Katie Roiphe's 'Fifty Shades of Grey' diatribe misses several points

katie-roiphe-newsweek-50-shades-of-grey.jpgYou may have heard a little something recently about "Fifty Shades of Grey," a bodice-ripper for the new millennium that has been referred to as "mommy porn," which ... that nickname is something we won't even get into. But - ick. Can't we all just be adults here?

Anyway, the book has had a meteoric rise up the New York Times bestseller list, Hollywood is currently scrambling over the movie rights and pundits everywhere are talking about what this all means in the grand scheme of women.

Katie Roiphe is the latest to offer commentary, having penned a rather lengthy article called "Working Women's Fantasties" that landed itself the cover of Newsweek this week. And not just any cover -- it's a naked woman with a silky blindfold on, so prepare to be titillated.

Or bored to death. Or confused.

The article misses several points that belong in the discussion, if we must insist on having a discussion about feminism and this new scintillating book instead of just acknowledging that people, particularly women, like erotic fiction and there is nothing with that.

But let's say we must dissect what this all means.

First off, Roiphe cites "Fifty Shades," "Girls," the new HBO series that premiered Sunday night (April 15) and "A Dangerous Method," the 2011 Keira Knightley-Viggo Mortensen movie about Carl Jung, as proof that there is a "current cultural interest in sexual domination."

Well, maybe. Or interest in sexual dominance/submission has always been there, and these are just three examples of current media where a small form of BDSM (bondage, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism) occurs -- and it's spanking.

And Roiphe moves from spanking into submission and then into rape fantasies. Which is a lot of ground to cover in a couple of paragraphs. And, fyi, someone who likes spanking isn't necessarily into rape fantasies. Even the use of the term "rape fantasies" isn't something we are entirely comfortable with because people (yes, people -- not just women) who fantasize about being dominated are not usually actually fantasizing about being raped (though yes, we do acknowledge that anything one can come up with, somewhere there is a person into that).

Then Roiphe moves into positing that because of this influx of sexual dominance/submission materials in our pop culture, at a time when women are rising in the workforce and becoming the family breadwinner, that "it may be that equality is something we want only sometimes."

And right here the entire article falls apart because Roiphe clearly knows nothing about dominance or submission and its place in someone's intimate life.

Her inherent premise is that the dominant and the submissive aren't equals, when in reality a dominant and a submissive are compatible in a way that makes them very much equals. In fact, the submissive oftentimes has the real power in an encounter. And the roles of dominant and submissive do not spill over into life outside the bedroom -- because the dominant and submissive have an understanding about their love life and accept and enjoy their roles.

And that's just what they are -- roles. An actual abusive relationship is not BDSM. It's not sexual -- at least not for the victim. Let's not get actual abuser/abusee relationships confused with negotiated dominance/submission.

Being submissive sexually is not tantamount to being the victim of abuse, or an actual rape. And lots of people -- working men, stay-at-home moms, professional women, blue collar men, whomever -- are into being dominated in the bedroom. That doesn't mean they are giving up their power or their equality with their partner. It also doesn't mean that person doesn't sometimes also like to be the dominant one.

Roiphe continues this theme with comments like "It may be that, for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer ... an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality," and "The incandescent fantasy of being dominated or overcome by a man shows no sign of vanishing with equal pay for equal work."

Like working hard to gain equality in the workplace has anything to do with wanting to be dominated in the bedroom. Sure, for some women being submissive is an escape. Because let's not get crazy in acting like it's because women just can't take the hard work of fighting for their rights and must be spanked now. By a man. A big hulking man.

We understand that in our Puritanical society, a book like "Fifty Shades of Grey," which does not have a cover featuring Fabio and a large-breasted woman frolicking on the beach with a title like "The Captain of All Pleasures" (that's a real title), is going to make waves when it becomes incredibly popular so quickly.

But Roiphe's article really says a lot of nothing for four pages and in fact mostly just seems to want to condescendingly and snottily say things like, "It is perhaps inconvenient for feminism that the erotic imagination does not submit to politics."

And then she wraps up the entire article by getting in a dig at how "Fifty Shades of Grey" is so poorly-written and that is what is the most upsetting aspect of this entire thing.

Now that's how we like our irony.

Photo/Video credit: Newsweek, Vintage publishing