50 Shades of Conventional Gender Roles (commentary)

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.

Pretty creepy.

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.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,



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  1. JB Sanders
    Posted February 9, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you on this Alex, but it had to appeal to a large group of women out there, or it never would have been a best seller or had a movie made. Although I think a lot of women bought it for the reason a lot of books become best sellers, it’s the magic flavor of the moment and they have to have it whether they read it or not,

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted February 9, 2015 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I have little doubt that a lot of women found this fantasy appealing. People find all kinds of cliches appealing, even ones that are disparaging or negative toward themselves.

  2. Shai
    Posted February 10, 2015 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I think these books appeal to women in the same way porn appeals to kids who grow up in areas with broken or absent sexual education. The country needs a consent conversation, it needs decent sex education, and it needs to learn the difference between good writing and bad writing. Also, how to identify these things. If your book doesn’t pass the Bechtel test…you might have a problem. Hell, the Story of O had better writing, plot, representation of abuse, and violation of effective consent. The best part about it was the line it crossed for everyone. No matter where you drew the line between the excuses you make to yourself for erotica, and abuse; the clear violation of those rules made the ultimate idea clear – this relationship became a violation because no partnership can exist between a human and a bobblehead who abdicates all personal responsibility.

  3. David Dallaglio
    Posted February 14, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree most movies you see are of dominant men abusing women like in 50 shades of grey. But that’s not always the case in real life both my mom and ex step mom are very dominant controlling things have to go there way or no way and both never apologize because to them there never wrong. My dad was controlled by both to the point when he married my step mom he was told to give up things he enjoyed before they got married. Then she left him fore no reason gave him no choice you come to California with me or we get divorced knowing both my sister and my life was in Virginia High School everything still even in college at the time. Plus all men aren’t controlling as it seams and movies make them to believe. I have a girlfriend with three young children Lizzie 9,Emma7 and James 5 .Yes I do manly stuff mostly working with children teaching karate assistant coaching soccer and working at my church . Graduating from a community College this spring in education to start a career with that plus i’m 47 she’s 35 and had a relationship with a controlling person .But I don’t control anything she’s going to nursing school for a better career and I support that 100% instead of saying i’ll take care of that don’t need that.Birth dad or not I took her kids in as mine and play special songs dancing with her two princess’s singing it to them a lot. They are my life my world my everything and grand finally of that job the lord gave me. So when you see movies like that and say typical guy there are still some good guys out there like I have been ,and there are women that are very dominating and never wrong or at least to them there never wrong or apologize.So sometimes Men have to keep there eyes open to that just like women do.

    • LR
      Posted July 14, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Talk about the kids having absent mothers. Boys who grow up with absent mothers are the ones that are more likely to be very controlling in their relationships.

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