The '50 Shades' Paradox: Women Want Control And To Let Go Of It Too
Despite it being a poorly written novel, with lackluster chemistry between the two titular movie characters and predictable plot lines, we’re all still obsessed with the upcoming “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie (and we haven’t even seen it yet!).
We’re talking about the dominatrix sex with our girlfriends over Gchat. We’re envisioning a man in our lives like Mr. Grey, who takes care of our every whim.
We’re wondering what this "darker art" looks like -- what it would be like to let a man take the reins completely. But, above all, we’re just curious about this kind of relationship.
In a modern world where women possess multiple roles with mounting responsibilities -- mom, boss, friend, wife, captain -- the idea of being taken care of by someone we love is very attractive.
While we like feeling in-charge of our personal lives, constantly making executive decisions and buttoning-up and saying the right things can be quite exhausting.
“This is probably why in large part 'Fifty Shades of Grey' was such a big hit; it accessed our longing to feel like we can relinquish control,” says Dr. Niloo Dardashti, NYC psychologist and relationship coach. “I think this is also why there has been such a huge surge of interest in the exploring of BDSM.
We are constantly trying to integrate the paradoxical longings of wanting to be in control and relinquish control – this may be in the form of being “dominated” or just relaxed knowing that our partners can take charge.”
Indeed, especially in today’s social landscape, the idea of control is one that many women struggle with. On the one hand, the shift in the cultural attitude toward dominant woman encourages us to be more visible in higher levels of decision making, finances and dating.
On the other hand, we still long for a traditional partner to take care of us, especially when we feel like we’re juggling too much.
“In 2015, modern women find themselves in a paradoxical situation; we adamantly fight for and NEED to feel equal and yet we often still long for our partners to show us that they can be in control, and make us feel taken care of,” adds Dr. Dardashti. “We feel like we want to surrender, and yet we also appreciate the fact we have so much more to say.”
The reality is that it’s a complicated issue, as Dr. Dardashti points out. There’s an underlying duality between these two forces.
We want to make our own money, but still be asked out on the date and have him pay. We want to be strong and independent, but still have him asking how we're feeling. "We want the alpha male with arousing qualities," but as Dr. Dardashti suggests, “would be mortified if we felt like we were thought of differently for the same position at work as our male colleagues.”
With all this back-and-forth, it’s hard not to feel like we’re doing something wrong. Humans like to be able to neatly put our feelings into one "box," but in the case of "taking care of ourselves versus being taken care of, we vacillate between the two.
Complicating things further is that, to some extent, we’re conditioned to want the man to take the reins. Between Hollywood’s subliminal messaging and the spreadsheet of various love advice from every friend, it’s easy to believe the direction of your relationship falls in the man’s hands.
And there's a reason for it: Dr. Dardashti also adds that, “From an evolutionary perspective, one might say that women want to feel like their partners can ‘be in control’ because that is how we came to trust our mate to be able to hunt and provide.”
This conditioning then plays out in real-life. “We are given mixed messages; men like for women to be more initiating and take charge, and yet often, when we do, we are negatively reinforced for it,” explains Dr. Dardashti.
We’ll initiate the text, but then be called “too eager” or “clingy.” We’ll plan the date, but then risk being viewed as “aggressive” or “pushy.” This common kind of negative reinforcement can cause us to discontinue these “assertive” behaviors and subsequently give him the control.
We’re taught to accept that he initiates; he suggests taking the next step; he’s the one to propose.
We need to be mindful though, of finding a healthy balance between both assuming control and relinquishing it. If we are being coddled all the time, we lose our independence and our voice. We become too dependent on this person to fulfill our needs.
Conversely, according to Dr. Dardashti, if you have a hard time letting go and are in control all the time, you miss out on the opportunity to become closer to your partner because you’re too afraid of trusting him and being vulnerable. “It is important to find ways to feel self-efficacious while also finding ways to allow others in,” she says.
Living in this paradoxical state in which one desire challenges another can make us feel like hypocrites -- how can we want to be empowered women, but still want our men to take care of us at the end of the day?
The struggle between embracing modern-day feminism and appreciating traditional gender roles -- and then feeling comfortable with this internal conflict -- is very real.
Dr. Dardashti suggests the answer lies in self-awareness and acceptance. “I think its more important to accept the different parts of ourselves – those that feel the need to be in charge and empowered and those that want to be taken care of, seen, understood and reinforced for exposing our vulnerability,” she says.
We don’t need to feel like we need one or the other; we can want both. Perhaps, ladies, we can love our Christian Grey, and hate the book too.