There's a lot of criticism about E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. Some women feel it spanks feminism in the ass and that the book condones a woman giving up complete control of her life and becoming a submissive. Anyone who reads it must want a guy who does all the thinking, tells you what to do -- and you know your role is to cook, clean, and let him do what he wants to you sexually.
At first, after reading many convincing arguments on the topic, I was on board with disliking the book and not wanting to read it. How dare the author, a woman, write this kind of smut? Why isn't the erotica that shows women who aren't repressed in the bedroom becoming bestsellers?
But the truth is, Shades of Grey is a brilliant fantasy. It taps into what so many women want whether you are single, in a relationship, a working mom, or a stay-at-home mom.
First we have to note that there are two kinds of fantasies. The ones you want to come true and the ones that need to stay just a fantasy because there is no chance you really want to wear a strap-on and have a threesome with your man and another woman, but the thought of it does turn you on. The basic element of Shades of Grey -- sexual submission -- is what many women want, a fantasy that many want to come true, of course if you set aside the mind-game of a man totally taking control of all aspects of your life.
That man is Christian Grey. He is powerful. He's rich. He's dominant. He's sexy as hell and is a total pervert. Anastasia Steele loves to be spanked. They end up falling into a twisted crazy love full of kink and bondage. If you break it down, that's what this book is about.
When I was talking to my friend Leila about it, she quickly said how it is every woman's fantasy to have a man who takes care of everything at home. Think about it: You work hard all day (at the office or wrangling the kids) and when it comes to sex, what is so wrong with wanting a guy to taking charge? What's so wrong with fantasizing about a man who has money and likes to spank you when you love to be spanked? It's like fantasizing about being with a George Clooney-type who wants to ravage your body, takes you to the brink of pleasure, has you begging for more before he fulfills your desire, leaving you in the most amazing post-orgasm glow. And you never have to worry about where you're getting the money to pay your bills. I don't see anything anti-feminist in that. Women have worked hard to be forces in the workplace. We shouldn't always have to work hard when it comes to sex, too.
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Remember Maggie Gyllenhaal's submissive character in Secretary? Great movie. Sexy movie. Interestingly the dominant character's name is also Grey (though first name Edward). I don't remember anyone taking issue with that plot. Besides, it's not like submissives don't have any control. In fact, there is a lot of power in having someone else do everything for you sexually.
I saw an interview the author did and many have her called out for what she said -- she didn't think she was a good writer. Critics ran with this, but doesn't every writer think they aren't very good? Even when a writer thinks they wrote something good, once they re-read it, they start to have doubts. Would it have been better if she said she was the best writer ever? This is erotica. The fact that it is a bestseller with women is a great sign we are in control of our sex lives, whether or not we like to be in control sexually or not.
Of course, there are other sex fantasies besides being submissive. We shouldn't be repressed in the bedroom. But if we want to be spanked, to be dominated, then denying ourselves of that is a form of repression. Why not indulge in that fantasy? Plus, it's a book. It takes us somewhere -- it gets our mind going. And we're reading. And getting turned on. And there's nothing wrong with that.
If you want to argue the feminist point and what really sets women back, watch just about any porno flick and see how women really get degraded. At least Shades of Grey is porn with a plot. And apparently porn that speaks to many women. Which in itself is a breakthrough.
Do you think Shades of Grey sets women back? Is the submission fantasy what some really want?
Image via Barnes & Noble