The Left

Fifty Shades of Silly

Chivalry is dead
Chivalry is dead
Chivalry, or the chivalric code, is a code of conduct associated with the medieval institution of knighthood. Chivalry arose from an idealized German custom. It developed first in the north of France among horse soldiers who served in Charlemagne′s heavy cavalry. | Photo: | Chivalry, Feminism, Knight, Shoe, Heel, Wimp,

No, "Fifty Shades" has not proven feminism a lie.

Did you know that the release of Fifty Shades of Grey has exposed feminism as a lie? According to some conservatives, the film has conclusively proven that all women really want is for a big strong man to make their decisions, order them around and give them really hot sex.

As you probably know, the film shows a young woman submitting to the erotic spell of a wealthy dominant man with a controlling personality and kinky tastes. As a lot of women like the film (and the book it's based on), Joseph Heschmeyer of First Things concludes that despite all that feminist baloney about how women want equality, the movie proves women have "a longing (even a lusting) for men who aren't afraid of what's classically been called 'headship.'"

Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist similarly explains the film is a "cry for help from women betrayed by feminism" who "are simply throwing up their hands and admitting they wish men would take charge again."

John Nolte at Breitbart.com brands the film "feminist wish fulfillment" which proves feminism is "nothing more than a hoax designed by chauvinist men desperate to con women into believing that loveless, empty sex and being treated like garbage is the road to enlightenment." Presumably because real women would never sacrifice their virtue if feminists hadn't brainwashed them into it (a common right-wing argument)

Some conservatives made the same argument about Twilight a few years ago. The male lead is a virile, dominant, take -charge kind of guy, so clearly women read it because all they can find in real life is egalitarian wimps. thank you feminism very much!

Five seconds of thought would show this is a feeble argument for proclaiming the death of feminism, or proclaiming anything, really. What people watch on-screen doesn't offer an instant key to their true selves.

Take the phenomenally successful Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels. By Hemingway's logic, the series' popularity proves either that lots of people want to murder teenagers or that lots of people want to be killed by a supernatural slasher in their dreams. Neither one seems plausible to me.

Or consider V.C. Andrews' popular novel, Flowers in the Attic. Do Hemingway and Heschmeyer assume everyone who liked those books had a secret fantasy to be imprisoned by their guardians in the attic and end up having hot, incestuous sibling-sex?

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. It is the first installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. | Photo: Archives |
Not to mention countless hit movies about people dying of terminal disease. Should we conclude everyone who watched Dark Victory or Brian's Song has a secret urging to either die or watch someone they love die? Sorry, not buying it, even if the dying character gets to stay as beautiful as Ali McGraw in Love Story.

Certainly some women do love Fifty Shades and Twilight. I've also known women who hate them. Some women hate them precisely because they regard the male leads as domineering stalkers. Women aren't a hive mind and just like men, what works for one woman doesn't appeal to another. Many women love "alpha male" romances; other women love romances with more laid-back beta males. Even those who love daydreaming about an alpha male on screen don't necessarily want one bossing them around in real life.

To use a personal example, I could see myself enjoying a movie where CEO Scarlett Johansson flings an underlying down on her desk and demands he put out or lose his job. That doesn't mean I have any secret interest in being sexually harassed or dominated that way in real life.

But admitting the difference between fantasy and reality would deprive Hemingway and others of the chance to make a perennial right-wing argument: feminism isn't only wrong (in the sense that it violates men's right to dominate women), it doesn't even work. Women don't want equal rights; they'd be happier if feminists had never forced equal rights upon them. It's the same logic by which Fox News pundit Suzanne Venker claims equal rights and equal pay are a poor substitute for the days of parents when men stood up whenever a woman entered the room. Likewise, Hemingway insists that getting "successively better office jobs on the way to the corner office" are no substitute for the joys of letting a man be the boss (one wonders why Hemingway works as senior editor at the Federalist when that seems precisely the kind of career path she's warning against).

It's a pretty flimsy argument. But for anti-feminist right-wingers, flimsy is all they got.

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:51 AM EDT | More details

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