It is a rare thing for someone whose interests are as fringe as mine are, to poke their head into mainstream pop culture. But pop my head in I have. Whenever mass attention is directed towards one particular thing, it creates a huge point of expansion and that is fascinating to all beings within the universe, including myself. This month, it is a movie that has attracted some serious attention. The movie is called 50 Shades of Grey. It is an adaptation from a series of erotic romance books. The reason that it has attracted so much attention is that unlike the average and predictable romance novel/film, it centers on a theme of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). And it is because of the controversial nature of BDSM that this book series and film have become so controversial.
I have decided that Hollywood has given us an amazing gift this time around. But the gift was not the blissful escape of an erotic fantasy. The gift was an opportunity to see our collective sexual shadows on the big screen, especially the collective sexual shadows of women. I have come to realize that everyone will have a different reaction to the film based on his or her previous experience and previous wounds. For example, any woman who had a Dad that was not available to them will be thrilled into a passion by the level of pursuit that the main male character, Christian Grey shows for the main female character Anastasia Steele. Any woman who has felt the burn of a man who blows hot and cold will find herself infuriated at the pursuit and then withdrawal. Any woman who experienced punishment as their only connection to their fathers, will find themselves turned on by the discipline inflicted on Anastasia by Christian. Any woman who has had an actual relationship with a sociopathic male, will find themselves in fight or flight mode internally yelling at the screen for Anastasia to run away while she still can. You get the point. The unconscious aspects of our lives both make up this film and also color our perceptions of it.
Being as fringe as I am, I am not the kind of person who is going to sell the idea that only “vanilla” sex is healthy. And a great many people are in fact begging me to come out to either extreme and say that BDSM is either a problem or not a problem. But I cannot do that based on the fact that I sexual attraction is much more complicated than we are making it and based on the fact that so much about sexual attraction revolves around a missing emotional experience and also deep, unhealed past wounds.
Here’s where the very first shadow of BDSM comes into play. When we are young, we try to connect with our parents. Some of us are lucky to have emotionally available parents who are capable of providing us with a secure attachment. Some of us are not so lucky. This is a huge problem because we associate love with what the relationship with our parents or caregivers feels like. We associate love with what our childhood home feels like. In other words, our subconscious definition of love becomes what home felt like for us as a child.
For some of us, the only connection we had with our parents was when we were being punished. And unfortunately, we begin to enter our primary phase of sexual development at about the same time that our parents begin to actively socialize and discipline us (approximately toddler to 4 years old). This sets up a neuro-circuit on our brains… Love=punishment. If we felt powerless as a child to the caregiver we wanted to connect and bond with, and we meet someone who makes us feel powerless, our subconscious mind will go “it’s love!” We then settle into the familiar power dynamic that we struggled with as children, which is in fact a sexualized attempt to resolve the unresolved traumas we had involving the power dynamic we had with our authority figures in childhood. And the compliment I must give to the creator of 50 Shades of Grey is that she has absolutely nailed the background stories of both main characters that would lead to this kind of a relationship in adulthood. The main female character with her absent and transient father figures and poor self esteem and the main male character with his abusive childhood and his virginity being taken at 15 by his mother’s friend, who was a BDSM dominant.
Sadomasochism of course is only one of three forms of BDSM. But it is important to understand that no one is actually caused pleasure by pain in and of itself. For some people however, pain causes the secondary sensation of relief. It is a psychological and emotional reaction to the pain and to what the pain means that causes a person to feel better. For example, some people can only feel as if they are good or free of guilt/shame when they are in pain. And when pain is nothing more than a vehicle for inducing a state of submission, taking on a submissive role to a strong, controlling presence allows us to temporarily escape the stress of responsibility and the tension of having to be strong. If we missed out on the feeling of being under the power of a strong, controlling presence in childhood, being a submissive might just fill in that missing experience of feeling safe and protected and under the care of an authority figure.
On the other hand, if we felt powerless enough in childhood that we missed out on having any power or authority, being dominant might just fill in that missing experience. It is going to greatly upset members of the BDSM community when I say this, but I’m saying it anyway. I am yet to meet one single member of the BDSM community that has not experienced some form of traumatic power dynamic or unresolved abuse (mental, physical, emotional or sexual). The conversation about BDSM should not be about whether it is right or wrong because sexual fetish is not about right or wrong. The conversation should be about why we feel drawn towards this kind of sexual relationship. It should be about consciously meeting those un-met emotional needs and getting those missing emotional experiences consciously. And we can do this in and/or out of the bedroom.
A great many people who are against 50 Shades of Grey are saying that the movie glorifies domestic abuse. This brings up much food for thought. Technically, it isn’t abuse if 2 people consent to it. Of course we have already seen that this is a bit of an arbitrary line in the sand because we have decided you can’t actually consent until you’re 18 years old. As if the day you turn 18, you’re suddenly fully conscious and capable of making your own life choices whereas before you were not. And we all know that we can say yes to something we do not truly emotionally consent to if it means we will be getting something else we want as a result of doing what we don’t want to do. For example, many women say yes (or rather don’t say no) to sex even though they don’t want it because what they really want is for a man to stay committed to them. We have to ask ourselves the question, how conscious are both partners of themselves and the WHY behind their fetish and/or consent? One thing I found amusing is that many members of the BDSM community have come out in support of the 50 Shades of Grey without realizing that the relationship between Christian and Anastasia is not as characteristic of a BDSM relationship as it is characteristic of an abusive relationship. Nearly every interaction between Ana and Christian was emotionally abusive in nature. Ie: stalking, intimidation, controlling lifestyle, withdrawal and isolation, elements that do not necessarily have anything to do with a BDSM relationship.
For a woman to embrace the idea of the relationship with a man like Christian, they have to ignore all the red flags, which is the opposite of what women need to do when entering into relationships. Our saving grace is that the film did not depict Christian becoming reformed by Anastasia and instead depicted Anastasia deciding to leave. It is my opinion that if Hollywood had gone in that direction, they could have fueled the female fantasy of “changing a dangerous man into the perfect loving partner” and gotten a lot of women into trouble.
The reality not displayed by the fiction story of 50 Shades of Grey is that in some cases women are lucky to escape with their lives from men like Christian. Also, like any addictive fetish, one must keep upping the ante to get the same level of arousal. By the time someone (like Christian) had had 15 subordinates, he would already be at the point where as soon as the thrill of a new subordinate wore off, he would need blood and much more extreme S&M practices than the rather tame S&M practices depicted in the film to get off. Also, Christian depicted multiple sociopathic tendencies in the film. Even though Anastasia is depicted as having some say and some power in the relationship, the reality (as anyone who has been involved in a relationship with a sociopath can tell you) is that Anastasia would not actually have had power within the relationship at all. She would not get to call the shots and a sociopath would not just let a subordinate walk away. This would make him feel powerless and so he would have to do something to get his power back, like sabotage her job, sleep with her friend, burn her house down or in extreme circumstances resort to murder.
Playing with fire is fun until you get burnt so to speak. Watching the movie, listening to the women giggle and screech at the screen, I couldn’t help but think of images of lambs going to slaughter or as the English put it, “little girls giggling into the abattoir”.
But still the question remains… why are so many women going nuts for 50 Shades of Grey? I’ve decided to touch on the main reasons why so that we may see the diamonds through the rough instead of thinking that what every woman wants is Christian Grey.
1. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman who isn’t turned on by a man who is powerfully masculine. It is a lie that in today’s world, women are taking on more of an equal role to men. In today’s world, women who have fought for power are experiencing the stress of having to be all things to all people. Even though the power dynamic was tipped way more towards men in the years that have passed, the roles in and of themselves used to be much more equal. Now, as women gain more power in the world, our roles have become more unequal than they ever were. Women are taking on more and more responsibility and are often playing all the roles in the household. It is a joke amongst women now that men will have no real value other than sperm donation. But do women crave this? No. Women despise and resent this. In general, women still desire to be in a state of receptivity and to feel cared for and safe. And so, their fantasies revolve around being swept up in the embrace of a powerful masculine figure. This is the real reason that the movie “The Notebook” will stay on the top of the women’s choice films for years to come. As the main character Noah has become the forward moving, intimate embodiment of masculine energy exactly.
2. Women want to feel safe. Modern society may have provided women with more of an opportunity to stay safe, but you’d be hard pressed to find a woman even in today’s society that doesn't consistently feel the feeling of being unsafe in the world. At a primal level, women desire to be safe. Powerful masculinity makes women feel safe, provided that it isn’t abusive towards us (in 50 Shades of Grey the very reason it didn’t feel abusive to Anastasia is that she was consenting to the interactions between them). But herein lies the conflict. Women desire to feel safe not only on a physical level but also on an emotional level. And the dominant masculinity that makes women feel safe on a physical level, is so often unaccompanied by the unconditional presence, support and encouragement that makes women feel safe on an emotional level. As a result, women are all too often caught between a rock and a hard place where they feel as if they have to choose between a man who makes them feel physically safe or a man who makes them feel emotionally safe. We got to see this conflict perfectly in 50 Shades of Grey. Anastasia, who was so satisfied with the feeling of being physically cared for and being under the power of a strong, protective man was forced to pay for it by giving up on her sense of emotional safety when that same man made it apparent again and again that he would not meet her emotional needs. So all of the men in the world who are wondering why women go for assholes, remind yourself that no woman on earth actually wants to be with an asshole. Instead women are dealing with unresolved daddy wounds and also they are often in a situation where they are subconsciously choosing physical safety over emotional safety.
3. If given the choice between dating a billionaire and an average Joe, most women will pick the billionaire. Why? Because it feels so good to be taken care of and to not have to worry about money and have experiences that you normally can’t because it’s too expensive and feel as if you’re valued enough to be given gifts like cars and travel and nice surroundings. This is especially true when like Anastasia; most women are spending their time slaving away to pay the bills and living with roommates to be able to do that.
4. Women want to be the chosen one over all other women. In the beginning of the film, Anastasia, who is an average woman who has bad self esteem and is not very flashy, shows up at Christian’s office and notices that all the women working for him look like supermodels. The typical woman that every woman feels inferior to. But low and behold, most women want to be chosen over these kinds of women. So the film allows women to live out this fantasy that the Billionaire bachelor would chose us, the average Jane over the supermodel woman who we’ve always felt one upped by.
5. As children, many women learned that there was a safety and a release of responsibility and a form of being protected in submission. So women dream of the emotional payoff of submission. It is a relief to them. Women are stressed and most of them hate being in the dominant, highly masculine role that modern life demands of them.
6. Women love being good. They are also trained that being 'good' is the only way to ensure love and acceptance. When they are in a victim type role, they get to be good. Also, when they are like the “angel of light” coming in to rescue a tortured man so he can love again, they get to be good. This is the most common form of rescue for women. Also, Anastasia is in love with Christian’s potential. If a woman can be with someone for their potential and they live up to that potential, that woman is a 'savior' and thus…good.
7. This relationship between Christian and Anastasia is familiar to women and feels like love because it fits their subconscious definition of love. For many women, the only relationship they had with their dad was when they were being disciplined and punished. The rest of the time, their Dad was ignoring them. Punish-withdrawal feels like home to many women. And if they can get this kind of man to change his ways and become an emotionally available, loving partner, they’ve subconsciously solved their daddy issues.
8. The main character, Anastasia is a virgin. Also, Christian is older than she is. This ups the level of submission women feel. It puts him again in a role of authority and experience so women can feel the feeling of being led by a dominant male figure. Women also lament for their purity, which most women feel they have lost. This aspect represents their innocence, which they want badly to connect with again.
9. Excitement. This is self-explanatory. Aside from the obvious fact that erotic sexual fantasy is exciting in and of itself, Christian the character from the film (as opposed to the real life Christians of our world) offers an element of safe danger. For some women, especially the ones who have been overprotected, this danger feels exciting and feels like freedom.
As people, we do not love well enough yet. We grow up thinking that the way we are loved is normal and correct. If we experience abuse, our subconscious definition of love becomes abuse and so when we want love, we gravitate towards relationships that are abusive. It is very “in” to be open minded enough and liberated enough to embrace what is taboo. And don’t get me wrong, as you’ve probably noticed, I’m all about facing the taboo head on and embracing taboo when it really shouldn’t be taboo anymore but we must not just celebrate something taboo because it is taboo.
50 Shades of Grey caused some very important things to surface for society to look at and become conscious of. A shadow worker like myself loves the opportunity to look at collective shadows. But I will say that this film has made me aware of just how much I look forward to the day that our sexuality mirrors our selves in our state of connected, in-alignment wholeness instead of our fractured state of wounding and unmet needs.