What I Meant To Say
A Collective Critique of the Controversial Book

by the Wondering Women

Surrender: (A)musing Ideas

In the introduction to What I Meant to Say, Russel Smith’s contribution is described as consisting of “several steps sideways in his defence of bondage and his affection for women with flaws.”  I presume this means that the reader – male or female – should take Mr Smith’s words with a pinch of salt.  I briefly researched the author of the essay entitled “Surrender” and found out that Russell Smith is a well-known journalist, cultural commentator as well as the author of half a dozen books.  He obviously fits into the profile of “Canada’s most thoughtful and articulate male writers” and the quality of his writing, including the way he expresses himself on the subject, is worth reading.   

The book proposes a public glimpse of what its editor Ian Brown terms “the secret male psyche…open to men and women alike”.  Let’s face it, anything to do with such a subject is bound to attract attention and hopefully (for the publishers) sell itself for both profit and increased enlightenment.  What has this got to do with the article in question?  Are the ideas and thoughts expressed by Russell Smith offering a glimpse into the secret male psyche?  Or is this just his personal vision of the world – which is not necessarily the same thing.

Let’s look at the article in question.  The title itself is quite a cliché, perhaps Mr Smith could have changed it, but what does the word “surrender” mean?  According to the OED, it is defined as “hand over, relinquish possession of, esp. on compulsion or demand; give into another’s power or control.”  Smith manages to stick to the topic of his essay and touches on various aspects of the idea of giving in to power and control.

The bondage theme is introduced with the author’s rather proud assertion that he wears leather cuffs – obviously the accoutrement par excellence of somebody interested in bondage.  He writes, “these are not costume cuffs.  They are stiff and heavy, and… will support your body weight if you somehow get hung from a ceiling.”  Russel Smith writes that he wants to “stand out on stage” and he candidly admits that the wearing of these special accessories adds to and builds up his performance on stage and gives him some sort of edge with regard to attracting women.  He appears to be aware of the connotations of the power he has over women in this type of situation, where he is playing out a role in front of a willing or eager audience.  Performing seems to be is a good way for him to meet women since he happily acknowledges that many women from the audience were keen to try his cuffs on & even take on some “flogging workshops”.   I unfortunately didn’t attend his presentation and furthermore, there is no mention as to how many people attended the event.  I think that a few granules of salt can be added on this point. 

Mr Smith does however make the point that the “urge to submit to fate is age-old and universal.”  According to him, this is due to two main facts.    Firstly, he says it takes less effort to simply go along with something than to take control.  So it seems that submitting to fate and surrendering oneself to another are pretty much one and the same thing.  Is it possible to infer from this that sheer laziness could be the motivation to being submissive?  Secondly, the writer points out that there is a certain “nostalgia for ancient gender roles, in which men were raptors and women helpless.”  He certainly seems to be hankering for this throughout the piece, but I wonder how many thoughtful and articulate readers – male and female – will agree with this point or truly see themselves in terms of this stereotypical image. 

Mr Smith confesses that the bondage S&M dress is not really what he is about.  Its simply his way of “indulging (his) own exhibitionism”. He admits that as an exhibitionist, he wants to perform and derives pleasure from showing off.  This is obviously something really close to his heart since there is such an emphasis on this point in this essay.  Now questions arise as to whether this is about him or about men in general as well as whether this is really an insight or revelation for the reader.  It wasn’t an eye opener for me, but perhaps I have been exposed to so much more than what he describes that I feel rather cynical and am not really convinced of anything truly original in the musings of Mr Smith.

He asserts that a submissive partner actually possesses more power than she thinks. For him its “just a game” and vehicle by which he can “explore desire, desire and abandon” between himself and his mistress or lover.  He describes his experiences of this idea with a woman he calls simply D.  and this is supposed to illustrate how this woman “…wanted to be taken” by him in the sexual sense. Smith acknowledges that what he has done hasn’t been particularly positive, and he describes the surrender of D. as being something “unhealthy”.  For him the surrender from her was the most trusting act.  He says that the act of submission is powerful because with it, the submissive partner is the “centre of attention” to be “teased and pampered and cossetted”.  This is a difficult idea to present and unfortunately Mr Smith does not elaborate in greater depth on this and on the relationships which develop based upon submission, which is a pity because this is such an essential part of the general theme of surrender.

Another important point to Mr Smith’s writings is his take on appearance and attractiveness.  For him the turn-on is the presence of imperfections  like a “big nose  or … flat chest” as well as “crooked teeth or … wide hips”.  He sets women right about the stereotypical idea that men only like women with large breasts.  I suppose he must be thanked beyond measure for this amazing insight.  Apparently men love the sight of women with tiny breasts especially when they wear clingy tops.  Furthermore, women want to impress each other, rather than men – another “great” insight – which falls a little bit flat.   According to Mr Smith, women with flaws are going to be more interesting to speak to, especially on the subject of erotica or porn.  He wants to “encourage wantonness and exhibition” since these are what he says he enjoys.  I presume this is a tongue-in-cheek comment on his part.

I do think in fairness that there are women who do enjoy the idea of bondage and surrender as part of the sexual act.  Perhaps they too want to “play the game”.  Its something I can read about but not relate to and is, moreover, not how I view relationships between men and women, but then perhaps I’m not really in touch with what’s hip and happening these days with regard to socially and sexually acceptable behaviour.

Finally, Mr Smith’s experience as a fashion and style aficionado, as well as his ability to relate this to how people view each other is quite apparent.  If his intention was to provoke  the reader to think and be aware of the ideas around the concept of surrender, which one could say is a measure of the quality of the writing and the writer’s skill, then he certainly succeeded with me.  I could comprehend much of what he had to say without agreeing with them or with the motivations for indulging in the types of behaviour described.  I’m not going to make any arrogant pronouncements about whether he is right or wrong overall.   I will merely say that I did a fair amount of rolling of eyes and the odd bit of smirking.

by Patricia Braudo