In Newsweek‘s current cover story, Katie Roiphe has noticed a dangerous trend in working women. Mainly, she thinks that all of our success and confidence is making us yearn for a simpler time when men were in charge. Roiphe contends that spanking and submissive fantasies in women are pervasive and widespread, based mostly on the popularity of HBO’s new series Girls and the novel 50 Shades of Grey.
Roiphe’s hypothesis goes a little like this:
“Why is it so interesting to surrender, or to play at surrendering? It may be that power is not always that comfortable, even for those of us who grew up in it; it may be that equality is something we want only sometimes and in some places and in some arenas; it may be that power and all of its imperatives can be boring.”
So all this equality and respect nonsense that women have been fighting for really wasn’t what we wanted after all. According to a possible trend in sexual fantasies, women might not want to be in control of their own lives all the time?
Understandably, females are a little annoyed with Roiphe’s attempt to explain what they want based on a little pop culture. But here at The Grindstone, we’re even more concerned about her linking success in the workplace with a need to be submissive somewhere else. She says,
“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace, when they make up almost 60 percent of college students, when they are close to surpassing men as breadwinners…”
The problem is that sexual fantasies and preferences have absolutely no bearing on how a person wants to be perceived in the world around them. Presenting the two side-by-side and acting as if they correlate is a dangerous bit of misinformation to sell, especially if you’re only doing it to create controversy and increase web traffic. (Many outlets are calling the piece a very obvious bit of troll-bait.)
Sexual fantasies are by nature private and can be completely separate from how we wish to be treated by the world at large. Even more, a desire to be in a submissive relationship doesn’t have to mean breaking with your feminist roots or regretting your work success, as Jessica Wakeman has proven numerous times when she wrote intelligently about BDSM and feminism years ago.
The real problem with Roiphe’s work is that she wants to make a weak trend into an indictment on women’s success in the workplace. She wants a little bedroom spanking to mean that ladies are through with being powerful and in control all the time. That type of gross generalization can hurt women who are still trying to prove their assertiveness in the office. And it’s all based on something that should be private to begin with.
If Roiphe was honestly interested in seeing whether working women were getting tired of power and equality in the workplace, maybe she should look at our actual levels of happiness. According to theFIT’s Report on Workplace Culture, women are happier with their jobs than men. Another study confirms that working outside of the home can improve women’s overall mental health and well-being, though obviously that is a personal choice for every woman to make. If she wants to see how women are handling success, maybe she should actually speak to successful working women about the pressure that goes along with being in control of everything.
If she solely wants to focus on sexual fantasies, she needs to keep her assumptions in the bedroom.
Roiphe warns, “It is perhaps inconvenient for feminism that the erotic imagination does not submit to politics.” I would argue that it is even more inconvenient when a writer assumes that erotic fantasies have anything to do with feminism or women’s success in the workplace. As complex, thoughtful human beings, most of us are capable of realizing that women’s equality is important and benefits everyone, no matter what their fantasies are or what gender norms they choose to conform to.