Why Do Women Love Fifty Shades of Grey?
If you haven’t heard about the publishing phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey I have one question for you — what rock have you been living under?
E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, has surpassed all sales records for publishing and is on its way to becoming a blockbuster R rated film. Fans of the books are eager to see who’s cast in the coveted roles and there are dozens of fan-made film trailers in which fans express their own choices for Christian and Ana.
So what the heck is going on with that? Why have women around the world, women of all ages, education levels and social classes, responded to this trilogy with such a passion?
1. Christian Grey
2. Christian Grey
3. Christian Grey
Christian Grey, incredibly handsome dominant hugely successful control-freak billionaire with a broken inner child and dark sadistic desires who willingly changes for his lady-love, becoming the perfect husband and father and sexual partner, ticks every one of our feminine fantasy boxes.
Critics might argue that Fifty Shades of Grey sets feminism back decades due to the willingness of Ana to submit to Christian, the epitome of patriarchy’s masculine male.
If anything, the fact women have chosen Christian Grey speaks to the success of feminism, at least in terms of liberating women’s sexual desire and giving them an expectation of equality with men in a relationship.
Wait a minute — I’m saying that women’s love of Christian Grey, the sadistic Dominant who makes his submissives sign contracts so he can whip them, is an expression of the success of feminism?
How can that be? Isn’t it the opposite — the triumph of patriarchy? Doesn’t Christian Grey sound more like every feminist‘s worst nightmare?
Women have spoken. They have considered. They have decided.
There are two hundred thousand books published each year. Of all those books, women chose these three with this protagonist.
Women still may not be equals in modern society, but they have reached a state wherein they have considered what has been offered to them and have spoken. The words they have spoken are “Christian Grey”.
Women have clearly voted with their pocketbooks and have bought the erotic romance by the tens of millions. Their willingness to buy these books expresses their honest desire and those of us who like to think about why, who want to understand the trilogy’s power, should think very carefully and very seriously about why they have chosen Fifty Shades of Grey.
What are women saying about sex and love and desire when they pick Christian Grey?
They want it all.
They have chosen Christian Grey, the archetypical masculine male who embodies everything patriarchy has to offer but also key advances feminism has wanted for women. To be desiring subjects and to be equal to men outside the bedroom.
Anastasia has desire. She desires Christian — not his money or power but him, physically. Sexually.
Yes, the whole ‘virgin at 22’ trope and ‘never having masturbated’ trope are a bit hard to take for me personally, but both express a desire on women’s part for a quality first sexual experience, in contrast to the largely unsatisfactory first sexual experience most of us do get.
I’m not saying the books themselves are without flaw. They are flawed as every work of art is flawed. What is interesting to me is how and why women have responded to Fifty Shades of Grey.
Christian Grey is the product of evolutionary biology‘s quest for superior reproductive fitness. Physically and intellectually, he’s superior. You just know he’s got great sperm. He’s also the product of several waves of feminism for he’s attracted to Anastasia not merely for her physical beauty but for her character — especially her character — for it is that which separates her from all the other beautiful women he could pick as sexual/romantic partners.
Anastasia may be sexually inexperienced but she doesn’t let Christian get away with anything. She challenges him. She questions him. She’s intellectually his equal — not some airhead barbie doll or cowering submissive. He would have moved on to the next one if she had been just another submissive woman.
She isn’t. She has her degree and her desire to pursue a career and follow her passion for books.
In the end, if Christian did not treat Ana as an equal in the relationship, and given her the power to define their relationship, I don’t think women would have flocked to the books in the numbers that they have. The trilogy would have been relegated to the erotica shelves and been just another book with titillating content.
It is precisely because Christian and Ana are equals that Fifty Shades of Grey escapes the erotica ghetto.
It’s not just the sex and beauty and wealthy lifestyle that have drawn women to Fifty Shades of Grey — although those do play a role in the trilogy’s appeal. At base, it’s the love story between the two characters, and how each transforms the other’s life, making it more fulfilled and fulfilling, that women respond to. Christian finally learns to love himself through his love of Anastasia and she becomes a fully desiring and strong woman through her love for Christian.
Christian may be rich and powerful and dominant, but he’s an emotionally empty shell without real love in his life. He has everything money can buy except true love.
Anastasia gives him true love — not in exchange for money, but for itself. She introduces him to romantic love and how sex can become even more fulfilling when combined with love. Ana sees Christian’s broken inner child and falls in love with him, accepting him, challenging him. Making him grow into a fully-functional human being — no longer fifty shades of fucked up.
Christian does turn the power over to Anastasia. He shows her who he is, and he’s both desirable and dangerous. She doesn’t run away. She’s strong enough to consider him, flaws and all. He’s willing to change, to give up the life he thought he wanted, that he needed, in order to be with her.
Christian is evolutionary biology’s choice for a sperm donor, the best producer and protector of our offspring and provider of our security and sustenance. He also desires Ana as an intellectual equal and supports her desire to have a meaningful career. He even gives up his own dark desires to ensure he can be with her, giving her the power in the relationship. She sets the tone of their encounters. She defines the limits. She chooses him. They may play Dominant and submissive in the bedroom or red room of pain, but outside of it they are equal.
He’s everything rolled up into one desirable package — reproductive fitness, economic superiority, social status superiority and willing to see and treat Anastasia as his equal.
Women want equality, but they don’t want a wet towel. They want a masculine man who is their equal outside the bedroom and to experience the heights of erotic pleasure within it.
Fifty Shades of Grey would not have reached the status is has, nor would millions of women of all backgrounds have embraced it at any other time in history. Only because of feminism and the freedoms women experience today would they pick these books and these characters.
Yes, it’s fantasy. But what are humans if not creatures who imagine a different reality? Understanding what that different reality says about us is what makes literature so interesting to analyze. This is the imaginary world women desire — one that combines both our biological drives and inheritance but also our social aspirations and progress.
Fifty Shades of Grey is not revolutionary. It doesn’t push many boundaries, but it is an expression of women’s desire and that desire embodies the feminist desire for equality, both in terms of having equal sexual desire and equal value in a relationship.