I got to thinking about this question today. I'm not an expert, far from it, but I know the difference.
Clearly, if a man screams in his woman's face, humiliates her in public or private, pushes her around, slaps her or tries to win her compliance with intimidation, he's an ASS. Not only that, he's a bully and not worthy of her respect. He's certainly not worthy of being a character in any of my books, unless I plan to kill him off in the next chapter.
An author's prerogative? You, bet!
Mess with any of my heroines in such a way and you will get yours buddy and pretty quickly too. And it may not be the knight who comes riding to the rescue, it may be the heroine kicking your pompous ass!
I've met these kind of men in real life. You know the ones whose ego is bigger than their, well...being a lady, I'll just say private parts. After all I've said 'ass' a number of times already.
I worked in a place where there was so much testosterone you needed a gas mask to be safe. Otherwise you might start growing chest hair. The land of the giants, where nearly everyone was a foot taller than me, some more like 16".
Was I intimidated? No way. Pissed off? Many times, lol.
A dominant man is an entirely different story. The have a natural confidence and strength of character that others don't and it has nothing to do with their physical size. They are not cruel, or motivated by personal gain. They don't need their ego's inflated on a daily basis. They know who they are and what they expect from their women and make it pretty clear from the start.
The difference is, it's not about them, it's about you. Your safety, comfort and well-being is crucial to them. They don't make up silly rules to show their authority. Pretty much they say what they mean and mean what they say.
My husband has a dominant personality. He's always been super protective, I didn't take out the trash or mow the lawn or shovel snow. Those were his jobs and he clearly is an old-fashioned guy. He's not pushy or bossy, just firm. He's much bigger than I am, but would never use that strength to hurt me. I am the love of his life, and blessed to be so.
One night, years ago I wanted to stop after work for a drink with the girls. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Hi, honey, I just wanted to let you know I'm going out with the girls after work for a couple of drinks. I'll be home in a little while.
Me: (Slightly whiny) What? Why not?
Him: It's dark out, the roads are icy and you're driving.
Him: Did you hear me?
Me: I heard you, but I'm not a child!
Him: No you're not, but if you do this you'll think you're about five years old when you get here.
Did I go out? No. It wasn't because I was afraid, well maybe a little bit, but not of him screaming at me or hurting me. Would he have made me feel like I was five, oh yes, and a very sorry five year old at that.
When we used to go out, and we did quite a bit, if I had too much to drink he'd never say a word. I would come back from the dance floor and my beer would be gone, replaced with a cup of coffee fixed just the way I like it.
No bitching, or scolding, just a steady look from his eyes that said, 'you've had enough'. And he was always right. The couple of times I defied him, he would hold my long hair while I threw up and carry me in the house. The next day we would have a 'discussion' about it and then it was never mentioned again.
That's a dominant man. Loving, caring, compassionate but not willing to let his woman put herself at risk in any way. He's a shoulder to cry on, loving arms to run to and someone you can count on to be there. Will he spank you if you push your luck? More than likely, so if you're lucky enough to get one of these men for your very own, unless it's a turn on for you, be a good girl.