In 2002, the film Secretary made the same kind of public splash that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon did a decade later, helping to move mainstream ideas about spanking into a new dimension. Hitherto thought of as a social practice of the mid-20th century that had been rendered decisively out-of-date by the emergence of feminism in the 1970s and ’80s, M/F spanking was suddenly rehabilitated as an erotic practice between consenting adults.
The film does this by taking the fictional trope of the boss spanking his secretary and reimagining it in terms of an actual human relationship in the real world where the spanking of adult women is not an accepted norm. The secretary in question is Lee Holloway, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (but originally offered to Gwyneth Paltrow, who four years earlier was threatened with a spanking by Dame Judi Dench for her reputed behavior on the set of Shakespeare in Love). Lee is established as a mousy, repressed individual, not just in Gyllenhaal’s award-winning performance but also in a carefully judged choice of costume, right down to what we had then just learned to think of as ‘Bridget Jones’ panties.
Her boss, played by James Spader, is named Mr Grey, which is probably no coincidence, and though his first name isn’t Christian, he has his own way of dealing with secretarial shortcomings, which may give Lee cause for concern.
Yes, that’s right…
And after that very sound smacking, it’s off to the bathroom to check the damage, and give us our first sight of her ‘Bridgets’:
And later, in a more domestic bathroom, a bit of experimental self-hairbrushing,
followed by an attempted offer of OTK to her boyfriend Peter (Jeremy Davies), who completely misses the point:
Peter later arrives at the office at an uncommonly inopportune moment as Lee is about to get another walloping from Mr Grey, after an especially egregious deliberate mistake that merits unprecedented treatment: when she bends over the desk, he orders her to pull up her skirt.
She looks round in dismay,
then sends Peter away and obeys the boss.
‘Pull down your pantyhose and underwear,’ he orders. And down they go:
It’s a moment of great suspense and erotic tension…
which ultimately doesn’t lead to even a single smack on her bare bottom. So thanks to Peter’s ineptitude, the movie contains no spanking at all in the strictest sense of the term, though there is a fair amount of smacking, along with a lot of general domination and submission play. Happily, Lee ends up marrying the boss, and can look forward to an ongoing life of contented sadomasochism, hinted at in the final moments of the film when he goes off to work and she puts a cockroach in his bed. So when he gets home, clearly she’s going to get a spanking, which regrettably we aren’t privileged to see. Even so, let’s hope it’s a proper OTK one this time!