The son extends her power; he is her security and her gallant champion; he is her ‘little man.’ She wants her young son to behave like a little man and strut a bit. She is amused by shows of precocious virility and can tease him cruelly…The mother builds up the son’s male ego and then cuts it down, ridiculing it contradictorily for both its crude power and its inadequacy…Such women can protest a chief’s action by treating him like a child They rely on ridicule and shame to get their way. No man can completely forget his former total dependence on a woman…men can never quite free themselves from the subliminal fear that they may yet slip back unawares into a childlike state and become once more women’s appendages and playthings. As women’s irresistible wiles seem endlessly varied, so are the forms of male subservience. –Yi-Fu Tuan, “Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets”
Much of masculinity hinges on this sort of coercion. Our culture has an impoverished view of freedom in regards to freedom exercised as male power. In reality, “male power” is not an expression of domination, but of submission to these sorts of coercions. In this sense, all women who use this coercion are rapists and all coerced men are victims of rape. In this sense, there is rape culture. In this sense, the locus of culturally acceptable violence and rape is the male body.
As Obama and other politicians tug at our heartstrings about the women and children victims of violence in Syria and in other places around the world, they simultaneously coerce men into exercising their “male power” by submitting to the committing of violence against other men and to violence against their own bodies. Like dogs who know the consequences of disobedience, so are men. The making of a man has typically been the making of a pet.
It’s time to rethink the nature of power, dominance, and submission. “Above all, a living thing wants to discharge its strength–life itself is will to power–self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of this…” (Nietzsche, BG&E). It’s time to rethink feminist narratives about so-called “male power.” Power is always at play, especially in gender dynamics. If you buy Nietzsche, it is an underlying fact of existence and human experience. Whether power be expressed as dominance or submission, through coercion or under coercion, nobody escapes it. Men who express this “will-to-power” by submitting to these sorts of coercions–they are not dominating. It is not our privilege. It is yours.