Learning to Like Torture in Shades of Grey

Mencontrol7What’s the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey? As I’ve written before, release from power, fetishizing disempowerment, and random happenings may all play a part.

Internalizing a culture that eroticizes the degradation and torture of women surely plays a role, too.

A post from Feministing reads:

I am in no way surprised that many women, who have been socialized in a culture in which male sexuality is linked to domination and in which women are taught their sexual power comes from being wanted, have fantasies of submission.

When you are bombarded by images, ideas subconsciously get inside your head. And we are drenched in “male dominance is sexy” imagery.

Dolce-Gabbana-Ad-Sexist[1]Dolce & Gabana has a sexy ad suggesting gang rape. In another, a swimsuit-clad woman lies down as fully clothed men look menacingly down on her.

A Tom Ford eyewear ad seems to say F-you to a woman, in a BJ kind of way.

Fashion ads suggest that black and blue is beautiful.

At Superbowl XXXVIII Justin Timberlake slapped Janet Jackson around before ripping off her bodice.

Rhett Butler “takes” Scarlett in an act of marital rape – and she awakens sexually satisfied in the morning. Luke rapes Laura on “General Hospital” — and they fall in love.

secretaryLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit invites us to indulge in the rape, battering and torture of sex victims — usually women.

Meanwhile, The Secretary indulges in a little D/s on the side.

Or go to the ballet and watch a man overtake a woman in “Petite Mort” or “little death” (in idiom: orgasm).

On the music scene sexy women are routinely debased as bitches and ho’s while Eminem chants “I’m in flight high of a love drunk from the hate” while Rihanna submits saying, “I like the way it hurts” — and periodically returns to a lover who beat her.

Women are also watching more porn these days. Now showing: violence and degradation of women. Watching, they increasingly find it all arousing.

On the High Court Justice Breyer asks why thirteen-year-olds are protected from Playboy while video games that let boys bind, torture and kill a woman are just fine – so long as the she’s not topless.

2010-05SmuinPetitMort-GoodmanAs a kid I checked out Grimm’s Fairy Tales at the library only to read a tale about a woman who was punished by being stripped and driven through the town in humiliation as sharp spikes pierced her skin. Another childhood memory emerges of a woman being thrown over a man’s knee to be spanked on TV.

When young girls are steeped in these sexy images, is it any surprise that they come to see male domination and violence as sexy, themselves?

So really, it is no surprise that so many women are enthralled by the domination and submission of Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’ll talk more on what I make of all this later.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 17, 2013, in feminism, psychology, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. So, domination makes consent less common and rape more common. I really appreciate the examples in media where domination can happen through different genres. Although I usually like Grimm’s fairytails, it is very often that the women is punished by being raped and usually for no reason. So is media in any form placed as normal in our culture with the more popularity that is gained. Fifty Shades of Grey still scares me in a lot of ways, and I wonder if the women who enjoy it, are in anyway scared by It too. Those women could be seeing from a male perspective or be influenced by culture and media, but to me I feel it would be hard to watch. I can understand in a way because ads like Dolce & Gabbana make women look like they enjoy many men conquering her. There is no reality shown in how women are actually feeling. There is no emotion in those ads and it may trick people into the ads being normal with living with. “”I like the way it hurts””, seems to be more and more the way culture is only accepting to be normal.

  2. Wow !!!! Never Look at it like in a woman way how these ads, concert sex duets shows male dominance ; In-addition degrading our women. But Women Still tend to degrade themselves by what they where when you go to events(Short Skirts etc…); how some act towards men who is attractive with wealth whether its one or multiples would let them companion her.Not all Women though ; Maybe it was an sexual experience the owner of Dolce and Cabana had with his friends and one chick. Then Made a Sexual advertising pic

  3. What I find most interesting about this article is the fact that so many women are into it. I actually began to think that there were very few women that were into BDSM. I think something that we learn as we grow up is to be into these things, like submission/dominance, but learn not to talk about it or be embarrassed of it. For example, whenever I began to think that I was interested in that, I thought that I had bad morals or that I didn’t have respect for myself. But after reading this, it opened my eyes up much more to the fact that there are many people out there that also like the same things.

  4. I find this post extremely frustrating because it points out an issue that bothers me so much. I have always struggled with the fact that morally (and in general) I am completely disgusted by degrading and torture of women, but when it comes to sexual fantasies, I feel completely differently. I think that this is a serious problem and needs to be addressed by my and the coming generations. I think it is perfectly fine to enjoy D/s if that’s what you’re into, however I do not think it should be subconsciously shoved into the minds of every girl growing up in our society. I hope that everyone who reads this does something to help, because that is the only way it will get better. Thank you Georgia.

  5. zaineb alkhaleef

    The Dolce & Gabana image showing what looks like gang rape is startling to me. What it shows is that it’s okay for one female to be dominated by a bunch of males. In fact, it’s sexy to for the male to dominate a female. This is a common image in the media and the world we live in. Over time I believe it does brain wash people. You’re bombarded with these images as you grow up and eventually women start accepting male sexual dominance and typically find it really attractive in bed. We start to believe it is natural for the women to be passive in bed. I recently was googling some articles on male sexual dominance, and the results did take me by surprise. A lot of the articles that came up were tips on how to dominate the women in bed and have your female partner submit.

  6. I read through the blog and agreed with everything. I actually have analyzed the Dolce & Gabbana photo in a Photo class and found the same thing. However, when I got down to the comments section I was surprised in finding all the negativity towards BDSM. Maybe I am completely misunderstanding everything being discussed, but I thought I’d just put it out there, BDSM does not only involve the man as the sadist and the woman as the masochist. It does not even have to involve a man and a women it can be two men or two women as well. BDSM is bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism and they all involve the eroticization of the exchange of power. I knew nothing about BDSM until I took a Human Sexuality class. BDSM is nothing more than traditional behaviors practiced at higher frequencies. It’s easier to see as a continuum from Mild, moderate behaviors to extreme. Mild can be anything as little as nibbling on your partners ear, biting their lips softly while kissing, or light spanking. When looking at the mild forms of BDSM it might not seem so weird or might even be relatable. The BDSM community has three principles SSC – Safe, Sane, Consensual. It involves a great deal of communication and the necessity to share with their partners their wants, needs, desires, fantasies, limits, as well as dislikes which is a huge factor of healthy relationships.

  7. I have to criticize that our culture creates the concept of sexiness in a dangerous way. Men tend to prove their manhood by putting women down, so male-dominance or violence is one of the good examples, like the D&G’s ad. Men are able to find sexual arousal when they see women who look like slaves, obedient or weak. I believe most men think or unconsciously think that women should be passive; this image that our culture has created often makes women sexualized to men’s eyes.

  8. Sarah Lau Y. G

    It is sad to see pictures that objectify and degrade women all over our city. The ads for Dolce & Gabana especially catch my eyes. The image seems to implicate a rape scence. Bombarded with these pictures from day to day, no wonder people take rape cases less seriously. I saw the film “killing us softly” and it mentioned about this kind of culture precisely. Men are portrayed as a power figure while women are often disempowered. This culture is getting worse and more commercials are coming up with these kinds of message. This is pretty sad to know that’s what our culture is.

  9. With the images like the Dolce & Gabana image you used showing gang rape, makes it seem like its okay for a bunch of men to be around one female. Many fashion articles are like this. Women are shown off as weak and men are portraying the image of being big, strong, and sexy, all words that describe power. Mainly image is the issue. Industries make these people look “perfect” and society sees them as being “perfect” wanting to be like that. We have young children already worrying about their images, its somewhat normal when it happens at the high school level but prior to high school could put pressure on the child. Little girls are putting on make up, wearing less clothing while boys are changing their styles along with their attitudes, all to fit in.

  10. I am curious to read more of what you have to say on this topic. I have found that I enjoy being dominated and taken advantage of on a very mild scale. If it gets to be too much, I can always say no and my partner will tone it down. He’s pretty good about knowing what I like, and there are times when I like to dominate as well. The older I have gotten, the more I have fantasized about, like being gang-raped by a few really hot men. haha I wonder if I like this because I was conditioned or if it’s just who I am. The idea of being raped has been kind of a fantasy of mine, but I wouldn’t really want that to happen to me. Side note: I think Rihanna is a freak, and torture scares the sh*t out of me, but to each their own I guess. There’s an interesting rape scene in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead that I read years ago that made me not feel so strange. The female character enjoyed it and I remember enjoying reading it. It’s fun to read about but I would not want that to actually happen to me. I have not read the 50 Shades books, but my sister loved them.

    • Another professor who teaches about sexuality at Foothill College (where I teach) surveys his class on their sex fantasies and most of the women and men have fantasies of the BDSM sort. Yet you don’t find sexuality and violence/male dominance being tied together in all cultures. So most likely it’s something you’ve internalized.

      So not surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of discussion on the topic with my students. And a lot of what we’ve discussed will pop up in my next post, which I will probably post on Monday.

  11. I love how your examples span the test of time and variety. Years and years of titillation through domination. Scary.

  12. I will be sure NOT to watch this “Shades of Gray” thing, whatever it is. Thanks for the warning.

  13. Is male domination in sexuality the most common across the majority of cultures in the world? If so then would that suggest some instinct behind it? Society plays a huge role but I am curious as to where these societies (even ones that from what I can understand never me) got the idea of male domination and female submission? If it were purely nurture then we should see a steady 50:50 average mix amongst cultures of who plays the more dominant roles. If there is an instinct driving it then I’d say that’d be a huge part of why it’s a fantasy, to be dominated in todays’ society is largely seen as very negative and abusive so it also remains taboo.

    But just like a lot of stuff in porn remains fantasy for men I’m sure a lot of these types of books, rape fantasies, etc also remain stictly fantasy for the majority that have them. I think what’s very concerning however is the relative power of a few whom have creative control in ad agencies, direction at major porn studios, etc in their ability to influence others since there is some hefty coin backing the distribution of such images. The stuff I’ve seen in quite a few ad campaigns has been absolutely ridiculous such as the Dolce image.

    • You find eroticism tied to violence across patriarchal cultures as male dominance attaches to everything, including sexuality.

      Once the idea arises you can get the turn-around of the dominatrix.

      The eroticism and violence are not tied in non-patriarchal cultures, such as American Indians of the east coast before European contact, or the Arapesh, who don’t even “get” the concept of rape when anthropologists talk to them today. (It makes no sense to them.)

      And in patriarchal cultures you get a mix of fantasy-only + some actual violence.

      I’ll have more to say later.

  14. Welcome to Rape Culture.

  15. Just want to clarify: Are you discussing true violence against women or consensual BDSM? It seems to go back and forth a bit in your post, so I don’t want to comment til I completely understand where you are coming from with this.

    • Last post I was discussing actual violence against women, and how men are socialized.

      Here, I’m discussing consensual BDSM, and how women are socialized. (Of course, the way men who do consensual BDSM are socialized the same way.)

      The fact that there’s something similar going on in the socialization, whether violent or consensual, is thought-provoking, though.

      • Ah, ok. I’ll have to go read that post again.

        As for consensual BDSM, I see little problem with it, especially if both partners “switch” now and then. Without going into it too much, I will say that I enjoy this type of activity with my (male) partner and do not feel like less of a person during it.

        Really, it’s more of a strange combination of having ultimate control and having no control. When I’m the submissive, I have the illusion of no control but that’s all that it is…an illusion, a bit of acting. In reality, I am the one in complete control because I determine when/if the activity ends. The same goes for my partner on the rare occasions he wants to be the submissive instead.

      • Yes, I’m tying my points to 50 Shades of Grey.

        And as I said, I’ll have more to say on all this. For now I’ll just say that you’ve got your feminists who worry about how all this gets internalized. On the other you have “pro-orgasm” feminists. Whatever gets you there.

        I’ve been grappling with the two sides. Ill likely post on this next part next week.

    • I don’t know why you think that having an illusion of smth is fine as long as it is not true. If I got excited from the thought of killing somebody, would that be ok? Also I think that part of the problem is the fact that we think that the passive is the submissive and the active is the dominant. So I believe that almost all women, who like sex, like to be sumbissive in some way. I know that couples don’t think that the passive is degraded in some way and certainly don’t intent that, however a culture in which “fuck you” is an insult, influences people. This is why many people have no problem with the woman being with women, but do have a big problem with the opposite.

      • I’m afraid I don’t really know what you’re trying to say here…

        What’s “smth”?

        I suppose that if someone gets off on SOLEY thinking about killing, that’s disturbing but 1000x better than actually killing.

        Usually in BDSM, the “active” partner is the dom, in that the “passive” partner is bound somehow. I don’t know how it could work if the dom is the one who’s tied up…

        I do enjoy being submissive, but I enjoy being equal or dominant just as much. At no point have I ever though of either myself or my partner as being degraded. That’s part of the difference between actual abuse and simply roleplaying.

        I don’t know what this has to do with gays or lesbians, at least inherently. Perhaps you could expand on this?

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