expression of dominance and submission far beyond what's considered culturally acceptable or "normal" in current Western culture. But to use the analogy of a scale, an extreme weight on one side requires an extreme weight on the other to balance it. Without equal "extremeness" on either side, the scales aren't balanced, the center cannot hold -- the relationship falters. Perhaps.

Of course, there are some couples for whom DD seems to work as a long-term dynamic without an extreme expression of masculine energy on her part to balance the scales. But for those of us women who continue to struggle to find a way to be comfortable in a DD relationship without feeling correspondingly unbalanced and powerless -- and I know from your comments that there are many of us out there -- finding a safe outlet for our inner masculine away from the relationship may be part of the solution.

Perhaps the answer for those of us who struggle to submit in private is to find ways to go to the other extreme outside of the relationship. For some of us, that might be through our careers, if we work in hyper-aggressive, male-dominated fields. For others, it might mean exploring the limits of physical strength, as in martial arts training or other physically demanding sports like soccer or basketball in which it's appropriate to give our masculine energy free rein. For others, it might mean aggressive "Code Pink"-style involvement in activist politics -- confronting opponents at rallies, in debates, etc. It could mean building a house with Habitat for Humanity or learning how to repair a car engine. And there are no doubt still other examples.

This balancing of extremes theory would not be inconsistent with the best thinking on archetypes and gender roles. Many of you are probably already thinking about how Carl Jung, the father of archetypes as a model for personality, suggested that becoming a healthy individual requires the balancing of these conflicting internal masculine and feminine archetypes. And many of you have commented on prior posts about the need for this balance.

It would make sense, then, from a Jungian perspective, that an extreme expression of the inner masculine would motivate the need for an extreme expression of the inner feminine. Perhaps that's why my initial attempts at DD quickly went awry (as apparently do so many other women's similar attempts) -- they created in me an extreme desire to express my inner masculine, which I quickly squelched for fear of being unfeminine, which created an imbalance that toppled the whole dynamic.

Perhaps the surge of rebellion that many women who participate in the DD experience isn't a rejection of DD as a lifestyle, but merely our inner masculine demanding balance.

And perhaps the situation is then made even worse when we assume that we need to find that balance within the relationship, instead of outside of it.

Men, of course, are often way ahead of women in this regard. The dominant,
successful alpha male who sees a dominatrix in private (separately from his work life) is so common as to be a cliche. But the aggressive, achievement-oriented career woman who allows herself to submit in her personal life -- well, the struggle to get there is what this blog's all about.

On a personal note, this new information brings up provocative questions about my own situation with regard to my partner and my political career:

If I hadn't held back and second-guessed with regard to the political work, if I had allowed myself to play as hard as I do during the martial arts training, would I have experienced the same corresponding desire to be soft and feminine that I experience now? Or would the addition of my partner into the mix change the dynamic so much that I wouldn't have been able to let my inner masculine out to play as aggressively as I can when he's not involved?

Would it even be possible to play that hard with my partner without turning him off by the masculinity I'd be demonstrating? Could a man engage with a woman in combat, masculine to masculine -- and still be able to respond to her as a feminine woman when the battle is over? Or does the expression of a woman's inner masculine have to, by definition, be separate from any interaction with her partner?

These questions I don't yet have good answers for, but of course, this whole Disciplined Feminist experiment is a work-in-progress...


  1. Vivian, there is no formula. That's a myth. However, learning what you need and being real and honest with yourself and your partner lead to fulfillment (with the right partner). If you feel have to squelch yourself to fit into a DD lifestyle, then you are not doing it right....it will never work long term. If you have to lower yourself to stoop under his authority, in the end, you will fail. If you pursue developing yourself, ALL of you, as a multi faceted and smart and talented woman according to your needs and your strengths and capabilities, you will find a way to feel fulfilled in roles out side the relationship, and then to work through what you and your partner need to do within the relationship to make THAT work separate and apart , but connected. Doing things that way lets the relationship stand alone in a way, if that makes sense? I am a leader, a dominant in the work place, and submissive in my home. The two do not conflict for me or for my husband. In fact they compliment as the more self assured I become in being that in one arena, the better I become in being the opposite in the other. It has felt to me like expanding my reservoir of capabilities, and has been satisfying on multiple levels..as if more of me is available in my life. It sounds like the Martial Arts Training was just the right thing!

  2. Hi Sara,

    Thanks for commenting!

    I suspect that there is actually a "magic formula" -- balance. Archetypal healing is based on the idea of finding a balance between archetypes. The key is, though, and this is perhaps what you're getting at, that what constitutes that balance is different for every relationship.

    The level of submission in every relationship differs from mild to extreme, as most likely does the level of dominance required for each person to find their own balance. The "magic" seems to be doing the self-exploration to determine what "balance" means for each person.

    Thanks, as always, for reading.


  3. Anonymous03:27


    I still think you should separate the concept of "masculine" from the concept of "dominant". While we associate dominant behavior with men, I think that's caused by the tendency of men to have higher free testosterone levels, which are associated with aggressive behavior.

    There is a wide variation in testosterone levels on an individual basis, probably far more than the actual difference between men and women.

    Also, unless someone has a relatively high level of testosterone, I don't think they will have such a strong desire to be dominant that that will be the determining factor. A much higher factor is probably their associations with specific experiences.

    A man, for example, who has submissive experiences that are also sexually charged may easily develop an association between the two. (This is really in the realm of paraphilias.)

    In any case, I think you will find it easier to understand dominance if you detach the concepts of masculine and dominant.

    However, testosterone is definitely associated with aggression. The feeling that you want to dominate another or even hurt them is probably driven to a certain extent by testosterone. There can be other components. For example, you might have a belief that certain behavior should be punished. This can be completely independent of the emotional component. But, testosterone is associated with anger and aggression. Since men have much higher average levels of testosterone than women, it is no wonder that we've built up a societal association between masculine and aggressive behavior.

    Sports and other physical exertions burn off testosterone. So, it's no wonder you feel less dominant afterward. That's why we have sports teams for cities and why we have (or should have) a lot of sports for high schools. It is preferable for cities to have sports teams than armies.

    I agree with Sara that there's no formula. However, the underlying dynamics apply to everyone in varying degrees. So, using up testosterone through intense martial arts makes sense to me. I think you are right that it is adding balance to your life, something that allows you to channel your desires in more constructive ways. Good luck!


  4. Hi Rich,

    Thanks for your posting, as always.

    I stand by my association of dominant and masculine. However, I do suspect many people frequently get tangled up in trying to understand what this means.

    Everything about our physiology and biology makes it clear that masculinity is associated with dominance -- from the sex act (thrusting rather than receiving), to the sex organs (an outward weapon rather than an inward chasm) to our physical strength (men have it naturally more than women) equates masculine with dominance.

    We don't get a choice about this -- it's the way things are, biologically. We can play with these roles to experiment by doing things like having the woman be assertive during sex or having the male be a submissive, but none of this changes the physical reality of the differences between us biologically and physically.

    Where people get confused, I think, is in equivocating masculinity exclusively with being male. This is, I believe, the mistake that I and other women have frequently made.

    Jung pointed out, correctly, I believe, that all people have an inner masculine and an inner feminine. This duality is also not something we get a choice about. What we do get a choice about is how we balance those internal forces and which one we choose to emphasize in our public and private lives.

    As I wrote to Sara, there IS in fact a magic formula. And it's telling that she writes, literally, that that magic formula "is a myth." Because although this is not, I suspect, how she intended it, what she actually wrote is right. We find the magic formula for how to become health, integrated human beings in myths -- myths which by and large show us a roadmap for finding that balance between our inner masculine and our inner feminine.

    By the way, it's not clear to me where you're getting the idea that the masculine expression in my personality includes a need to hurt people. If I've in any way implied this, I've miscommunicated.

    The masculine impulses that I believe many DD women struggle with (self included) is the need to assert oneself psychologically, stand up for what we think is right, create boundaries, etc. That this can be literally explored (as most archetypally-based concepts can) through physical combat is not the same as saying that the initial impulse is about hurting people!

    I hope that makes sense.

    Thanks again for contributing, all of you!


  5. Anonymous02:32

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  7. Anonymous21:03

    Vivian: I have been reading your blog for awhile now and always find myself wishing you would look more into the idea that everyone must have both the masculine and the feminine side to be whole. I am so glad you did. Thanks for writing. I am looking forward to reading your book. That must be very exciting to have a book!

  8. Thanks for your comment!

    I suspect that the evolution from emphasizing the external masculine/feminine to the internal one is part of the discovery process that DD allows for.

    It's probably natural that a desire for DD arises out of a feeling of being too masculine/not feminine enough due to career, modern gender roles, etc.

    The understanding that one can (and must!) balance one's internal archetypes before being able to safely express the feminine probably takes the experience of being unbalanced the other way with DD before it really hits home. (A case of the pendulum needing to swing all the way to both sides before resting more comfortably in the center, perhaps.)

    Thank you so much for commenting!