Fifty Shades of Patriarchy

“Looks like Fifty Shades of Grey is more popular than Jesus,” writes Benjamin Snyder in Fortune. He noted that the movie earned $85 million on its Valentine’s Day weekend opening, more than what The Passion of Christ, the Mel Gibson movie about Jesus Christ’s last hours on earth, made on its opening weekend, which was $83.8 million.  People are calling Fifty Shades the most successful R-18 film ever. I wonder how it’s doing in the Philippines, the “only Christian country in Asia.”

I have seen The Passion of Christ, but I have yet to see Fifty Shades of Grey. You see, I spent my Valentine’s Day dancing at the One Billion Rising Revolution at Rizal Park to end all forms of violence against women once and for all.

However, I did read all the books of the Fifty Shades trilogy when they first came out in 2012 (nope, did not spend anything for them, just downloaded an electronic copy for free!). It did not take me long to read all of it because I skipped a lot of bad writing (yes, a lot). It was so badly written that Sir Salman Rushdie said: “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.

I wasn’t a Twilight fan and Fifty Shades was a Twilight-inspired fan fiction. I read it because I got curious why it’s getting all that hype. It topped several best-seller lists around the world. It has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 52 languages. Imagine that.

So, of course, it will be made into a movie. And now it is showing in theaters everywhere. I will probably watch it as soon as I can download a good copy for free online.  Like the book it’s based, it’s just not something I am willing to pay for.

But why all the hype? Probably because of all that kinky sex. It has a lot of bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM) sexual scenes between the two main characters – a young female fresh-out-of-college who’s a naive virgin and a young male attractive, dominant and powerful billionaire.

In short, it’s your typical patriarchal love story with a lot of unconventional sex. It is the essence of all the popular romance novels, including our beloved fairy tales, with stereotypical gender roles that portray male characters as strong and dominant and female characters as weak and needed saving and protection. Boy is older and richer and more powerful. Girl is younger and poorer and weak. He is experienced, she is naive. She cannot take care of herself so he needs to save her. He is a bad boy and she is a good girl, but in the end she will change him for the better and they will live happily ever after. The end.

That is why Fifty Shades is so popular. It embodies the mainstream ideology of the male authority and control over the female that is being reinforced by all the social institutions in this patriarchal society.

Douglas Wilson, author of Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man, wrote: “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.” He further explains that “true authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity” because if we do not give in to it, it comes back to us in “pathological forms.” He said that “men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the soon-to-be-made-willing heroine.”  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a man who dreams of being a rapist and a woman who dreams of being raped.

That is the propaganda line that justifies violence against women. And it is showcased in Fifty Shades. It justifies a man’s physical and emotional domination of a woman for his own pleasure. It makes emotional manipulation, control, and stalking “sexy” and “romantic.” It perpetuates the delusion that a “good girl” can reform a “bad boy.”

In reality, trying to change manipulative and abusive men only ends women in tears and in the emergency room. That is best left to highly-skilled professionals with years of training to handle the long therapy needed of emotionally damaged men who were also victims of childhood abuse.  You do not accept a marriage proposal from an abusive man. You get a restraining order.  Yes, even if he is as hot and as rich as Christian Grey.

This preoccupation with dominance and submission leads to social and familial structures that encourage abusive relationships.

It is not all that kinky sex that bothers me about Fifty Shades, it is the unequal gender power relations beyond the bedroom. It is the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and double standards.  I believe the only relationship worth pursuing is that between equals. And in sex, as well as in all other aspects of a romantic relationship, nothing is more pleasurable than the safe and consensual kind.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, February 19, 2015