A Brief History of the Dominatrix

UntitledA modern day dominatrix exists in the world of Love and Human Remains. Played by Tosha Fowler, the character of Benita is mysterious, sly, and other worldly, as doms typically are portrayed. But their history started a long, long time ago. Forget about all that 50 Shades of Grey  b.s. and listen up – her origins began in ancient Mesopotamia with a major female deity. Inanna, known as the ‘Dominatrix Goddess,” was the goddess of the grainhouse and the Star of Venus. She was believed to have held power over labido and promoted fertility, production and agility in battle. This is definitely not part of the history of ancient Mesopotamia we learned in school.

Inanna embodied sex appeal, vigor and eroticism. Female sexuality was celebrated in Uruk and Mesopotamia because of her prowess. She forced Gods and men into submission through her allure and domination. And the ceremonies to honor her were rituals, “imbued with pain and ecstasy, bringing about initiation and journeys of altered consciousness; punishment, moaning, ecstasy, lament and song, participants exhausting themselves with weeping and grief “(Nomis 59). She also reportedly had the power to transform men into women and women into men. What should be noted here is that Inanna held reign over the primary city in Mesopotamia, Uruk. At around 3000 B.E., the city was thriving. Not only was this civilization flourishing  but the first writing system emerged from Uruk, which was the same system used to write the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Inanna made all this possible because of her sexual prowess.

Noted in Hymn to Inanna by Enheduanna, Daughter of Sargon II of Akkad, Princess Imperial of Sumer and Akkad and Priestess of Inanna and the Moon in Ur (quite the introduction), are Inanna’s many conquests. For the translation of the hymn, take a look here,

Flash forward to the early seventeenth century, where the first records emerge indicating the existence of professional dominatrices running flagellation institutions within England. Using the tools of the trade we see today, these women made their living creating a fantasy in which they were paid greatly to dominate British aristocrats, politicians and even royalty. Not only were these men bound, punished and made to worship the woman before them, but they were also able to share their truest longings and desires in a safe space.

Through the early nineteenth century, the demand for flagellation services grew and anyone from prostitutes to actresses became dominatrices to earn some extra cash. As their popularity grew, certain women became courtesans and wrote memoirs of their escapades.

UntitledLater in the century, Theresa Berkley emerged from the fray to become what is known as a “governess,” a dominatrix whose specialty was flagellation, whipping, chastisement, etc. She invented a contraption called the Berkeley Horse, which is still seen in dom practices today.

In the 20th century, we see the dominatrix morph into what we know her as today: covered in leather and lace, holding a whip or a riding crop, with high-heeled boots. This depiction became popular after the commercialization of fetish. Many of these women operate underground and are found through word of mouth references. They are portrayed in shows like Secret Diary of a Call Girl and American Horror Story. They have become popularized and almost normalized. An unnamed source said of Theresa that:

“Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive, and kept in water, so that it was always green and pliant: she had shafts with a dozen whip thongs on each of them; a dozen different sizes of cat-o’-nine-tails, some with needle points worked into them; various kinds of thin bending canes; leather straps like coach traces; battledoors, made of thick sole-leather, with inch nails run through to docket, and currycomb tough hides rendered callous by many years flagellation. Holly brushes, furze brushes; a prickly evergreen, called butcher’s bush; and during the summer, a glass and China vases, filled with a constant supply of green nettles, with which she often restored the dead to life. Thus, at her shop, whoever went with plenty of money, could be birched, whipped, fustigated, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, curry-combed, phlebotomized, and tortured till he had a belly full.”

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But one thing is for certain: these women hold a particular power over men that might be deemed as dangerous. Because back in the ancient days of Mesopotamia, they ran the world.

Post written by Catherine Miller, dramaturg for Cor Theatre’s Love and Human Remains


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