Let me preface this by saying I did not read any of the Fifty Shades books. I’m not going to watch the movie. Not because I’m offended by the idea of Fifty Shades either as a hater of blockbuster success or as a pearl-clutching Victorian. I’m just kind of bored by the concept of it. If I want to explore BDSM, there are a lot better options available.
But as I watch the dire predictions roll across my Facebook feed and in reviews in reaction to the movie’s release, I can’t help but wonder where the people who are so horrified by this movie were when American Sniper hit screens glorifying violence and war. Or nearly any other top-grossing “action” movie. Violent death is okay but spanking is the end of civilization?
Here’s what bothers me about the hand-wringing reaction to Fifty Shades: it’s all about the control of female sexuality. It’s a book (and movie) about a young woman’s exploration of her sexually submissive side. It struck such a nerve with millions of readers because that’s a common female fantasy. Critics’ suggestions about what the character should and shouldn’t explore and what fans should and shouldn’t find titillating are based on the notion that women must be protected from their own sexual desires. Which is a whole lot worse for our gender than a dog collar and a riding crop are on a consenting woman.
It is not for me to tell the Fifty Shades character what she should be into. And, although I won’t be among them, I commend all the women who will drag their men to the movie and then take them home and act out their own fantasies. Let’s worry about things that actually hurt people. (like guns and their appalling omnipresence). And let’s remember that consenting adults are free to explore what they find exciting and gratifying, even if we don’t agree with them or want to participate in it.