50 Shades IS NOT “female wish fulfillment”

Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporterwrote a movie review of 50 Shades of Grey yesterday. And in her review, she falls into every trap of encouraging rape culture and violence against women that this series propagates.

Though she recognizes that the novel revolves around a BDSM relationship she does not seek examine how this relationship is portrayed. She takes the story at face value that BDSM is a heterosexual relationship with a dominant man and a submissive woman. She does not make an inquiry into practicing BDSM in a consensual relationship regardless of the sex or gender of those involved.

Instead, Linden describes Christian Grey as “a long-fingered anti-hero” not an abuser. She praises the film for

the breathless way it melds the erotic kink known as BDSM with female wish-fulfillment fantasy

When authors write about sexual abuse as “female wish-fulfillment” they recreate and keep the myth alive that women want rape. That there is no legitimate rape because women ask for it. That deep down all women want to be swept off their feet and onto the ground as the submissive to a dominant man.

We are inundated not just with positive reviews of men and women in these roles, but we are told it is romantic. We are told the abuser is an anti-hero not a rapist. We are told that if you are in a relationship you cannot be raped. Sexual abuse in the name of romance and becomes the norm because, as Linden continues, the movie is just like any other romance story:

as with most mainstream love stories, an infatuated but commitment-averse male is in need of rehabilitation.

This is further problematic, as it places the main female character in the role of manic pixie dream girl–i.e. the woman who is quirky and only exists to fix the main male character and ultimately serves his sexual and romantic desires. The very concept negates female agency and yet Linden expresses the notion that this film is from “a woman’s perspective.” She claims that the movie works against the male gaze (the concept of telling the story from a man’s perspective and that every aspect of the film–especially anything sexual–is meant for the pleasure of men). Except, if the movie were to break from the male gaze, it would have to do a better job than pretending that BDSM is female wish fulfillment and that because the woman gets what she wants out of sex, it negates the notion that the female character exists for the men in the story and in the audience.

The female lead, however, is not in control of her sexuality and it reviews like Linden’s that propagate rape culture and exclaim through media that women want rape, that sexual assault is romantic and the ideal relationship, and that violence against women is sexy.

Piccolo: the Genderless Alien (Man)

Thank you to everyone who has been commenting on my other DBZ posts (specifically The Women of DBZ). I know I promised to write further posts regarding Android 18 and Videl, but right now there’s a different aspect of DBZ I need to address first. In the comments on my post about women in DBZ, I talked about how the goal is not have action girls, who enter a scene fists flying and then politely back out of the way, but women in a wide array of roles. Increasing the number of female characters who are featured would automatically go a long way toward decreasing the likelihood that the one female character would need to serve as a representative of all women. And while I wrote briefly about how it wouldn’t have been any structural changes to the plot of DBZ to create Raditz or Vegeta as a female, I’m realizing that one of the more obvious ways Akira Toriyama could have promoted gender equality was through Piccolo and the Namekian species.

The Namekians are a genderless species. They reproduce asexually and if there are multiple genders or sexes we can see no difference. So why is it that all Namekians are male? It’s not through the way they dress (who’s to say female Namekians have breasts like human females, or that if they do they would need to cover up) or how they act, but that every voice actor is male. By portraying a species of male Namekians the message is clear:

  1. masculinity is the norm and to be genderless is to appear and present as male

I do not believe Piccolo had to be female or that there should have been female Namekians. I do however believe that voice actors should have been chosen who could create a genderless voice for a genderless species. This way, even though for instance, Piccolo appears male (and is basically understood to be male by not having any female identifications) in the manga, the anime was in a unique position. The anime could reshape our understanding of this alien character and in so doing reshape our understanding of an agender society.

There is no reason male should continue to be the norm on the basis that it is identifiably not-female (further fostering the harmful idea that the female body is marked as the other in society). Especially when creating alien races and exploring topics more closely linked to science fiction than action/adventure this is the place for societal commentary! The fact that Namekians reproduce asexually is brilliant, but the fact that they are all understood to be male is problematic. Had Piccolo been an agender character the plot of DB and DBZ would not have been altered, but the ideas of a gender binary would have been shattered. That is something the action/adventure genre desperately needs.