Monday, September 1, 2008

Spankings and The Cultural Imagination

Spankings are deemed acceptable forms of violence in our society.  Parents regularly site the bible as justification to spank their children. The entertainment industry has embraced this form of so called acceptable violence and  with a degree of regularity has shown spankings occurring where the victims are women and children.  What women and children have in common is that they are both vulnerable members of our society.  All children exist without power in the authoritarian parent child relationship, and many women exist without power in patriarchal relationships. We do not see these "spankings" as acts of violence because of who the victims are.

Looking through images in popular media it is common to see men asserting authority over women by issuing spankings for some perceived wrong.  If a woman asserts her rights, or refuses to follow the male  lead in any way shape, or form, it is considered an affront to male pride and power, thus causing an imbalance in gender roles. 

Power seeks to assert itself in many ways and there is often a sexual aspect to these spankings.  As the man repeatedly strikes the woman, she appears to be enjoying the beating and submitting with great enthusiasm.  Each strike is often accompanied by moans of pleasure, as well as grunts of pain.  The males are sometimes shown as the reluctant aggressor as though to relieve him of the responsibility of the violence of the act, yet his obvious pleasure in participating in violence clearly reifies that the purpose of said spanking is to serve his need to dominate. 

Though feminism has struggled hard to deconstruct our ideas about  gender, masculinity is still overwhelmingly associated with assertiveness, pride, rationality and power, conversely femininity is associated with nurturing, submission, frailty, irrationality and emotionalism. These differences even if correctly assigned are not necessarily negative, the problem ensues in the fact that we as a society have decided that the attributes of value are universally male.

We associate worth with power, and those that are able to wield it are often held in high regard irregardless of their abuses of power differentials.  This esteem is based on the fact that we have naturalized certain behaviours, in an effort to deny the role that social conditioning has on gender performativity.  If a boy is taught from birth that it is his right, or responsibility to be physically aggressive with the women in his life, upon adulthood he will come to view violence as an acceptable way of asserting his authority.  Even in homes where no physical violence is present  throughout childhood, due to the pervasiveness of our media culture a child will witness many instances wherein a male will not only be encouraged to be violent but rewarded for said behaviour. 

We have fetishized spankings and in some cases eroticized the experience to the degree that we cannot see them for the violent acts that they are.  Some women will say that in an S&M relationship that they enjoy being the bottom. I personally cannot understand the link between pain and sexual pleasure in this manner, I can however accept for some women that this may be their truth.  My issue lies in the fact that very rarely is the reverse portrayed in the media. Images of spanking almost always show the male aggressor and the female submissive. This division is too closely associated with the power differential in our society for these images to be anything more than reaffirming patriarchal control.



Natasha said...

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Quixotess said...

Goddamn it was so hard to watch that video all the way through. It's interesting the difference between the older clips and the newer. Older clips seem not to make any pretense that the woman is enjoying her spanking--it's a punishment that she rightfully deserves, she shouldn't enjoy it although she must submit to it. The newer ones, though, seem more pleasurable to the woman--it's no longer acceptable for a man to spank a woman who doesn't want it, so of course they portray her as wanting it either expressly or deep down inside, that nasty little slut, she likes it when a man hurts her and that makes it okay.

Cripes. Excellent analysis, especially illuminated by the video. It's hard to disagree that these women are being treated exactly like children.

selkie said...

I found your comments and the video interesting; a few comments.

First, I abhor spanking as a form of discipline to children or to women - I have four kids and we NEVER used corporeal punishment on them; to me, all it would do was teach them (a) we're bigger and stronger than them, and (b) violence is a way to deal with things.

Now frankly, some of the excerpts on the video were disturbing to me and some were not. I found the ones where the man was the stern, paternalistic disciplinarian completely misognistic and abhorrent. Other excerpts where the interaction (TO ME) appeared consensual and equal, I found amusing, not bothersome.

I happen to enjoy spanking - and yes, it is a sexual turn on for me - NOT some of what I see out there on the net where the woman's bottom is abused and seriously hurt but as part of intense sexual play with my long-term, much loved and MUCH trusted partner, delightful!

Spanking between my partner and I have NEVER been a form of punishment - that is absurd to my mind to the extreme. As an adult, NO ONE has the right to exert "punishment" on me for impagined or real wrongs and I would NEVER tolerate it for a moment.

Megan Bayliss said...

Great post as usual. It is interesting - if we were to hit an adult like we hit our children, we would be charged with assault. Surely that alone speaks to people of the violence of spanking!

Spanking is a fear based child rearing technique. I prefer my children to learn and grow with respect and a culture of non violence.

I stand with you and say - no spanking and no more patriarchal power over women and children

darkcraft said...

This is a syllogistic argument. Not all that is masculine is dominating, not all that is dominating is masculine. Why the assumption the two are synonymous?

The assertion that female-male domination is 'very rarely' seen in the media is insubstantial - what evidence do you have of this? Are you telling me the dominatrix, with her whip, high heels and bodice, or the scolding mother or grandmother, are somehow less prominent in popular consciousness, and again, with what evidence?

Regarding erotic pseudopunishment, speaking as a practitioner, the theme is simply not gender-specific.

Renee said...


Agreed not all social construction of masculinity is dominate but the majority of it is in comparison to female.

Yes the image of the dominatrix is less popular and further your argument about ball busting women is disingenuous. When women show strength through verbal castigation they are either ignored or belittled...I am sure you are no stranger to the label nag.

As far as those that enjoy/perform S&m I never said that there was a gender specific behavior, this discussion is about the imbalance of violence in the media.

silencer said...

I have had women ask me to spank them many times.
I don't like it, but they told me it pleasured them. What do you do?

JB said...

The same argument could be made for any form of physical and/or verbal contact between any two people.

Asking a question is an assertion of power, because it demands a response, thus putting the responder in a lower power position of submission.

Saying "How about them Yankees/Dodgers/Cubs?" is an assertion of dominance, because it is used to define the in-group / outgroup status of the person hearing the statement, and an inappropriate answer will place that person in a liminal status.

Walking is a submissive act, in that it renders us subject to the laws of gravity, a law discovered by a patriarchal dead white male.

It's really best to just stay in bed and not say anything.

Or maybe, just maybe, some people like playing with traditional gender roles, either as a way of reaffirming their status in that role, or as a way of redefining it for themselves.

"Images of spanking almost always show the male aggressor and the female submissive."


Try googling "FemDom Porn" and see if you still think that's the case.

Or did you mean the mainstream TV shows that nobody under 40 watches anymore?

Note that some gay and lesbian couples also enjoy spankings / S&M. What does that say when there is no gender imbalance involved?

Spanking as an erotic act is substantially (but obviously not entirely) different from spanking as a punishment done out of anger.

Spanking as an erotic act is all about triggering an endorphin response / increasing blood flow to the buttocks / genital area, which is inherently pleasurable, and can make the following sexual activity even more pleasurable.

It all depends on what floats your boat.

Maybe you just haven't been properly spanked.

Quixotess said...

To the two commenters above: Renee has explicitly said that she accepts spanking may be erotic for some people. She does not have an issue with what you do in the privacy of your own homes. Her critique is centered around media portrayals, not real life.

To take another example, none of us would go up to a happy, financially stable, independent, safe US sex worker and tell her that she isn't happy or safe. That would be absurd. But we would take issue with a widespread portrayal in the media of US sex workers as generally safe and happy, because that denies the pain of all the sex workers who are not.

Mekhismom said...

I don't really have much to add that hasn't been said but I think that when I have seen media portrayals of "spanking" it is almost always wiht a female in the dominatrix role.

But I do agree that we can find other solutions to discipline our children, how can you teach a child not to be violent by hitting them?

JB said...

"To take another example, none of us would go up to a happy, financially stable, independent, safe US sex worker and tell her that she isn't happy or safe."

Umm, actually I probably would, as, unlike women who like to be spanked, well-adjusted safe and happy sex workers don't really exist.

It's just a question of how in denial they are.

Renee said...

@JB Women that work in the sex trade are not all unhappy. For some it is a choice that they have actively made and that should be acknowledged. Simply because you do not understand something does not make it any less of a reality.

Anonymous said...

Are some of you retarded, or just extremely ignorant on the subject of which you speak?

Sons get spanked just as much as daughters do, and usually to a harder degree.

There are videos ALL OVER THE PLACE showing men being spanked. How you think this mostly applies to women is beyond me.

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