Fifty shades is back on the screen. This time around the fantasy is even more extraordinary. Marriage is now on the table.
Violent yet safe sex leading to a secure relationship and marriage. Hmm.
With over 100 million books sold, in 51 different languages, this is a popular story.
The books don’t aspire to be high calibre literature. It would seem that the unique selling point is the depiction of BDSM in a context that is appealing to women.
If you’re curious about kinky sex these books will give you a thrill. I’m guessing that many readers have never seen a butt plug or discussed the joys of anal sex with a female friend over coffee.
E.L. James lays it all out for us, the nipple clamps, the contract, the slave-master relationship revealed. The whole thing packaged neatly with a pink ribbon of romance and a sprinkling of love. How sweet. Bondage and romance, what more could a girl want?
But when the kinky sex is subtracted from this story what’s left is a pretty drab relationship. The bondage really is just a red herring.
It could even be argued that there is a disturbing aspect to this narrative.
In the first instalment of the Fifty Shades series we meet the handsome Mr Grey. The man who wants to begin a relationship with a written contract. Lovely.
Mr Grey wants a contractual partner for sex. He wants a woman who will come to his home on weekends. The way most of us would order a Chinese take-away on a Saturday night. After sex, Mr Grey does not wish to share a bed or even a room with his partner. No embraces or late night chats. There will be no dates, no flowers.
In this context, how relevant is the actual type of sex on offer? Let’s not kid ourselves – if you’re being used for sex you’re being used.
When our heroine Anna asks what’s in it for her, the delightful reply from Christian Grey is “me”.
We all know someone who fell for this trap. A woman who is emotionally attached to a man she sleeps with because sex is the only way she can be with him. E.L. James, uses the distraction of whips, feathers and a red room to make this situation seem exotic and romantic. The trouble is, it’s not.
The heroine submits (excuse the pun) to the sex in the hope of being rewarded with a healthy fulfilling relationship. The greatest fantasy of all is not the handsome rich and intelligent character of Mr Grey. It is the dangerous idea that an exploitative self-serving relationship like the one being offered by Christian Grey could eventually lead to a happy marriage.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author of Venus in Furs, wrote that a woman “can only be (a man’s) slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work”. Very forward-thinking for a man in the year 1870.
Yet here we are in the year 2017 when a woman can achieve companionship with a man through equal rights in education and work. One hundred million of those women aren’t interested. They buy into a franchise with a hero who doesn’t want a female companion but rather a slave. A heroine who submits because it’s the only way she can get her man.
What is so attractive about Christian Grey that his lame offer of a sub-standard relationship with absolutely no emotional value-for-money appeals to women?
Strength. Christian Grey’s strength of character is the answer. This attraction signals the death of the metro man, who is now extinct. No longer the appreciation of a man keeping in touch with his feminine side. No more the desire for a man who expresses his emotions and shows an interest fashion and personal grooming. He is a social fossil. Dead. The man’s man is back.
The appeal of Christian Grey lies in his self-assured, confident and independent ways. Here is a man who can think for himself, make his own decisions and money. He knows himself and knows what he wants. He is the ultimate alpha male and perhaps too much of a novelty for the 21st century woman.
Haven’t we seen an almost complete U-turn in the attitudes towards men and women in mainstream media and advertising? It’s no longer acceptable to portray women as helpless, weak or dumb. The image of the 1950’s apron-wearing blonde is not well worn by modern women.
But what about the image of the dumb man? You know the one I mean, the man who can’t multi-task, never listens and is perennially wrong? That image is all-too prevalent.
Parents of young toddlers who enjoy the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig know what I mean. In the classic family life of young Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig is ridiculous. Daddy Pig is chronically misled, repeating one misdemeanour after another only to be corrected by the all-knowing, all-wise Mummy Pig. In effect Daddy Pig is reduced to the level of the third child in the family. He is not a grown-up on equal terms with his wife.
This derogatory portrayal of men is widespread and damaging, to both men and women. As young girls continue to outperform boys in school exams and at university a new gender gap might be developing.
Young girls of the Peppa Pig generation can surely not be expected to have high expectations of a husband. Cue the novelty and appeal of a character like Christian Grey. A man who takes charge, a man who likes to be in charge. Clearly, he has the edge over the fumbling fool many woman see depicted in the media.
As far back as 1983 social scientists Marcia Guttentag and Paul F. Secord described the “man-deficit” among college-educated young people. Could the gender ratios of college graduates be a factor in women lowering their relationship standards?
In his book “Date-Onomics: How dating became a lopsided numbers game” Jon Birger explains that college educated women outnumber their male counterparts in the US. Birger points to the fact that 1981 was the last year that more men graduated from four-year university degree programs. Since then, it’s more and more women graduating every year.
Manhattan has 60 percent more female college graduates than male between the ages of 22-29. Bad news if you’re a young educated lady who seeks to be in a relationship with a man with a similar level of education. Very bad news if you believe in the principle of relationship equality. Could it be a shortage of available men, or a dearth of finding the good ones?
As the plot of Fifty Shades unfolds we see that there are no men available to match Christian Grey’s focus, strength and confidence. The other male characters who compete for Anna’s attention appear immature and unable to handle themselves, the Daddy Pigs of this world. So, Anna does what any modern girl might do, she settles.
Anna, like many women is so desperate to have a partner of equal strength to her own that she’ll take him on any terms. A partner of equal strength in a relationship of unequal terms.
Equality of the sexes is dead and gone, says E.L James, it’s in the grave.