Over the years I have often heard the phrase "submission is a gift," usually accompanied by a statement about how it should be "given freely." The idea that submission carries with it worth and is something special is very romantic. I consider this a noble sentiment that would hold true in a perfect world. However, in our very flawed world, this is only true for some.
In the F/m community there has been a rise in popularity of the idea that "dominance is a favor." That is, by giving the sub dominance, the dominant is giving the sub what they want and catering to their desires. While this has a lot of implications that go along with it, what stands out to me the most is that this diminishes the value of submission and increases the value of dominance.
The fact that both of these ideas have momentum in the community is a bit strange. The conflicting nature of the two has made me wonder quite a bit as to how both of these can exist. After thinking about it, the best answer I can come up with is: leverage and bargaining power.
The idea that submission is a gift that can be given or taken away is largely a M/f concept. Much of courting in M/f (and its related guides) revolves around the idea of dominants having to prove themselves as trustworthy, responsible, and deserving of a sub's submission. That is, the burden falls upon the man to convince the woman that she should choose him.
The idea that dominance is a favor that can be granted or taken away is pretty much only found in a limited (but growing) segment of F/m. While this idea mostly stems from married couples where D/s is instigated by the sub, there really aren't a lot of F/m resources out there and when some of the more popular resources out there take this stance, it is natural that many newer Dommes seeking resources to learn from also will adopt this mentality. When it is assumed that submission is something the sub wants to do, being permitted to submit is the sub getting their way, thus it is not a gift, but a selfish act. This idea doesn't get challenged very much because in F/m courting the numbers dictate that men have very little, if any, leverage. That is, the burden falls upon the man to convince the woman that she should choose him.
The underlying theme here is that women have options. They are free to choose. They will be courted. They must be impressed. They hold the leverage. To quote Venus in Furs, "Man is the one who desires, woman the one who is desired." Food for thought.
In my own views, I do not agree with either sentiment. I do not see submission as a gift. I do not see dominance as a favor. I see D/s as a symbiotic relationship where each part needs the other to exist in their role. You cannot have dominance without submission. You cannot have submission without dominance. I do make the lofty assumption that people should enjoy the role they choose. If that is the case, then the melding of mutual wants and needs is a favor or gift to neither. This combination is necessary for D/s to exist. It is a choice people make in pursuit of mutual happiness and fulfillment.
I don't think it is selfish to have desires. It is only selfish to pursue said desires without regard for the wants of the other.
This topic is again skewed heavily by the systems in place and the support behind them. The average BDSM guide is targeted at M/f and protects the sub behind its principles of consent and limits. It allows them to accept what they want/need and choose what they will not take part in. This gives the sub leverage, even if it conflicts with the ideal of what submission entails (e.g. relinquishing control).
When it comes to F/m, the guides may serve as a basic framework, but for the most part, they can be thrown out the window. Newer Dommes are encouraged to be selfish. They are taught to never cater to a sub's desires unless it is something that she also enjoys. Basically, she is to treat his desires as incidental or coincidental: if the sub's desires are met, it happens as a byproduct of something else or by random chance. The sub should accept these terms because he doesn't have options or leverage.
I find all of this interesting.