First, I’m going to state that this isn’t a fully formed thought yet, but it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while.
I’ve been spending sometime thinking about the concept of being owned, marked, and mated that is prominent within romance plots. This runs the gamut from “you’re mine” possessiveness to being “owned” in a 24/7 Master/Mistress and slave dynamic. In paranormal romances, it generally manifest as being mated for life in a way that means one dies without the other or can never have sexual pleasure again without their mate. In many, physical marking of one body by the other partner carries meaning for all who see it and is a necessary part of the ownership.
I have to acknowledge all of the problematic historical contexts and issues of racism and sexism bound within this idea of being “owned.” We cannot get away from the ways in which women and people of color have been treated as property in the eyes of the law throughout time and across many cultures. All of these cultural institutions from coverature to slavery have economic bases.
Even with that problematic historical context, the concept of being owned is popular–not simply in BDSM erotica as many might argue–but throughout many romance plots. The popularity of BDSM erotic romances indicate a desire to at least on a fantasy level to engage in the dynamic of gifting one’s submission to another. I want to be clear I’m not talking about the false choices to enact BDSM relationship that are sometimes present in romance novels…yes, I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey. Why is this idea so compelling? Why do these narratives thrive and entice? I ask myself these questions frequently as I read and enjoy a lot of these novels.
I can’t help but wonder if the appeal is the intensity of attention and emotionality that goes with being marked, mated, or owned within the universes of the stories but also traditionally in committed and/or collared relationships within BDSM in real life. It evokes an incredibly strong sense of belonging. In these relationships real and fictional it is also a two-way street. The people involved are both owned by the other person–they are bonded together though this approach. They are bound up in each other.
And yet as a feminist scholar, I’m constantly asked: shouldn’t we reject wholesale the notion of submission and therefore BDSM? The answer to that is absolutely not, remembering that the motto here is safe, sane, and consensual. But also that for many in the lifestyle Dominance and submission are not choices but an aspect that is ingrained in the person. I would recommend the great column Fucking with Feministing and also work by Clarisse Thorn. If you are looking for a great introduction to BDSM, I’d recommend Jay Wiseman’s SM 101: A Realistic Introduction.
Ok back to my original question though: why are stories that centralize the “you’re mine” moment and the “I own you” moment so terribly and wonderfully compelling? And more compelling not just to those predisposed to BDSM but to a widespread audience?
Stories, theories, etc. on this theme are welcome here.