So I’ve talked before about invisible (“invisible”) class structures, and what we (meaning mainstream culture) get taught to value and not value over the courses of our lives. This is a related topic. Specifically, what happens when those culturally conditioned values show up in your head after you’d thought you’d got rid of them?

Specifically, since this is a piece on Power Exchange, I’m wondering how we deal with subservience when, while it’s (theoretically) valued in our sub-culture and is actually (one hopes) valued in our dynamics, it’s very much devalued/unvalued (and yet expected) in the mainstream culture we all, in various ways, grew up absorbing.

My Ghost and a friend of ours led a workshop together a while back. It was about service and different ways of looking at it. And they asked their attendees to throw out some suggestions about service that isn’t kink-related. And the answers that came up included professions like “house-keeper” but didn’t include other service-professions like, say, “fire fighter”.
See the difference?
I mean, leaving aside the feminine vs masculine associations (although that is worth noting) of those two examples, what I mean to point out is that, when asked to name non-kink-related services, the go-to answers were most, if not all, under-paid and un(der)-valued professions. Which suggests that, as a community, whether we like it or not, we have an association between “service” and “non-valued”.
Which sucks, not to put too fine a point on it.

There are other essays that talk about this connection (check out Pat Califia’s work, or Andrea Zanin’s blog, or Yes Means Yes for some examples) and the behaviours and presumptions that it leads to – assumptions about who will (or should) volunteer to do clean up after an event (or set-up beforehand), or about who should get a thank-you and for what; or about the different ways tops are discouraged from exploring bottoming (including, but not limited to, ridicule and gendered roll policing) – so I’m not planning on spending a lot of time on the how of it here.

I’m more curious (or worried?) about how these culturally-indoctrinated assumptions crop up in our heads when we are trying to be Good Dom(me)s and value our submissive for what they give us (materially/physically, yeah, but even more so emotionally and energetically). I mean, if I’m touched all to heck by the way my girl yields to me, and I value both the skills she offers for my use AND the headspace she occupies when she serves me… how can I get away with feeling worthless when I’m doing the dishes? Doesn’t that really screw up the dynamic if I have this seriously negative emotional association with subservience within myself?

If I feel like a chump[1] when I do the housework for someone else. I feel like I’m letting myself be Taken Advantage Of. I feel like “If I were a real domme, I’d never, ever so much as touch a dish-rag”. I catch myself berating myself about being such a “wuss”, for being a “push-over” or “pathetic” for just doing what I’ve been told instead of engaging with something intellectually and Thinking About It and making a (production out of making a) decision to do whatever-it-is This Particular Time, but not necessarily every time.

It’s kind of awful. :-\

Because I can’t help wondering, or worrying[2] (more accurately), if I’m harbouring those feelings for my Ghost, or for anyone else who is happiest is service to someone else. Do I, on some level, think that my Ghost is a fool for offering this to me[3]? Do I think she’s pathetic or pitiable or contemptible for wanting to serve? I don’t think that’s the case. But I do know that I’ve had trouble in the past wrapping my head around the good she gets from doing it.

Maybe that’s because I’m desperately self-absorbed, or because some part of me never left the “Everyone feels just like me, 100% of the time!” of childhood; or maybe it’s because my own relationship with Helping People Out has, knitted through it, a whole lot of being taken for granted… Or maybe it’s just because I’m far-better wired for receiving service than I am for giving it[4]. But I catch myself waiting for the resentful reprimand when I give an order or make a decision (or should that be decree).

Anyway. Slight (and rather recurring) tangent there, for a moment.

What I’m getting at is this: How do you reconcile those two sets of feelings? Valuing servitude in others – really valuing it, recognizing a person’s gift of service and loyalty and obedience as a gift, and one of great price, at that… and yet feeling un-valuable (or similar), deserving of the kind of scorn & dismissal that gets heaped upon those who, for example, work in the kinds of service professions brought up at the workshop I mentioned, above, when one takes on the roll of grunt-worker for someone else in one’s own life?

And, yeah, I’m speaking here from the perspective – the fairly narrow perspective, I suspect – of a dominant who doesn’t have it in her (as far as she can tell, anyway) to Switch, to occupy the roles of both the servant and the servee. Many of the people in my life who do Power Exchange to this degree do have the ability and desire to occupy both roles. My Ghost is one of them. Her own submissive is another. For folks like that, it’s possible to value oneself in both roles… although I wonder how many Switch-types feel more at home in one role than the other and so filter the other through the les of the one, viewing dominance as a for of service or viewing submission as a means of being in control of all the little details. Or something.
I don’t really know.

But I ask you: How do you reconcile these feelings?
I’d like to find an easy way out, so to speak, and be able to say “Well, you don’t have to” and construct some kind of justification around the themes of “different strokes for different folks” or something, and that it’s possible to love in someone else what you despise in yourself, or value in someone else what makes you feel miserable to undertake… and it is, I guess, because I’m doing it. The whole “opposites attract” situation, or something like that.
But I don’t really think that’s the right thing to do; acting like everything’s fine when, maybe, it isn’t.

Instead… Okay, let me take things back a little bit. A long time ago, I had a counselor who told me that I have to find the good in things – she was talking about retail, specifically, but this is a general-purpose piece of advice – before you can let them go. She was very Jungian about things and talked a lot about the Shadow and finding ways to care for and value the parts of yourself that you really just want to shut up in a drawer somewhere and forget about.

I think it’s a bit like that. There are things about subservience, or things I associate with subservience, that I don’t like to see in myself and that I associate with powerlessness[5].

It’s funny. So much of dominance, in 24/7 situations, is about letting yourself be vulnerable, letting yourself depend (in so many ways) on someone else. People have commented about how, when they first started receiving service, they were afraid (irrationally so, no less) that they would literally forget how to do laundry or switch on a vacuum cleaner or where the sugar is kept in their own house. When you’re The Boss of someone else to the point that they’re signing their pay-cheques over to you… where is the line between “your servant is financially dependent upon you because they literally have no money of their own” and “you are financially dependent upon your servant because its their name on the cheque they’ve signed over to you, and what kind of money are you making on your own?” Y’know? Where’s the line between “I never have to touch my soggy boot laces in winter” and “I can no-longer do my own shoes up by myself”, to pick a different kind of extreme example.
Given all of that, then, why is it that I feel more vulnerable, more exposed to pain and fear and depression, when I’m filling a service role (whether that’s by working a service job, like retail, or picking up the slack when my servant is recovering from a bad fall) than I do when I’m receiving the attentions and dedication of someone else filling that role for my benefit?

So I have to ask myself: How do I do that in this situation? How do I find the service-y parts of myself and see how they make me stronger and more capable rather than the ways that undertaking those kinds of actions leaves me feeling weak or easily exploitable.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about of late.

Ms Syren.

[1] Yeah, I went there. I’m going to use the nasty words that go with the feelings I have around doing house work, following someone else’s directives unquestioningly, and otherwise doing all the things that I really, really want my submissive to do for me. I’m kind of holding my breath here because using those words means showing her (and, well, anyone else reading this) that I’ve got those feelings in me at all.

[2] My Ghost says I worry too much. And I do. I only hope I’ve got nothing to worry about with this. :-\

[3] Well, I do occasionally wonder when the shoe is going to drop and she’s going to start wondering what she was thinking, but…

[4] Well, that at least is true.

[5] Which is not the same as having power and surrendering it to someone else, I don’t think.