IT IS wonderfully ironic that the trial of Dominique
Strauss-Kahn for "aggravated pimping" should have taken place at
the same time as the release of the film version of Fifty
Shades of Grey. Both provoke reflection on the relationship
between male and female desire.
The trial of the former head of the IMF in Lille casts a harsh
light on the sense of sexual entitlement enjoyed by the powerful
European men who were part of his circle. The "festive afternoons"
described at the trial were orgies, in which the women were not
eager participants but prostitutes, often desperately poor. Accused
of assault, Strauss-Kahn claimed that perhaps he was a bit rougher
than other males, which sounds more like a boast than a plea.
Although he is likely to be acquitted, it is clear that
Strauss-Kahn believed in his absolute right to sexual satisfaction,
while regarding the women concerned as merely receptacles, paid or
unpaid. They had no status in his interior world. They were
objects, to be desired, used, and forgotten. It is both sleazy and
The scene he inhabited with such brio is changing fast. Like the
former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, Strauss-Kahn has
come across as a sexual dinosaur, slow to realise that, even in the
macho cultures of France and Italy, it is increasingly unacceptable
for powerful men to regard plenty of sex with luscious anonymous
females as a just reward. A media world that once colluded with
such behaviour is no longer prepared to do so.
But then along comes Fifty Shades, implying that we are
back in a world where women simply submit to male desire, no matter
how depraved. Oddly, cinemas are full of women who appear to be
thoroughly enjoying the spectacle, and clearly regard it as a
sex-movie made for them.
In fact, most men seem to be nonplussed by Fifty
Shades, which, - erotic nonsense though it is - is seen from a
female point of view. It exploits female fantasies of male
strength; of sex that takes time; of sex where women can choose
this and not that. Many men, seeing things this way round, could
feel embarrassed, and even inadequate.
In church life, relations between men and women are less flirty
than they once were, but it's observable that the women who dress
in high heels, low-cut tops, and short skirts (preferably leather)
are often the conservative Evangelicals. Submitting to their
husbands, or enjoying high expectations? There's a good question
for this season of discipline.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford,
and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of