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In Defence of Fifty Shades of Grey: The Truth About Feminism and Sexuality

In Defence of Fifty Shades of Grey: The Truth About Feminism and Sexuality

By Tanya Kumbhat

Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Come February 2015, I will head to the multiplex and so will hordes of other women, understandably with their partners. And no, I’m not referring to a Khan movie or the latest Nicholas Sparks book-turned movie. ‘Fifty shades of Grey’ releases all over the world and is a revolution of sorts. With over 5.3 million book sold, including 3.8 million books and 1.5 million e-books, 50 Shades of Grey is the fastest selling book and a bestseller in the UK. In addition to this, it has also become the most anticipated film of 2015.

The three-book series features Anastasia Steele, who falls in love with Christian Grey, a troubled young billionaire who is partial to BDSM—the erotic practices of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism—and his penthouse includes a self-styled “playroom” kitted out with chains, shackles, whips and more!

Likewise, the movie is likely to be heavy on graphic scenes, promiscuous dialogues, nudity and of course, kinky sex or as the book lovers would know, not the vanilla kind. Fifty Shades of Grey is therefore a novel about bondage, wild sex and yes, love.

Initially, the book had sparked outrage by many sections of society resulting in some bans. Since the trailer release, the embers have risen from the ashes. A non-profit organization in the U.S.A, Morality in Media, had issued a statement, stating that the trailer “deceives the public” by romanticizing and normalizing sexual violence.

“Is this really the kind of relationship we want our daughters, relatives and friends willingly entering into?  With a stalker and a batterer?” the statement comments.  “Do we really want our sons to become Christian Greys, practicing a violent masculinity that degrades men as well?”

The Parents Television Council in a statement said: “The implications of such a relationship — abuse of power, female inequality, coercion, and sexual violence — glamorises and legitimatizes violence against women.

And since sex is pretty much a topic left unspoken of in India what with senior government leaders expressing their disdain on sex education, it is not a surprise that not many opinions have been expressed on this revolution, back home. However, that does not mean that Indians will approve of such a movie let alone such a relationship.

If we have experienced the Bajrang Dal forcing girls to tie rakhis to their lovers on Valentine’s Day and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike beating up girls in Mysore for partying with boys, I can only imagine worse things that the Fifty Shades movie is going to create.

Neither is Fifty Shades of Grey a perfect book, nor will it be a perfect movie. It’s not ingeniously crafted and isn’t really original, but I can’t begrudge any woman who is aroused by Christian Grey, a sculpted billionaire; or who relates to Ana, a college senior who is demure and not comfortable in her own skin. All the hate is unnecessary and unwarranted when there are bigger issues out there.

Consent is a key word here. In the book, Anastasia, the lead character, had signed an elaborate contract detailing what acts could be done to her and what couldn’t and she also had the option of negotiating it! Of course in India, we prefer consent to be substituted by ‘marriage’; once the wedding is solemnized, the man has the upper hand and he is granted full rights to have his way with his wife on the first night itself, irrespective of her wishes.

Another argument which brings a valid point is that this franchise became so extraordinarily popular because the women loved it. In fact the series has been called “mommy porn” because of its popularity among middle-aged women. So in other words people are berating, ridiculing, and censuring the fantasies of millions of women! It is a fact that women have sexualities and sexual appetites. Many women prefer plain vanilla sex, but there are also those who find power play intriguing, and for those women, books like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the crossfire series, or movies are a form of expression. It lets them know that they are not alone or someone peculiar and that’s it is perfectly alright to feel the things they do.

More often than not, this might inspire readers to be more experimental and creative with their own sexuality. One of the significant messages offered in the trilogy is that two consensual adults who share a common understanding of the parameters of the limits of their sexual experience could greatly enhance the quality of that experience and by extension, the quality of their relationship itself.

It is obviously not healthy that the relationship of the two characters in the book is only about kink and not about the genuineness in a relationship that someone might crave. Also, straying into severely painful, unhygienic or potentially dangerous acts may not be in one’s best interests. But why not let the individual decide?

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