I often hear stories of seminal events that occurred in childhood. That seems to be the time when things are etched into our psyche and turn up as kinks later in life. As a sadomasochistic dominant, I can look back on various episodes back then and see how each is like a piece of the puzzle. I was quite dominant as a little girl – yes, I was a brat. I ordered my older brothers around. For whatever reason, in my family’s house they had to do chores but I never did. So they basically waited on me. I was also a sadist, though not necessarily a pure-hearted one. I recall seeing my little brother standing on a stool reaching for something in the cupboard. I wanted to see what it would be like to watch him fall, so I pulled the stool out from under him. I confess these things now, there is not pride for these actions. It simply helps explain who I am. And there is my masochistic side. I remember jokingly hitting a boy I liked over the head with a tetherball – I know, more sadism, but wait there’s more! He was not amused and retaliated by repeatedly throwing his flip-flops at my bare feet. It stung but I kept laughing because I didn’t want to show that it hurt. I thought it was very brave to hold the pain inside.
People often associate sadism with strength and masochism with weakness. Yet to take pain into one’s body and hold it there and then take more – to me, that can be a very brave thing to do. And sadism unchecked by morality is a weak and evil thing.
Masochism is interesting in that it is often used to describe what women do to themselves. Troubled girls who starve themselves, or cut themselves or let themselves be hurt by another. It’s funny how the world can look so different depending on one’s perspective. Because to me, masochism is not that different from another similar-sounding word – machismo or being macho. To be a real man, you take the pain and keep on going, you are tough and roll with the punches. And you have the war wounds to prove it. How is that so different from masochism?
I recall a conversation I had with a man who used to perpetually frustrate me. He was one of these men who put everything that a woman said through a filter of what he defined as womanhood: to him, weakness, simplicity and manipulation. He was a chauvinist, but in such in a subtle way that he could still come off as hip and have a girlfriend who was into goddess worship. I was telling a group of people a story about when I was in high school. I used to compete in speech and debate tournaments every weekend for almost 4 years. I almost always came home with a trophy – there are hundreds still in storage at my parents’ house. I used to get so worked up over winning that sometimes I’d get laryngitis. It came like clockwork right before the competition and I’m sure it was psychosomatically induced. I’d compete anyways hoarse voice and all, slay dragons, then take my trophy home. Then the next day it would go away, only to come back again for the next tournament the following weekend. So I told this story and the chauvinist says to me, “My, you are a fragile girl.” That’s what he got out of my story. Very different from my perspective, to say the least!
Suffering as weakness. Suffering as strength. Masochism versus Machismo.