MORE than 35 million pairs of excited peepers have already watched a teaser for upcoming Fifty Shades Freed, the third in the series of films in which the female lead has been clamped, cuffed, roped, cable-tied, duct taped, slapped, whipped, spanked, gagged and plugged.
When the book franchise kicked off, the complaints featured around it being metaphor-confused, plot-lacking nonsense for the erotically malnourished.
But now it’s time to look at what women across the world – 436m million plumped down on cinema seats for the first outing – are watching; two hours of systematic psychological and physical abuse. And we have to ask; what signals is this sending out to men?
Meanwhile at the National Television Awards, Suranne Jones won the Drama Performance award for her teary-eyed role in confused relationship drama Dr Foster, a character who has sex with her businessman ex – even though he smashed her head through a plate glass window.
All this in the age of Weinstein?
There’s no doubt fans of Fifty Shades et al, will argue it’s fantasy. They may even make the point that successful fiction has long featured abused women at the hands of powerful men, from Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy who destroys Elizabeth Bennet for 400 pages, or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (the role every actress on the planet wants to play) a woman objectified by three men, whom she still flirts with. And there’s Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, the upstairs/downstairs tale of the toff whose “courtship” of the eponymous heroine features attempted rape and slavery. But after a sound ravishing, she marries him.
Yet, while these stories are products of their time, we’re still pursuing the same theme; young vulnerable woman being pursued by a hugely powerful man, lured into a world of promise. (Weinstein?) And whether in real life or fiction, even if the female (eventually) consents, does this remove the physiological damage created to reach this point?
Katherine Blakeman, of the US National Center on Sexual Exploitation, argues for storylines of domination to be booted hard in the development strategies. “It is incredibly socially irresponsible to uphold Fifty Shades as mainstream entertainment, while at the same time we express our outrage at Harvey Weinstein, and his ilk, and while we work to eradicate sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the rape myth mentality from our culture.”
Blakeman’s comment begs other questions; would Fifty Shades devotees consider watching the S&M adventures of Christian and Ana if Harvey Weinstein were the producer? And what are men to make of women’s appetite for entertainment in which female characters are debased? Some feminists argue it’s wrong for a man to place an unsolicited hand on a woman’s shoulder; touch a knee and you could be soon be reading a solicitor’s letter. Or worse.