Sexuality and Culture

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 76–95 | Cite as

Spare the rod: The figure of the dominatrix in the literary canon

  • Jeremy Hugh Baron


The commonly cited maxim, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is often traced incorrectly back to the biblical book of Proverbs when its point of origin lies instead first in Langland’s Piers Plowman and then, in the highly satirical and sexualized text of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras. Thus, from a religious origin, it has metamorphosed into a woman-man relationship. Indeed to follow the evolution of this phrase is to uncover the extent to which the disciplining impulses of religious rhetoric are eroticized in one Western European literary theme, that of feminine dominance, from the tenth century when the word Dominatrix appeared in the writings of Hroswitha of Gandersheim. The period leading up to the 1650s, when Butler turned the phrase into one line of a heroic iambic couplet in the middle of a stanza on an amorous jaileress, was also a time when medical research on human and animal anatomy and physiology had unravelled the pathways of libido-lifting buttock-beating. Far from demonizing woman the literary image of the whip-wielding mistress did not degrade the female sex but instead apotheosized the dominatrix as a major erotic image of the twentieth century.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy Hugh Baron
    • 1
  1. 1.Gastroenterology DivisionMount Sinai School of MedicineNew York

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