Why ’50 Shades of Grey’ Is Turnoff for Real Women

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Dakota Johnson as Alexandra Steele in "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Credit: Courtesy of Courtesy of Universal Pictures


BOSTON (WOMENSENEWS)–The first Valentine I got as a kid featured a huge red heart, a cute little white kitten and the words "Be My Valentine."

What a long way from "Fifty Shades of Grey," the violent soft core porn flick producers saw fit to release on Valentine’s Day.

How much will that do to our quaint, cupid conventions? Will junior-high-school kids be looking at cards that feature a big red heart, a cute little white kitten–bound and gagged–and the words "Sock it to me!"?

For those few readers on the planet who are unaware of the marketing phenomenon that is Fifty Shades–the books and now the movie– here’s the plot: A naive college girl, Alexandra Steele, meets a studly young millionaire, Christian Grey, and is immediately smitten. She is at first unaware of his unusual sexual tastes. She asks whether his game room is filled with stuff like Nintendo and Xbox, but his idea of games is a tad kinkier. He prefers items such as handcuffs, leather whips and gags (definitely not the ha! ha! kind). Various kitchen utensils come into play as well. You will never think of a spatula in the same way again

The debate over Fifty Shades is this: Is it liberating for women, opening a dialogue about female erotica, including SandM, or does it promote violence again women?

A number of domestic violence advocates have called for a boycott of the movie. "Real women don’t end up like Anastasia; they often end up at women’s shelters, on the run for years, or dead," said the National Center On Sexual Exploitation

What Message to Men?

One question that isn’t being asked much, but should be, is what message does the film send to men about how they should behave towards women?

Few men have probably read the novels by E.L. James, which started out as poorly written Twilight fan fiction. (They have been described as mommy porn, due to their mix of the romance novel genre with sadomasochism.) But many males have surely seen the sexy bondage trailer for the film, which can create a yen to buy a ticket.

Should men assume that women like to be shoved around and dominated, as the classic Rolling Stones song insists, kept, "under my thumb?" That sentiment was echoed by Robin Thicke in his hit song "Blurred Lines." Repeating "I know want it," the singer tells a woman she is the hottest B—–in the place and suggests rough sex. He croons, if that is the right word, that her former boyfriend was too tame. He didn’t smack her butt or pull her hair the way Thicke wants to.

The idea is that dominant men get the girls, not the "tame" males who are caring and thoughtful. In popular culture, the tough guys are the ones women find appealing. There’s James Bond with his Aston Martin and lethal toys, all the Marvel boys with their capes and superpowers, Marlon Brando on his "Wild One" motorcycle and Brad Pitt killing off both Nazis and zombies.

Men in the public arena often feel a need to put their bravado on display. Why did NBC anchor Brian Williams have to say his chopper got hit by enemy fire? Wasn’t simply being on the frontlines of a dangerous and brutal war macho enough in the first place?

Research Disagrees

But do aggressive men always win? That’s a longstanding narrative, but one that is contested by research.

Among other primates, dominant males don’t mate more often than other males, nor do they produce more offspring. A study of chimpanzees that used biochemical tests to determine paternity concluded there was no direct correlation between paternity and rank.

Among our hominid ancestors, aggressive, disruptive males would not have been the most successful suitors, say psychologists Kay Bussey and Albert Bandura. Instead, males who could cooperate, who had good social skills and could help care for the young would be the most acceptable mates. Nice guys do finish first.

Women are supposed to want dominant males who control resources and can support them and their children. But, say researchers Alice Eagly and Wendy Wood, that scenario changes when women have earning power of their own. In societies that have the most gender equality, they report, females do not choose the rich, tough guys. They prefer loving cooperative partners who can be good fathers.

Are men "hardwired" to be dominant, controlling, emotionally distant and unable to commit, like Christian Grey? In fact, no. Harvard psychologist William Pollack, author of "Real Boys," writes that baby boys are more emotionally expressive than girl babies. "The mask of masculinity," he says, too often cuts boys and men off from their true natures.

Men who take Grey as a role model could wind up lonely and unhappy, missing out on the richness of emotional commitment. Maybe Grey should throw away the spatula and buy a gross of cards with red hearts and white kittens, and "Be My Valentine" printed on the front.

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