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.

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50 Shades of Magic Mike (In Which I Am VERY UNCOOL)

This is a post that will not make me any friends, and will alienate some of my existing friends, and generally make me look like a complete stick-in-the-mud. Do people still say that? Stick-in-the-mud? How about killjoy/spoilsport/wet-blanket, etc? You get what I mean.

Explanation

The only reason I’m writing this at all is because I feel compelled to do so. I’m not sure if you ever had this feeling, but sometimes there are words that I need to write, only I don’t want to write them. So I push them deep down, underneath all of the other words I actually want to write, and beneath my mental-list of chores and errands, so far down that I think they basically don’t exist anymore. But that’s never the case. Something always causes them to spring back up, and this will continue happening until I sit down and write the words out. Then I can move on with my life. That’s what this is.

“Mommy Porn”

“50 Shades of Grey” is an erotic novel, and “Magic Mike” is a movie about male strippers, and both are very, very popular with women right now. In fact, they’re being called “Mommy Porn.” (I won’t go into more detail, because there is enough about them both on the Internet already.) I can’t check Twitter or Facebook without reading another enthusiastic update about both of them. Seems like every woman I know is into one of those works, or both. I am not surprised that both of these works are being celebrated so openly; there are so many equivalent works that are aimed at men that garner major public attention that I’m actually surprised it took women this long to get their own “thing.” I am surprised, though, at how completely accepting Christian culture is to both of these works. I’ve read a few dozen different updates from Christian women regarding “50 Shades” and “Magic Mike,” and the verdict? They love them. I mean they really looooove them. They can’t stop talking about them.

(Quick, like a bandaid:) This is not okay.

Christian women need to reject both of these works, and instead, use our voices in support of what is good, right and true. It is our responsibility, as daughters of the Heavenly King, to remain set-apart from the poisons of our culture, to rebuke temptation, and to celebrate and honor righteousness.

Some Scriptural Support

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

If your enemy thinks he can snare you with something as “acceptable” as 50 Shades or Magic Mike, you better believe he will take advantage. Don’t let the culture’s acceptance and celebration of these works confuse you, or put you off your guard.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-9

(Emphasis my own.) Do not conform to the patterns of this world. In other words, just because everyone else is reading it/watching it, that doesn’t make it acceptable.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23

Is what you’re putting in front of your eyes healthy? Is what you’re putting into your imagination healthy?

Put Yourself in His Shoes

To gain another perspective, imagine your husband (or father/brother/church leader) going around bragging about how much he loved reading last month’s Playboy magazine, or rallying all of his guy friends to go see “Magic Meghan” for the third time. If our husbands were drooling over a movie about female strippers, we would be livid. It wouldn’t be tolerated. Church leaders would be publicly denouncing men’s sudden acceptance of pornography and erotic films. (Why aren’t church leaders publicly denouncing 50 Shades or Magic Mike, by the way?)

Make Good Decisions


If you’re a Christian woman, and you’re reading this, know that I am not judging you. (I own 50 Shades myself. I bought it before I knew what it was, on the recommendation of a friend, and after reading some pages and discovering that it’s pornography, I cast it aside.) We all have poor judgement sometimes, and leave ourselves open to temptation. But we can also use our agency to make good decisions. Like throwing 50 Shades away (don’t re-gift it!), and not going to see Magic Mike. (Or if you’ve already seen it, stop encouraging all of your friends to go see it.)
Rather than causing each other to stumble by putting our sisters in the path of temptation, what if we decided to use our voices to celebrate our marriages? Or the marriages of your friends and family? What if we championed healthy relationships?

Taking Things Up a Notch

(This next paragraph talks about sex a little bit, so stop reading if you don’t want to read about sex.)
What if we invested our time and energy into spicing things up in our bedrooms? Rather than spending $12 on that movie, or the book, why not save the money, and instead, wear something sexy to bed, just because? And what if all the time that you would have spent reading 50 Shades, you instead spent making love to your husband? (Though probably not all in one day…unless you’re, like, training for a marathon.) We can definitely kick things up a notch without resorting to reading pornography, or lusting after celebrity-strippers.

Non-Christian Perspective

It is not okay to sexually objectify people. Just because evidently this summer we’re all about objectifying men, that doesn’t make it okay. It’s not like there’s a scale, and all these years, it’s been heavy on the objectification-of-women side, and we need to balance it out by objectifying men now. It doesn’t work that way. The only way we “balance the scale” is by quitting objectifying anyone, and leaving the scale empty. Oh, and that saying “you are what you eat?” I’d say the same thing goes for media: you are what you consume. Pornography is unhealthy. There, I said it.

Do I win some kind of prize for being the least popular person on the Internet for this? Like I’ve said: I did not want to write this. Please be nice to me in the comments, because if you know me at all, you know that this is totally out of character for me. I don’t preach at people…well, ever. I’m just glad these words are out so I can finally write the things I want to write.

xoxo, mj

[Edited to add a link to a follow-up post I’ve written]

So This is Love?

If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.

[Edited to add additional links on the subject, if you’d like to read more]

A Nun Reviews “Magic Mike” – From Sister Helena Burns (If you only read one additional post on the subject, make it this one. Sister Helena NAILS IT.

Why is a nun always* talking about sin? Because sin is real. And it’s bad. And it hurts us. And it’s mean. As “Sister” from Late Nite Catechism sez: “Sometimes we feel guilty because we are.” Guilt is good! It’s an indicator that something is wrong! And then we can do something about it! Yay, guilt! Just like we get aches and pain as symptoms that something is wrong in our bodies. But of course we need a healthy conscience, not a lax or scrupulous one. That’s why we need “formation of conscience.”

I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey – From Dannah Gresh at purefreedom.org

Over time your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. It’s not just a preference. It’s physiological. The lust cuts a literal pathway in your brain tissue that’s kinda like a rut. A rut you better be prepared to get stuck in. While at first a little bit of erotica might give you a taste for your spouse, overtime that rut reminds you how great you are at self-stimulation and how powerful your imagination can be.

Fifty Shades of Great Sex With Your Husband – From intimacyinmarriage.com

The landscape is cluttered with shiny things masquerading as pathways to authentic intimacy, and I’m fairly certain that Fifty Shades of Grey is merely finding its place in the mix.

Escape into Grey – from the-generous-wife.com

The problem is that reading erotic novels is like eating Twinkies to stop your hunger. It’s sweet. It’s gives you a sugar high. It makes good food taste bland. It doesn’t give your body the nutrition it needs and all you do is crave more sugar, more Twinkies.

The Fifty Shades of Magic Mike – from Fatherhood and Other Unknowns

I will be the first person to tell you that we, as men, are called to a much higher standard and have to do our best to protect our ears, our eyes, and our mind from the gutters of junk that surround us on a daily basis and we also have a responsibility to, by doing that, protect the hearts and image of the women in our lives.

Shades of Grey: Media Choices and Marriage – from Mulberry & Magnolia

Praise God (for own my broken self and for every other broken person out there) that GRACE ABOUNDS and repentance is just a prayer away.  Let’s all aim to be quicker to recognize danger zones and flee from them, and let’s turn to God and do our best to filter all of our decisions through His Word.  Will we do it perfectly?  Heck, no!  But, I think if we ask, the Holy Spirit will file the junk far away before we come close to damaging our hearts or our husbands.

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