I think that women in control is more common than we think and becoming more common. In bed as well as outside of it, women have more agency than at any other time in history. Obviously, there is a some way yet to go (the rant about how women are seen as less competent than men was last month). But there are lots of things to celebrate, many ways that women take control in novels in subtle, hidden ways. One might almost say, fifty shady ways that women are more dominant than we realize. ;) (Actually, it's going to be three today. Otherwise this will be yet another TL;DR).
Women in control does sell, can sell, in romance. That was my conclusion last month and I'm going to try and justify it. Exhibit A is a romance book that is in practically every top 10 romance novels of all time. Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels isn't even kinky, it isn't subtle femdom, but it is an example of a heroine in control. Jess is the together, competent and clever one in the relationship. She seduces Dain, outwits him, takes everything in her stride while he is left reeling and ultimately he gives in and just does what she says. In a kinky re-write of LOS Jess would be the dominant, even if sometimes she let Dain be the top. Loretta Chase books are full of strong women who tell their men what to do. Chase's latest book, Scandal wears Satin, features a smart, competent woman and a man whose main strength is braun rather than brains. Yes, of course these books are vanilla through and through, but hidden in some of the most popular books is women taking the lead in life. Taking the lead in bed is a logical corollary.
A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant, unlike LOS was published this year, features on plenty of top romances of 2012 lists and is wonderful subtle femdom. Any book that features a man who gets turned on by servicing a woman in a Queen/stablehand dynamic and refers to clubs in London where men would pay to be scowled at, surely counts as subtle femdom. The hero is confessedly a feckless idiot and the heroine is severe and bends things to her will. This isn't a book that is as universally liked as LOS, but it has had considerable acclaim this year, along with an acknowledgement that even last year, it might not have been published. A Lady Awakened is a step forward for romance as a genre.
Finally, why have I included a cheap reference to Fifty Shades of Grey? To me, (not having read FSOG), it seems like the antithesis of femdom. A weak, silly girl and a stalking, obsessive alphahole man. And yet I noticed that the image on the official FSOG sex toys is of a woman dominating a man (top right). This is pretty interesting, as it is seems to be the direct opposite of what FSOG is about. What this image suggests to me is that, one: it's women who are instigating BDSM type activities in the bedroom (by buying the toys) and two: women are turning the toys they buy on their men. FSOG is rather interesting from this perspective - the book may be all about a weak woman, but the consequences, the talk about it, and perhaps even the merchandise IS ALL ABOUT WOMEN. Ana is the embodiment of naivety, but for the women who read FSOG, it is all about knowledge. And everyone knows, knowledge is power.