The flawed feminist notion that women can have it all when it comes to an illustrious fulltime career and raising children can also be applied to the bedroom. Which is it, do you want to be respected between the sheets, or handcuffed to the bed post and whipped?
This argument is basically being played out on a national level as news reports of an upcoming orgasm seminar planned at the University of Minnesota have spread. The event is designed to help women have more and better orgasms, and students and others have defended the controversial programming, saying for far too long men have dominated in the sex department, and now it’s time for women to get top billing.
In a recent Minnesota Daily opinion column touting the orgasm workshop, for example, the author explains how – to the woe of women – sex is traditionally imbalanced to focus solely on the male; further, such phenomenon is ultimately problematic as it dictates inequitable gender roles both inside and outside of the bedroom.
Agreed. However, are we justified in mourning the illusive female orgasm and the larger concern of female sexual neglect, if we as women instead express the opposite sentiment demonstrated by the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon that has swept the nation?
It’s a paradox that can clearly be seen in the Red Room of Pain.
The Red Room of Pain, for those readers unfamiliar with the “Fifty Shades of Grey” escapades of Christian and Anastasia, is a supposedly extraordinary environment where true sexual satisfaction is discovered.
Whips, leather crops, shackles, cuffs, restraints, cable ties and a host of other torturous accoutrement adorn this special setting all in the name of sexual pleasure. Yet only Christian, also known as The Dominant, yields such devices, reprimanding Anastasia by repeatedly hitting her with a riding crop or binding her hands with cable ties to a bed post, or (why not?) doing both at the same time. Because certainly such a scenario exemplifies “sexual pleasure?” Not the last time I checked.
Maybe I am out of touch with contemporary perceptions of sexual delight, but I feel assured in my assertion that whipping someone as punishment for not appropriately replying to a command with (wait for it) the title of “Sir,” does not sound like a sane conception of enjoyment. Instead, it feels more like debased domination at the hands of a control-minded sociopath; and women worldwide are loving every inch of it.
As of early August of last year, it was estimated that more than 40 million copies of the trilogy had sold globally, 16 million of those finding their way into the United States; 15.9 million of those probably into the handbags of American women.
As I was sitting in the airport last summer, I could not help but notice how striking it was to see this many women reading the same book. It was eerie, as if a memo had gone out and only those with XX chromosomes had received it. And what was with those sneaky smiles, those flushed cheeks, and fretful yet knowing glances over the tops of pages?
I had, of course, heard of this book and in what is now an apparent moment of weakness had accepted the used copy from a friend to take on my summer trip; to take, in fact, on my honeymoon.
“Here,” my girlfriend said, slyly placing the book in my bag, “have so much fun.”
With a wink she sent me on my way, and I, not knowing any better and enthused to join this exclusive female club, thought I was off to join my sisters who once similarly passed around “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”
Was I wrong. So very wrong. This was not D.H. Lawrence, this was rotted smut that had no business calling itself a book. I was so shocked that I actually became mad at my friend. (Because, of course, it was her fault that a young female character was “willingly” letting herself be hit by a man so that he can get his socks rocked).
Upon further reflection, I realized that I was not angry at my friend; I was angry that this message, a misogynistic message steeped in the humiliation of a young woman, was resounding, by the millions, with women! If that is not a living contradiction in terms, I have no idea what is.
At one point in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Anastasia is forced to sit on her knees wearing her hair in a braid and only her underwear; she must kneel unmoving in this position until Christian summons her to stand. I am not embellishing. This scene can be found on page 320 of the book. Also, Anastasia must only refer to Christian as “Sir,” and, as discussed earlier, is punished if she responds incorrectly.
What does this say about us? What does this say about our expectations of love, reciprocation, and sexual equality? If we want to truly combat the historicism of male domination and female objectification, then we are doing an exceptionally poor job of it, as we continue to eat up a book blatantly advocating for some twisted sexual situation wherein the female is treated literally as an object.
Importantly, as women, we must ask ourselves who exactly is effectuating such standards of male sexual focus? More specifically, are we perhaps perpetuating the harmful standards, such as male dominance and female submission, that we rail against?
Unfortunately, the answers may not be pretty. For as women continue to idolize and fantasize about the demented and disgusting “relationship” embodied within “Fifty Shades of Grey,” we may come to realize that we are among the primary perpetuating culprits. And unfortunately the winners of this contradiction game are no winners at all.
Fix contributor Elizabeth Husmann graduated from Shippensburg University in 2008 with a B.A. in psychology; Miami University in 2009 with a M.A. in political science; and is currently finishing her doctorate degree in political science at Idaho State University.
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