What does it say about women that the BDSM/romance series “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sold 100 million copies?
It says something, but not what many writers and researchers have assumed.
Patricia Hawley, a professor of educational psychology in the Texas Tech University College of Education, researches power and the idea that people seek to increase their power. While at first glance this novel appears to show that women have masochistic desires or are “victims of the patriarchy,” Hawley argues its success is in large part due to following a formula common to the romance genre in general: The alpha warrior lover wins over the chaste and innocent heroine. She says such stories actually enhance the power of the “submissive” heroine because she is so desirable that the wealthy, older, attractive alpha male wants her so badly that he changes for her, he ignores other, more beautiful women for her and he must have her right now.
She also says this series isn’t much different than the normal romance genre (e.g. “bodice-rippers), but that the BDSM elements add novelty for the general audience not accustomed to such elements. The forceful alpha male aspect, however, is not a novelty.
Talking Points• Early literature regarding forceful submission fantasies paint such fantasies as being unique to women and indicative of a dark, shameful sexual secret, generally either masochism or sex guilt. Current feminist writings focus on the belief that women always see sex as an act of subjugation. • In research she did using a “bodice-ripping” romance novel from the late 1990s, Hawley found these fantasies are not unique to women. The research showed men fantasized about being submissive sexually more than they fantasized about being dominant and more than women fantasized about being submissive. Men, however, don’t buy romance novels, so the novels focus on women being submissive.• The desire for submission is more common among dominant than among submissive women. In these scenarios, the woman actually has all the power. She has inspired the attention and attraction of a wealthy, attractive, powerful man who every woman wants and only she has gotten. Not only has she attracted him, but he is willing to do anything to get her, keep her and have her now. • Romance novels, including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” don’t necessitate a twisted sense of sexuality or patriarchy. Instead, they bring life to the kind of passionate exchanges many people – men and women – experience in their fantasies.• “She’s an everyday girl, and she attracted the attention of the alpha male. The average girl is appealing in ‘Fifty Shades,’ because if it can happen to her, it’s not such a ludicrous fantasy for me to think about as an average woman of average age and average appearance.”• “From my view, it was a formulaic romance novel. That can account for a good deal of its success.”