By Meg Curtis, PhD
Fans of E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey may have fun checking out Michael Formica’s column in Psychology Today. He explains bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM) as a psychosocial dynamic. Furthermore, he contrasts relationships where partners conflict over submission/dominance with healthy living.
The more he contrasts healthy partnerships with fights over power, the more I hear the stereotypical mother-in-law (MIL) in the background. “Who’s in charge here?” she always wants to know—and the answer better be the woman behind the scenes.
Lo and behold! E L James creates such a character in Christian Grey’s secret background. She’s the one who initiated him into the pain-pleasure dynamic he seeks to recreate with an inexperienced college graduate, who thrills to proximity to corporate power.
Furthermore, Grey insists on recreating his relationship with his shadowy mom in his personal relationships with women. In other words, I will add he demonstrates an unresolved Oedipus complex, which he foists onto the Young and the Reckless—the Young and Ambitious, too.
So, as far as mutual attraction goes, the two deserve each other. If she were fifteen, though, Grey would become a sexual predator, and no question would arise as to who carries the greater responsibility for warping the “compassion” (par. 11) that Formica recommends into horror fiction.
The central principle in healthy relationships, according to Formica, is balance—the same principle illustrated in classical art. When one partner insists on keeping the other in the air on a teeter-totter, then it shouldn’t take a PhD in Psychology to tell us that something’s whacky.
When one partner—Grey, for instance—comes up with a contract for the other to sign, and the other doesn’t know enough to get a lawyer, the issue becomes exploitation. When the other, furthermore, teases him with her decision to sign or not, she needs her mother, too.
So, who is more immature in this scenario? The man still looking for his mommy or the girl who should still be babysitting with an age appropriate baby? For children of all ages, bullying should also ring some bells when one partner insists on dominating the other, come hell or high water.
Those who disagree with Formica may have plenty of company. For starters, the reviewer in Der Spiegel describes Fifty Shades of Grey as a form of modern liberation, since, Eva Illouz contends, one partner can willingly will her or his will away (par. 15). Political echoes may occur to those familiar with Nazis.
For further reading, please see:
Formica, Michael J. Psychotherapist. “Sadomasochism in Everyday Relationships: Push and Pull: The Sadomasochistic Relationship Style.” Psychology Today. 13 June 2008. <http:// www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/200806/sadomasochism-in-everyday-relationships>.
Illouz, Eva. Sociologist. “Explaining ‘Fifty Shades’: How Bondage Solves the Problem of Modern Love.” Spiegel Online International. 13 July 2012. <http://www.spiegel.de/ international/zeitgeist/ eva-illouz-explains-how-fifty-shades-of-grey-solves-problems-of-love-a-843644.html>.