The Daily Beast and the subconscious

We got a heads up a couple of days ago from a friend on Fetlife: the Daily Beast’s Newsweek magazine has an article ‘Spanking Goes Mainstream‘ (by Katy Roiphe, posted online Apr 16, 2012).

The standfirst says: ‘From the steamy bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey to HBO’s Girls, sexual domination is in vogue. Katie Roiphe on why women’s power at work may be fueling the craze.’

The essence of the piece is this. On the one hand, women are probably now more empowered than they ever have been. OK, that’s a gross generalisation that applies largely to Western societies and even them, not to all women. And it’s in the content of a society in which everyone, men and women alike, are having their economic and social life chances ripped up by what increasingly looks like a long-term crisis in capitalism. But in terms of income comparisons with men, educational attainment, etc., women are less dependent on men than ever. On the other hand, in terms of books, films and other cultural forms, and even in terms of the results of psychological surveys, Roiphe argues that there is a renewed popular interest in ‘the stylized theater of female powerlessness,’ a ‘romanticized, erotically charged, semipornographic idea of female submission,’ and a ‘watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism.’

And the question is: why?

The article doesn’t deliver much that directly answers the question. But then almost no writing, popular or academic, does answer it properly. It’s a fair point that sexual fantasies reflect unconscious desires, and also explore the ‘what ifs’ that go beyond desire. It’s a fair point that sexual fantasies aren’t restricted by what we consider consciously to be politically correct. Fantasies are very often transgressive, imaginative and dreamlike explorations beyond the boundaries of lived experience and conventional morality. And yet they’re also socially structured in that they seem to rise and fall in popularity, and in their demographic incidence, in response to wider social changes.

So: no answers, but at least some interesting questions and provocative observations in the article. It’s worth a read.

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