Financial journalist Lindsay Goldwert saw parallels between the work of dominatrixes and how all the rest of us live our lives. So, she went straight into the cage with the lionesses, so to speak, to find out if any of this was true. And, indeed, it was. Goldwert documents what she found in a provocative new book called Bow Down, which she calls “self-help for people who don’t like self-help”. Fiona McQuarrie talked to Goldwert for PKM about the lessons she learned from dominatrixes.

Dominatrixes and life advice don’t seem like they should go together, but journalist Lindsay Goldwert makes that connection in her new book, Bow Down: Lessons From Dominatrixes on How to Get Everything You Want. The book is a fascinating introduction to the world of BDSM (bondage, discipline and sadomasochism) – Goldwert calls it a “bridge book for beginners, a Kinky 101”. But Bow Down also explores how the principles that guide the practice of BDSM – negotiation, consent, communication, and setting boundaries – can be used by anyone to improve their work, their relationships, and their life.

PKM spoke to Goldwert about the book.

PKM: How did you initially make the link between the characteristics of the work that dominatrixes do and what people do, or can do, in their work and relationships?

Lindsay Goldwert: I kept seeing parallels. I write about money and personal finance, and I have a podcast where I interview people about their work and their money. I had a conversation with a dominatrix who came back to the profession after a few years away, and she said that one of the first things she noticed was that the going rate for that work hadn’t changed since when she was first involved. It was like, it’s always hard for women to ask for money. You have to learn what you’re worth, and you have to be able to explain to people why you’re worth it. That’s advice that women get all the time. So I saw those parallels.

I also saw parallels in articles in places like the Harvard Business Review, articles that talk about the games in the business world and things like code-switching. One person I talked to told me to read this book called Confessions of a Sociopath, which sounded kind of creepy, but it talked about how to present yourself so that you get what you want. The women I interviewed have their own way of thinking, and a lot of them had worked in the corporate world, and they didn’t want to be that person any more. Everything they said made sense to me.

PKM: How did you find the dominatrixes that you interviewed?

Lindsay Goldwert: The first thing I did was I signed up for a workshop run by a domme. The workshop ended up being cancelled, but I made that contact, so I had someone to talk to. Then I interviewed someone who got me a press pass to DomCon, and I met more people there. I was surprised at how much mainstream attention some of the dommes have already had. Like Mistress Velvet – when clients give gifts to their dommes, those are usually called “tributes”, but she calls them “reparations”, and there’s been articles in places like the Huffington Post about that. Mistress Couple has been interviewed by magazines like Cosmopolitan and Allure. So they’ve become a little part of the conversation.

A lot of sex workers have had bad experiences with the press. So I was always polite and tried to be extra respectful whenever I contacted anyone, which is something that you should be doing anyway when you’re a journalist. They’re taking time to talk to you that they could be using to do something else. Some people turned me down, but they were always very honest and direct in their responses. And whenever I interviewed someone, I always asked them who else I should be talking to, and I made more contacts that way.

PKM: Do women go to dominatrixes too?

Lindsay Goldwert: Most of the dommes I interviewed have some women clients. They said they actually like working with women because women come in with a much better idea of why they are there and what they want. Some of the dommes, like Mistress Couple, also have clients that are couples, and they coach them on how to give pleasure to each other.


The media portrays dommes as cruel and sadistic and cold. The dommes I interviewed want the world to know that their work is connection, it’s healing, it’s emotional. They’re kind and open-minded people


PKM: In the book’s introduction, you write, “I didn’t want to write a women’s empowerment book. I wanted to write about power.” What is the difference for you between “empowerment” and “power”?

Lindsay Goldwert: I have a serious aversion to “empowerment”. I get very angry at the way I see that word being used. It’s become Goop-ified, you know, like with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s a yoga mat word, it’s a candle word, it’s a journal word. I wanted to write about feeling powerful enough to open the door and to own the room – to walk in and throw something down, and say, ‘okay, assholes, things are going to change around here’. To be listened to and to have that presence. “Empowerment” has turned into a lifestyle word, and a lot of women who say they want to be empowered already are empowered. Power is higher than that, it’s what men have.

PKM: The book talks about how important it is to set boundaries, to negotiate, and to communicate, at work and in life. But for some people, doing that may be a challenge, e.g. a toxic person in someone’s life may be a family member that they feel they can’t cut ties with. How could someone in a situation like that benefit from what the book suggests?

Lindsay Goldwert: Nothing in the book is an easy answer. All of this is challenging. But say someone is facing a situation like their mother-in-law calling them every ten minutes. The first step is to have that conversation. Tell the person what you want and don’t want. Then set rules. You could set rules like, I am only available in the morning and in the evening. And don’t feel guilty. Start very small, say no to a little bit and go from there. But remember that you have the power in a conversation, you can steer it. And you have to do that work if you want to keep that person in your life.


I have a serious aversion to “empowerment”. I get very angry at the way I see that word being used. It’s become Goop-ified, you know, like with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s a yoga mat word, it’s a candle word, it’s a journal word.


Also, remember what you deserve and how you deserve to be treated. You deserve respect, and you have to try your best to say what you want. If you have a friend and whenever you get together you always have to go over to their place, because they don’t want to go out, suggest that you meet at a place somewhere in the middle. If it turns out that they can’t handle what you’re suggesting, then maybe you have to re-evaluate that friendship.

PKM: Everything doesn’t have to be framed around “what this means for men” to validate it, and the book is obviously written for everyone. But most of the people in the book are women. What ideas in the book do you think are most relevant to men?

Lindsay Goldwert: It’s really interesting, I was reading this thread on Reddit that was started by a guy who said, hey, I really don’t like it when I feel like I have to degrade women during sex, like pretending to choke my girlfriend, is this just me? And a whole bunch of other guys posted, saying things like, no, I don’t like it either, and when women take control, it’s great, my girlfriend threw me on the bed and bossed me around and I had the best sex of my life. And other guys said, we don’t know what women want, so we do this kind of thing.

So men feel they have to act this way. But the power dynamics should mean that everyone gets what they want. Everyone should have a good time. Men should feel okay about their fantasies, and not feel like they’re not a real guy if they don’t want to be in charge, but they have to listen too. And consent is hot. It’s not the kind of check-off-the-box consent that they might have been taught somewhere like in a fraternity – consent means that everyone is happy to be there and everyone’s being listened to. Communication is hot and it’s sexy.

If they’re not sure what to do, take turns doing things. Find out what each person likes. Be brave and start small. And one of the dommes said, ‘if you repress something, it will manifest itself later and maybe in more disturbing and dangerous ways’. So learn to communicate and learn to listen.

PKM: Is there anything else about the book that you want people to know?

Lindsay Goldwert: It’s a self-help book for people who don’t like self-help. And it’s actionable advice. It’s like, how do you get respect when you have to wear a uniform at work? Money comes into this too. You can only walk away from a job or something else if you can afford to walk away. You need to use your money and your energy to re-align the ship. You need to allocate your spending so that you have, say, enough savings to pay rent for two months if you have to. Someone I know calls this the “fuck-you fund”, so that if your job or your workplace is terrible, you’re able to say, I’m out of here. But you need to have the money to be able to give yourself that choice. Money is a tool that you can use to help you get what you want.


And consent is hot. It’s not the kind of check-off-the-box consent that they might have been taught somewhere like in a fraternity – consent means that everyone is happy to be there and everyone’s being listened to. Communication is hot and it’s sexy.


Also, the media portrays dommes as cruel and sadistic and cold. The dommes I interviewed want the world to know that their work is connection, it’s healing, it’s emotional. They’re kind and open-minded people. It’s a world in shadows but it’s a real world, and they’re doing this work for a reason. They could have had any career, but they chose this because of passion. You can draw parallels to that with any kind of work. Any person in any career faces those same issues. What they do is cool and it’s consensual, and everyone deserves to be happy.

Bow Down is published by Tiller Press.

http://www.pleasekillme.com

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