Our intern, Lauren McGuire, pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock! The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.
The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.
Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:
Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women. The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave. The spanking of men by adult women is not a humorous trope that was once ubiquitous, it was (and is) considered a weird sexual fetish. The cultural endorsement of the dominance/subordination relationship, then, is distinctly gendered.
Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways. Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).