Today we want to discuss what 50 shades of grey taught us about women. When Fifty Shades of Grey rose to prominence, the public had very mixed opinions about it. Many feminists hated it for quite a few reasons, mainly due to its inaccurate representation of the BDSM community and its poor depiction of what consent means, given the hefty power dynamic between the two main characters.
That said, many people absolutely loved it. The book has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, and the movie grossed a whopping $81.7 million on its opening weekend.
So, what does the titanic success of Fifty Shades of Grey teach us about women? That they secretly fantasize about being in a dominant-submissive relationship, or something more?
What Fifty Shades is about
University senior and virgin Anastasia Steele meets the broody, mysterious and ultra-sexy billionaire Christian Grey. She is automatically attracted to him, and the feeling is mutual. The hook? Christian Grey is an avid dominant, who has the women he is sleeping with sign a contract to commit to some kinky sex. Cue a series of sexual encounters, fights, and more makeup sex, they quickly fall in love and eventually live happily ever after.
It’s all about the sexual tension
A huge reason why women go wild over Christian Grey is the monogamy aspect of his relationship with Ana. Sure, he’s damaged and hurts her emotionally (sometimes even physically, but that’s a whole other issue) – but what keeps the audience engaged and empathizing with him is the fact that she’s the only woman he desires. If he’d been sleeping with multiple other women during his whirlwind romantic adventure with Ana, the audience would have written him off as a scumbag in a second.
But the sexual tension between them is intensified by the fact that she seems to have a different effect on him than other women in the past, and he lets her get away with things that he’d never let other women get away with. Although you can look at this objectively and think, ‘how is this romance?’, women find it romantic because of the context. A woman in general gets more turned on when the stakes feel higher and when it feels like her partner is going out of their comfort zone for her benefit. So, while letting Ana fall asleep with him seems like an obvious thing to do for most couples, it’s sexy for her because Christian doesn’t let anyone sleep in the same bed as him. The devil is in the details.
It taps into women’s subconscious desire to relinquish control
Fifty Shades was mainly marketed towards a middle-aged female audience, and turns out there was a pretty smart and strategic reason why. Middle-aged women often feel like they are carrying the entire world on their shoulders. Traditionally, they are the ones left making sure the children are fed, bathed and put to bed, making sure the house is well-kept, cooking dinner and making lunches.
The idea of having a partner who sweeps in, takes care of all her financial burdens, makes all the decisions, and makes her orgasm in minutes (without any guidance necessary on her part), sounds like a dream come true.
The perceived freedom and release that comes from the idea of simply submitting to a sexy, wealthy man who is obsessed with her is enough to keep her turning the pages. It’s a similar kind of pleasure as being pampered through an all-inclusive paid spa weekend with no kids or responsibilities.
Many women have an internal hero complex
Unsurprisingly, the mysterious Christian Grey happened to have a very traumatic childhood, with a mother who was a prostitute and whose friend took advantage of Christian while he was a minor. This is where Ana’s shyness and uncertainty about her self-worth come in, which is an issue that many young women deal with, before really coming into their own.
Chances are, if you’re a woman, you’ve at some point dated a “damaged” man with the hopes of being able to “save” him, and you probably realized afterwards that those butterflies you thought were excitement, were actually warning signs.
Many women, particularly younger and more naïve women, have good hearts and are very compassionate. This makes them vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation, particularly to narcissistic men or people with manipulative tendencies. Books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, to name only a couple, romanticize having a woman love a man back to normal – and woman devour these books like a bottle of rosé on girls’ night.
But why is that? Well, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that often, women grow up with an unequal power dynamic with men, and some grow up in environments that may not be the most nurturing and supportive. This leads them to having self-worth issues and needing to validate themselves and prove they are worthy by saving “damaged” men. Many women also have innate abandonment issues. Christian managed to successfully prey on these insecurities with Ana, having her constantly in a state of fear that she would lose him if she did anything that displeased him, or violated their contract in any way.
Women want to be granted permission to be sexual
Prior to the Fifty Shades franchise, many women didn’t know where to start when it came to exploring their darker fantasies. But the books and subsequent movies’ success created a safe space for women to explore their own sexualities – it started a conversation about sexuality, and the franchise even launched its own product lines of beginner-friendly BDSM toys. Fifty Shades helped women reclaim their sexuality.
Having sexual fantasies like masturbating with huge dildos was considered a taboo prior to the Fifty Shades phenomenon. Nowadays, women have a reference point and use the internet to get educated about the best ways they can indulge in their kinks using websites like Hot Cherry.
Women crave those initial feelings of excitement
The fact that Ana is such a plain, simple character that many women can project themselves onto makes the story have more influence on women. Many women relate to her by remembering what it was like to be a virgin, and all the butterflies and excitement that come with falling in love for the first time.
Fifty Shades being a hit with middle-aged women in particular comes to no surprise to anyone – many women in that age group have been in a relationship with the same person for ages, and may have fallen into a stagnant daily routine of work, raising kids, sleep, repeat. The books and films allowed women to fantasize and live vicariously through Ana, and remember those feelings of not being able to get enough of someone. Heck, it even inspired them to shake things up in their own relationships.
The Fifty Shades of Grey craze in all its good, bad and ugly, taught us a lot about women and their psychology. But at the end of the day, reading or watching a movie is just a form of entertainment and escapism. However, if you can take bits and pieces of knowledge from studying how women react to phenomenon’s such as this one, you can spice things up in your own relationship, or at the very least, avoid falling into a toxic trap with an abusive man or woman.