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Sunday, February 15th, 2015

50 Shades of Hysteria: Why the Feminist Critique of the Movie '50 Shades of Grey' is Erotophobia in Disguise

 

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

The Internet has been blowing up about the movie ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ and most of the commentary I’ve seen is negative. Tracy Scott-Flore wrote a piece in Salon called ’50 Shades of Coercive,’ accusing the movie of contributing to the rape culture, And SFist.com published an article misleadingly called ’50 Adult Stars and Professionals On Why They Hate 50 Shades of Grey’ – misleading because many of them actually liked it and were happy to see BDSM mainstreamed. I had a hard time plowing through the book – not enough sex scenes – and wasn’t planning to see the movie. But overall, I’ve felt the book was great – because 100 million people bought it, most of them women. And tons more women bought sex toys associated with the book, implying they might be trying to make some of their sexual fantasies into reality. Because I’m a feminist and a sex radical who feels that by definition, any erotica that women likes is - feminist. Because I’m a sex therapist who feel women already feel way too much shame about their sexuality and I’m happy to see anything that validates and allows women to express formerly forbidden fantasies. Because in short, anything that expands women’s sexuality is a good thing. I’m not the only feminist to feel this way: Jaime Grant praised the ’50 Shades’ phenomena in HuffPo and Esther Perel applauded it in a video interview on Business Insider. But overall the response has been negative. On Facebook, when I commented on a feminist post accusing the movie of contributing to rape culture with the question, ‘Are you saying 100 million women are wrong and have been brainwashed?’ the poster responded, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.’ That really upset me. I’ve been a feminist since 1970, and I remember the ‘Feminist Sex Wars’ of the 1980’s, a time when ‘political correctness’ was paramount. In fact, ‘P.C.’ sex got so restricted among lesbians that any women who wanted to be penetrated was suspect. Feminist Andrea Dworkin called heterosexual sex in the missionary position rape. Women like me, turned on by submissive fantasies from an early age, had clearly been brainwashed by the patriarchy. The message the feminist movement, especially lesbian feminism, delivered to women like me was: you should be ashamed of your sexual desires and attempt to rid yourself of them. I rejected that brand of feminism thirty years ago, and ever since, I’m wary of feminists who decry erotica – which is what ’50 Shades’ is – soft porn romantic erotica. But so many critics talked about the nonconsensual violence in the movie that I felt I needed to see it myself. So here’s what I saw: First, the movie isn’t winning any awards. And Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey, kept reminding me of Jim Carrey, which was disconcerting. I was most upset by the clear implication that Christian’s sadistic desires were the result of childhood abuse. That suggestion does a disservice to kinky people everywhere. And of course lots about the movie was wildly unrealistic – it’s fiction, not a documentary, and pretty fantastical fiction at that. Basically, it’s a romance story about a tortured bad boy and the woman who wants to tame him – and who pretty much succeeds. It’s easy to see why the fantasy appeals to women: Anastasia is wooed, swept off her feet, wined and dined, and lovingly seduced by a handsome rich dude. What’s not to like? And the BDSM is oh so light. As a submissive, the only ‘order’ Anastasia has to obey is to take her clothes off and wait for Christian to completely devote himself to pleasuring her – a greedy bottom’s delight! Oh, and a few spanks and flicks of a teasing riding crop are involved here and there. Ana is put it bondage in order to be forced to experience the horrors of sensual touching with a peacock feather and a lot of oral sex. It’s fairly hot, actually, but not very shocking and far from extreme. And then, at the end there is the ‘scene’ that feminists are decrying as nonconsensual. Poor tortured Christian is goaded by Anastasia into showing his ‘darkest’ desires – which apparently consist of hitting Ana with a belt six times. He doesn’t want to, she insists, she isn’t restrained, she’s completely free to go, she has a safe word which he encourages her to use. Instead, she chooses to ‘endure’ the six blows while she silently cries, and then afterwards contemptuously denigrates Christian and leaves him. In other words, she forces him to show her desires that deeply shame him, and then she humiliates and abandons him. Who’s the victim here? It’s hard for me to parse this movie in any way that shows the heroine as anything other than an assertive, independent woman who has Christian wrapped around her finger. Kinksters – you have something to complain about here, but it’s that poor Christian is pathologized and put down for his sexuality. However, I think the fact that the phenomena brings BDSM more into the mainstream outweighs the negative. Feminists – seriously? If you see this as rape, or as abuse, then I have to believe that you automatically see any sexual D/S with man as a top and a woman as a bottom as abusive. And that’s very retro, very 20th Century – a place I’m not willing to go back to. Feminists, like everyone, can be very erotophobic. I understand the concern: women’s bodies and women’s sexual desires have historically belonged to men, and yes, we DO have a rape culture. But kink really isn’t about that, it’s about pleasure. Years ago, Carole Vance’s book about the Feminist Sex Wars was called ‘Pleasure and Danger.’ We must not be so focused on the danger – of rape, unwanted pregnancy, assault, abuse – that we forget about the pleasure part. Anything that frees, validates, and promotes women’s sexual desires and sexual enjoyment is feminist. 100 million women aren’t wrong. (Okay, they aren’t all women but most are). They are asserting their sexual desires, their right to the erotica of their choice. Haters, leave our orgasms alone!

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Monday, August 18th, 2014

10 Things You Might Not Know about Bisexuality

         

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.                    

Bisexuality is widely misunderstood—by heterosexual and gay/lesbian people alike. Here are some things we are beginning to understand about bisexual people.

READ MARGIE'S NEW BLOG HERE:

"10 THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT BISEXUALITY"

 

 

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Friday, May 23rd, 2014

FACEBOOK'S FIFTY SHADES OF GENDER

         

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.                    

Five decades of interaction between "mainstream" and LGBTQ subcultures made Facebook's much-publicized profile change inevitable.

READ MARGIE'S NEW BLOG HERE:

"HOW WE ARRIVED AT 50 SHADES OF GENDER OPTIONS ON FACEBOOK"

 

 

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Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Real Treatment Issues for Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Kids

by Margie Nichols

A nuanced, flexible, and tailored treatment approach to gender identity issues in childhood and adolescence is the prudent approach. Read Margie's latest blog HERE: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/transgender-and-gender-nonconforming-youth-the-real-issues-0414145

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Friday, March 21st, 2014

The Phony Debate About Treatment for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Kids

 

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

Recent published reports woefully miss the mark with regard to treatment pertaining to transgender and gender-nonconforming children.  Read Margie's latest GoodTherapy.org blog here:

 

http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/phony-debate-about-transgender-and-gender-nonconforming-youth-0306144

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

What My Grief Has Taught Me About Psychotherapy

Margie Nichols, Ph.D. Psychotherapistby Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

     In 2004 I lost my daughter Jesse four days before her tenth birthday.   For reasons of sheer survival, I went back into counseling right after Jesse died, after a hiatus of a number of years, with New York -based therapist Bruce Wood.  Among his many skills, Bruce has a great deal of experience with post-traumatic stress, which I guarantee you ensues upon the loss of a child. My own process of stumbling back to semi-normalcy (one forever has a piece of themselves missing after a loss like this) has helped my practice and informed my beliefs about psychological theory in ways I’m just beginning to understand.

   More than anything it has confirmed, or re-confirmed, the value of psychotherapy. I can’t imagine getting through this without Bruce.  I have renewed appreciation for how important it is to have someone in your life who listens to you talk about yourself and your experience without wanting reciprocal attention; who is not affected by your decisions or behavior and therefore has no stake in your direction other than to help you attain your own goals; who does not judge you, but will also tell you the truth about yourself, in a compassionate way; who doesn’t nag you but doesn’t let you run away from reality, either; who is smart enough and competent enough for you to trust their guidance; and who above all makes you feel they care about you and that they will always be in your corner.

   A lot of times, that’s all you need to heal – a supportive environment within which you can process your own experience and recover from your wounds.  But it also helps to have a therapist skilled in specific techniques and knowledge – sex therapy, for example, is heavily dependent on certain behavioral interventions and upon medical knowledge, some conditions, like OCD, really do require specific CBT protocols.  All therapists, in my opinion, need to have at their disposal some methods for changing thoughts and behaviors, some for helping process people trauma and emotionally charged issues, and some that help with affect, mood, and behavior regulation.  I suspect the wave of the future also includes body oriented work, as we learn more about physical ways of healing emotional disorder.  In my case Bruce is an experienced EMDR practicioner and this really helped the PTSD  I experienced from  witnessing my daughter endure three months’ hospitalization and a rather horrible death.PPD-Treatment-Psychotherapy

   But the other thing I’ve learned through my own grief healing is the immense power of the unconscious mind, of stored memories, associations, and processes that have a primitive, symbolic logic rather than a rational one. We don’t understand much about the operations of this mind, although psychologists since Sigmund Freud have been speculating  Certain sounds, smells, even colors were connected to memories of my daughter, and as I untangled the web of my grief I found threads that led from her and her death back to earlier losses, childhood fears, little and big traumas suffered throughout my life.  I have gained a profound respect for grieving rituals because I understand that they allow the brain to engage in a primal undoing and re-doing that seems to heal pain and allow a future-orientation in the person who has experienced loss.  For example,  I have yet to meet a mother who does not  feel blame for the loss of her child, no matter how illogical. As the mother of someone who died in the 9/11 attacks said, “I’m his mother.  I’m supposed to keep him safe. I failed.”  And I know that no amount of rational thought dispels that feeling – but sometimes acts that can only be construed as making reparation, doing penance, or symbolically undoing and redoing the past can heal some of the self-blame.  Often the ‘reparation’ involved a certain period of mourning under circumstances of self-deprivation.   Not long ago I was working with a client who was overcome with grief over the loss of a beloved dog about eighteen months prior.  When I asked her why she hadn’t gotten a new dog, something I knew she wanted, she replied, “Cassie wants two years.”  My client’s unconscious mind told her she needed to grieve two years for her dog before she could ‘move on’ enough to enjoy another puppy, that respecting the bond she had with Cassie meant ‘depriving’ herself for a certain amount of time.

    My own process has also taught me that there is an inner wisdom most of us have that guides us, and the best therapists respect that wisdom and try not to have preconceived judgments about the ‘right’ ways to heal.   I’ve found no theories of psychotherapy or prescriptions for mental health that can adequately explain some of the things that were most helpful to my recovery, and some of these things seemed doubtful at the time.  For example, within four months of Jesse’s death I knew I needed to adopt another child and that it should be an older child from Guatemala (I eventually adopted two). Although many people warned me about a ‘replacement child,’ my therapist supported me – and it turned out to be the best thing I could have done for myself and my family.  For a long time after my daughter’s death it was extremely helpful for me to keep a public internet journal, through which I exposed my grief in excruciating detail. My LiveJournal was very important - until eventually it wasn’t, and I have no idea why I needed to start it and why it was okay to stop. Periodically I need to play Billie Holiday’s  ‘Good Morning Heartache’ and sob my heart out.  Why do I need this? And why not every day?  I have a little garden that is a tribute to Jesse, and tending the garden feels like a way of maintaining a connection to my child. These things are not ‘rational’ but they are critically important.

   We know so little about healing.  We know it requires love, trust and safety, but we’re pretty clueless about everything else.  Current psychotherapy research is very much focused upon comparing different theories and techniques, eg. CBT vs. antidepressant medication, exposure protocols versus insight techniques. Yet the only therapy outcome findings that are consistently replicated over time highlight the importance of therapist characteristics like empathy and active listening skills and the quality of the therapist-client bind.  In part from my own healing I’ve learned to hold all theories lightly and focus on their common underpinnings instead of their differences.   The longer I practice therapy and the more I contemplate my own growth, not only through my grief but over a lifetime, I realize I need to cultivate what the Buddhists call ‘don’t- know mind’ – ‘beginners mind’, one free of preconceptions and assumptions, one that can recognize and follow the lead of the mysterious healing process of my client’s unconscious.Jesse Memorial

 

  

 

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Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Sex Is Queerer Than We Can Imagine—Really

by Margie Nichols

The neatly categorized notions most people apply to sexual orientation, expression, and gender identity may not be inclusive enough.

Read the full blog, published on GoodTherapy.org, here!

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Friday, December 20th, 2013

Losing Lou Reed: It Takes A Busload Of Faith To Get By

by Dr. Margie Nichols

My blog on the loss of the incomparable Lou Reed has been published on Out In New Jersey. 

'When Lou Reed's New York album came out in 1989, many friends and I related instantly. It was hard, harsh and gritty. It expressed the anger, cynicism and mistrust of the government that we all felt. Although only one song, 'Halloween Parade,' explicity referenced gay people and AIDS, it was easy for us queers who were surrounded by the disease and faced with society's hatred of gay men and the government's homicidal negligence to identify with Reed's polemical songs about classism, racism, xenophobia and environmental plunder. They also expressed pain, hopelessness, despair – and yet, in addition, a shred of hope and mysticism. And some songs did all of this in one, like 'Busload of Faith.' One of my most vivid memories of that era, one that makes me smile and cry at the same time, is of IPG therapist Curt Schulze and me singing that song together at the top of our lungs. Curt died a couple of years later, of AIDS.'

Read the full blog here.

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Friday, October 18th, 2013

BISEXUALITY - STILL A HOTLY DEBATED ISSUE - BY STRAIGHT AND GAY PEOPLE ALIKE

by Margie Nichols

The blog I wrote for Goodtherapy.org about bisexuality must have touched a nerve - more people have commented than any other blog I've written.  Who knew, more than 20 years after I came out as 'bi' in the 1980's, that it would still be such a hot-button topic?

 

Read it HERE

 

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Friday, October 18th, 2013

LGBT YOUTH SUICIDE

by Margie Nichols

 

Check out Margie's blog on Goodtherapy.org about the problem of suicide among LGBT teens and young adults.  Gay, lesbian, bi and trans and gender non-conforming kids make more suicide attempts than other adolescents - but we can do something about this!

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