"Oh, yeah! I feel so safe, secure and do-able!" Image source: Hogtied.com.
There have been many theories offered about the success of 50 Shades of Gray, and of course I have one, and of course no one has offered anything like it to date, so I figure I better get it in there so it can be ignored by the mainstream media in favor of lame vaguely WTF articles.
It's always been my feeling that culture is ultimately more important than politics in determining what happens in society. Culture is not obvious, it does not have spokespersons, it is not something that people do because they THINK it is right, but because they FEEL it is right. Culture is more like the subconscious of a society, while politics is a conscious phenomenon. What is argued out tediously by political hacks, operatives and suchlike is in politics is often decided without discussion in culture ... it is only noticed after it has occurred, with the political hacks and operatives squabbling about it after the fact.
This is EXACTLY what has happened with regard to 50 Shades of Gray. The book became popular without any marketing campaign, there was no publisher pushing it on the mommies who liked it, it just took off all by its lonesome.
Now why did this happen? Here's where I get theoretical. I think it happened because the women who enjoyed the bondage and dominance themes in 50 Shades of Gray felt safe in enjoying the fantasies. Comfortable, even. And that's because the respect for choice for women has finally trickled down to middle class women, and they feel safe from being FORCED to do the things enumerated in 50 Shades of Gray. Because it's not fun if you are FORCED to do the things enumerated in 50 Shades of Gray. Not having a choice takes the fun out of just about everything.
Now, granted, women may never have legally been REQUIRED to put up with being tied up and spanked, but for much of US history, for all practical purposes, their husbands COULD do that, whether they liked it or not. And that takes the fun out of it unless you're REALLY into it, and maybe even then, for many women.
And the thing is, women need to FEEL safe to enjoy the fantasies in 50 Shades of Gray, which is a whole 'nother thing. And I think what 50 Shades of Gray means is, regular middle class women finally DO feel safe about bondage fantasies.
This is wonderful news, great news, and not just for bondage fans, but for everybody. Because it means that the psychological freedom that feminism has long fought for has trickled down to middle class and probably a lot of lower class women. And as I said in my article on The Feminist Sex Wars, consensual bondage can only thrive in an atmosphere of freedom, where men and women honestly feel that they are making choice when they say "No" to rape or "Yes" to bondage, or vice versa. If sexual bondage is not consensual, it's just thuggery, and the rub for men is, women have to FEEL that sense of consensuality, you can't just TELL a woman she has a choice, because she has to FEEL that she has a choice for it to be valid.
Well, nobody MADE 50 Shades of Gray a success except its readers. That huge swell that political types felt passing under their feet (but could not understand) while they squabbled in ideological terms about 50 Shades of Gray was millions of women feeling safe enough in their personal lives to enjoy fantasies of being bound and dominated. Because they felt free. A great thing for us all.
And you can tell from the puzzled, angry reactions of some feminists that they feel betrayed by the woman who have embraced 50 Shades of Gray. "We fought for your freedoms as well as our own, we helped make your right to choose possible, and THIS is what you choose? How COULD you?" Well, that's the way it is when you give people freedom ... they don't always choose in ways that you would like. But so long as they retain the freedom ... it'll be all right, eventually. Wait and see.
Written this tenth day of May, 2012, so that now and forevermore, I shall be able to say, "I told you so."
"Now THIS is exercising freedom!" Image source: The Upper Floor.