Fifty Shades of Grey
About a year ago, I sat in an airport and began my usual behavior of people watching as I sat and waited for my flight. Directly across from me, about 5-feet away, sat a large man. He looked gruff and intimidating with his bald head, Hell’s Angeles leather vest, and heavily tattooed arms. He looked like he would have no problem taking someone into the bathroom and beating the crap out of them. On both sides of him sat two young boys, maybe 6 or 7, and they played closely to him, picking on each other and giggling, all the while he paid no mind. The children were obviously his, but nevertheless, this gentleman sat quietly and focused, reading a book. I’m not saying bad-ass biker dudes don’t read, but I will admit the overall picture did look rather odd. As his children played around him, he sat with this small paperback book in his large callused hands. This book was titled “Fifty Shades of Grey.” And with this, I began to witness the phenomenon surrounding the explicit erotic novel and the polarized feelings surrounding sexuality and bdsm that followed.
The label “mommy porn” has been widely used to describe the fifty shades trilogy. This term was inspired by the images of housewives and mothers sitting at home doing their laundry while their husbands are away, reading this book and fantasizing their life with their own Christian Grey. I find this interesting because labeling anything with the word “porn” is most often slapping on a negative connotation. With this simple label comes the shaming of those who enjoyed this book as a story, not as pornographic material. Maybe if so many people have been enjoying this book, then there is something else we should be looking at – maybe why this book became such a phenomenon in the first place and what is says about our sexual attitudes in America.
More than the mommy porn aspect, the biggest backlash this book/film has received is due to the relationship between the two main characters, Christian Grey and Anastasia ‘Ana’ Steele. In the story, Christian introduces Ana to the world of bdsm. However, many feel Ana is a weak female character, therefore perpetuating the “damsel in distress” theme that is ubiquitous but often scrutinized in romantic stories. Also, many see the relationship between Christian and Ana as an inaccurate depiction of the dynamic between a dominant and a submissive in a bdsm relationship, and in this story, their relationship is actually abusive. Despite what one may think, a more accurate and safe depiction of a dom/sub relationship is not abusive at all. Done safely, the relationship is discussed beforehand, where limits and boundaries are talked about, and most importantly, everything is consensual. I agree that although Ana verbally consents to everything, it is out of her desire to please Christian and ultimately heal him of his wounds, which is generally not a great reason to agree to getting strung up and whipped. Some argue that this book promotes unsafe explorations of bdsm and in turn, people will develop an inaccurate idea of what bdsm is and have a bad experience, or at worse, get hurt, physically and/or mentally.
I don’t disagree with these arguments against “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Yes, Ana does not come across as a particularly strong character, but I don’t see her as an unrealistic character either; and yes, the dynamic between Ana and Christian is not a portrayal of an accurate bdsm relationship, but since when are mainstream movies accurate portrayals of anything. I understand that for someone who participates in bdsm, they would have an interest in protecting the integrity of the practice considering all the misconceptions and misunderstandings around bdsm, but again, this is a movie, and movies are entertainment and fantasy, and it’s ok to enjoy something as a fantasy that may not be the most healthy or most ideal situation in real life. Just because you get off on Christian and Ana’s relationship does not mean you look up to either of them or see them as role models, and it does not mean that you are going to start allowing abusive behavior in your own life. I’m sure these things can and will happen, but we need to give ourselves more credit than that- we are capable of deciphering between fantasy and reality, and no one should be condemned for what they enjoy fantasizing about.
I feel we should embrace what this movie has sparked in people: the interest, the sexuality, the intrigue. But instead we are picking it apart and instilling fear by saying things like This movie isn’t accurate, They’re doing it wrong, You will get hurt if you try this at home. With these words, people are basically saying to those who enjoy what they are reading or watching What YOU like is not accurate, What YOU like is wrong, What YOU like will hurt you, and What YOU like is abusive. While people sit here and censure this movie, they don’t realize they are condemning people’s fantasies and their sexuality. How encouraged will someone feel to explore something when what interests them or turns them on is belittled or criticized? In a culture that has such a great misunderstanding of their sexual selves, we can not afford to make people even more uncomfortable or confused about sex.
I think many of us have the same interests at heart – we want people to better understand the bdsm world and sexuality overall, but we all know there is an effective way and an ineffective way of doing things. Condemnation is not the key to helping people understand their sexuality better. “Fifty Shades of Grey” may not be a great story, or a well written book, or even an entertaining movie, but we can embrace what it has piqued in our society and say to people It is great that you have found an interest in this, and it’s absolutely ok. If you’d like to explore it further, more knowledge may be necessary, so here are some resources for you. We can use all the attention this story has received and rather than criticize the hype around it, we can use it in an amazing and positive way to encourage people to feel more comfortable about exploring their sexuality.