Are you sick of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey yet? The erotic novel by E L James seems to be everywhere at the moment. Even if, like me, you haven't read the story of how an emotionally damaged man enters into a relationship with a naive young woman, you won't have been able to escape. It would seem that, not only can women not get enough of this book, but the media can't stop talking about it either.
The problem is, they seem to be missing the point. Every time a newspaper or magazine comments on this book, they manage to get something wrong. First of all, there is the misrepresentation of female submission that keeps cropping up. The assumptions some journalists make are simply astonishing! Molly, a self identified submissive who writes the sex blog Molly's Daily Kiss, dedicated a beautifully detailed rant to all the issues she had with the media's reaction to Fifty Shades of Grey. One of many annoyances is:
"I have not read a single article that has asked the question: Do women live in D/s relationships? If they do, what are they like? The media seems to be happy comforting itself with the fact that this is just fiction [..] If being gay was written about in the same way that being submissive is currently being written about in the press with all its judgements, ill-informed rhetoric and implications that it is just a fantasy world for people, there would be uproar."
It would seem that no one in the mainstream media has even entertained the thought that, although the novel itself is a work of fiction, it might be based on something that actually happens. No one has tracked down some submissive women to ask them what they think, which is odd because a fair few of them have blogs and would be more than happy to help the general public become better informed on the subject. You'd think someone would have taken the time to do a few more Google searches.
Katie Roiphe's piece in Newsweek certainly focused on the idea that these were fantasies. Not real at all, oh no! I mean, who'd do that sort of thing, right? Let me tell you who would... LOTS OF PEOPLE! It doesn't matter about age, gender, sexual orientation, race, class or political leanings, some people really enjoy the feeling of surrendering to a person they trust with all their heart. In much the same way you can't tell a straight woman to stop fancying men, you can't tell a submissive to be more dominant. Well, you can, but it won't really get you anywhere!
Then there is the idea that this is a trend. As if we all check magazines and newspapers to see what sort of sex we should be having this season. Let's just hope that orgasms or blow jobs never go out of fashion or Cosmo won't know what to do with itself! Joking aside, Laurie Penny covered this aspect well on her blog Penny Red, and pointed out that there are many other so-called 'trends' which are not reported on by the media:
"Here are some non-standard sexual trends that editors at Newsweek, Glamour and Cosmopolitan are less keen to make headlines out of: poor women fucking. Black women fucking. Queer women fucking. Old women fucking. Fat women fucking, ugly women fucking, bossy, arrogant women fucking. Women who are dominant in bed. [...] Men who are gentle and submissive in bed. Men who don’t enjoy penetrative sex. Men for whom sex is an overwhelming emotional experience. I guarantee you that all of these things go on, but any of them might actually destabilise for a second our cultural narrative of sex, gender and power, so none of them are allowed to be ‘trends’."
Remember folks, we're not all the same. Just because you haven't ever considered doing something, doesn't mean that no one has. Also, we're not the same people at every time of the night and day. If a woman runs her own business during the day but likes to sit at her partner's feet at night, this does not automatically mean that she'd rather forgo "all that feminism crap" 24/7.
Submission and feminism are not mutually exclusive, in the same way that neither of them is a work of fiction. Listen up journalists: If you're not going to talk about it properly then you won't be allowed to play at all. Shame on you.
Lori Smith is the BitchBuzz Sex & Relationships columnist. She will be speaking at women's blogging event Cybher in May 2012.