50 Shades of Cultural Confusion

50 Shades Melissa Jenna GodseyBefore I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve been criticizing 50 Shade of Grey since before it was cool. Given the recent release of the film adaptation, several of you have suggested to me that I repost that original post, and I would, but the fact is that I’m not a huge fan of my tone. You can read it, but hear that I’m sorry for my tone.

So this time, I’m less interested in whether or not Christian women should consume 50 Shades (we ought not to), and more interested in this question:

In a culture that is increasingly sensitive to sexual violence, while also championing female sexual empowerment, shouldn’t the very story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele be offensive?

If you’re not yet familiar, 50 Shades is about two characters: Christian Grey, an self-professed sexual dominant who maintains a room in his home devoted to BDSM practices, and Anastasia Steele, a naively innocent young women; literally a virgin. That’s all you really need to know to make sense of the rest of this post.

When I survey our cultural landscape, here’s what I see:

  • A society that has elevated female sexual “empowerment” as a value, placing it above the development of actual personal character
  • A society that has effectively disconnected the sexual act from its emotional and spiritual ramifications
  • A society that increasingly misunderstands masculinity, and attempts (actively or passively)–even from boyhood–to feminize men

Could the popular reception of 50 Shades be a (misguided) reaction to America’s sexual climate, and our unadressed issues with masculinity?

I struggle with how to explain the popular reception of 50 Shades in a culture that at once proclaims “Men: It’s On Us,” and also venerates the Beyoncés of the world. Why would women lust for a sexually violent man (Christian Grey), and place themselves in the role of the naive, innocent virgin (Anastasia Steele)? It just doesn’t make sense.

Most of you will not like where I’m going with this, and trust me, intellectually, I understand where you’re coming from. (For starters, you probably don’t agree with the three premises I’ve outlined above.) I think you’re wrong, and you can think I’m wrong, and that’s okay. Just be decent and respectful in the comments, is all I ask.

Is it possible that enough women yearn for their sexual innocence, that they align themselves with Anastasia Steele? That they–even subconsciously–feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods?

Is it possible that women long to be in a relationship with a “powerful” man, and that Christian Grey is just a warped caricature of our idea of masculinity?

Could the success of 50 Shades be directly aligned with the fact that deep down we sense that something is wrong with the way our culture treats sexuality? Could E.L James’ work be a ham-fisted response to what’s wrong with our perception of masculinity, as it relates to female sexuality?

If you know me personally, you know that I don’t have any answers. There are a few books I’ve read that have helped me identify what I’m observing around me; one of them is John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Another is Dannah Gresh’s What are You Waiting For? Both of those books are written by believers, and neither are perfect, but I found them really helpful, and maybe you will too.

What do you think? Any resources you’ve found particularly helpful? Do you think I’m way off base? I always welcome respectful discussion.

Leave a comment


  1. Interesting thoughts MJ. I’ve been looking at 50 Shades from a slightly different perspective. This yearning for the masculine dominate/feminine passive relationship is the problem rather than the reason. The relationship that Christian and Anastasia have is an echo of the relationships that many couples in the world have, albeit exaggerated and twisted. Men are seen as dominant and powerful while women are seen as are passive and weak, as least in the norm.

    From my experience those that embraced 50 Shades before it was cool to hate it were those who viewed traditional gender roles are standard and acceptable. So the solution is not to return to the traditional concepts of masculinity, but rather to eradicate it, teaching men that sexuality is not a male controlled experience. I hope that this would also reduce instances of rape, because removing the traditional domination from sex allows a place for consent.

    I don’t know if this makes sense or not. I’m on cold medicine.

  2. Sharon Jeanguenat

     /  February 16, 2015

    I haven’t read the book, don’t plan to, nor do I plan to see the movie. And, any Christian woman that goes & sees the movie, or reads the book, is committing a sin, in my opinion. Too many so called Christians are too involved in the things of the world to attend to what Christ has called us to do. And, if sinners see us doing the very same things they’re doing, then why would they think they need Jesus?

  3. Alexis Lantz

     /  February 17, 2015

    I agree with you.

  4. betternotbroken

     /  February 17, 2015

    Oh I wish it were cool to criticize this movie, if it meant people were rejecting the materialism and degradation of women this series represents it would be worth it. The box office $ says the cool oriented crowd still think it is romance and not abuse. I don’t think you are off base at all, Christian Grey, a paradigm of the Cobra Abuser is being hailed as the perfect man. The men should be as alarmed about this as the women. I shudder to think what will happen if more men adopt EL James’s version of masculinity. We are moving backwards with this film, not forward and the sex is just a smoke screen. Beyonce lost me with her homage to IKE TURNER.


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