Katherine O’Kelly on Female-Led Relationships

I’ve wanted to write about female Dominance and male submission in healthy romantic relationships for ages, but there’s so much I want to say on the subject it’s been daunting to start so the article never gets written. So I’m gonna tackle this beloved subject the way I’d go about eating an elephant: one bite at a time. (Yeah, elephants are endangered species, but you know what – so are FemDommes and boysubs!)

I consider “Domme” to be my sexuality more than something on the straight/gay spectrum. I know I want to be the wooer, the protector, the more lovingly-aggressive partner in my relationships. I want to pop the question on bended knee, sweep my beloved from his feet, be the active agent during sex, and comfort my spouse when he’s depressed. Long before I could articulate this nebulous preference, even as a little girl I was attracted to submissive male characters in movies and television. I was confused by girl classmates who would wait forever for a boy to ask them out. Why not just grab him by the wrist and ask him out yourself, I wondered. Back then, I harshly judged girls waiting for a boy to ask as blind conformity to tradition at best and cowardice at worst. Now I see it as a desired relationship role: some like to woo, and others want to be wooed. Some don’t care either way and that’s cool. But if you’ve got a strong preference and it means the difference between happiness and misery in a relationship, then it’s something worth sticking by.

I used to mentally call FemDomme/boysub relationships “gender reversed”, but I’ve since decided that it’s about relationship <em>roles</em> rather than sex/gender, so I prefer “role reversed relationships.” I used to think I had to be perceived as more male to express the wooer/pursuer/protector/bread-winner batch of husbandly stereotypes I love to live out. Now I support people being able to play certain relationship roles like “husband” or “wife” without inherent gender associations. A man shouldn’t have to become a woman to be vulnerable, delicate, or nurturing, and woman shouldn’t have to become a man to be cocky, protective, and the head of the household.

I think of how attracted I am to playing the Domme role in a relationship and conversely how repulsed I am at playing the role of the submissive (though attracted to and respectful of this role in potential romantic partners) and it feels like an innate orientation that goes way beyond simple preference. But if “orientation” seems too strong a word, then consider it boiled down to personality type. A personality assessment test may reveal that you’re introverted rather than extroverted, driven by imagination more than logic, or a leader/organizer more than a follower/participant. People of both sexes can have a wide range of personality types. And, of course, plenty of women end up on the leader/organizer side of things and plenty boys end up on the follower/participant. So why not let men be the explicitly submissive partner in heterosexual relationships? Why are Female Dominant/male submissive partnerships relegated to somewhere between nonexistent and fetishized?

“That’s silly,” I hear some of you thinking, “There are plenty of confident Domme women in movies/media/real life.” That’s true, but these strong women characters are almost invariably 1) single or 2) in a partnership with a man who’s equally strong and independent. There are plenty of examples of power-equal partnerships and relationships, but not where the relationship roles are inverted, where the woman is the adventurous leader and the man is her happy sidekick. Consider the following sex-reversed scenarios you’ll never see in mainstream movies: Dr. Who is a woman and a man is her slavish tag-along Boy Friday, or British superspy Jane Bond steps out of a Rolls Royce her eye candy boy du jour, or it’s Indiana Jane with an awed, bumbling male follower.

Even harder to find than a Domme woman is a submissive male. It’s socially acceptable for women to run the gamut from tough chicks to girly girls, but meek, vulnerable males are almost universally reviled. I’m guessing this stems from a toxic blend of misogyny and homophobia: a man who cries in public is womanish (how vile!) or if he’s bubbly and capable of expressing his feelings, he clearly must be gay (just as bad!) So the sensitive, exuberant, demure, and/or delicate male surely can’t be a heterosexual. Extremely few sub men like this appear in popular media. When they do, they, like Domme women, are almost always single. I know a few men and boys in real life who may feel a little safe to be helpless and vulnerable behind closed doors, but they always feel pressured to put up the shields and “man up” in public. It’s heartbreaking to see an otherwise self-expressive person suddenly clam up in public and change who they are just to duck away from mainstream criticism. We allow girls to be boys, but we don’t let boys be girls. And I think supporting “female” roles for men and letting this be okay (Attractive and desirable, even!) is good for women as these roles become less stigmatized and “Other” by the male majority. The amount of sex-based discrimination that men face compared to women may be comparing a teaspoon to a gallon, but I believe “gender egalitarianism”— including the fight for men’s freedom of personal expression—has a several advantages over woman-focused feminism alone.

There will be many more posts on this topic from me in the future for sure. I also hope to write spotlight posts to highlight those rare examples of awesome FemDommes and sub males in mainstream media. Your comments and thoughts are always welcome!

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Katherine O’Kelly is a science fiction writer who specializes in off-genre fantasy and character-driven “soft” sci-fi. By writing from the perspective of the ‘Other’, she provides light-hearted commentary on human social norms from the viewpoint of someone who lives outside of them. She loves a good in-depth discussion about writing, gaming, Sci-fi/fantasy fandom, and gender equality.


  1. I always was the one who asked the guy out. I was a pretty intimidating gal since as I was growing up I was a huge tomboy. I played sports with the boys and as it got to high school, some of their views changed, but they were hesitant to bridge that gap. In fact, I was once called a lesbian just because I lifted weights and trained like a maniac with the guys.

    However, I found it liberating and never bossed around my boyfriends. I enjoyed it because we had more in common to talk about rather than be mall rats and movie buffs.

  2. Great piece Katherine.

    I am a case in point, I feel that my true character would be best matched to the stereotypical female role. In reality I have to act completely differently in public (and in private too) in order to be taken seriously. As a child I was falsely acused of being gay and my longterm girlfriend has difficulty with some of my character traits.

    I love browsing for clothes, cooking and I like art and design. I am utterly useless at DIY but when anything goes wrong she assumes that it is my role to fix it…