Dommes Doom

Article by Mia Walsch

I’d heard about Netflix’s “Bonding” from dominatrices on Twitter. “It’s bad,” was the consensus, but how bad?

The Failure Of On-screen Dommes

It’s not just the ill-fitting corset. It isn’t how utterly ludicrous it is that a mistress would pay someone 20 percent of her earnings to do … whatever it was that Mistress May (Zoe Levin) wanted Carter (Brendan Scannell) to do for her. (Clean? Do security? He just seemed to watch and reluctantly participate in sessions.) Even neophyte dommes know that there is an endless line of willing subs who’d not only do these tasks for free, but who might even pay to do them. It makes no fiscal sense!

What also makes Bonding bad is the way that May and Carter “other” the clients. The breaking of boundaries and consent. Domming is presented, as it so often is, as an untouchable goddess flicking a whip from a throne as money rains down gently around her.

After Bonding was released, it was no surprise my dungeon was inundated with calls from women who were shocked, shocked, when we described what being a pro domme is actually like. Bonding is the perfect example of why media needs to consult with people from a lived experience. And pay them for the consultation.

So, what about other media portrayals of Pro Dommes?

I think “The Woman” is a stupid domme name, but that’s what Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) works under in BBC’s 2010 reboot of Sherlock. This babe is fancy. I know of some “elite” mistresses and they are rarefied and cool, utterly unattainable, and I would aspire to be like them if I wasn’t quite so inescapably disheveled.

A deliciously tricky bitch, Ms. Adler is more interested in playing power games with Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) than doling out spankings. I can’t imagine her wrist-deep in some guy or getting piss on her stockings. Irene Adler would always be impeccably turned out, and I bet she’s the kind of mistress who never kicks her heels off mid-session.

In Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Belle de Jour (Billie Piper) isn’t really into fetish, but when her accountant/client requests it, she does what any smart escort should do and consults an expert. The dominatrix she takes lessons from is an older woman clad in head-to-toe leather with a devoted slave trailing behind. Mistress Sirona instructs Belle where to hit and how to tie a client up, but the control of a domme can’t really be taught. When Belle loses control and allows her anger to play a role in the punishment of her sub, she learns that there’s more to being a mistress than wielding the whip.

Crime drama The Sinner has within it an interesting portrayal of a professional dominatrix. Det. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) is in a complex relationship with his Domme, Sharon (Meredith Holzman). Sharon is a glorious chunky babe, her blonde curls growing out an old dye job. In her first appearance, she’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but she commands Ambrose like she’s in head-to-toe leather, bullwhip unfurled. Sharon embodies the domme role so fully that the clothes aren’t necessary. She is in-fucking-charge. When Ambrose violates their agreement, she draws a firm boundary, and she doesn’t budge. A good dominatrix doesn’t need the fancy accoutrements of the dungeon, she only needs that intrinsic domme attitude. That, and a good sub.

The most nuanced domme on TV isn’t really on TV at all. Mercy Mistress, a web series produced by comedian Margaret Cho, is based on the memoir of Yin Quan, a Chinese-American pro-domme from New York. What makes Mercy Mistress so different from the usual narratives we see in media is the representation of the fullness of her experience. Mistress Yin (Poppy Liu) is a domme, yeah, but she’s also an activist, a queer woman, an immigrant, and an educator. The series avoids the usual trap of salaciousness, never dehumanizes the client for a joke, and gets into the guts of kink-for-pay: the aesthetics, the shame, the power, the dirt, and the gleam.

Mia Walsch is the author of “Money for Something” (Echo Publishing $29.99)

For the record, people cannot simply play at being Dommes, just as with most movie roles. Still, have you ever noticed how much Domme looks like do me?

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