A story with toxic ideas about gender includes the toxic image of men as success objects.
By Noah Brand
The remarkable thing about the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey is how rapey it isn’t. The book was an extremely detailed look at an abusive relationship, including an outright rape that the heroine acknowledges was, in fact, outright rape. The same scene in the film is explicitly and specifically consensual.
Indeed, explicit consent is all over the movie, a nice change from the constant rape-is-love drumbeat of the book.
However, there’s one major exception to that, left in because it’s not explicitly sexual and thus flies under certain radar: Christian Grey continues to buy Anastasia Steele expensive things.
She repeatedly insists that she doesn’t want them and won’t accept them, but always ends up accepting them anyway — which is the same policy she had toward his sexuality in the books.
The parallel is not accidental. Christian Grey is an exaggerated version of the traditional dominant alpha-male heroes of romance novels, which tend to come in two flavors: cowboys and billionaires. (Or occasionally, as in the hero of Tempting The Texas Tycoon, both. One learns weird things Googling one’s own name.)
The fantasy of a perfect guy means, most of the time, a perfectly successful guy because men are too often made into success objects.
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Women being objectified is where we get female characters constantly being filmed or drawn in plot-inappropriate T&A poses because god forbid we go ten seconds seeing her as a person rather than as someone the hero can screw.
Men being objectified is where we get the first shot of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, which is of Christian Grey’s enormous walk-in closet, full of hand-tailored suits, silk shirts, and jeweled cufflinks, lit by elaborate embedded backlighting that would cost easily five figures by itself.
Men are societally valued for our net worth, for our career success, and just as almost none of us will ever have the washboard abs and razor-sharp cheekbones of Christian Grey, so too will we never have his absurd, cartoonish wealth.
And it’s amazing the extent to which his wealth is part of the creepy, id-driven fantasy of Fifty Shades.
Neither the book nor the movie can go five minutes without reminding us that Mr. Grey is Scrooge-McDuck-style rich. The source of his wealth isn’t important; a few mumbles about astute investments and “deals” are sufficient, because the intended audience doesn’t care about how money is made, they care about how it’s spent. (That might sound sexist, but let’s face it, if you don’t buy into creepy sexist tropes, you are not the intended audience, regardless of your gender.) It’s spent on every external trapping of wealth that E.L. James’ limited imagination can conjure, and on nonconsensually forcing expensive gifts on Anastasia Steele.
Erika Taylor-Johnson fought like hell to take the nonconsensual sex out of the movie she directed, and good for her. But she left in the forced–explicitly forced–gifts of rare books, a new computer, and a new car, which are just as much a part of the fantasy, and just as based in sick, antiquated ideas about gender relations.
She’s not to be blamed for that; society has gotten a lot better about calling out rape tropes in the last generation or two but is lagging behind on calling out ugly and sexist tropes about men, women, and money. So it’s time we got better at that.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.