There are hundreds of mixed reviews about Fifty Shades of Grey. Some rave about the empowering exploration of consensual sexual boundaries while others warn of the movie's harmful messages around traditional gender roles and submission, blurred lines between sex and love.
Instead of the constant critiquing and debating (and, ahem, blog posting), shouldn't we all be a little embarrassed that this movie is so popular? The movie posters boast that it is a "global phenomenon", and, based on the volume of discussion, media coverage and blatant outrage that this movie has sparked, I am starting to actually believe this to be true.
Have we really made this movie this big of a deal? Are we really this outraged? Have we never read erotica before?
Millions of women's sexual desires are aroused by Fifty Shades of Grey. Women have been gathering in book clubs, lounging by the country club pool, hanging out in coffee shops and riding the subway openly and proudly reading their erotica. Isn't this progress?
Doesn't this show sexual maturity, freedom and confidence? Or is this our cue that something has gone terribly awry? What does the popularity of such a film say about our culture?
The fact that such an overly simplistic movie becomes so complex in our psyches says a lot about the fragile boundaries we have created of right and wrong, sexy and sadistic, good and evil. And how strictly our psyches rely on these boundaries to continue to function with comfort and clarity. We rarely want to be challenged at our most basic level - right where the wiring is held together. And never as part of a collective or public forum - such as a blockbuster film.
We have followed traditional gender roles for far too long. The notion of traditional as the norm has changed and is continually changing. Our minds may just now be fully adapting to the new rules of gender equality and figuring out where the new boundaries are. We are constantly analyzing what our actions mean with respect to gender and position in society. Constantly defining and redefining these boundaries. And the rules. The rules that say how far we've come, the rules that tell us how to behave within the often fragile lines.
And now this series comes along and with one quick slap on the wrist all the rules we thought we knew are shattered. We feel aroused while simultaneously feeling guilty about feeling aroused. Isn't that more of an issue than anything else?
Have we come so far with gender equality that women can no longer have a fantasy about being dominated? Perhaps all of this outrage is simply an indication of just how far we've come on that front. Or is it the opposite? If women aren't even allowed to have the sexual fantasy they desire without judgement then maybe we have far less freedom than we thought.
According to a study on sexual fantasy, "While both men and women can experience similar fantasies, women more often fantasize about taking a passive role or being dominated while men more often fantasize about taking a dominant role, doing something sexual to their partner, or having multiple partners." Leitenberg, H., & Henning, K.
Those millions of women riding the subway or lounging by the pool relishing in their fantasy fiction should be allowed to do so without guilt or judgement. Especially by other women.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a fantasy. A fantasy that has had mass appeal. It doesn't make you less of a powerful woman, less feminist or wholesome, in your ideals, to be super turned on or aroused by the fantasy.
In fact, research from the Kinsey Institute states, "Sexual fantasies are healthy, occurring most often in people showing the fewest sexual problems and least sexual dissatisfaction."
Individual sexuality is incredibly complex. Some people get turned on by big breasts. And small feet. Others by rope and masking tape. Sexual desire is deeply personal and not universal. What it should be is consensual. We can all at least agree on that.
But who are we to judge each other, criticize each other and shame one another about our sexual fantasies, preferences and choices? And isn't it much healthier and congruent with goals of gender equality, sexual freedom and empowerment if we don't? Fantasy doesn't always lead to choice, and it is a sign of an empowered society where the choice remains solely yours.
What I think Fifty Shades of Grey truly puts out there is a somewhat simplistic view of modern day power plays. The form of the power play may be inside a sexually charged male dominated playroom, but the power plays that take place in every day life are no different. And they are not limited to a man versus woman dynamic.
Challenging the role and dance of power out in the open, as Fifty Shades does, is actually quite bold. And perhaps frighteningly realistic. Manipulation and dominance are key factors in modern day culture. Every man and woman fending for themselves. Game playing abounds - rewards, incentives and punishment based on your behavior and ability to know your place. Unwritten rules everyone must follow but not always equally.
Could this be what all the outrage is about? Is it possible that the film ignites the sharp edges of dominance, submission and manipulation that run rampant in our culture today? The mass popularity of this film may actually be a cue that something has gone awry. Perhaps what has gone awry is the tremendous lack of empathy and compassion we show each other, everyday.
Otherwise, just let me have my fantasy, and I will let you have yours.