Submission and Feminism Are Not Contradictions — Dr. Gloria Brame

Submission and feminism — the seeming paradox

“How can I act so submissive to a man?” my client fretted. “How can I be submissive and still claim to be a feminist? If any of my friends knew what I do for Master, even that I call him that, they’d . . .” The words trailed off, and she covered her face with her soft manicured hands. You’d never know how hard those hands had worked to build a life for herself and her kids, to claw her way back from tragedies to triumphs.

She is one of the scores of women I’ve worked with who were plagued by the seeming paradox between believing in gender equality and (if hetero) giving up power to men. Feminists shouldn’t kneel before men! They don’t grovel! They’re not supposed to take orders from a man, or be subservient to him!

If she wasn’t so turned on by it, she would think she was pathetic, my client said. Instead, she felt torn between submission and feminism. She delighted in submission but she hated herself when she drifted out of subspace. A voice in her head kept shouting “hypocrite!” and “shame on you!”

Why feminists may be suspicious of power exchange

On the outside, maledom/femsub relationships can look like bad old-fashioned abuse. He orders, she serves. He dominates, she submits. He hits, she takes it. He uses, she gets used. So it’s not surprising that some feminists are suspicious of such power dynamics.

That’s why it’s paramount to be aware of the fundamental differences between kink and abuse. The most obvious is the right to revoke consent at any time. The patriarchal abuser doesn’t stop when their partner says stop. The ethical BDSMer does.

Second, in patriarchal relationships, male power is assumed and may breed abuse. In BDSM, all parts of the relationship are consensual, negotiated, agreed to, and based on what both partners fantasize about and desire.

In other words, there is a world of difference between consensual power exchanges in BDSM and ingrained assumptions of gender inequality in patriarchal relationships.

Until and unless a woman emotionally processes these profound differences, she may always struggle with the seeming paradox of surrendering to someone else.

A Woman’s Sexual Freedoms

Let’s look at 5 premises of female sexual freedom.

Women should have the right to have sex according to their own needs and desires

Is it okay for a woman to aggressively pursue erotic adventure? If she’s a feminist, the answer is yes. It is “her body, her choice.” That extends to the type of sex she wants. And that can absolutely include submission.

Shame and guilt about kink are the damages wrought by a patriarchy that wants to dictate what women should like, even when those rules harm a woman’s emotional well-being. That is the rape culture that BDSM women escape.

A femsub has self-agency. Her sex life is her choice.

Women have the right to seek satisfaction

Did you ever meet a femsub who constantly complained about her Master, who said their sex life sucked, who felt treated like second-banana in the relationship?

If so, she probably left that relationship or plans to. Chances are she has solid support from other kinky people to move on and find that satisfaction she deserves.

Doms who try to manipulate and pressure subs into unwanted types of eroticism are considered predatory in our world. Compare that to marriages where husbands feel that wives owe them compliance.

Women have the right to do what they want with their bodies

Body autonomy is a key concept in feminism. It’s been applied to abortion rights but it goes further than reproductive choices. It is at the core of sexual freedom. She can choose how to live in her body; no one else has the right to make that choice for her.

It follows that the masochist who needs intense sensation has the right to allow someone to give her those sensations. The submissive who wants to feel owned has the right to give her body to someone else. The age-player who wants to climb into Daddy’s lap has the right to act like a little girl with the partner of her choice.

Only she inhabits her body. Only she knows what feels exquisitely exciting to her.

To play by anyone else’s rules — whether they’re politically correct, religious, or “one twue way” — is to surrender power to other peoples’ patriarchal beliefs.

Women have the right to say no

Feminists are adamant about a woman’s right to say no. Femsubs have a tool to do that — they have safewords.

Sometimes a safeword means “stop, I’m done” and sometimes it might be “stop because the rope got tight and I need you to fix it so we can keep playing.”

Similarly, all subs have the right to speak up when an experience isn’t working for them for any reason.

Femsubs can tap into extensive Kink education, mentoring, and peer support to learn about building consensual relationships. Safewords, negotiations, and contracts are the common tools they use to achieve the balance of power that feels right to them. And no means NO.

Submission and feminism are not contradictions

Sexual freedom is not defined by what role you choose to play. It’s about your freedom to have the sex life that’s right for YOU.

You are fighting the good fight — the pursuit of human happiness.

You are in charge of your sexuality, no matter how it may look to people who don’t get BDSM. You’re taking your feminism to the sheets, and getting your kicks from the things that feed your spirit. I see you, I know you, and I think you are amazing.

Credit where due: The Sadeian Women by Angela Carter was an early inspiration for rethinking the nature of feminism and sexual self-agency.

Originally published at on May 23, 2022.



Award-winning sex therapist, acclaimed sex author, and BDSM/Kink pioneer.

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Gloria Brame, Ph.D., Sex Therapist

Gloria Brame, Ph.D., Sex Therapist

Award-winning sex therapist, acclaimed sex author, and BDSM/Kink pioneer.