July 10, 2012

"I am interested in the culture... and in sexuality, so I'll talk about what it might mean that so many women are reading a novel that depicts sado-masochism."

Said I, in the comments to this morning's Drudge in B&W post, which invoked the popular novel "Shades of Grey, " and prompted a commenter (Surfed) to ask "to what effect have these novels affected [sic] Althouse that they are constantly (if not on an everyday basis) referred to? Is this a question best posed to Meade?" I said:
I don't read many novels, and I don't read any novels that are not on a fairly high literary level. So, genre romance and porn aren't in my Kindle. 
I am interested in the culture... and in sexuality, so I'll talk about what it might mean that so many women are reading a novel that depicts sado-masochism. In fact, Meade and I just had big conversation about that. I wondered whether women's fascination with this kind of fiction indicated that something is missing in present-day sexual relationships. Meade expressed the view that this is what women over the ages have in fact found titillating. I didn't disagree, so it's not as though we were opposed. I think it's a good issue, worth discussing, so feel free to carry on with that.
I'm making this into a new post, because I really do think it's a good topic for discussion and would like you to carry on — in this discussion or whatever other activities you have in mind. For example, Surfed asserted that he has "used the novel to great effect in my own personal life these last 6 months or so." All right then!

I've made a "Shades of Grey" tag so you can see the old posts on the subject and see what I've already said about this series of books.

35 comments:

chickelit said...

What does this have to do with "The Story Of O"?

prairie wind said...

Not for me, I'm afraid. When I think back to the romances and the even-more explicit stuff I've read, the sex scenes all run together. It is impossible to write an original sex scene. Oh, you might write about an original activity but the "oh baby" stuff all sounds alike. The writer will eventually use the word "manhood" or the phrase "entrancing triangle."

Too many other things to read to waste time reading something that will surely disappoint. So, if you've guessed that this is a negative review by someone who hasn't read the books, you are right.

bagoh20 said...

Maybe women find it titillating because the current cultural norms involving proper male behavior and the associated criminal justice controls on it make this type of sex extremely risky for the man, and as thus give the women in these scenarios complete control while playing with the idea of being controlled. It allows them to imagine having it both ways, which is always very desirable to women.

My female liver told me this.

Henry said...

The book itself doesn't really interest me except in the sense of deja vu. When I was in grad school everyone seemed to be reading The Story of O. Mickey Rourke's turn in 9-1/2 weeks generated the comically inept sequel Wild Orchid. Uma Thurman starred in Henry and June, a tedious adaptation of Anais' Nin's diaristic fictions.

Not long after that, Quentin Tarentino proved that showing Uma Thurman chop people up was far more interesting than showing her be groped by Fred Ward.

I expect the same cycle to repeat itself. Pornography is pretty boring.

Nathan Alexander said...

I think it shows that women only thought they wanted to be equal.

Now that they are ascendant, they fantasize about being dominated.

But only in the abstract. In the specific, they still want to dominate their man.

Conclusion: women are basically schizoid.

Carol said...

Why "[sic]"? His usage was correct.

chickelit said...

Conclusion: women are basically schizoid.

That's news?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I read science fiction, anthropology books (Like 1491), murder mysteries and historical biographies.

I guess I'm not in need of reading for titillation or the vicarious need to be dominated in writing.

prairie wind said...

His usage was correct.
I agree, Carol.

Now that they are ascendant, they fantasize about being dominated.

I don't think fantasies like this are anything new. No matter how much the younger crowd thinks it is terribly shocking. The younger generation always think they invented sex.

edutcher said...

As I've said, I think this is about women wanting to give up control and have men reassert themselves now that it's no longer a Man-cession, but, before that happens, the manchildren need to get out of the man-caves and breastaurants and tear themselves away from the sports and computer games and online porn and start acting like men.

PS So many will be crushed to see this isn't a political blog

Synova said...

I don't know how to talk about it other than... not me. And then it gets personal. I haven't any problem with the idea of playing games but even pretend coercion or hurt is like a bucket of ice water and the idea of *me* even pretending to hurt someone else makes me feel sick.

I don't think it's healthy in the way that open minded people are supposed to understand that it's just adults and there is no "wrong way" to have sex. Our whole society has gone that way. Can't call anything a perversion because then you're the perverse one.

But how can getting off on hurting someone, or pretending to hurt someone, be healthy in any way shape or form? How can it be healthy to let someone pretend to hurt *you*?

Yes, yes, STRONG, I get the attraction to strong, I get the attraction to aggressive, and I get the attraction to dominant (but not domineering.) I get the dynamic of the supernatural romance genre where, one direction or the other, a vastly powerful person is tamed by love. I get the attraction, in spite of the possible coercion element of the paranormal romances that feature a "mate for life" element (and will admit to having writting it in a SF setting as well.)

I even like the couple of Heyer romances where the hero is not a very nice person, not because it's titillating, but because it's not meant to be and it's nice to read a less than perfect hero who can still be the hero.

But the couple of seemingly regular romances I've read that are suddenly explaining asphyxiation (to a regency lady) or bondage (to a former rape victim!) just piss me off. It's not dangerously titillating. It's just dumb. And I usually spent money on it, too.

Coketown said...

Why "[sic]" [sic]? His [sic] usage was [sic] correct [sic].

People in glass houses, etc.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why "[sic]"? His usage was correct."

To what effect... affected

The double "effect." Redundant. Redundant in a funny way.

To what effect did that affect you?

You don't want to say that.

Surfed said...
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Surfed said...

And my own tab? How many of those have you handed out to commenters?

damikesc said...

Now that they are ascendant, they fantasize about being dominated.

But only in the abstract. In the specific, they still want to dominate their man.


In the end, sexually, a lot of women just want a guy to be "in control" so the sex wasn't all their "choice". They were "made" to do it, even if they wanted to do it regardless. I mean, if you're tied up, how can one really say no?

Don't get that hang-up --- you know, being a dude and all, but I've known plenty of women who wanted to be tied up or had assorted other submission fantasies and the like and this was the only remotely rational explanation that made any sense.

My wife read and enjoyed the books. That it was, allegedly, originally supposed to be Twilight fan fiction, it is amazing that anybody would read it. But, hey, it made her want to be kinky for a few days, so bonus for me, I guess.

Seemed like an overly-long Penthouse Forum letter to me.

Surfed said...
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Surfed said...
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Surfed said...

Myself, my Wisconsin gf and her best friend had a similar discussion the other night over a nice red. Do women like small, wimpy and ruling the roost or do they like it taciturn, hard and taking a few orders? Both voted for hard and taking a few orders. And, the vote was immediate with no back and forth. They knew what they liked and they know what they want. But then they're women of a certain age.

ndspinelli said...

Surfed, I'm guessing you're not the wimpy guy. And, we spend winters in San Diego. I've gotten to know many surfers, a few Spicoli's but more quite intelligent men and women. More women every year, they make up @ least 70% of all the surf classes I see.

rhhardin said...

70s New Yorker cartoon, rich corporate mogul type to wife at breakfast with background maid pouring coffee

"What do women want, Mabel?"

Stephen A. Meigs said...

Being dominated by depravity or violence is not the same thing as being dominated by love. The former tends to be associated with evil rapacious contexts. The latter operates just by the male adjusting his level of loving brain emotions as a kind of dangled carrot weapon to get what he wants. My theory is that the male emotions affect crossover rates in spermatogenesis and in the (embryonic) egg development of daughters in such a way that the female can get significantly more sexual pleasure from a male if he has holy loving emotions towards the female. Though it's not a huge effect ordinarily, it is always there, and is an especially big deal to quite young females in a tantric context, because such contexts I believe imply intraejaculate sperm selection, and so sex that is not loving selects for sperm from more unloving males, etc. No female can be controlled by love unless she cares whether the male has loving emotions toward her, which she obviously wouldn't if sex is not desired by her. (Wanting to be emotionally loved is not wanting to be emotionally respected as clean-loving, which vanity is okay, but realistically such respect from her sex partner may well be biased and not exactly something a female should put great stock in.) Anyway, controlling by love is totally useless for rapacious purposes.

In good males, control through love is mainly exerted for the purpose of forcing the controlled to be themselves, because it is more impressive to other girls if girls want him when they are being themselves. That said, it's mostly lame, I think, to control a wife by varying love, because great males mostly would have wives who would be themselves (to be loving if for no other reason). In the antebellum south among the upper classes it may well be this was a common method of control, and that didn't go well. I have read the probable reason that there be no family china left from John Calhoun is that Floride likely smashed it all to pieces during fits of rage at her husband.

Female sadism is associated with being controlled, because the more a female is controlled, the more she tends to want to test whether it still be easy to hate others, to make sure she is not being a zombie controlled by sodomy, which causes love and terror emotions just because semen is a potion of love chemicals and algesics, that do have their effects when absorbed by the digestive system. Females when feeling love for a male controlling them tend to like to want to fantasize about cruelty toward others just to make sure they can still hate. Similarly, in throes of sexual desire, females can take pleasure in feeling how they don't want to have sex with almost-loved-as-much males, because they feel more safe if they are pretty sure they aren't being turned into future sluts.

The few romance genre novels I've seen seem to be bad in not distinguishing the various types of control and more particularly in not distinguishing girls getting off on imagining cruelty toward others while in the thrall over their lover as a test of whether their own love be real, and terrified girls doing or accepting violence because sodomy has corrupted their natural brain tendencies and turned them into zombie slaves. The latter is an important distinction people need to make if the world is to be safe from future zombie apocalypse.

William said...

Do you need a leather crop? Those things are probably expensive, and don't have any use elsewhere. Why can't you just use your hand? Those stuck up Grey readers probably refuse to be whipped with anything but a leather crop from Coach.....How can any man be said to dominating a relationship that requires so much crap like Armani suits. Why can't women develop a fetish for wild, untrimmed nasal hair? I bet nasal hair is a sign of high testerone. Women really should be into it and not this S&M crap.

Richard Dolan said...

I haven't read Grey/Gray and I'm not in the target audience anyway. But I did read Coelho's Eleven Minutes, a novel that would clearly make Ann's grade of "a fairly high literary level". There was a similar 'fascination with the abomination' element to the sex/love stuff in Coelho's book. Evidently, it's a theme that's catching a wave.

Surfed said...
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Synova said...

I can see wanting to feel that you've made the guy crazy for you so that he loses control. Because everyone wants to feel that desirable, don't they? So a little bit of "I've *got* to, I can't *help* it," is sexy.

But I think it's a lot of "not my fault" on either side of the issue. At no point, though, can I see how this is HEALTHY.

And isn't our whole society based on that lack of responsibility? So you're married, but we're in LOVE, so we can't help it. Not. Our. Fault.

Crunchy Frog said...

Does anyone remember the Anne Rice "Anonymous" Beauty series? The short version:

Spanking
Crying
Anal sex

Lather, rinse, repeat.

AllieOop said...

I find that reading about the sex lives of others is a bit boring. 50 Shades of Grey just doesn't sound worth plunking down the money to buy or the time to read it. Real life is ever so much more interesting.

As for Sadism or Masochism, bah. Sweet sex, is much more satisfying, but to each their own. I sometimes think of that song, "I want a lover with a slow hand, a tender touch", forgot who sang it. Or was I the Pointer Sisters?

An occasional wild ride is always good for the consitution. I'm sure it won't take long for one of the conservative ladies here to call me a slut again, ho hum.

ndspinelli said...

The conservative nuns would call you a "fallen woman."

Other women would call you a whore.

Men would call you often.

Synova said...

"I'm sure it won't take long for one of the conservative ladies here to call me a slut again, ho hum."

I don't know why.

You said "occasional wild ride" not "occasional change of partners."

AllieOop said...

Well YES, that is right Synova. My partners have changed but not often and not capriciously. I never was interested in remarrying after my husband died, but not ready for the nunnery either.

Raleigh Sex Therapist said...

I read it. The compelling part of the book for women seems to be about being the sole object of desire of a man completely obsessed by her. I don't think the book's popularity means that American woman secretly harbor BDSM fantasies. Marta Meana, researcher and professor of psychology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas asserts that women need and want intense male sexual energy to spark their desire - the caring caveman. Meana says that being wanted is the "orgasm." I think women are craving intensity in their sexual relationships rather than the dull routine that exists in so many marriages.

Fantasy is the way a woman turns herself on. Men are fueled by tons of testosterone. (And a man with low testosterone - acts just like many women.. poor arousal, Viagra won't work, thinks about sex once a week, fight with wife - doesn't want sex) Even a young woman doesn't have nearly the testosterone that an old man has. Now, women have joined a national collective book club giving permission to read, fantasize and think about sex using (albeit very poorly written) erotica. And ta-da!, thinking about sex makes a woman feel sexual.

Michael Ryan said...

I was surprised to find a mainstream S&M Western not long ago. One of my favorite John Wayne movies had been "McLintock" with Maureen O'Hara. I hadn't remembered that in the end of the movie the way he won back the affections of his angry and willful wife was by beating her with a shovel.

Jason said...

What does Heartiste have to say?

I think women like this sort of thing because, whether they admit it to themselves or not, and whether they admit it to each other or not, they're tired of weak men who are scared of their own shadows. And a strong man who can "take" what he wants from a woman is also probably a man who can protect her, too.

Sumbunnyluvsu said...

Spengler writes that this novel is a sign of waning sexual libidos in the West.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/NC13Dh01.html