The fanatically scrutinized film version of pop-fiction sensation Fifty Shades of Grey was released this weekend to polarizing public opinion. Those previously enamored with the now infamous story of erotically charged companionship between the meek Anastasia Steele and formidable Christian Grey, delighted in the graphic depiction of their courtship, while cinematic aficionados struggled to construct by-lines fully indicative of its flaws.
Regardless of the artistic pitfalls of a film based on a novel that is said to “make Twilight look like War and Peace,” the masochistic tale has the public entranced and divided on its message in terms of sexuality, feminism, and relationships. The main star herself has claimed she would “never make a film that didn’t empower women,” and public opinion has ranged from praising Fifty Shades‘ sexual openness to condemning its leanings towards abuse. Should Anastasia’s full submission to the mandates of her dominant be viewed as empowering in portraying a relinquishing of sexual reservations? Cautious of the picture it paints of a young woman whose submission is cultivated by a less than self-serving purpose? Or is it presumptuous to assume this enigmatic piece will be anymore than a brief blimp in pop culture history to be forgotten once Fifty Shades runs out of material with which to mock it?
The answer, it seems, may not be as nuanced as the questions it presupposes. While it can be reasonable assumed that a singular piece of media will not trounce well established individual sexual preferences, relegate women to a second class status, or cause increased instances of the abuse that many claim is portrayed on-screen, the impact of this portrayal of BDSM may be far-reaching and damaging in its potential for misinterpretation. Without delving too far into the notions behind BDSM, it requires in its truest form an immense amount of mutual trust and understanding between partners. The backdrop for the type of sexual relationship developed in Fifty Shades rests little on trust and overwhelmingly on abuse, power, and insecurity. Fully submitting to another can be empowering in the event that the desire for this type of interaction is a product of one’s own free will, not a desperate plea for approval which for Anastasia, whom frequently questions her comfort level with her dominant’s demands, is most certainly the case.
The only reasonable argument capable of conflating the fear and insecurity experienced by the female lead in Fifty Shades with sexual empowerment and freedom is one pregnant with misconstrued notions of the ideas of feminism and empowerment themselves. What is presented in Fifty Shades is a woman who is not in command of her own agency, but one whose sexual “revelation” comes at the cost of individual freedom and sense of self. Her sexual awakening is not a revelation, but a half-hearted foray into sexual exploration elicited by coercion and manipulation. To submit connotative requires abandonment of freewill by some degree, but should never be shrouded in anything less than desire, let alone intimidation. In a media landscape in which vigorous opposition is necessary to discourage even minor infractions in sexism and women are overwhelmingly typecast in offensively traditional roles, Fifty Shades is a significant step backward. When we go to the cinema, we must questions if two hours and fifteen dollars worth of “entertainment” are worth the cost of the backward ideals they will uphold.
Opinion By Lauren La Luz