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.


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