Fifty Shades of Gender Roles: Relationships in the Eyes of Popular Media

Having sold over 100 million copies in 52 different languages and by breaking the record for fastest-selling paperback book, it is clear that Fifty Shades of Grey has left an impression on current readers. Not to mention the highly anticipated 2015 film adaptation and the board game- yes a game was actually made based on the book- to go along with the success of the franchise, one can only imagine why this novel has enraptured so many.

Since I am one of the few who have not read Fifty Shades of Grey or its sequels, I only have a superficial viewpoint of the books itself. But after reading an article by Edwin Smith of The Telegraph, I became curious about some of Smith’s points over the books influence and people’s reactions in their own relationships. Smith makes the point that in a very progressive era, specifically for feminism, Fifty Shades of Grey shows how our culture is still somewhat stuck in older gender roles- however in a more modern way- and how people today are willing to fit any norm to find a partner. Smith goes as far to say that for men “in 2014, we might often stand a better chance in the arena of dating if we appear to be a bit more like Mr. Grey, and a bit less like … well, ourselves.”

This point, though saddening, can be seen as somewhat true to today’s standards in relationships. For example, when prom season was rolling around, a girl I knew truly did not want her boyfriend to waste so much money on one night, so she paid for the tickets. However nice this gesture was, other girls thought it was bizarre because they truly believed that it was the guys place to pay for everything. And although the idea that one person must be dominant and the other submissive in the relationship no longer applies to all areas, it still exists in places such as who is paying for dinner?

These restrictions limit the amount of vulnerability and closeness that two people can share. If they were to act as themselves and not conform to roles, each partner would be given the opportunity to experience what a real, loving relationship feels like. However, people today are so engrained with stereotypes that it is hard to except people who are truly being themselves, who might spread themselves across many different types of roles instead of just the ones designated to their kind.

This alienation of total freedom from gender norms is how people get the idea in their head that they must change themselves to impress others and vice versa. One can find countless blogs and Youtube videos dedicated to how you should look or act to attract someone else. For example, earlier this year popular Vine maker Nash Grier posted a video about what he wanted from a girl. Albeit this video meant no harm, Grier received a ton of backlash seeing as he was telling his mostly young female audience how they should not be themselves to attain a guy. Yet girls are not the only ones who suffer from these pressures. These norms expect young men to be powerful and aloof, but do not allow them to be as emotionally invested in the relationship. Plus, we can’t forget how in gay and lesbian relationships society always expects one to be the “man” and the other the “women” of the partnership when clearly they are just two people enjoying a relationship.

Now, to an extent, it is debatable how progressive or digressive relationships like that of Grey and Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey is, depending upon how you view their dominant/submissive relationship and the entire nature of the book, but that is not the point. It is undeniable that the notion of changing yourself for love is predominant in the book, in other forms of media, and in our culture as well, and it is my hope that with a little more sensitivity to future partners that everyone can learn to use themselves to find their other half rather than looking to models of what people should be like because those forms are so grossly incompatible with modern day people and relationships.

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