Sir Henry Sumner Maine, in “Ancient Law” (1861), puts forward the historical thesis that human history is a progression from status to contract. This is an elegant way to say that in the earliest days, people lived in a feudal society; you were either a slave or a master, by caste or heritage. Though a large number of “masters” were themselves subservient to greater masters, there was always a very large group of serfs at the bottom of the pyramid.
Maine’s idea is that we progressed toward a recognition of social equality and replaced the aristocractic command of class with the quid-pro-quo of a contracat or agreement. In many cases, of course, the trade-off was that the powerful allowed the weak to continue living, in return for submission, but there still had to be an agreement in place. Today (by the time the book appeared 150 years ago), literal slavery is replaced by wage slavery — paving the way, evidently, for Marx and that lot.
The point here is that BDSM is a nostalgic throwback. By mutual consent, we contract to undertake a status relationship. Female domination, specifically, adds in the elements of chivalry. Males voluntarily climb from their knightly mounts to kneel at the feet of their Ladies and proclaim their irrational devotion. The Ladies agree to accept this unreal activity, and even to reciprocate the submission with domination. Without care, the cycle may gyre out of control, and this is the problem we must guard against.
For that reason, no Lady [Domina, Mistress, Goddess] should ever lose Her temper or control. That is not to say that She may not be cruel: that is part of the delicious reciprocation. But it is never appropriate for a Lady to *demand* submission or to *scream* Her commands to Her slave. SHE IS ALWAYS IN CONTROL so does not need to raise Her voice.
In practice, there is only one rule on each side of the ledger: Mistress will command. Her slave will obey. Period. End of rulebook. All the rest is understood and implied: Mistress will be responsible for the continued existence of Her slave property, by not requiring of it anything permanently harmful. Her slave, however, will trust Her never to give any injurious commands. And because She is in control, She never commands or orders: She needs only to state the simple truth: “you will do this…” and it is done. That is true power!
Ideally, if the male is doing its part of the contractual bargain — or is playing its role in the conotrived status relationship — it begs its Owner to allow it to serve. Pleads for permisson to prostrate itself at Her feet. Like the haughty Lady Eleanore in Hawthorne’s short story “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle,” the kind Mistress replies, “When men seek only to be trampled upon, it were a pity to deny them a favor so easily granted — and so well deserved,” and humiliates Her suppliant with very little mercy indeed.
Mistress, the perfection of self-control, never has to demean Herself with gratitude; rather, She expresses satisfaction with a job well done by Her slave. Her highest praise it to say that She is pleased; whereupon it is the slave’s cue to thank *Her* for the priviledge of serving. If She ever says anything instructive, it is “you may bring me…” or “I need a…” or perhaps “there is a speck of dust on My toe…”
Likewise, when a slave fails to meet expectations, Mistress is *disappointed” — not “angry” — because She knows that slaves are inferior and thus incapable of reaching the level She has a right to deserve. Nonetheless, it is Her duty to punish a slave that fails to please Her. She must (as part of the status of Ruler) teach the imperfect one to do better next time, to aspire to a greaater level of achievement. Thus the whip, the flogger, the riding-crop, applied at once and memorably. While the slave may scream in pain during the punishment, it completes the cycle eby thanking Her for the correction — probably by kissing the whip, Her haand, or most likely, Her booted feet.
When a slave actually does please its Owner, it is to Her advantage to say so. Not with “thank you” but with mild praise: “you have pleased Me, slave.” Again, the response is gratitude from the slave for the honour of serving successfully, and, silently, for Mistress having taken the trouble to train Her slave by “whipping it into shape,” as it were. Once more, the situation suggests the image of a naked slave flat on the floor licking the boots of its Lady Owner.
Thus the whip is used for discipline, to teach the slave to do better. But it may be that for whatever reason, the Lady enjoys exercising Her authority and power over Her property. She may simply enjoy flogging Her slave for Her own amusement. This is not kind, this is not generous, this is not fair or democratic — because Her relative status carries none of these factors. If torture for fun pleases the Owner with the High Status, then submission and suffering are the logical lot of the slave with the low status — that and, when the Owner has tired of Her amusement, boot-licking gratitude once again for the honour and of serving through suffering. Pain, She will say gently, is My gift to you, My slave; thank You, Mistress, the slave will respond in turn as She slowly slides the toe of Her boot toward his waiting lips and tongue.