On Men & Violence

In my last post, I wrote about a new and fierce resistance that has suddenly cropped up in my willingness to honor our DD covenant. In the intervening time since I last published, this resistance has grown progressively stronger. Despite having experienced first-hand the benefits of DD, many of which I've tried to chronicle here, I am quite simply suddenly terrified of being disciplined, spanked or otherwise.

Since mutual consent must be at the heart of the DD experience, that part of our relationship has been suspended for the past two months (longer actually). This suspension is by unspoken agreement -- my partner, to his credit, senses he's stepping onto volatile and uncertain ground in trying to discipline a terrified and resistant woman. And at the moment, he definitely does not have my consent, much as I wish otherwise.

Tensions in any relationship tend, as we all know, to build up if not dealt with. And now, deprived of the only way we've ever found to work through tensions, we've been fighting more and more -- and the fights are getting uglier and uglier. In fact, we're almost back to where we were when we started this whole DD thing a year or so back -- distant, angry, unable to communicate with each other and utterly unable to trust enough to make the first move on either side.

And so it was that one day last week, we lay in bed trying not to have another blow-up over yet another thing. After about ten minutes of arguing, I had asked him if we could please stop for the night, as I was tired and emotionally drained and to upset to hear what he was saying anyway. I wanted to read my book and calm down for the night, not spend it railing at the man I supposedly love. Rightly or wrongly, my partner chose to ignore this request, and summarily grabbed the book out of my hands and struck me repeatedly across the shoulders with it. (I will skip the awful scene that ensued.)

The following morning, I woke up still upset from what I perceived as a gross violation of our covenant (which included, specifically, that random, non-ritualized violence and particularly above-the-waist violence of any kind was strictly off limits). My bad mood and his resulted in another argument, this one ending up with him dumping a glass of water over my head while I was still in bed and then subjecting me to a tirade of verbal abuse while turning on the cold water when I tried to take a shower.

(NOTE: He, of course, has his own version of these events in which I am more the villain of the piece, but since this is my blog, well, heck, I get to tell the story my way. )

My first instinct, quite honestly, was to get the heck out of there, away from him, to sort things out and figure out how to end the relationship once and for all. There is DD and
the honoring of traditional archetypes in a relationship, I reasoned, and then there are demeaning, abusive and violent tendencies which infringe on my self-respect, dignity and right to be safe in my own home. In my opinion, he clearly crossed all of the above boundaries.

His actions over the past week are to me, violations of a sacred trust that couples must enter into when starting a DD relationship. His behavior was, by virtually every contemporary cultural and psychological standard, abusive, inappropriate and unacceptable. And while my partner has apologized, sort of, for the "book incident," he has yet to do so for anything else. If anything, our arguments are continuing to escalate, and each of us continues to dig in our heels about the rightness (righteousness?) of our respective actions.

And here is where the story would end, were this a regular feminist blog. Supportive and indignant readers would write in with hotline numbers and words of encouragement about how to reclaim my sense of power by getting out of an abusive relationship, and I would head for the nearest bookstore or library to load up on books about "Healing from Domestic Abuse." My partner would be relegated forever to the ranks of "abusive men in my past" and there would be -- could be -- no quarter given by myself, my friends or the feminist community for his actions.

But the reality is, as reality often is, a bit more complicated -- especially when you're in a DD relationship and especially when you work as actively with primal archetypal energies as my partner and I do.

A few posts ago, I wrote about the theory that female energy is inherently submissive ("Feminism: The Power of Giving Way"). In this article, I argue passionately that we as women need to be courageous enough to honor our own internal archetypes of submission and "taking in" in a culture that does not allow women to be who they truly are.

But if I'm going to argue that fundamental to the core of feminism is submission than I have to acknowledge that fundamental to the core of masculinity is domination. In modern society, this domination is most often expressed in cut-throat business deals and killer racquetball games at the club. But underneath all of that civilized veneer is the reality that, at its most primal heart, domination is still about one thing -- violence and brute force.

Men are by their very nature beings who express themselves physically (especially when it comes to strong emotions). That's why they play rough, physical sports. That's why they punch each other on the arm when they're happy. That's why, failing all else, they yell obscenities at the TV when their team is losing. These aren't stereotypes -- they're expressions of archetype.

Just as it would take more than a few social movements to "cure" women of the desire to be taken care of and conquered, it would take more than a few "Iron John" workshops to eliminate in men the instinct to clobber over the head anything that feels like a threat to them. We may not like this, but as with many things in our lives, not liking it doesn't make it any less true.

Women, for the most part, don't resort to violence when they're angry. Lacking the physical strength of men, women have learned over time to settle disagreements with the "talking cure." But men, however, dressed up and civilized we may pretend, are still men. Their first instinct when angry, if the men in my life who speak frankly about this are to be believed, is to hit something -- or someone. Again, we may not want to admit this, but that doesn't make it less true.

Now add to the mix a culture that, in its completely necessary and understandable need to stop an epidemic of violence against women, has labeled any and all acts of violence by men not committed while playing a sport as unacceptable. Throw in a generation of Phil Donahue, Alan Alda and Bill Cosby, and you get disaster waiting to happen.

When a generation of women finds their fundamental archetypal energy suppressed, we pull inward to deal with our pain, taking it out on ourselves as is part of the feminine psyche -- with depression, eating disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, burn out, etc.

When a generation of men finds their fundamental archetypal energy suppressed, they will deal with it as their nature demands -- by striking out, by hitting things, by hitting people. And so paradoxically, despite perhaps the most concentrated and vigorous attempts by women's groups, psychologists, etc. to reduce domestic violence, here it is on the rise again. Surprise, surprise.

But the Victorians could have told us -- what we suppress is driven underground -- and resurfaces in ever more destructive ways.

DD is, of course, meant to be a harmless, safe (and even sexy and fun) discharge of this destructive energy. What better way to avoid incidents like the ones I've described above than to give a man permission to spank a woman to tears when he is angry with her? To tell him that, yes, you ARE at heart a physical, violent being and I -- as a loving woman who wants a strong, honest, whole man -- am giving you the greatest gift in my power to give --permission to express and honor those allegedly "shameful" tendencies in a safe, mutually consensual way (added bonus that these "shameful" tendencies are a huge turn-on...).

To add to the personal narrative here, it must be said that my relationship with my partner has been under a great deal of strain recently. We've just started living together for the first time. He is, for the first time, 1000 miles away from his children and misses them desperately. He is in a key leadership role on a hotly-contested congressional campaign that's getting national attention -- and at the very moment he most needs my help, I tell him that I'm sorry but I can't take the stress of politics anymore and I'm retiring to become a working artist and would he please be supportive of that even though I'm committing arguably the worst sin I can commit in a man's world -- abandoning him on the battlefield when he needs me the most, but hey, don't be mad, honey, okay? More than enough pressure to drive anyone to extreme acts, to be fair.

There are, of course, men who are not driven to violence as my partner clearly is in times of extreme stress -- men who have their violent tendencies much more firmly in hand. But at least for myself (and I stress FOR MYSELF), I can't help but wonder if the price I pay for having the kind of man I want in my life -- someone who is deeply in touch with his primitive instincts and his raw sexuality, someone with an innate "alpha" ability to command others, someone who triggers all my archetypal female desires and instincts -- is that that same man hovers more closely on the knife's edge of real violence than a more "civilized" man would.

Perhaps, at least for us, DD works so well precisely because we walk along that knife's edge -- and collapses in on its own repressed energy when we suppress it, as we've been doing for the past few months due to my resistance.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that had I not been resistant over the past two months, the incidents of random violence would not have occurred. Does this make what he did my fault? Absolutely not. Does that make what he did acceptable? Absolutely not. Am I owed a sincere apology for his having violated my person as he did? I believe so. And do I owe him an apology for having deserted him on the battlefield, when he counted on my support, thus triggering his most primitive responses? I believe that, too. But these, to me, are the easy questions to answer.

The harder questions are the ones we mostly don't ask. If I claim the right to be a woman in times of distress (read emotional, illogical, even hysterical at times, though I hate to use the word), than what right do I have to deny him the right to be a man at those same times under those same pressures? Have we drawn the lines of unacceptable behavior in a relationship so strictly and unforgivingly that we haven't left room for men to be men without accusing them of abusive (hence unforgivable) behavior? Is it perhaps time to revise our "one strike and you're out" approach to domestic violence, acknowledging that however well-intentioned, it actually makes things worse by increasing the pressure in all the wrong places?

I don't know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that modern feminist thought would make this a clear case, and for me at least, this is one case that isn't at all clear.

PS -- Thanks to those of you who've emailed in the last little while. I'm behind on responding, but will try to reply as soon as possible. Also, there's an article in the current issue of "Bitch" magazine written by Jessica Wakeman about domestic discipline. I haven't read it yet, so I don't know how accurate it is or what Jessica's ultimate take on DD is, but my partner and I were interviewed for it awhile ago and she seemed genuinely interested in learning about our weird ways... (For those who are interested in that sort of thing, my pseudonym in the article is apparently "Greta.")