Why Women Want Shades of Grey
What’s the appeal?
The best-known guess comes from Katie Roiphe who believes women crave submission in the bedroom as relief from their newfound burden of equality, power and free will, as though they just can’t handle it:
In “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s character finds herself for a moment lying on a gynecologist’s table perversely fantasizing about having AIDS because it would free her from ambition, from responsibility, from the daunting need to make something of her life… which raises the question: is there something exhausting about the relentless responsibility of a contemporary woman’s life… about all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world?
Roiphe’s theory has been thoroughly panned. After all, plenty of powerful men like a little dominatrix sex play to gain relief from their relentless responsibilities, too. So some men and some women may want both power and a break from it.
They came to see me as a brief escape when no one was looking at them for direction or leadership. The time with me is when they were told what to do, what to feel and how to act … and all the weight of their careers, families, lives, is lifted from them for a cherished few hours.
Lena Dunham’s hard-driven “Girls” character also seems to want both power and relief.
On the other hand, dominatrices also talk of clients who fetishize their disempowerment, whether it comes from a history of child abuse, racism or poverty. That goes directly against Roiphe’s theory. There are plenty of powerless women out there who could be doing that, too.
Regardless, Tracy Clark-Flory, over at Salon points out that this fetish needn’t mean a woman wants to be disempowered in real life. Surely, a black man who eroticizes racism doesn’t want a return to the pre-Civil Rights era. What we want in fantasy is not necessarily what we crave in the real world.
As a child, I got told off for hitting a man in the crotch with my stuffed penguin and now I love hurting balls. Go figure.
Humans are complex and varied, but whether submission fantasies are motivated by relief from power or from fetishized disempowerment or from some other source, it is Anastasia who is disempowered here, not the reader.
Next time I’ll look at how socialization may spark the allure of Fifty Shades of Grey. Later, I’ll have thoughts on what to make of it all.