I take serious issue with Newsweek’s current cover article, “The Fantasy Life of Working Women.” The article, written by NYU Professor Katie Roiphe, confuses women’s submissive sexual fantasies with women’s struggle today to have a voice in the bedroom and misses the point that women yearn for sexual content targeted to them. We live in a society that normalizes male sexual aggression: where women’s appearance remains tantamount to any other quality, where graphic and female-degrading pornography is the education de rigueur of adolescent men and where double standards still exist regarding socially acceptable experiences for men and women when it comes to sex. Women may engage in submissive sexual behavior for a variety of reasons—not just as an “escape” from their new obligation to climb the corporate ladder, as Roiphe suggests. However, the resonance of recent literature and film depicting submissive behavior is not to be confused with women desiring such treatment.
The success of 50 Shades of Grey is not a result of women’s longing for sexual submission as Roiphe contends but in women’s yearning to read about sexual fantasies from a female perspective—period.
Women want to hear other women’s sexual tales with which they can empathize and relate. Also contrary to the article’s assessment, submissive sex scenes in Girls do not show women’s desire for submission but reflect women’s experience in real life in their reluctance to express themselves and to ask for the pleasure they deserve. How could the author possibly compare Lena Dunham’s experience holding her legs while face down on a couch asking her partner if this is what he wants to a woman expressing her desire to be sexually submissive? When a woman wants to be submissive because it turns her on, she demonstrates power in her own way, because a woman’s choice is her power. Submission in Girls and 50 Shades of Grey is not about choice but about submission itself to a sexual normalcy that keeps women quiet when they want to be heard.
Women love sex as much as men: it is why Cosmopolitan is the number one selling women’s magazine; it is why Sex and the City dominated TV viewership and box office sales; and it is why women in droves buy 50 Shades of Grey—because we will consume media that involves sex with the same rapaciousness as men who view porn. We’re starved for it. But just because we’re hungry does not mean we like what we’re served. That media is a reflection of our times and generation and the desperation women feel. The beauty of Simone de Beauvoir’s quote, “…so many [feminists] live only in theory instead of real life” incongruously cited by the author is that Beauvoir, the most crucial feminist voice of her time, honored what made her feel good sexually with her partner regardless of how it fit into the social constructs of feminist thought. That was Beauvoir’s choice and it cannot remotely be compared to the helplessness women continue to feel to satisfy men while sacrificing their own pleasure and self-esteem. Women’s desire for content that satisfies our sexual needs through real stories and quality, female-positive advice is at the foundation of Vixely.
Women can fantasize about anything they want sexually, but to conflate women’s acceptance of sexual submission with lustful fantasy, and to assume women consume sexual content that explores submissive behavior because they personally enjoy such treatment tells me Roiphe is so far down the rabbit hole she doesn’t even see she’s trapped.