Fifty Shades of Cliche
By Rabbi Shmuley
What can explain the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon?
On the one hand women’s interest would seem straightforward. It’s got all the elements women love. A strikingly handsome guy whose got bucket loads of money and a helicopter wants to whip a woman with a cane. And they say men love toys!
Conversely, I can see exactly why men aren’t into it. Who wants to go with their girlfriend to see a super-sexy guy on screen, more successful than you, whose more creative with handcuffs? It can leave you feeling insecure.
But the wider question of the 50 shades phenomenon is this: why are so many women enthralled by a book about sexual submission in an age of feminine liberation?
Women worked so hard to achieve parity with men. They have even overtaken men in many areas. Sixty percent of all college degrees are awarded to women. Boys can’t keep up with the girls in high school, even in subjects like mathematics and the sciences where the boys used to dominate. And about seventy percent of divorces are initiated by wives who just up and leave when they’re unhappy, now that they have financial independence. It’s the women rejecting the men and not so much the opposite. Battle of the sexes? The men lost.
Yet now women are now buying tickets to watch a woman voluntarily submit to a guy who can be a bit of a jerk, and sign an agreement to be a submissive to his dominant. Is that what women now want? To be some guys sex slave? Has feminism died completely?
As for the book its poorly written and a little predictable. You have the super rich guy. The virgin. The floggings. As erotic literature it deserves at best a ‘C.’ Yes, the contract part where Anastasia has to sign and become submissive was new. But not much else was. Much of it reads like cheap porn.
Some have said that the attraction of the novel lies in the liberation from choice. Modern women, struggling to live up to all their responsibilities, have taken to a novel where a woman chooses to give up choice. Women secretly want someone to take full control so she gets a break. But if that were the case then a novel about a woman getting a really good housekeeper and financial planner could have been just as adequate. Why sexual submission?
Here’s my take. Our world has little understanding of lust. We put all our emphasis on love. We watch romantic comedies about men and women slowly falling in love, in a slow, low-simmering manner. We laugh with them in romantic comedies until they tie the knot and live happily ever after in their comfortable, humorous, cozy little lives. Then we say that love is all you need.
But it’s not. About eighty percent of the men who cheat on their wives claim to love their wives. Lust is stronger than love. Lust is the most powerful emotion in the universe. Yes, it is far more temporary than love and it wears off more rapidly. Yet, like a sprinter in a 100-meter dash against a long-distance runner, love doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why in Judaism a husband and wife are not supposed to get so close to a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married. We’re not supposed to allow lust to grow to where it begins to challenge love. Love can compete in the long term but rarely in the short term.
But don’t disparage lust. As I argue in my new book Kosher Lust, magnetic, erotic lust is one of the most necessary components of a marriage. Marriage without desire is a prison. You can never lose the raw, carnal desire that draws a man to a woman and vice versa, making them feel desirable.
We all want to be wanted, need to be needed, desire to be desired. The tenth commandment is “Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife,” which means by direct implication, you sure as heck ought to be coveting your own.
So why we disparage lust and glorify love?
First, we mistakenly think that lust is something merely physical. We think lust is only of the body when the truth lust is that lust is the feverish, intuitive gravitation of masculine to feminine and feminine to masculine. Real lust occurs when there is perfect polar alignment between masculine and feminine opposites. Lust is what magnetizes an otherwise ordinary man and woman to become infatuated with each other. It is not of the merely of the body but is rather the arrangement of two opposing energies that causes us to passionately incline toward one another.
Countless wives have told me how much they miss lust in their marriages. Sex is a routine, a chore rather than an erotic pastime.
But there’s another, more fundamental reason we disrespect lust. We don’t know how to sustain it so we dismiss it. We don’t know how to hold on to it in so we curse it. Be gone, you emotion of the devil. What results, however, are marriages based on the weak link of friendship as opposed to the fiery and scorching bond of lust.
You’re not supposed to be just partners. That’s a commercial term connoting a shared project. Rather, you’re supposed to yearn deeply for each other. And stop believing that can’t be sustained deep into a marriage.
To be sure, both love and lust, friendship and erotic passion, are necessary. The complete marriage is where husband and wife are both lovers and best friends. But today we are mostly, and sometimes only, the latter. I have heard husbands tell me this countless times. Pointing to their wives they’ll say, ‘This is my wife. She’s my best friend.’ But friendship is not the nuclear bond that marriage requires in order to not just survive but flourish.
I wrote my book The Kosher Sutra in order to establish the 8 principles of eroticism so that married couples can bring lust back into their relationships. And I wrote Kosher Lust to offer the 3 secrets of carnal desire. But modern marriages for the most part don’t have it which is not only sad, but also explains the reason that marriage is faltering as an institution. It seems so boring and routine. People end up sustaining lust by regularly changing partners, a deeply counterfeit, compromising, and lazy version of lust.
Be that as it may and simply put, lust is where you are made to feel intensely desirable. It’s where a man can’t stop thinking about you, obsessing over you, can’t keep his hands off you. It’s where you’re placed at the center of another person’s existence and where they permanently bask in the glow of your light. You are the planet and they are drawn into your gravitational orbit. And there is no feeling in the world quite like it. Nothing can make you feel more special.
And here we get to why women are obsessed with Fifty Shades of Grey. The book is really the story of a billionaire who can have whatever he wants. But he wants this one woman. He wants her so badly that he obsesses over controlling her completely, making her submit, owning her, and taking complete possession over her. Nothing else matters, only her. He doesn’t want to ink any deals except her. She has to, has to, sign on the dotted line or he’ll wither away. In other words, it is he who is her slave, not the reverse. He can’t be without her. He can’t live without having her. He is utterly smitten.
Women are usually given Harlequin romance novels to read. That’s the assumption. Women love romance. They want to read about love. Fifty Shades of Grey turned that all on its head. What women really want is lust. They want an electric desire. The genius of E. L. James was to understand that. And it’s something that men better learn as well.
The truth of the story is that Anastasia is the one being dominant, even if it doesn’t appear so visually. It is she who has a far greater hold over Christian than the opposite and it is she who controls her submission. He, however, has no control, pursuing her doggedly, making her feel intensely desirable at all times.
And why submission specifically? Yes, women want to be wanted, but why in a position of subservience, even if only feigned? Simple. In a world where lust has died, where sexual polarity has all but disappeared and where sexual attraction has been reduced to the single cylinder of the body alone, an author gives us a wild story of a man and a woman recreating extreme sexual polarity of masculine and feminine in the most extreme sense and we lap it up. We have the masculine-aggressive meeting the feminine-passive. The polarity is created in an extreme manner, to be sure, but then one extreme invites another. The extremely passionless nature of today’s relationships, where the poles of masculine and feminine are unaligned and therefore boring, is met with another extreme to create sparks.
There is, however, a better, more wholesome way of creating that polarity, and that’s what I discuss in Kosher Lust. But for now I’ll make one simple point. We need make our marriages more exciting. We need to make them more passionate. Do our wives really need to find this passion only in a fantasy novel about domination?
Its time to emphasize not just romance but desire in our marriages. It’s time that marriage recapture not just love but lust.