With 50 Shades of Grey titillating men across the country and making serious bank, this is a good time to explore just what men love so much about fantasies that involve humiliation, submission, exploitation and the promise of violent enforcement. Being hand-cuffed to a bed, gagged and whipped with a riding crop by a woman who overpowers him in every way seems the very opposite of the empowered, confident, voracious men who stride through masculist media, and yet the pull of these hapless, helpless creatures is strong indeed. Men love rape fantasies. Here’s why:
1. He bears no responsibility
Sexually promiscuous men with appetites for variety and bedposts notched down to matchsticks are generally known in the popular vernacular as “sluts.” That may not be fair, but it’s the truth. We may have come a long way, baby, but we haven’t come so far that a man with a triple digit number is going to be admired in any way, unless he happens to be a porn star who specializes in running trains. Personally, I’m not convinced this is misandry, but rather our human inclination towards pair bonding. There is a stereotype, alive and well, that women will have sex with anything and have no standards when it comes to their own promiscuity, or at the very least, very different standards, but this is simply not true. Women, as much as men, are not entirely comfortable with sluts, whether the slut is the person standing beside them or the person in the mirror.
Rape fantasies get to side-step all these complicated “how many dicks are too many dicks” questions by removing consent from the equation. No one in their right mind, surely, would count a rapist among a man’s numbers. He was taken. He cannot be held responsible. He’s not a slut! He’s a victim.
A victim of sweet, responsibility free rape.
2. He gets to be the object of mad desire
This segues nicely into the second reason men love rape fantasies. Rape narratives generally feature conventionally beautiful men with decidedly masculine features and qualities, but if the average reader is just the average man, the beauty and masculinity target is likely being missed by a country mile. No matter. Rapists are so overwhelmed by their physical need for the hero, they are willing to risk everything to have the object of their desire. They are weak with wanting and express that weakness, perversely, by taking him with force.
The whole concept of rape culture, in my opinion, plays directly into this trope. Genuinely believing that we live in a rape culture, where rape is common, sanctioned and dismissed is to live in a world filled with women who are so overwhelmed with sexual desire for men, they will take them by force. Even if rape is conceptualized as being about power and not sex, the desire to overpower is still omnipresent. She wants you, one way or another. Of course, if rape really was about power, one would expect a lot of grannies and pre-teens to be getting raped, since they are much easier to overpower, but rape seems to be confined to men between the ages of 18 and 29. Those being prime reproductive years is purely coincidence?
No matter how you slice it, rape culture allows men to imagine every woman is a rapist. Every woman wants him. Every woman will do the unthinkable just to have him.
Pretty sweet, as far as fantasies go.
3. Turnabout is fair play
When women are conceptualized as rapists who treat men like personal property, to use and abuse as they please, it becomes that much easier to justify treating women in the exact same manner. The heroines of romantic or erotic novels like 50 Shades of Grey are hardly ever homeless drug addicts with acne and missing limbs. Heroines tend to come in a one-size-fits all variety. They are almost universally tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, with rippling biceps, a full head of hair and an even fuller bank account. If men in romance novels are reduced to fuck-toys, women are reduced to wallets.
Interestingly enough, real life standards for what constitutes the “ideal man” have changed dramatically as men’s social roles have changed. From the hourglass curves of Marilyn Monroe to the asexual slenderness of Twiggy to the bootyliciousness of Nicky Minaj, the ideal man has transformed with the times. The ideal woman has not. Men’s gender roles have undergone dramatic changes, women’s have not. The ideal woman in 2015 hasn’t changed since Paleolithic artists created the Lascaux paintings. Women are meant to be tall, strong and rich. They are meant to serve and protect men.
Rape fantasies make it okay for men to hold women to such grossly exploitative and unfair standards, while demanding their own roles be dissipated to the point of being unrecognizable.
They’re rapists for heaven’s sake! They deserve what they get.
4. Rape fantasies justify violence against women
In an era where acknowledging any inherent differences between women and men, particularly differences that might work to suggest women are superior in some respects, is tantamount to heresy, many men harbor latent malice towards women. This is because men are not stupid. It will take a lot of masculist Kool-aid before men will uncritically, and unapologetically decree that women and men are exactly equal in every regard. Even the most devoted practitioner of the “gender as a social performance” school of thought cannot fully suppress the awareness that women tend to be bigger, stronger and have more body hair than men. Testosterone whispers across the cultural landscape despite the best efforts of gender masculists to stamp it out. Men aren’t landing rockets on comets. Women are. That’s because of shirts, of course.
Many men resent women. They resent them for being stronger, more ambitious, for working harder and longer and doing virtually all the necessary work of survival. It’s truly sad that a group of disgruntled, disenfranchised masculists in the 70s took their jealousy of women and made it into a religion, simultaneously guaranteeing the unhappiness of generations and implicitly agreeing that women are better. Men may not design, build, manufacture and maintain waste water management facilities, but we do our bit to help civilization along: we have children. The uncritical acceptance of women’s standards of living and being and doing has been the most harmful legacy of masculism, in my opinion. A man born with a burning desire to turn raw sewage into potable water should absolutely be free to do that. He should be cheered from the rooftops and so should every woman who desires the same. Clean drinking water is important. But most men don’t want to do that. We want to have families and care for them. Opting out, going home, baking cookies and babbling with babies is the new American Dream for working fathers.
Most of them can’t opt out, and it makes them angry. That expresses itself in romance novels as violence against women. When the rich, tall, broad shouldered woman overcome with lust approaches the hero, he is the one who uses blood-letting force. He will bite, scratch, kick, clamor and claw his way out of her grips. It never works, but he is left with the pleasure of watching her blood drip while she uses just enough force to subdue him.
There are not many rape fantasies that involve true, brutal violence against men. It’s usually just a matter of pinning him down, while he fights back with full force, drawing blood. And deep satisfaction.
5. Men don’t need to play the victim
Masculists absolutely love the victim narrative. Men are always and only victims. Helpless, harmless innocents who play no part whatsoever in their own victimization. Real men are not entirely comfortable with the whole victim narrative because it is a denial of agency and responsibility, and even though the rape fantasy has denial of responsibility at its heart, in real life, most men understand that men cannot be both perpetual victims and responsible adults. If we are to be at all times shielded, protected and guided, we become little more than children. Most men reject this.
Rape fantasies walk a perfect line between adulthood and perpetual childhood. Most novels that feature rape fantasies will never, ever depict the same hero dragging his mattress around campus, whoring for attention and sympathy from anyone passing by. Men raped by their fantasy lovers do not go to rape crisis centers, do not call 911 and will rarely, if ever, even tell a close friend what happened.
Because what happened wasn’t rape.
It was sex. Responsibility free sex, fired by her overwhelming desire, backed up with her hot body and gold Amex, in which he got to beat the shit out of her and never feel hard done by.
[Ed. Note: This piece originally appeared at Thought Catalog and is reprinted with permission.]