I’m not here to judge anyone’s lifestyle choice. Well, not most anyone. But there is something profoundly creepy about the version of romance portrayed by 50 Shades of Gray. I’m not talking about the notion of BDSM. I’m just talking about the idea that romance is a thing to be forced upon us, that a relationship is about one person (usually a man) conquering another (usually a woman). Is this healthy? Is this a way a modern relationship should develop?
I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t appeal to me, but I’m not the target audience. I don’t care if people read books I find creepy. That’s cool. But the idea that this is “erotic” is as ridiculous to me as the cliches of male-targeted porn can be. In that world, women are just ready to have sex at a moment’s notice, with no consequence or thought. It’s absurd, and a fantasy. But it is definitely not a healthy way to approach real sexuality.
Fantasy is fantasy. I enjoy fiction where monsters step on cities, and it doesn’t mean I want to watch cities get stepped on in real life. So if someone wants to read about unhealthy relationships, even fantasize about them, I don’t really have a problem with that.
Yet there is a small difference here I sometimes can’t get over. Porn is hardly ever about real relationships, and many of the classic steamy fictions of the past have portrayed the dangerous and negative sides of such relationships. Fatal Attraction, Body Heat, Basic Instinct, all explore the dangers of sexual attraction and manipulation. Sure, they do so for drama more than an overarcing theme, but still, 50 Shades is about one person who controls and manipulates and dominates another, and it is portrayed as something healthy and positive.
I won’t even begin to get into the gender politics of this. There are certainly men who like to be dominated, and yet, you wouldn’t know it from mainstream fiction. Such men are weak-willed, pathetic, foolish. There are women who like to dominate. Such women are harpies, dangerous vixens, and untrustworthy.
But reverse it, make the man the dominator, make the woman the dominated, and it’s a mainstream “erotic romance” with a Valentine’s Day release.
It seems that, in the end, this isn’t a story with edge, but an old fashioned throwback. John Wayne throws the little lady over his shoulder and drags her away, and it’s harmless fun. It’s even romantic and playful. Christian Gray drags a woman into his bed, lacks even the basics of treating a human being like a human being, and then everyone swoons.
Same ol’ gender roles.
Same ol’ message.
Men, you should be strong for your woman because she needs you to tell her how to feel, how to be. She needs you to break in her sexuality rather than discovering it on her own.
Women, you should learn that, in the end, a strong man will stoke your fires. The passions within you cannot be awakened without someone to dominate you into surrendering control.
Yeah. Lot of dangerous bullshit there.