Self-Esteem (Dominance-Feeling) and Sexuality in Women

The movie Gilda from 1946 shows Rita Hayworth as brazen, openly defiant and very aware of her own sexuality. “Her performance is a fine example of how Hollywood sells fascinating conflicting gender roles codified as a male threat by the end of the war.” (Biesen, 2005) This probably explains why she is slapped in the face (by a man) during the movie.

Maslow wrote “Self-Esteem (Dominance-Feeling) and Sexuality in Women” in 1942. The paper highlights the close relationship between dominance and sexuality. “This power relationship is biologically determined; for Maslow, male domination and female submission are inevitable and essential to sexual pleasure” (Gotell, 2002)

Maslow studied a group of 70 women, 5 of which had had homosexual experiences but of which only one “could be called “really” homosexual, preferring it to contact with men” (A. H. Maslow, 1942, Self-Esteem (Dominance-Feeling) and Sexuality in Women, Journal of Social Psychology, vol 16, pp 259-294). Maslow therefore “draws a sharp distinction between congenital and acquired homosexuality” (Gotell, 2002) Maslow explains homosexuality as either “intense curiosity, or from the inability to find a man suitably high in dominance-feeling as a mate. In these cases when a suitable man comes along, the homosexuality is dropped at once” (Maslow, 1942). Maslow’s views on homosexuality implied that the reason why women were interested in other women had to do with not finding the right man!.

Maslow’s views on divorced women don’t seem to be much better than his views on lesbians, for they too are high-dominance women, less docile and compliant, independent, ambitious, decisive, they blushed rarely and “in general lacked the element of sweet femininity” (Maslow, 1942).

His views on marriage between men and women of different levels of dominance are doomed to fail. The best marriages are those in which “the husband and wife are definitely at the same level of dominance-feeling, or in which the husband is somewhat higher in dominance-feeling than the wife” (Maslow, 1942). , however “if the husband is very much more dominant than the wife, the marriage will not be as happy as the equal ones.” This unhappiness comes mainly from the wife’s insecurities, anxieties, jealousies and general unhappiness to the very dominant husband.

This requirement to have a good match between male and female dominance also extended to sexual relationships. For Maslow, women’s sexual pleasure is in the hands of dominant men. When a wife is dominant over her husband the orgasm will be inhibited, unless the husbands are “instructed concerning suitable dominance behavior” (Maslow, 1942) and the orgasm successfully induced!.

The presence of orgasm is for Maslow a “fairly good sign of a feeling of love of the husband” (Maslow, 1942) which is a large simplification of the issue as well as a way of blaming the woman.  Monogamy is far better than promiscuity for sexual satisfaction, although for authors like Millett “given woman’s extraordinary biological potentiality for sexual arousal and pleasure, no form of sexual association would have satisfied it less than monogamy” (Millett, 1977), and reaching the orgasm has “psychological values for the woman….With it she may “give in”, make herself vulnerable” (Maslow, 1942).  whereas it gives “dominance-status” for the man!

According to Maslow the low and middle dominance woman wants a man with whom she can be maternal, and they prefer romance, flowers, poetry. The high dominance women wants to be dominated and unconsciously raped. “The New Woman, the independent and dominant woman, needs to be attached to a man who will satisfy her natural desire for subordination” (Gotell, 2002)


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