Thursday, November 26, 2009

Strong Women

By Ashley Lister

I was quite surprised when I heard someone describe a handful of my titles as ‘fem-dom fiction.’ I went back and read the title to which they were referring. Sure enough, the central protagonist was female and she did hold the dominant role in instigating sexual encounters. But I had never made a conscious effort to specifically write something in the fem-dom genre.

Whilst teaching a recent writing class, the theme of gender was touched on. Students were arguing the differences between men and women and telling me that women are more softly spoken whilst men usually have more authority. Women discuss things in more details (such as colours, emotions and styles) whilst men are less affective in their language and use their vocabulary to describe the practical and the pragmatic. I listened patiently, before explaining that men and women are exactly the same, save for one trivial difference: men are better at writing their names in the snow.

I know we live in a patriarchal hegemony. I’m aware that studies have been carried out showing that reinforced gender stereotypes are an inescapable part of contemporary culture. But I don’t think that’s a part of the world where I live, and it’s certainly not a factor that has influenced any of my writing.

I was born in a country ruled by a female monarch and governed by a female prime minister. The majority of my teachers were female whilst I was at school and, with very few exceptions, the majority of places where I’ve worked through my life have found me working beneath a female employer.

Which means I’ve never fallen into the trap of thinking women are naturally subservient and men are naturally dominant. I’ve known all along that it’s never about gender: it’s all about the character and their personality.

Glancing through my other titles, I know that my erotic fiction isn’t exclusively focused on the fem-dom genre. I’ve written novels with dominant males and submissive females. And I’ve written novels where heterosexual couples share a parity of status and an absolute equality. And, throughout all of those stories, it’s never been about the gender: it’s always about the character. Dominance, whether it’s sexual, physical or psychological, is seldom about gender. In the world in which I live and write it’s always about character.

To illustrate, the following lines are from the opening pages of my short story ‘Victoria’s Hand,’ which appeared in Rachel Kramer Bussel’s anthology, She’s On Top.

Victoria’s Hand

London, England, 1890

The parlour was quiet enough so Victoria could hear the tick of the grandfather from the hall outside. Stark spring sunlight filtered through the net curtains to illuminate the elegant furnishings. The family’s finest bone china was laid out on a lily-white tablecloth. The afternoon tea was complete with freshly baked French fancies. Sitting comfortably in one of the parlour’s high-backed chairs, Victoria placed one lace-gloved hand over the other, adjusted her voluminous skirts, and stared down at Algernon as he knelt before her.

She knew what was coming.

She had anticipated this day for months.

Before he started to speak, she knew what he was going to say.

It was the first time they had ever been together without a chaperone. Unless he had come to the house with this specific purpose her parents would not have allowed her to spend any time alone with a suitor. The idea of her being alone with a man was simply too scandalous for civilised society to contemplate.

“Victoria, my dearest,” he began.

There was a tremor of doubt in his voice. Victoria liked that. It suggested he wasn’t entirely certain that she would say yes. His bushy moustache bristled with obvious apprehension. His Adam’s apple quivered nervously above his small, tied cravat. His large dark eyes stared up at her with blatant admiration. He looked as though his entire future happiness rested on her response to this single question.

She was dizzied by the rush of rising power.

“I’ve spoken to your father,” Algernon began. “I’ve discussed the matter with my own parents and employer. I’ve even gained tacit approval from the local bishop. But now comes the time for the most important response of all, my dearest. Victoria: I’ve come to ask for your hand.”

She smiled smugly to herself.

Outwardly her face remained an impassive mask.

“Algernon,” she murmured. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say yes,” he said quickly.

She allowed her lips to twist into a demure smile.

He fumbled in the pocket of his waistcoat and produced a small gilt-edged box. Almost dropping it in his haste he snapped the lid open and showed her a quaint ring that was encrusted with microscopically small semi-precious stones. She recognised it as one of the DEAREST rings that were currently enjoying popularity. The initial letter of each stone – a diamond, an emerald, an amethyst, a ruby, another emerald, a sapphire and a topaz – spelt out the word DEAREST. The eclectic collection of colours made Victoria think it looked more like a childish novelty than a genuine declaration of their betrothal.

“This is a mere token,” he explained.

“Yes,” Victoria agreed. She made no attempt to take the offered jewellery. “It is a mere token. With the emphasis heavily on the word “mere,” I think.”

He blinked with surprise.

She could see it was time to test his mettle. Straightening her back, quietly deciding she liked having Algernon on his knees before her, Victoria said, “”Do you want me to consider you as a potential husband?”

“I’d be honoured.”

“Then get your cock out. Let me see what I’d be getting.”

The words hung between them like a thrown gauntlet. The grandfather in the hall outside continued to tick loudly. Algernon studied her face with an expression that was almost comical. “Victoria?” he whispered meekly. “I don’t think I heard you correctly. Could you please forgive me and say that again?”

“Get your cock out,” Victoria said flatly. “If I’m going to consider marrying you I want to make sure you’re carrying something more impressive than that crappy little ring you just offered me…”


  1. Hi, Ashley,

    I agree that men and women are more alike than they are different, despite all the media attempts to convince us that the two genders come from different planets. I do believe, though,that sometimes an individual's background and history will predispose him or her towards being dominant or submissive -- irrespective of the gender.

    On the other hand, some people claim that one's role in a power exchange is due to genetic predisposition.

    Anyway, I do think that some of your stories and novels would definitely be labeled femdom by afficionados.

    (And I did love "Victoria's Hand" -- what else can you expect but obedience from a guy named Algernon?)


  2. Both Algernon and I were blinking with surprise :)
    As one who appreciates victorian jewelry, it was nice to see the "dearest" ring reference too. Nice detail.
    I want to know what happens next!

  3. Lisabet,

    I might have been over-simplifying things when I said that men are better at writing their names in the snow than women but, I don't think it's too over-simplified. Men aren't from Mars and women aren't from Venus. We're all the products of gender-stereotyping here on planet earth. And it's what we do with those stereotypes that defines how we see ourselves and our gender-opposites.

    And I think got the name Algernon from reading The Importance of Being Earnest. Who could resist giving a character a name that would be contracted to 'Algie.'



  4. Jicky,

    I was enchanted by the 'dearest' ring when I first saw one. However, I was also with a lady who dismissed it as a piece of 'lucky-bag-crap,' in a similar vein to Victoria in the story.

    As for what happens next...

    I think it's fair to say that Algernon keeps asking for Victoria's hand ;-)



  5. Hi Ashley!

    This is the first time I think I've ever read any of your fiction. I was caught by the fact that after that last sentence I found myself thinking "Hey - and THEN what happened?" That's a good sign, that's the mark of good story telling. I like both of those characters.

    I also think its interesting that european views of women can be so different in some ways from 20th century views. Times have changed. But American women were definately subservient since pioneer days. But when WWII came around, all the men went over where you are fighting the Nazis and the women were in the factories building the tools of war. But when the men came back, the women were ordered - by the President in a national speech no less - to get back in the kitchen. But women didn;t want to go back to the kitchen. That's when it all began to change. But it sounds like where you are, this me Tarzan You Jane thing never existed. Is that true?


  6. Hey Ash,

    Nice post, great excerpt. One question, and this is why I don't do historicals: Would the word 'crappy' be used?

    And, I'm not going to go into why I believe men and women are different, yet so much alike. Two sides of a coin: men are one, women the other. The sides look a lot alike in a lot of ways, but there are important differences. How's that?

    Yes, I do believe Algie would have blinked, gulped a couple of times and whipped his cock out to show the lady he's got the goods. He'd have blushed too, Victoria, not.

    Very interesting post.


  7. Garce,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the snippet. Victoria's Hand is one of my favourite stories.

    I suppose I'm painting an idyllic picture of life in my neck of the UK. There are plenty of Tarzan/Jane relationships but I seldom find myself associating with Tarzan/Jane types: I just don't have the tolerance for macho posturing :-)



  8. Jude,

    Crap comes from the Dutch (Krappe) and was a comparatively early import into the English language - maybe around Shakespeare's times.

    I suspect you're right that the adjectivial form (crappy) wouldn't have been in use in Victorian England. However, Victoria in my story is a touch anachronistic in her attitudes and values, so I figure that can overlap into her vocabulary a little too.



  9. Hooray for non-gender-stereotyping perspectives. And hooray for Earnest. Hooray for you, Ash!

    I think it's fair to say that Algernon keeps asking for Victoria's hand ;-)

    Ha! Well said.

  10. Jeremy, of course he does. But, what does he wish her to do with her hand, there's the question. Hehehe!


  11. Jeremy,

    Thanks for reading. I figured you might like the start to that story.



  12. Always loved that name: Algie. Why on earth would you want to be Earnest with a name like that? ;)

    I had the same reaction, Garce, then what?? Dang it, another to be added to my TBR.

    Thanks for the post, Ash!