Thursday morning the eagerly anticipated 2015 film, "Fifty Shades of Grey," will promote its first trailer on the "Today Show." The movie is based on the hugely successful 2011 book by E.L. James, which has garnered more comments on Amazon than I’ve personally ever seen in its history.
Many people have wondered why "Fifty Shades," now a trilogy and planted on almost every bookshelf in the world (including your local supermarket) has sold millions. After all, they say, the writing stinks. And the story is about a woman who submits to a man. Who’d want to read that? And so, it was chalked up to sex. That’s why the book is so popular, people said—because of the sex.
It’s true sex sells, and "Fifty Shades" has plenty of it. But there’s much more to it than that. As one Amazon commenter writes, “Adult content was intense and a bit much for my taste. That being said, I love the storyline.” And another: “All I had heard about was the sex, but there is so much more to these books.” Even readers who didn’t like the sex held on for the sake of the plot. Jaycee writes, “Very good storyline, but I had to skip all the graphic sex.”
So what is it about this book, other than the sex, that makes it so fascinating? Why do women eat it up?
"Fifty Shades" allows women, if only in their fantasies, to finally surrender control. It gives them permission to let a man call the shots, and to learn that not only can this be an aphrodisiac, it grants women access to the deepest parts of a man’s soul. And that’s what most women want.
Indeed, the dominance/submission theme of "Fifty Shades of Grey" makes the perfect backdrop for the ongoing debate about gender equality. What does this phrase even mean? In any relationship, the man and the woman have equal value. But they can’t both drive the same car—it won’t move. One must lead, and the other must follow. It doesn’t always have to be the man who leads. But more often than not, that’s what works.
The truth is, the battle of the sexes isn’t about equality—it’s about who’s going to surrender to whom. Those are two different things. When a woman stops trying to be in charge of everything, which in reality is making her nuts, she finds she’s more satisfied than ever. She feels lighter. She feels cared for.
She feels empowered.
This is an entirely new idea. Decades of feminist propaganda have insisted that empowerment means being in control at all times. That is how a woman proves her worth. But it’s one thing to take control of your own life and quite another to control your man. The latter never works. What does work in love is deference. Respect. Trust.
Of course, that means being vulnerable, which women don’t like—they associate it with being weak. Because of this, many women have their dukes up rather than their guards down.
But in"Fifty Shades," women are shown that letting one’s guard down is, in fact, the answer. Being deferential toward your man doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice. It means you respect him and are willing to yield to his judgment. Not all the time, perhaps, but much of it. In doing so, a woman finds a man opening up to her in a way he otherwise wouldn’t. And that’s where love can be found.
To the modern woman, there’s nothing scarier than ceding control. Yet at the same time, the concept is so alluring—as the success of "Fifty Shades" proves.
Bottom line: Let. Go. It’s okay to not be in charge. Let your man do that for a change.
You know you want to.
Suzanne Venker is the author of five books on marriage, feminism and gender politics. Her latest book is "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS." Find her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.