Fifty Shades of Grey and Magic Mike have been called the beginning of a new age of sexual freedom for women. But is this true? Magic Mike, a film starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, is basically a Boogie Nights reboot rewritten for male strippers instead of a male porn star. While the plot and tone of the film may be hokey and ultimately judgmental, at least it presents women as possessing the same sort of autonomous, healthy, purely physical sexual needs as men. More power to them.
50 Shades of Grey, however, is a horse of a slightly different color. Anastasia Steele is not a sexually curious woman in search of physical pleasure and sexual satisfaction. She's a naÃ¯ve and previously repressed virgin who falls under the spell of a twisted controlling jerkÂ—erÂ—psychologically disturbed man. That man leads her into the world of B&D/S&M. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that type of sexuality per se. But since Anastasia is a virgin before meeting Christian Grey, she has nothing to compare him or their sex life to. Thus Fifty Shades of Grey, though touted as a woman's liberating exploration of the world of kinky sex, seems more like just another misogynistic yarn in which a woman's sexuality is defined by a man. In this case, the man defines her sexuality as submissive and masochistic. What a surprise. Actually, the story of a woman who hooks up with a man who turns her into his masochistic sex slave was told a long time ago in a novel called The Story of O. Interestingly, it was written by a womanÂ—Pauline Reage. Unlike Anastasia, O was not a virgin, so her journey into the world of kinky sex was a bit more realistic.
If films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike can help women realize that all adult human beingsÂ—regardless of genderÂ—have the right to happy, physically satisfying sex lives even without benefit of "committed relationships," then more power to them. The original sexual revolution of the late 60s, 70s, and 80s was a good thing. It removed the stigma from the idea of women enjoying sex. Alas it lost momentum in the late 90s and was transmogrified in the new millennium into a new double standard. Perhaps these films, even with their inconsistencies, can help bring it back.
Â© Hope Carson 2012