A while back I read Film Flare’s very thorough post about erotica which is a topic that surfaced due to the highly talked about movie Fifty Shades of Grey. May you be talking down on it, or putting it on a pedestal, I don’t care but I do wonder about the underlining topic of dominance.
Sofia raised many questions in her post and I was particularity interested in the ones related to the dominant/submissive phenomena that has caused a riot since, apparently, it is glamorizing the act of abusing women. By it, I mean the use of a fictional male characters who are dominant over women, and who also happen to be, in most of the cases, immoral in general or more often than none, murderers. While Sofia argued that it is alright to find these characters attractive due to them being fictional, I have a different question I want to find an answer to:
Why is it that male characters, who force themselves on women, often come off as strong, powerful, and more desirable?
It doesn’t take much research to determine the fact that men and women are different when it comes to psychological aspects of desire. Frankly, it doesn’t take any research at all because it’s a given knowledge – our brains work differently and that’s that. What is also given is the fact that there’s less taboo surrounding men when it comes to desire, sex and fantasies because it is always been out there. Which is why Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular, it literally filled a cap that was sort of there – female sex fantasies. The fact that the whole premise for Fifty Shades of Grey is related to dominance is just the cherry on top because it shows that there are millions and millions of women out there who are subconsciously seeking for a dominant man.
That in itself is an interesting contradiction to feminism that is seeking for equality between men and women, in terms of political, cultural, personal and social rights. Let me break it down for you. By February 13th 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey had been translated into 52 different languages and it has presumably sold over 100 million copies. Now factor in all the women that might lend a book to their girlfriends, presume that there are people who read it through illegal means, plus add to that the people who saw the movie and didn’t read the book – that is a lot of people and most of those people are women! Some of these women, most likely, didn’t like the book nor the movie, but it doesn’t mean the fact that these women, including me, find the idea of a dominant man a turn off – on the contrary, it probably turns them on. Now here’s the paradox – while feminism is about equality between the genders, I’m pretty certain that the majority of straight women still fantasize about a man who has some sort of power over them.
Keeping in mind that this discussion is strictly related to the matters in the bedroom, I’m stating that majority of women desire men who dominate in bed. Sure, there are exceptions and relationships that have reversed the roles, but there is always one who’s the dominant while the other is submissive. May it be the result of our upbringing, the fact that dominance could relate to protectiveness or just the way we are wired, or should I dare to say, related to the basic gender roles. What ever the cause or the reason behind it, it is given that women do find dominance in a man attractive! So why is it that when this dominance is portrayed outside the realm of serial killers and in the context of the 21. century, and through the usage of BDSM concepts, it is considered a glorification of abuse and borderline rape?
Here is the reason: Fifty Shades of Grey is badly written! That’s the reason, that also happens to be the only reason and it pains me to see the discussions it has raised because the only question we should be asking is how in the hell did it become so popular? E.L. James is a smart cookie, that’s why! She isn’t the best writer, but I can’t really fault her on her smarts when it comes to understanding women and their sexual desires. Granted, she could have written a better male character, a smarter female character and maybe she could’ve done some research about BDSM, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. Fifty Shades of Grey simply is a badly written book that tapped into all the female brains and flicked the switch – women are attracted to dominant men.
A dominant man is strong and powerful, he demands attention, he doesn’t seek the approval of a woman, he takes it. Now the woman, whose switch has been probably switched on by E.L. James, finds that kind of dominance attractive and naturally gravitates towards these strong and powerful men. And I mean, who wouldn’t! In movies and television shows, these men tend to be either assholes or killers, and the fact that a woman couldn’t write a dominant man without any mental issues, just goes to show how far women are willing to go to satisfy their need for dominance. It then comes down to popular culture to give us the fix in a way that reality probably won’t, in most cases, through characters like Christian Grey, Hannibal, Paul Spector etc. The reason these types of characters stand out is because they represent a deeper desire, a fantasy that is highly addictive because it is fictional.
Therefore, the problem isn’t the fact that women seem to be gravitating towards Christian Grey’s red room, the problem is that the fictional male character representing strength and power is constantly being wrongly portrayed. A male character can’t be powerful without being an asshole, a male character can’t be sexually dominant without going too far and even if they are, they are given something that weakens their character. Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman could be seen as a dominant man from all the angles, in a way he is the 90’s Christian Grey without the red room, but he is weakened by his fear of heights. What if he wasn’t? Would he be the leading man if he wouldn’t have a fault, a weakness that makes him feel less powerful, less strong in the eyes of the pretty woman or would he be the sidekick ahole who ends up hurting the main protagonist?
Whatever the theory, we’ll never find out because it seems that the strong man always ends up being the bad man. Or when the time comes, he ends up having a weakness or a soft spot because it’s the only way a female character can fall in love with him completely. For the viewer, or at least in my case, this situation, this typical male character, has become tiresome and that means seeking out those dominant ones that are portrayed as bad guys. Since romance comedies and TV shows revolving around romance don’t do it for us anymore, the attraction towards something forbidden is like the whole Eve eating the apple thing all over. It’s attractive, it’s desirable and it’s a fantasy because it is forbidden and it’s just a bad coincidence a dominant man ended up in the midst of it all.
This post is a Coffee Talk post, a series where I write and ramble about emotions, feelings and decisions behind my process of watching things and blogging about stuff.
VERY intriguing post and breakdown of the subject. You raise a lot of interesting points about the depiction of dominance in film. It’s funny because these traits or aspects you mention really have become so cliche that I haven’t even considered them, really, and yet now that you mention it all I see it so clearly.
Thanks.. I tried to give my best to get my point through.
This is a very interesting and well put together post. Lots of food for thought.
Oh hi – I can comment again!! And this is rather long, I got a bit carried away. Again.
Okay so, first of all, really loved the points you made. Indeed I was just scratching the surface and not even talking about real life scenarios, which are somewhat more complicated but also much more interesting – and you built the bridge between fiction and real desires very well.
Anyway, I totally agree (though it’s more of fact thing) that alpha-male characters are always downplayed somehow by a weakness or an undesirable trait or, worse of all, they turn good because they finally found the right woman! They come in like brute dickheads and walkout with butter hearts – hallelujah, praise jesus. I guess even more infuriating is finding an excuse for such a dominant behavior (almost inevitably the guy has a childhood trauma). And the ones that get to be romantic leads constantly poorly written.
And the desire for dominance… I’m not well versed on the subject, but as far as I could tell, it looks like to an extent it’s simply biological, like any other attraction. Which I get, because to me it always just seemed like good sense to want to a strong partner. But the attraction for alpha men is a bit messy nowadays though, because society constantly pushes us towards the opposite, doesn’t it? It’s the Eddie Redmayne dilemma, we’ve talked about this. It’s very important that women and men enjoy the freedom to be who they want to be, and in this case, that men can stop feeling the pressure to be dominant, but they don’t *have* to. And women certainly don’t need to feel guilty for liking this type of man.
I personally loathe weakness and find it unbearably unattractive. And clearly, judging from the millions of happy FSOG readers, a lot of women feel that way too (or rather, they crave dominance). Secretly though, because if word gets out, then we’re insensitive and lack compassion. Well, I don’t care, I’ll say it to anyone who asks. But either way, here we are, walking around looking for that endangered species that is the dominant alpha male. Why are they so rare, though? That’s another interesting question. Also what is a truly dominant man, today?
And to be clear, I say the same thing about women. Man can be attracted to whatever type of woman they want, nothing wrong with that. Even if it is a physical trait, I accept that, because I feel the same. If I didn’t, I’d be a hypocrite. Just the other day I was “confessing” to a girlfriend that I simply can’t find short or skinny men attractive. I know it’s wrong, especially because they can’t help it, but I only seem to like big guys. Maybe one day someone will prove me wrong, but for now, this is where things stand. This rule that we need to find everyone beautiful… okay it’s right, everyone is beautiful in a way, but BEAUTY DOES NOT EQUAL ATTRACTIVE. Because the latter is necessarily linked to the other person’s desire, it’s not innate. You’re attractive to *that particular person*.
But I’m getting off-topic here. Bottom line, what I meant is that we can accept “weakness” AND not feel attracted by it, sexually. So dominate away, men.
Oooh I just thought of another thing, not entirely related, but still. Remember in Don Jon when Johansson’s character is disgusted that Levitt’s likes vacuuming? Because it’s not manly? I know it’s stupid because cleaning doesn’t make a man less masculine, just like it doesn’t make a woman more feminine, but… god idk what my point is anymore, I guess I’m going into gender roles right now and that’s a another discussion. I’m tired.
Anywaaaay, loved this – once again, awesome job!!
PS: I didn’t re-read my comment, it’s way too late – I hope it’s at least perceptible!
First of all, let me take a big sip of coffee!
Second of all, thank you for the longest comment ever – loved it!
This topic interests me in many levels, including the gender role actions, like you mentioned, vacuuming. I think, in a way, that is masculine because a man cooking for me is pretty much the ultimate turn on. So why not widen that parameter to cleaning? Sure, I can think of multiple other things that wold feel more strong and powerful, and let’s say manly, but vacuuming is still alright in my book.
The other day I saw a man sucking on a straw and though he was tall, with a beard and pretty decent looking, I immediately felt nothing. For me, the straw sucking feels very anti-masculine and not very dominant.
Anyway, now I get carried away by describing men but it’s not the point, like you said, it is subjective. We tend to be attracted to what we are, it can change over time, god forbid, I’ve changed my type over the years but the bottom line is, the personality type has remained the same – I like the assholes. That is probably why I felt so strong about that misinterpretation of Christian Grey because he would be a somewhat perfect man for me if he lacked the weakness, had a beard and maybe without the red room…. but no, they had to go and make him into a lap dog for a stupid naive girl.
In other words, dominance is a very misunderstood concept due to violence and say FSOG – it’s not rape, nor is it humiliation, it is a concept and a mutual understanding. To people, a woman for instance in a high paying job, wants to be submissive for a man, a delivery boy.. hahaha, I’m telling you, if there’s any better way to write a porn movie, it is to take FSOG and add 60% more sex into it, less talk and you’ve got yourself a better movie than the actual movie.
PS: I didn’t mind the late night incoherent thought process, I think it sounded awesome!
Yes I suppose the point I was trying to make but didn’t was that… sometimes people, and consequently works of fiction too, attribute certain attitudes and character traits to dominant men that aren’t really correlated with being dominant, they’re just the guy’s personality. And anyway I’m with you on the cooking thing, even the cleaning.
HA! That straw comment had me laughing throughout the day. I never thought about it, but that just shows how subjective it is, yeah. To me it’s crossing their legs like a woman. Unless they’re old and wearing a suit, there’s no excuse!!
Well now you said it all – dominance is misunderstood due to its association with violence. And that misunderstanding not only gives it a negative connotation but also makes it really hard to have productive discussions on the topic. A couple of weeks ago I took a course where the teacher started by saying “let’s get our concepts straight so that we’re all talking about the same thing”. And it’s true.
Then again, it’s probably very hard to write a dominant man in fiction due to the fact that they can seem too harsh maybe.. or who knows. I would love that kind of a book though but I’m weird anyway.
Crossing their legs and wearing socks with sandals! My god.. the horror.
Indeed, people tend to freak out about things that aren’t even related because they don’t know concepts well enough. Misinterpretation and misunderstanding are probably the main causes of anger and hate towards some people.