Fifty Shades: What Women Want

By: Yehudit Mam

The pop culture phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey, The Movie has descended upon us. Not since 9/12 Weeks with Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger (those were the days!) has Hollywood made a sexy blockbuster. Showgirls doesn’t count.

I have not read the book by E.L James; I have a rule about not wasting this brief life on bad literature, if I can help it. But the book obviously hit a female nerve that has translated to monster sales worldwide. The movie is number one in America. It may be about BDSM, but it is the most sanitized, puritanically R-rated, innocent and wrongheaded version of this sexual kink you are likely to see. It is almost apt for the whole family. Except it isn’t. Leave the kids at home—if you have them.

I sat down among my fellow females, some couples and a sprinkling of lone males (pervs? hopeless romantics?) and was mesmerized by the previews before the show: Ads for Barry Manilow’s final concert tour, female lubricant, power bars to lose weight, previews for romantic comedies, and a steamy one for Magic Mike XXL (can’t wait).

As the movie began, I braced for disaster. Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey, didn’t strike me as a convincing master of the universe, let alone the boudoir. However, I warmed up to him the minute he took off his t-shirt. Still, Dornan is neither authoritative nor remotely perverse. What a shame. Anastasia Steele fares much better, as played with ingénue charm by Dakota Johnson. I did not expect a sense of humor, but Anastasia has one, and Johnson carries the movie. Together, alas, the couple has zero chemistry.

It takes forever to get to the juicy parts. The dialogue is risible, and the plot doesn’t make much sense, but I enjoyed the cat and mouse game between the lovers. As for the sex, it is tasteful, chaperoned by a soulful soundtrack, and rather bland. I am not an expert in these matters, but I was under the impression that in BDSM the dominant party does not have to beg to dominate, and submissives don’t go around refusing to submit. But this is the paltry story.

Yet adherence to the BDSM code isn’t the point; 50 Shades would not be a blockbuster if that were the case. Instead, the plot is a jumbled synthesis of some elements of a conventional, even conservative, female fantasy: a very interested and desirable male, an inexperienced, but curious (as opposed to aggressively sexual) female, an emotionally distant man whom she intends to convert to love, and a passionate mutual attraction. Even if the guy is an A-type control freak, he is nice, he is smart, he is clean, he is attentive. He gives her boatloads of swag. The one thing that’s neither sexy nor romantic is that he acts like a stalker and tries to control her outside the bedroom: a fantasy that seems to have been written by a Republican.

The general consensus seems to be that the movie is ridiculous, terrible and stupid. Forgive me the cognitive dissonance, but I don’t hear anybody coming down as hard on all the blow ‘em up movies, and most of them are equally inane. Why is it that this particular film is ripe for such derision? Is it because it is about sex instead of guns and explosions? Is it because it aims to please women? It is certainly a silly, cheesy movie, but it is no worse than the standard Hollywood fare aimed at 15 year-old males. Why are people threatened at the idea of women getting off on their own terms?

Some of the online mockery goes like this: “If this excites women, wait until they discover porn.” Newsflash, guys: women prefer fantasy to porn. Porn requires no narrative or imagination. Much of it has become a bunch of disembodied sexual organs pounding away without mercy; stuff fit for a Neanderthal. In many cases, it is demeaning and exploitative of women. Porn has no room for relationships, feelings, not even desire. And desire, a complex, delicious emotion, is what women crave. This is what 50 Shades of Grey is about. Itmay be idiotic, but it is far less idiotic than porn.

Should women be mocked and patronized for enjoying sex? Why should it be the sole province of men to decide how all of us get aroused?

LOGISTICS: 50 Shades of Grey, official trailer

Yehudit Mam has been in love with movies since her mom took her to see Krakatoa, East of Java when she was a little girl. She is a film blogger, a creative director in advertising, and cofounder of