I went to the theatre this past Saturday to watch ‘Unbroken,’ a great movie about the trials and tribulations of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who fought in the Second World War as a bombardier, whose plane crashed into the Pacific where he and two others survived (one dying at sea though) adrift for 45 days before being picked up by the Japanese and sent to an internment camp, where he saw out the reminder of the war. This blog isn’t about this excellent movie, and I do recommend you see this if you have any interest in the subject and/or if you need a reality check about First World Problems.
However, this blog is about the trailer I watched for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Firstly, I will caveat that I refuse to read the book on the principle that if I am to buy toilet paper, I’d rather buy three ply than the bond paper used as pages in the book. Also, just about all of my girlfriends have read the novel and have shared some of their perspectives on some of the scenes. My favourite review was from my friend, S-, who said she fixed on the fact that the romantic interest (can one even call it that?), Christian Grey, pulled out the protagonist’s tampon out of her nethers with his teeth. S- kept wondering for the next couple of chapters: “What on earth did he do with the tampon? Did he throw it out, did he flush it, did he just put it in the toilet and not flush? Did the maid have to deal with it after? What an ass if he left that for the maid to find.” All these and more being very valid plot points.
In case you have lived as a troglodyte for the past couple of years, the gist of the novel is that a young woman embarks on an BDSM (that’s ‘Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism’ for those of you not savvy in fetish acronyms) relationship with her boss. The novel is erotica through and through, and thoroughly successful at having over 100 million (that’s a one followed by eight zeros) copies sold, and has been translated into over 30 languages (ever the measure of success when a novel is translated into Mongolian). S- said the actually prose is horrendous, an opinion echoed by many of my girlfriends that furthered my resolve to not waste a couple of hours of my life on such drivel.
What the movie trailer reminded me of, however, was the negative reception to the allegations of sexual assault against Jian Ghomeshi, one of CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – Canada’s national public radio and television broadcaster) more successful and popular radio hosts. The minute the allegations against Ghomeshi were brought to light, in the form of Ghomeshi being fired from CBC at the end of October, 2014. The immediate outcry against Ghomeshi was very vocal and very harsh. As is the wont of the modern viewer/listener, Ghomeshi was promptly hung, draw, and quartered by public opinion, without the benefit of a proper judicial process.
At this point in time, I have little doubt that the allegations are true. but even so, all criminal charges must go through a judicial process, and innocence or guilt be proven in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion.
Upon seeing the trailer for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ I was reminded of the descriptions of the allegations against Ghomeshi: that he degraded women, that he liked to choke his dates, that he slapped his dates in the face, etc. You get the gist. One might argue that Ghomeshi and Grey aren’t comparable at all, because Grey obtained consent, and Ghomeshi typically did not. I would argue that the issue of consent is moot, in some respect, as I see the issue being a man humiliating and degrading a woman through eroticized, and therefore somewhat socially permissible, violence.
The book is such a success because there are so many women (and perhaps men too) who relish the thought, whether consciously or not, of a woman being so thoroughly dominated and controlled by a man. Perhaps that giving up of control to another is something that some modern women crave deep down inside, because Lord knows why they’d read such a book in such vast numbers. And yet, when something similar occurs in real life, everyone is appalled. I find it interesting, and rather disturbing, that potentially so many women want to be dominated by a man.
My point is not that I think we should be okay with what Ghomeshi did, because engaging in fetishism must involve consent from all parties, there are no two ways about it.
My point is that the dominance of a man over a woman, through eroticized violence, seems to be permissible in certain contexts, when it really shouldn’t be at all.