I waited for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” crase to come to a reasonable point to urge one to give it a healthy thought.
What is a fantasy?
From Freud to Ludacris, it’s been an elusive idea, suggesting both an escape from reality and an expression of hidden desire. In culture, fantasy works like a mirror: It reflects who we are, but it also shapes what we become.
But the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is a troubling and influential fantasy targeting a large mainstream set of women. It’s incredibly straight: Ana and Christian stick to maximally traditional versions of femininity and masculinity. The BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Dominance, Submission/Sadism and Masochism) play and fetishes are related to mental issues where we normally refer BDSM as a new standard for hot—which Fifty Shades is helping it become—. Fifty Shades eroticizes sexual violence, but without any of the emotional maturity and communication required to make it safe.
Right now there is an interesting tension between the mainstreaming of S&M (Submission/Sadism and Masochism) that Fifty Shades represents and also the mainstream horror at rape culture. There’s an increasing vigilance against rape culture on the one hand and the easy acceptance of pornographic S&M on the other.
Sadly, mainstream culture has come to look more and more like pornography and this can be reflected on the way people project their sexuality on social media, imitating gestures and facial expressions from porn. “If you look at somebody’s Facebook page, or selfie culture—the way people are presenting themselves for cameras is much more sexualized than it once was,” she said.
BDSM and S&M inevitably represents and propagates violence against women—largely because it dehumanize them.
“Women in pornography are turned on by being put down and feel pain as pleasure. We want it; we beg for it; we get it,” MacKinnon wrote in her 1988 book, Feminism Unmodified. But this comes at the cost of seeing women as real people, she said: “Only when self-respect is accepted as human does debasement become sexy and female; only when avoidance of pain is accepted as human does torture become sexy and female.”
Sexuality, which has historically been rooted in power dynamics, and perhaps sexist power dynamics—have those instincts or preferences been eradicated by our new understanding of equality? And if not, what is to be done with them?
This is not an easy question, but the answer offered by Fifty Shades is insufficient. It’s one thing to explore power dynamics; it’s another to use power to manipulate and control your partner.
In a 2000 paper, the legal scholar Robin West wrote that “the ethic of consent, applied even-handedly, may indeed increase the amount of happiness in the world, but women will not be the beneficiaries.”
The rather inescapable fact is that much of the misery women endure is fully “consensual.” … Put affirmatively, the conditions which create our misery—unwanted pregnancies, violent and abusive marriages, sexual harassment on the job—are often traceable to acts of consent. Women—somewhat uniquely—consent to their misery. An ethical standard which ties value to the act of consent by presumptively assuming that people consent to their circumstances so as to bring about their own happiness—and by so doing thereby create value—leaves these miserable consensual relationships beyond criticism.
And even when people have a sophisticated understanding of sex, movies offer little to model healthy sexual encounters beyond the threshold of consent.
It’s one thing to ensure that all sex is legal, and that everyone is free to have sex based on their rights as individuals. It’s another to have a culture that encourages people, and particularly young adults, to seek out sexual encounters that are emotionally constructive and based on affirmative values of mutual respect, dignity, and care. As Catharine MacKinnon wrote in 1988, “It is not that life and art imitate each other; in sexuality, they are each other.”
In an interview, Esther Perel, a sex therapist and the author of Mating in Captivity, said, “I find it amazing that this country at this point is going to spill quantities of ink talking about Fifty Shades, when it doesn’t even have a basic education on sex. It’s like you’re introducing alcohol to people who haven’t had any water in years.”
But that’s exactly why it’s so important to pay attention to the Fifty Shades fantasy.
I seriously recommend one to read this “A psychiatrist’s letter to young people about Fifty Shades of Grey”