It’s difficult to walk away from an episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” without thinking to oneself, ”Every single one of these women needs massive amounts of therapy” … yet we do it in a way that keeps us TiVoing their table-flipping drama week after week. But a new book published by Melissa Gorga, called Love Italian Style, filled with her so-called ‘marriage advice tips’ crosses into the realm of seriously disturbing.
Clearly the Gorgas have a traditional-style marriage. That does not suit everyone’s tastes. However, Melissa Gorga doesn’t simply fulfill the traditional feminine role in her marriage by cooking meals, cleaning the house and being primary caretaker of the children. As Amelia wrote about yesterday, she advises satisfying your husband’s sexual desires at all times, fashioning herself into his own personal “puttana [Italian slang for "whore"]” in the bedroom, lest her husband be driven to cheat. She explains how Joe is liable to be less angry at her for making mistakes when she’s been putting out.
Then there’s the part where Gorga gives a thumbs-up to marital rape:
Men, I know you think your woman isn’t the type who wants to be taken. But trust me, she is. Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says “no,” turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated.
There’s the playful, “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” no that I hope Melissa Gorga is referring to. Then there’s the “no means no” no that makes turning your wife around and ripping her clothes off rape. Gorga doesn’t elucidate any difference. Nor does Gorga seem to find it disconcerting, as Jezebel pointed out, that Joe is prone to “violent outbursts” — like breaking a baby’s highchair — that cause her to “modify her own behavior” to please him. Still, Gorga repeatedly writes that marriage should based upon respect.
Melissa Gorga’s basic claim — which is offensively attributes to all of Italian culture — is that “Husbands want their wives to submit; wives want our husbands to dominate.” This gender essentialist argument is really fucking problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, not all husbands and wives are the same. Second of all, there are plennnnty of couples who have hot, fulfilling dominant/submissive sex in the bedroom — and even carry that D/s dynamic outside the bedroom — who do not engage in physical abuse or rape.
I would never want anyone to think that people who enjoy D/s sex are caught in the cycle of abuse — that is already a harmful stereotype kinksters struggle against. And I want these two clowns to stop kidding themselves that anything they’re doing is healthy. So, for Joe and Melissa Gorga — and everyone else — here’s everything you wanted to know about dominant and submissive relationships are and more importantly, are not:
What does “dominant” and “submissive” even mean?
Being dominant (D) and being submissive (s) are two halves of the same coin. Obviously I am highly simplifying this, but a dominant wants to lead and a submissive wants to follow. It’s not about just liking it this way; person after person will tell you that being D or s hits a psychological need that most of us can’t meet in our day-to-day lives. We feel needed, wanted and loved by a partner who fulfills that private need to take care of or be taken care of. That’s why oftentimes you can’t even tell whether someone is D or s until you get to know them intimately; it’s not something you go around beating your chest announcing. (I’m so upset that Melissa Gorga passes off her husband’s chauvinist, controlling behavior as him just being “Italian.” My ass!)
Are all submissives stay-at-home moms like Melissa Gorga? Does being submissive mean you don’t work?
God no. First of all, there are submissive men, too. Being D or s isn’t a gender-based thing (although it’s generally acknowledged that more women enjoy being submissive than men do).While there certainly are submissive women who are SAHMs, that role is not written in stone. In fact, the sign of a truly abusive relationship is when one person tries to cut off the other person’s source of income. (To be clear, I’m not insinuating the Gorgas do this. On page 171 Melissa Gorga explains they share a joint-bank account with the money she earns from “Housewives.”) If a partner — even a dominant partner — insists that you quit or leave your job so that they can be your only source of income, that raises enormous red flags. Submissives have jobs, hold leadership positions in activities, and espouse their opinions — loudly, in fact. I have been open about being sexually submissive for several years now and you would be shocked, sincerely, at the amount of well-educated, successful women who have confessed to me that they, too, are submissive. Being submissive is not the portrait that Melissa Gorga paints of herself and her marriage.
So it means, like, the dominant partner is totally in control? Is this about playing mind games?
No. Not at all. A true, healthy D/s relationship isn’t about “control” or one person getting what they want out of the other person through force, coercion or manipulation. There’s a huge difference between a submissive relinquishing control over certain aspects of their life by choice — say, deciding where to eat dinner or where to go on vacation — and being a doormat. A dominant can do the lion’s share of decision-making outside of the bedroom or is sexually “in control” in the bedroom and still treat their submissive partner like a human being with agency and independence. When Melissa Gorga writes (page 151 in Love Italian Style):
“[Joe] wanted to set a precedent of how he wanted his wife to be. He flexed his muscles. His style was to make corrections and to teach me from the beginnings of our marriage exactly how he envisioned our life together.”
Notice Gorga’s language here: how he wanted, his style, how he envisioned. This is enormously troubling.
Do dominants get sex whenever they want it?
No again. Being dominant doesn’t mean being coercive, manipulative or forceful about getting sex on demand. (Gorga: “In the beginning, Joe wanted to have sex every single day, at least once, if not twice or three times … If I didn’t give it to him once a day, he’d get upset.”) And it sure as shit doesn’t mean ignoring “no” and committing sexual assault.
So you can be submissive and still give enthusiastic consent?
Of course you can. Just because you like being submissive in bed — whatever that means to you: being on the bottom, performing oral sex, being spanked, roleplaying — doesn’t mean you’re required to do everything and anything a dominant wants to do. You get to say “yes” to what want and “no” to what you don’t want. And just like in every other sexual situation, consent to one activity doesn’t mean consent to all activities.
Do dominants yell and scream at submissives?
Um … maybe when they’re angry? But that has nothing to do with actually being dominant. Again, it’s not about having permission to be an unrepentant asshole. Every couple has arguments and fights and maybe they yell or scream or maybe they deal with their anger in more constructive ways. But being submissive isn’t about being a punching bag for your partner’s hot temper. When Gorga writes that “if he gets one ounce of flack from me, he flips a switch and goes off” and she doesn’t give her husband “attitude” but “he yells at me … I can take it,” I cringe.
Do dominants hit submissives?
A lot of dominants and submissives, I would bet money, play around with consensual spanking, choking, restraint and other types of rough sex in the bedroom. Nothing about being dominant makes it OK to be violent towards your partner outside of bed.
Can you be in a D/s relationship and still be a feminist?
Of course you can. Being personally D or s in your own private life doesn’t mean you believe all men or all women should behave like you or your partner does. It’s entirely possible to have kinks that play with dominance and submission and also believe that men and women are equal and entitled to the same respect and opportunities in life. It’s the indication of a shallow and unthoughtful mind to boil D/s relationships down to gender essentialism; men are not naturally better equipped to be dominant in or out of bed. People like the Gorgas and, oh, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, will try to say men being the head of the household are the way things ought to be. They will argue that the male gender has certain essential attributes to it to make men better at breadwinning, while the female gender is better at housework like cleaning up spilled milk and changing dirty diapers (to use Melissa Gorga’s own examples). This is a pile of hogwash. Conflating gender essentialist arguments with D/s relationships is not only fallacious — as I said before, submissives can be male and dominants can be female — but sexist. Ultimately, being D/s is a personal need that you act on because it’s a choice. It should not be prescribed to anyone because of their gender.
Do you have any other questions about D/s relationships? Ask them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them as best I can.
Follow me on Twitter. Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com.
[Image via Splash News]