Fifty Shades is Cool Because?

Unless Fifty Shades of Grey ends with the chick exacting revenge on Mr. Grey by nailing his stuff to the barn door, I’m not interested. Actually, even if if did end that way, I wouldn’t be interested. I hate scenes of violence, bondage, torture, oppression, subjugation, imprisonment, gross displays of male power over women as well as acquiescence and cooperation with same. I won’t debate the concept of consenting adults being free to do what they like. Of course, they are. But I would beg the question under what circumstances and promise or threat of regard is one person suffering pain to make another person fulfilled. Does this hurt? Are we just acting?

To me, a throwback to the feminist 70’s, the personal is still the political. What incredible powers of compartmentalization does it take to be a ‘feminist’ at work and then come home to the spanking bench? And to those who say that true feminism means the freedom to choose to be spanked, I say, oh please.

Feminism was never just about women’s 58 cents to men’s dollar or 64 cents or whatever it was (and is). Feminism was never just about the incredible gender-based opportunity and economic disparities. It was about the essential power dynamic between men and women in which women were, in a day to day sense, in a lesser position about everything, including sex. The imbalance made women angry and frustrated once Betty Friedan put a label on it and told them they weren’t nuts.

So now Fifty Shades is drawing huge crowds. So cute that it was available as a Valentine’s Day date. Millions of couples will walk out of theaters across the country and wonder if the bungee cords they have at home will do or whether they really have to buy new equipment. Because men are so smart, they will realize that Fifty Shades is just a movie and that nothing they saw has anything to do with their own ideas or tastes. Nothing. Women and their friends will get in their cars, flush with their sense of sexual liberation. It’s so post-feminism, they will think, so beyond the pedestrian sexual liberation of our mothers.

Maybe they’re right. I just don’t get it. Maybe my aging mind just isn’t agile enough to see oppression as freeing. Maybe I’m not sufficiently evolved. It’s happened before that I got stuck in some old, archaic anger about an injustice or inequality and younger people had to school me on what’s what.

So I’m all ears. Tell me how I should be thinking about this. Bring me up to speed. I’m waiting.

10 Comments on “Fifty Shades is Cool Because?

  1. I loved this piece, its topic, and your forthright analysis of it. It’s like you wrote what’s in my mind about a book I didn’t read and a movie I won’t see because I read enough about both to object to their basic premise. Thank you for saying what I’ve never verbalized.

  2. Checking in as a cusp Gen X/Gen Y-er, here.

    To start, I’ll acknowledge that I’m not convinced these realities are formed by generation. Many of the dynamics at play here are timeless. Falling for hype and sensation is timeless. Being a woman and having a deep, unconscious, uncontrollable desire to be rescued by a powerful (and hopefully handsome and rich) man is exceptionally timeless.

    I’m not suggesting that the woman in this story is being “rescued,” of course. While I haven’t read the books or seen the movie, I’ve heard enough to know that that is not exactly what happens in Fifty Shades. Yet, the naive, virginal, helpless woman seems to be a part of this dynamic. Am I right? Isn’t this related to the archetypal desire I discussed above? I really feel like that desire is more powerful and influential, for more women, than most women — particularly of the feminist variety — would like to admit. I feel like that buried desire is what draws women to stories like this. And that that is partially what creates the hype and sensation.

    In general, I think we’re also seeing the timeless reality of hype and sensation at work here. Every generation has its own versions. (I am the daughter of a Boomer mother who never understood why so many of her comrades sighed and fainted over a boy band named after some insects.) As a member of my generation, I never got into the Harry Potter or Hunger Games hype — just like I never got into the Fifty Shades hype. Sometimes I feel left out. I agree with one of the other commenters that this FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out — is part of what’s at play. The hype starts, and then it just snowballs into its own huge monster. Hype begets more hype and “buzz” and attraction to whatever it is that’s currently being hyped.

    Finally, as a “representative” of my generation(s), I’ll say that I do believe there’s a disconnect in younger women, especially the ones even younger than me, between the fights that were waged over the years for women’s rights….. and their awareness of their own lives and selves. If we weren’t there, it’s harder to feel — in our bones — the “fight.” Things seem like they are what they are now. How could they be different?

    OF COURSE women can vote. (Sometimes I’m just too busy or tired to do it, though.) OF COURSE women have sexual freedom. (But I believe because of my religion that that is evil and should be limited.) OF COURSE I can be whatever I want to be, build a career, lead the world. (But I really just want to stay home with my kids.)

    We have the beauty and the power of a choice now. We know what a choice is. And sometimes we choose the “wrong” thing, the thing that was fought against for so many years. I cannot imagine a world in which I could NOT vote — where that’s not my choice, I’m just not allowed, it’s illegal. I cannot imagine a world in which I am so constrained by my sexuality that, like Lady Edith on the current season of Downton Abbey, I literally would not be allowed, despite my ardent desire, to openly raise a child I conceived out of wedlock. I cannot imagine a world where I only had one or two choices as to what to do with my days and my life.

    I totally hear you, Jan. Putting myself in your shoes, I try to imagine what it’d be like to be one of the fighters…..and then to see, decades later, that my effort was seemingly for nought. Or at least that no one appreciated it. But believe me. We do. Even if we are making bat-shit-crazy choices (present discussion for example), we are still making choices. We HAVE choices to make. That, for me, is the ultimate victory of the past decades of feminism.

    Know what I think the current stage of feminism should address? The internal battle. External battles have been fought and won. Now that we have freedoms the likes of which women have never seen before in history, we need to do the difficult job of cheering on our sisters and empowering them from the inside-out, helping them to truly espouse their power and wield it in the world. WOMEN need to be the ones taking power now, fully owning it and confidently effecting change with it wherever they go. No one should have to tell them they deserve it or that it’s theirs. They should not question their worthiness to take it. They should just grab it and run with it. I believe with all my heart that this will be a much better world once they do.

  3. I have’t read the books because sensation for sensation’s sake doesn’t appeal to me, and experience has taught me that anything that generates that much hype is relying on sensation of one sort or another, further fired by people’s fear of being out of the loop or appearing to be wowsers. And seeing the trailer for the film played over and over on television hasn’t changed my mind. Quite the opposite: it strikes me as vaguely nauseating, not because I’m a wowser, but because it all looks incredibly, drearily tasteless.
    And to me, that’s what makes it unacceptable. I doubt Erika Mitchell gave a thought to gender equality, feminism or anything else as she beavered away writing a bestseller. It’s the product of an age where anything goes, and to hell with the standards as long it makes a splash. And that’s what makes me sad.

  4. I think that one deeply troubling thing about these books is that there is a distinct disconnect between the safe, consensual practice of BDSM amongst those whose fantasies it fulfills, and the way James wrote about in 50 Shades. BDSM isn’t always male dominant, it should based on mutual trust, communication and respect. It is fantasy acted out privately between partners who have clear expectations and who take their partners’ needs and boundaries seriously. The relationship between Christian and Anastasia flaunts all of those factors. He stalks her, controls her, oppresses her, disrespects her boundaries, and is psychologically abusive, but James makes it okay because he’s rich, hot, and “had a traumatic childhood.” That frightens me more than anything, that idea that domestic abuse in a silk shirt is okay, and the implication that folks who like kink must be damaged in some way.

  5. Sex in a book has never kept me from reading something, but this one just did not appeal to me. No, I have not read it or seen the movie. But then I never seem to be reading what is popular. Whatever consenting adults do is their business but I don’t seen the satisfaction of this type of “sex.” Haven’t women come too far to be praising this book? Who wants

  6. I always thought the whole POINT of sexual fantasy was that you got to make up your own, not borrow someone else’s (especially if that someone was, say, the Marquis de Sade or some far removed bastard offspring of his). My own don’t usually involve equipment, unless the kind used to whip up tasty things in the kitchen, and the settings tend to be pastoral, not dungeal (is there a form of dungeon like that? If not I’ll make that up too). Wouldn’t it be great to make a funny, sexy movie with 50 shades of the fantasies of women like us? Mine might involve Red Green, not some sullen rich guy. I bet some of you can understand that.

  7. I’ve never read the books, but I thought I’d watch the movie with some girlfriends. It’s safe to say I’m truly traumatised. She’s clearly in an abusive relationship, she’s stalked repetitively and (I heard this from friends who’ve read the books) he adds money into her bank accounts, buys her pretty things, and ultimately BUYS the company she’s working at after she dumps him. Apparently I don’t “get” it because I’m too close-minded but I hardly think it’s an age thing, like you mentioned (I’m 23). I think your views make perfect sense and I agree too. Or maybe I belong in the 30s. Who knows.

  8. Again, you and your posts! Thank you for this.

    Many of my 50-something female acquaintances devoured the books. I did skim the first so that I could speak articulately about it when questioned. Most thinking women understand the injustices perpetrated on our gender throughout history in every facet of society. That some are now willing to embrace as entertaining the additional pain, twisted control and subjugation of a masochistic man in the bedroom astounds me. It’s a dangerous message to send to both genders as we struggle to build healthy relationships in an increasingly sexualized and disconnected culture.

    That said, take heart! My 21 year old daughter is part of the resurgence of empowered young women who are daily battling stereotypes, mentoring younger women, and loudly calling foul regarding many current gender issues, including the blind enthusiasm over Fifty Shades.
    By the way, I loved Pat’s comment, and her self-test. So doing that!

  9. I read the book to see what’s passing for exciting to young people these days…… was completely idiotic. Like so much that has taken over in our culture, whatever seems sensational is what’s selling. I agree, there’s nothing interesting or attractive about any of this series. Sometimes I think we needn’t have bothered to work so hard for this generation of young……they don’t get it, or maybe just haven’t lived long enough to get it yet.

  10. I have not read the books or seen the movie but I don’t get it either. What I do to test whether my mind is missing the mark in these issues is to ask whether it would be okay if the gender roles were reversed. This is hard, because men like to play bondage also – but for them the operative word is “play”. I doubt men would be pleased if the radical Islamists said they are just playing when they take hostages and torture them and that when men go to war they are consenting adults.

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