One parent questions the submissive goal of "Fifty Shades" for her daughters
The trailer has received more than 28 million views
"Fifty Shades of Grey" comes out in theaters on Valentine's Day 2015
Sometimes I wonder – am I done parenting yet? My daughters are out of the house, and (almost) out of grad school. They know all about the birds and the bees. The last thing I should be worrying about is their sex lives. When your kids are 23 and 26, the operative words are: “Butt out.”
Looking back, I can say in full confidence that I taught them well about sex: Be responsible for your actions and protect yourselves. Say no if you want to. Tell me just enough, but not too much. The goal is to forge a meaningful relationship with someone who is both lover and friend.
That was before “Fifty Shades of Grey” came along.
My daughters didn’t have the patience to read the novel, as famous for its female fans as for its pathetic prose. Chances are, though, they’ll go see the movie, slated for release on Valentine’s Day. They admit, the catchy, sexy trailer piqued their interest.
All the buzz about the movie brings up a dilemma for me as the parent of two girls who are grown, but still forming their sexual identities: Do I really want my daughters seeing a warped, sadomasochistic relationship, dressed up as a Hollywood love fantasy?
I’m no prude, mind you. As a parent, I’m chill, I’m open. But the idea that my daughters would see the romance in “Fifty Shades” as something to be aspired to makes me just a little uncomfortable.
I had the passing thought that “Fifty Shades of Grey” could be a learning experience. But then I woke up and thought: not for my kids! Here I am trying to teach my daughters to be strong women and look at sex in a healthy way. Now they’re being told that for a woman, the secret to really great sex is pain, and plenty of it.
Plenty of people are hating on the film’s ultraviral trailer – perhaps for the wrong reasons. These critics think the stars aren’t attractive enough, old enough, or edgy enough. Some say leading man Jamie Dornan, especially, doesn’t seem “in charge” enough to play sadistic-sexy Christian Grey.
Even the bondage community doesn’t seem particularly happy about the book or movie. In anonymous Internet murmurings, some say despite all the trappings, “Fifty Shades of Grey” depicts an assault on a woman, rather than consensual bondage.
Still, the mere appearance of the trailer set “Fifty Shades” fans aquiver. It got 25 million YouTube views in just the first three weeks.
The slick, highly produced trailer, complete with soundtrack by Beyonce, appeals to the younger female demographic, says one film industry analyst.
“They’re going to totally chase the female millennial audience, no doubt about that,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak. “If you look at the number of tweets, the prerelease buzz surrounding this movie, it’s almost like how ‘Sex and the City’ was for young women. It’s almost like their ‘Star Wars.’”
Psychologist Lucie Hemmen, author of “Parenting a Teen Girl: A Crash Course on Conflict, Communication, and Connection with Your Teen Daughter,” agrees the movie seems to be targeting a young female audience.
“The male lead is pretty and nonthreatening, even though we’re clear he has his ‘naughty’ side. Young women audiences gravitate toward pretty male singers and actors. Just check out who’s selling music and movies to young women and you’re going to encounter a sea of pretty men.”
And what is the film telling its potentially young, overwhelmingly female audience? That submission is the ultimate goal? That’s certainly at odds with what I’ve tried to instill in my daughters – express yourself, be strong and don’t let anyone make you do anything you’re not comfortable with.
Hemmen also has her doubts. “I do think that it insidiously affects young women, by kind of creating this super, super expanded idea about sex,” Hemmen says. “This movie is clearly going to depict a sexual relationship that is out of the box. I think it’s better for young people to establish their identity in their own box before they go outside of it to explore Hollywood ideas of what sexuality is.”
“As a psychologist, I would be more concerned about a young woman with less maturity, self-knowledge and clarity exploring the behavior, potentially to please a partner or as a way of acting out poorly understood psychological pain/confusion. In such cases, sexual shame could be triggered and emotional turmoil could follow.”
It’s for that reason that Hemmen says she’d rather her 16-year-old daughter not see the movie. “My 20-year-old can do what she wants. She’s been in the culture long enough to roll her eyes and laugh at it.”
In other words: What’s the big deal?
It’s not like young women look up to Anastasia Steele, the “Fifty Shades” heroine. “She’s not really a role model,” my 23-year-old says.
“People are exposed to things at a much different speed in this day and age than in the past,” says Lauren Howard, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker. “At the end of the day, everything is OK between consenting adults. Is there a reason for young girls, specifically, to not see this stuff? The answer is, it really depends on the girl.”
Perhaps, Howard says, the sadomasochism scenes in “Fifty Shades” will prove more challenging for a male audience. “It’s more intimidating to men than to women. It portrays a sexual man as someone who acts that way,” she adds. “They might end up going to the movie with their girlfriend, hoping for soft porn. But that’s not what they’re going to get. What they’re going to get is much more demanding.”
Very little is really, truly, off limits these days. Girls much younger than my daughters will surely find a way to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” – either in theaters, on cable, or online. What’s unknown is just how profoundly it will affect their emerging sexuality.
My daughter’s 21-year-old roommate, Gabby Battistiol, is a big fan of “Fifty Shades” and other romance and erotic novels. Gabby found the trailer disappointing. “I just don’t think the actors seem like they’re really into this. It’s almost like they PG-13’d it.” Meaning, it’s not dirty enough? No, Gabby says.
“I think they’re trying to get the 15-year-old girls who are obsessed with ‘Twilight.’ It brings up this whole fangirl thing. The same girls that like Justin Bieber, like ‘Twilight.’ I’m concerned about it becoming something that it’s not. The sex is more than the love. That’s what I like about the book,” she says. “Now they’re going to make it into a movie, they’re going to idolize (Christian Grey), but in reality, he still likes pain.”
My youngest daughter is all in. “Everyone’s obsessed with this.” She admits the movie wouldn’t be as popular if the lead roles were reversed, with the man submissive to the woman. “We live in a society that caters to male pleasure,” she expounds.
When I asked if it mattered to her if I didn’t want her to go, she shot back: “You? No.”
How’s that for a slap in the face?