What Is This “Fifty Shades of Grey” I Keep Hearing About?

Someone mentioned to me the other day something about a scene in a book called Fifty Shades of Grey. It sounded intriguing. And then my mind moved on to other things. Earlier today, my Google News page listed articles about this book. Didn’t someone mention that the other day, I thought. Yeah. So what is this? I clicked a few links, and it gets more interesting by the minute.

I don’t mean the book. I have not read it, nor even purchased a copy. But the news about this is interesting. More interesting still are the opinion articles that seek to condemn the book.

Apparently the book is a novel about a woman who ends up in a Dominance/submission relationship with a man. And not a mild one either. Apparently this novel includes some explicit BDSM scenes. The interesting part is that the relationship is not, as seems typical in fiction of various sorts these days, a Dominatrix and a man who wants to be abused. Rather this Fifty Shades of Grey book is about a woman who chooses to submit to a man as he seeks to control her almost completely, if the descriptions of the book are to be believed.

And apparently the popularity of this book has some women scared. Several of the links via Google were to opinion pieces that were swift to insist that the book was somehow a setback for feminism. Whitney Frink, over at msnbc.com, says

Some argue that the storyline (and graphic sex, no doubt) provides escapism for its readers. I would have no problem with this rationale if the book wasn’t gaining popularity on the idea that it’s both fun (“mommy porn”) and positive (“a true love story”).

[…]

I’m no Gloria Steinem (I do like a door held for me once in a while), but the feminist in me was clawing to get out as I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” If S&M is your thing, be my guest. If vapid books are your thing, to each their own. If it helps awaken your bedroom imagination, so be it. But let’s not tout this book as anything other than the big step backwards that it is.

She does not actually explain why someone should not find the book fun and romantic. She just seems to assume everyone would agree a book about a woman submitting to a man is a “big step backwards.” Though why is it is a step backwards she also does not explain.

Gina Barreca at the Hartford Courant says,

Women are pretending that they are the virginal heroine (with the all-too common name of “Anastasia Steele” — don’t you know, like, 12 women with that name?) whom he chooses as his object of desire.

Except “desire” is maybe not the right word for it: maybe “target” or “victim” would be more accurate.

And maybe “bondage” is a just sexy word for “degradation.”

1) I don’t know many women named Katie Scarlett O’Hara either. Sheesh. 2) Clearly this woman feels threatened by the book. Or at least its popularity. Apparently she is one of those feminists who cannot fathom why a woman might choose to submit. Indeed, that a woman might choose that offends her sense of feminism. She starts her column with this:

A hundred years of the women’s movement and what do we have? Women sneaking off to read “mommy porn” on their Nooks.

Wouldn’t our suffragette grandmothers be proud?

Why women choosing their own sexual fantasies and/or lifestyle is somehow anti-suffrage, Ms. Barrecca never explains.

This book must be some kind of awesome to have some women so afraid of it.

But Ms. Barreca lives in a strange place. She says also,

Women are encouraged by our culture to look for men who will provide them with an identity, even if that identity is “slave.”

They are? Where is this going on? Somewhere this must be, because over at Salon.com (where Tracy Clark-Flory talked to Dominatrices about the book) is this quote:

[Melissa] Febos, who considers herself a feminist and also has submissive fantasies, says, “I still live in a culture that floods my consciousness with instructions to be a passive, sexual object; that my only power rests in my sexuality as defined by men’s desire,” she says. [sic]

Where do these women live? In the 1950s? In the U.S. culture of 2012, images of strong women are everywhere. Very nearly the only BDSM images one ever sees in the mainstream media are of Dominatrices punishing men. There are strong women in comedies, crime dramas, sci-fi, fantasy, medical dramas. Some of the most popular authors of our day are women. Women hold places of power in politics and corporations. Yeah, I know, it’s still a male dominated society, but don’t tell me females are not told be strong independent women all the time, all over the place. Because they are.

Any feminism that does not allow for women to voluntarily choose to submit in a non-abusive relationship is not feminism. If women are to be free to choose their own lives and free to own their sexuality, then we cannot also say to them, “but these choices are unacceptable and if you choose one or more of them then there is something wrong with you.” Why should we not say that to them? Because that would just exchange one kind of paternalism for another.

I suggest those who frown upon submissive women should try not to be afraid of strong women. There is more to strength than being bossy. And not all bossy women are strong, just at not all bossy men are strong. If what I am saying offends you, I suggest further that is your problem, not mine.

8 Responses to “What Is This “Fifty Shades of Grey” I Keep Hearing About?”

  1. It’s striking the balance between strength and submission. People think what you exude outwardly you must be all the time. If they see you as strong they can’t imagine you as submissive. It’s a lack of understanding about what submission is. What a submissive woman is. Strength craves stronger. Certainly feminism is flawed in that it seeks to decide what is female which by nature means exluding some. It is meant to empower women, but what has it done for the family? Both must work now. Women have lost their identity trying to hold up to being the equal of men instead of being the equal of themselves.

  2. My own? Maybe so. Maybe I am overly arrogant.

    • No, not you. I meant on the part of folks who were critical of the book because of the D/s.

      • Ok. It did not bother me if you did mean it for me. I think we are all guilty of arrogance. I am an intelligence snob. So yes, maybe I do limit myself in that capacity. Maybe it is just me who makes it hard for myself to connect with others who can’t keep up.

  3. just grateful that im a man. i can read or watch my porn and nobody expects me to do anything

  4. I like the last part about ” I suggest those who frown upon submissive women should try not to be afraid of strong women.” that is so true it is comical. It takes a lot of strength to admit and seek out what you want in life as well as relinquish any control of your life to someone else.

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