Some worry that the deluge of male dominance/female submission imagery in our culture helps to make sexism seem sexy, encourages women to crave their own submission and abuse, and spurs some men to abuse women.
Others are less concerned. Specifically regarding the Fifty Shades series one of my students — a fan — says,
To those feminists who are bashing the book and those of us who read it: Give us more credit! Women are not that easily influenced by a piece of poorly written fiction. At least not the women I know.
Or this from Feministing:
I’m not perplexed by (the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey). And I am in no way appalled. I am fully in support of anyone doing whatever (safe, consensual) thing that they want to do to get themselves off. Feminists for Orgasms.
Feminists for Orgasms. Pro-choice feminists. Feminists who think women have more sense than to be so easily swayed by a pornified culture that sexualizes male dominance.
And anyway, since male domination is rather of off-limits for feminists, that makes it that much more forbidden and O-inducing, right? Katie Roiphe, whose Newsweek piece on “Shades” was widely panned, has a point when she says,
What is interesting is that this material still, in our jaded porn-saturated age, manages to be titillating or controversial or newsworthy. We still seem to want to debate or interrogate or voyeuristically absorb scenes of extreme sexual submission. Even though we are, at this point, familiar with sadomasochism, it still seems to strike the culture as new, as shocking, as overturning certain values, because something in it still feels, to a surprisingly large segment of our tolerant post-sexual-revolution world, wrong or shameful.
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand sure, women should choose what they want. On the other hand, how much choice do you have when you’ve unconsciously internalized society’s way of seeing? Or, as one of my readers put it,
I find this post (on women learning to like torture) 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 torturing 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.
And while many believe that we aren’t affected by our culture and the messages around us, we do seem to be. Sales go up for products that are advertised. Why else would companies spend mega-millions on a 30-second Super Bowl ad?
Or, 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.
And actually, “dominating men” is one of the few ways that men in our culture are eroticized at all.
Meanwhile, nearly 80% of young women have poor body image and can get distracted from sex by worries over what their bodies look like. The whole dominance/submission thing could help young women to get away from that focus and get into the sexy happenings they are engaged in.
Still, I don’t care to see abuse eroticized, whether based on gender or ethnicity. Or whether the target is children or animals. And I will continue to work against it.
But eroticized abuse is what we’ve got. And many women, including many feminists, find it arousing.
So I’ve given this a lot of thought.
While people do unconsciously internalize the messages of their society, we can also become conscious of them, which makes choice more possible. We may then choose to overcome the messages or, alternatively, compartmentalize them.
So, a woman could live an egalitarian and empowered life while keeping submission fantasies confined to the bedroom in order to neutralize the potential harm that comes from feeling — and becoming — “lesser than.” She could also do the BDSM-thing in ways that are not physically harmful.
Many who engage in D/s only do so with partners who respect them as equals and who see these “cut off from reality” moments as play.
Others keep the fantasies in their heads and don’t act them out. As one dominatrix put it,
In many cases people’s eyes are bigger than their stomachs and they prefer the fantasy to reality.
If anyone chooses to act out their fantasies I suggest avoiding anything that is actually harmful. Pain exists to warn against whatever is causing it. Those who lack pain receptors die young.
Others protest that some people deal with emotional problems by harming themselves. Like cutting. Again, cutting is not healthy. If you need that sort of release, seeing a therapist to deal with the underlying issue is healthier.
Finally, so that women don’t consistently act in ways that bolster an ideology that encourages them to submit, how about turning it around sometimes? Maybe he’d like to be dominated now and again. Or, maybe you could spend an evening with him serving your every desire.
Now that would be nice.