50 Shades of Sexual Confusion

I haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Hearing that it was about S&M quelled my desire to read it. (S&M isn’t my thing, but if it’s your thing, that cool. No judgement here.) However, much like “Twilight”, I was curious as to the general story and if there was one. So as the film trailer is now out, I felt no great loss at investing three minutes to sate my curiosity.

Before we go further, let me note that:

1) I know films generally aren’t an accurate representation of the book;

2) Film trailers sometimes don’t accurately represent the film.

This being said, this post isn’t about these points. It is, instead, about the apparent primal desire that is tapped into by books, like “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and countless others: the male of the species protecting, providing for, and coveting the female of the species.

If you take out the vampires, the sexual tension (or sex), and other literary icing, what you have is a plain, demure, submissive (and likely very fertile) female that is somehow the recipient of the attention of a strong, virile, successful, and very attractive alpha male. This is bluntly – and wonderfully – outlined in Oatmeal’s Twilight synopsis.

In some circles, this is kindly cited as “Cinderella Syndrome” and is attributed to psychological factors. In others, like anthropological circles, it can fall within the realm of the biological differences between the sexes.

These books have sold wildly AND internationally. Can the psychological fear of independence of the “Cinderella Syndrome” account for this, or is it something more? Something perhaps rooted deeper in our biologically hardwired psyche?

For me, this brought up all sorts of questions rooted in evolutionary and biological anthropology, like:

  • are females really hardwired to look for males that will provide for and protect them (when the females are pregnant and can’t provide for and protect themselves)?
  • are males really hardwired to strive for status, strength, and dominance as a way of securing the mating rights to females?
  • is any of this culturally avoidable? Can we choose not to behave this way? If we can, is it in our best interests to not behave this way?

In all honesty, I don’t know. And many years, and academic lectures, seminars, books, articles, and presentations later, I don’t think anyone is the wiser on these questions. What I do know, however, is that I get really perturbed when the female is portrayed as weak, frail, and plain, while the male is portrayed as strong, heroic, handsome, and successful. Grrrr.

I like cheering for the protagonist. I cheer for people overcoming their own weaknesses, taking the ‘high road’, exhibiting integrity in the face of adversity. I cheer for protagonists with character, who are colourful, who are unique. I choose books with strong, self-saving female characters with personality, for example “Cinder” (which, ironically enough, flies in the face of the “Cinderella Syndrome” haha).

I don’t cheer for wimpy females who are have fortutiously garnered the attention of a powerful and handsome male. I don’t cheer for characters who are swept up in events and are unwilling to buck the flow. What’s to cheer for??

If there are others out there pumping their collective fists in the air, then WHY DO THESE BOOKS SELL IN MASSIVE VOLUMES INTERNATIONALLY? Is it because these books do tap into something deeper, something beyond culture, something so fundamental that we can’t help but be attracted?

Further, both “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” are written by women, and so this may suggest a sex-bias; conversely, do men expect to rescue or provide for women?

As much as we, in the free world, vocally abhor dominance over women and inequality in the sexes, why do we then salivate and quiver uncontrollably at these stories? Are we hypocrites, or victims of our biology?

Comments welcome!


Related posts/websites:

Wikipedia – Sexual Selection

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition–with a new Introduction by the Author



3 responses to “50 Shades of Sexual Confusion

  1. Very thought provoking and, like you, I find it baffling.

    After much musing I have come to the conclusion that young and immature girls like these tales, (the main customers of the Twilight thing),whereas the older more worldy-wise women dismiss them as tosh.

    There is definitely a trend towards portraying the female heroine as plain, with brown hair, little dress sense and of course, she has to be a “klutz” who drops her school bag and spills papers all over the place and feels embarrassed. I think this one is here to stay, as it fuels the fantasies of all the average looking girls – a far larger market than the traditional blonde heroine who nowadays is portrayed as the bully.
    Then along comes the school heart throb whom all the girls have a crush on and…hey presto!

    So in the end I think this is not necessarily a social phenomenon, but more about authors and film producers having found the perfect formula to sell to teenage girls, who are practically the only remaining profitable market for novels and also the keenest cinema-goers.

    Ah yes, I think it all boils down to economics!


    • I think you have a very sound argument! Yes, there does seem to be a ‘magic’ formula that authors/film producers have hit upon. This ‘magic’ formula might be different for different people (maybe there’s a ‘magic’ formula for getting guys to buy books), but this one definitely reaches into the female teenage heart — whether you’re chronologically or emotionally a teenager šŸ™‚

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. Your post provided me with some of the reasons neither book has appealed. It is puzzling and sometimes discouraging that themes like these are so wildly popular. Thanks for the post!


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