The Insert Shot: Secretary
By Tom Houseman
March 29, 2012
For Lee there is a positive aspect to their power dynamic, in that it fulfills both of their needs. Lee craves freedom through giving up control, and that is exactly what Mr. Grey provides her. She is used to taking up as little space as possible, and being as quiet as possible, in reaction to how loud and aggressive her parents are. The only way she can open up is when Mr. Grey orders her to, demanding that she answer the phone in a loud and commanding voice. When he tells her that she is going to walk home rather than have her mother pick her up, he is giving her a sense of freedom and autonomy that she was unable to find herself, and she finds fulfillment and power in walking home even though she is following an order. And when he demands that she stop cutting herself, it is as if she had been waiting for that moment, for somebody to tell her to just stop. This affair, so different than anything else in Lee's life, is extremely fulfilling and liberating.
While Mr. Grey certainly gets pleasure from his activities with Lee, he does not get the same sense of freedom that she does. What Mr. Grey cannot do is reconcile his emotional feelings for Lee with his desire to dominate and control her. His idea of being dominant is being cold and distant, whether it is throwing away food that Lee gives him or ignoring her presence. For him there is a clear disconnect between the sadomasochistic aspect of a relationship and the emotional connection. It is entirely possible that this is the reason why his marriage fell apart. If you are unable to simultaneously care about someone and explore your sexual interests, it is extremely difficult to have a satisfying relationship. Sadism is not necessarily an addiction, but because Mr. Grey cannot emotionally handle his sadistic and dominant desires, they become a source of stress in his life, preventing him from having fulfilling romantic relationships. They become an addiction.
Obviously, both of them get off on Mr. Grey's abuse of their power dynamic, which even stretches beyond the office. We do not see them have sex because it is not an important aspect of their affair. They do not need to have sex because the games that they play provide them he sexual gratification that they need. When Mr. Grey beats Lee, or puts a saddle on her, or tells her exactly how many peas she is allowed to eat, it fulfills both of their needs. But they do not have a real relationship. Their affair takes place largely in a professional setting in which they both have jobs to do, but their interactions are wildly unprofessional. What they do would be perfectly appropriate if they were a couple playing boss and secretary, but in the real world, where he is really her boss and she is really his secretary, they are completely inappropriate. And it is this divide, between the games they play and the real world, that makes their affair so problematic.
The only sex scene we see is between Lee and her boyfriend, Peter, who does not fulfill her needs. Peter is very safe, yet he does not provide a respite from the chaos that surrounds Lee's life, nor does he partake in exploring her masochistic tendencies, despite her invitations. When they have sex it is perfunctory and unsatisfying for her, and when he asks her, worriedly, if he hurt her, the tone in her voice is wistful and sad when she responds “no.” In Lee's fantasies she craves the degradation and control that Mr. Grey provides, but also a sense of intimacy and comfort that he withholds. She does not imagine them having sex, rather, she pictures Mr. Grey holding her. This is the physical and emotional closeness that she is unable to receive from Mr. Grey and is presumably why she stays with Peter for so long.