The topic is: what do you fantasize about? Or, rather, whom? The reason I ask is because of this new series of books now available, the first of which is called Fifty Shades of Grey. Heard of them? Apparently, the series started out as Twilight fan fiction by this English woman, E. L. James. It’s an erotic novel (her first) that centers around this young, inexperienced girl who falls in love with a somewhat older, wealthy gentleman with very specific tastes. Let me begin by saying I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey and everything I know about it is from word of mouth, internet articles and Entertainment Weekly.
Actually, allow me to back up a bit and first say that I disliked the Twilight series. I read it and felt the story would have been compelling were it not for the characters in it. I disliked the series not because it was teenage fantasy but because I was entirely unable to relate to the main character, Bella Swan, and I did not like her love, Edward Cullen. Nothing about the cold, stone-like description of him appealed to me but, even putting all that vampire stuff aside, he seemed to me a jealous, possessive boyfriend with serious stalker potential. I know that all teenagers, when first in love, would like to spend every waking minute of their lives together. On paper, I understood why teenaged girls loved Twilight and adored Edward. But why the fuck did their mothers love him? If I were a mom, I would not want my 17 year-old daughter dating a boy who told her whom to talk to, watched over her while she slept and treated her like a breakable toy – like a porcelain doll incapable of surviving without his watchful eye upon her. In fact, those are the kind of guys I was always told to steer clear from, as they are the ones we see on the news – you know the stories: “Man shoots ex-girlfriend after she gets restraining order against him, says he’d rather see her dead than with someone else.” Guys like that are scary, not sexy. I know that the Twilight series was written for a Young Adult audience, so naturally the characters in it would be chaste and virginal. Not exactly realistic in today’s world, but whatever. And author Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon, undeniably a patriarchal community, so sure, her female characters are likely to treat their men as stronger and wiser that they. Fine. But the fact that millions of adult women loooooved Edward Cullen shocked and, kind of, disgusted me. The response to this new book, Fifty Shades of Grey, is even more appalling.
Back to the matter at hand. Here’s what I’ve gathered from reviews and articles about Grey: the main character is a 21 year-old virgin who falls for an older billionaire who offers her a contract that clearly states he has control over her. She signs said contract and then becomes something of a sex slave to him (of her own free will), engaging in bondage and pretty hard core sado/masochism. He tells her what and how much to eat and watches her like a spy as she goes about her life, becoming so irate when he sees her speaking to any other men that he goes into jealous, rageful fits. This book is hugely popular and has been dubbed “mommy porn,” because its audience is about 98% women and the sex scenes are pretty graphic.
Look, I’m not against bondage or sado/masochism. Everyone is free to do anything they choose with a consenting adult – that’s not the issue here. But it surprises me that, apparently, millions of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s want to be controlled by a man. I get that there is a certain freedom in not making your own choices but I thought that applied more to letting your guy pick the restaurant or the movie, not exactly what and how much you are allowed to eat or with whom you can speak.
The truth is, I think people should read whatever the hell they want. If you’re into harlequin romance novels, fine. And if this book is something that appeals to you, that’s fine, too. I just can’t help but wonder what it says about American women today that these possessive, controlling men are the ones they lust after and day dream about. Are they bored and simply enjoying the excitement? I wonder if, in their actual lives, they’d prefer a man like that over one who treats them with trust and respect, as an equally valuable and free human being. I’ve had a few “bad boy” boyfriends and I get the appeal. But after a very short period as the girlfriend of the bad boy, the shine wears off. The jealousy thing stops being cute because it’s much less about their affection for you and more about their need to control and manipulate another person. And they’ll lie and cheat and exaggerate to get what they want. And if you won’t be the person they want you to be, they quickly pick up and move on. They are okay to rebound with or have a fun, summer fling with. But these are not the men you want to marry or be fathers to your babies. Because, as you should be able to guess, they’ll want to control and manipulate their daughters, as well, and raise them to be docile, submissive women because those are the women they like.
100 years ago, female authors wrote about men who treated their women as equals, who were inspired and enlivened by their women. Men like the beloved Mr. Darcy who fell for Elizabeth Bennett because she did not blindly worship him for his money and power, as most other available women around him did. Or Robert Lebrun who loved another man’s wife – a married mother of two (not an untouched virgin) for her passion and independent spirit. And the hardened Mr. Rochester whose soul was stirred by the conviction and integrity of the poor and plain Jane Eyre. Back when women literally were oppressed and controlled by the men in their lives, they dreamed of a man who valued them for their minds and willfulness. Now that we have achieved relative equality, the modern woman’s ideal man is obscenely rich and ties his lady to the bedposts, violently penetrating her while she gags on a chokeball. Oh, how far we’ve come.
It shocks me that there are so many submissive women in today’s society. Or women who fantasize about being submissive, about being dominated by a possessive man. I don’t want to get political, but seriously, are women advancing or regressing? Is this what the generations of women who fought so hard for suffrage and equality fought for – the right to choose to be dominated by a man? I may be in the minority here, but give me a Mr. Darcy over a Christian Grey any day.