(Written by me; originally posted elsewhere)
Someone on another site asked why so many people were so down on Fifty Shades. This was my answer, and the reason why I urge everyone to not spend any money supporting the books, or the upcoming movies.
(Trigger warnings all around for stalking, rape, and domestic violence. Please do not read this if such discussions upset you.)
I’ve been actively kinky for over a decade. Actively involved in the BDSM community. I had one Dom/sub relationship, in which I was the sub, that lasted over 7 years. Following that, I was in an abusive relationship that masqueraded as a D/s dynamic, for almost a year. I’m in another healthy D/s relationship, now, and a vocal feminist and advocate for consent, so I think I’m at least decently qualified to explain the difference between healthy BDSM and domestic/partner abuse.
The difference is informed, ONGOING, enthusiastic consent.
As a feminist, I believe that the only way it is okay for a woman to be subjugated in any way by a man is if she chooses to do so, from a place of empowerment and knowledge.
That is absolutely NOT what is portrayed in the books… and yes, I’ve reluctantly trudged through reading all three. So, I will tell you why it is glorifying abuse, and how that is insulting to me, personally, as a feminist, as a woman, and as a submissive in a D/s dynamic.
1. Christian isn’t a romantic. He’s a stalker. His being rich and handsome doesn’t change that. Without asking her outright for the information, he uses his sooper-dooper-sekrit ring of wealthy acquaintances to find out where she works, and when she would be on the clock, and just… shows up there. Three hours away from his home. To buy ROPE and ZIP TIES.
A tailor-made kidnapping kit. Because that’s not creepy at all.
2. He’s a jealous, power-mad control freak, which he freely admits in their first meeting, and demonstrates in an admirably despicable fashion during his little kidnapping preparation trip. At this point, he and Ana barely know one another, yet the mere implication that some other dude may have some importance in her life, even just as a friend, already infuriates him. HUGE red flag. Healthy, secure men – hell, healthy, secure people, do NOT freak out if someone they barely know has a conversation with someone else – of any gender. PERIOD. It’s not sexy, it’s fucking dangerous.
He stalks her again when she’s at the bar, by tracing her cell phone, and shows up, ordering her around. That wasn’t a rescue, folks. It was a territory-marking pissing contest. Again, not a thing that healthy adults do.
He practically threatens her when she takes a phone call from a male friend. He tries to control her visits with her family, what she wears, what she eats, when she sleeps. And SHE HAD NOT CONSENTED TO THIS. Which brings me to…
3. Consent. THERE ISN’T ANY. One, she never signs the ridiculous contract. Two, she isn’t well enough informed to give informed consent. Three, he is manipulating her from the very beginning. Four, there’s a HUGE power imbalance between the two of them. He’s older, much more sexually experienced, much more experienced with (his fucked up version of) s&m, rich, powerful, and persuasive. Decent people who have that much power do not use it to manipulate, deceive, and control people who don’t. You know who does? Sociopaths.
4. RAPE. Yeah. That’s right. I said it. He rapes her. She is actively telling him no. And he threatens to tie her down, if she fights. He’s bigger, stronger, and more powerful in every way, and she’s already revealed that she’s terrified of him, and he’s ignoring her wishes, ignoring her struggles, and RAPING her. Furthermore, EL James has the nerve to portray a very clear rape… then tell her readers that the victim liked it. She should be strung up and beaten within an inch of her talentless life, just for that.
I’ll be honest. What’s known as “rape play,” or consensual non-consent, is a thing that exists. It’s a thing many people, myself included, actually enjoy. But that isn’t what was portrayed in that godawful account. In order for that to be something that is in any way morally defensible or ethically justifiable, both parties have to be on the same page. Something like that has to be discussed at exhaustive lengths. Negotiated. I’ll try to break it down as simply as possible, and give you a hypothetical example.
Let’s say I want to try this with my dominant boyfriend. He needs to know which things are on the table, and which aren’t. I might, for instance, be fine with him slapping my face with an open hand, but not punching me. I might be okay with him putting a blindfold over my eyes, but not a hood over my whole face. I might want him to ignore it if I say “no,” but that would mean I’d need a safeword that actually means stop, and does NOT get ignored. We need to discuss possible triggers this might set off, and what I might need from him, in order to handle them, afterwards… or vice versa. He might be triggered by it, too, and need comfort from me, after. After all, this is a deep dark thing to do with anyone, and he loves me. As a decent human being, he might very well struggle with feelings of guilt and worry and shame, even if he knows I wanted it.
Christian does nothing of the sort with Ana. What he does to her is actual, prosecute-able, first degree rape, in all fifty states. Inexcusable, and horrifying – in context or out.
He bullies her into the relationship, all the while warning her against it. Which, if you ask professionals, is one hallmark behavior of a sociopath. One of their favorite manipulation tools. A thing abusers do, in order to suck in their victims.
Outside of my utter outrage at EL James for totally, unabashedly, horrific accounts of abuse and rape, disguised as BDSM, I hated the books for many other reasons.
- As a feminist, I am just disgusted by her portrayal of every woman in the story. Ana is a flighty, ignorant, naive, deliberately helpless, indecisive, flaky, little prat, with no self esteem, who is completely out of touch with her own sexuality, her own better instincts, and just plain common fucking sense. Christian’s ex-mistress is a pedophile, and a manipulative, controlling ice queen. His former submissive is completely crazy, mentally and emotionally incapable of functioning without this man in her life, telling her what to do. Ana’s BFF is almost a non-person, as are most other female characters. They all seem to need men to take care of business for them, in one way or another. You can practically hear the Scarlett O’Hara Fiddle-dee-dee of the damned early 20th century, before women could even vote, in every single description, speech, or dialogue.
- As a writer… oh, holy hell. It’s hard to even know where to begin, it’s so terrible. First of all, Twilight was pretty awful. Of course, Twilight was written with preteens in mind. 50 Shades is openly nothing more than a shoddyTwilight fanfic. And the writing is even worse than Stephanie Meyer’s Mormon Vampire Tales. I swear to all things sacred and good, if I ever have to read one more Holy crap!, one more inner goddess, one more improper use of the word subconscious, I am going to puke up every meal I’ve eaten in the last eight months, all over Ana’s Inner Goddess.
- As a reader of erotica, I am beyond underwhelmed. I’m whatever is under underwhelmed. No adult woman should, during a sexual encounter, refer to her vajayjay as down there. And does anybody actually call their hooha, their sex? James may as well have actually written vajayjay and hooha, coochie and vagoo. And that goes double for the descriptions of Christian’s throbbing meat hammer, which is referred to as his erection, his manhood. I’m sorry, but when I read smut, I want to hear about cocks and cunts, dicks and pussies. I don’t want some pseudo-clinical, dry-as-a-bone (pun intended), watered-down language that sucks (pun still intended) all the sexy right out of the sex. She made it sound like some fucked up story for kids. Richard Scary’s Trip to the Family Planning Center, or Dr. Seuss’s Better Beware of the Weather Down There.
- As a kinky person, a member of the BDSM community, I am just pissed off. She makes it seem as though the only way anyone would have a desire to engage in kink would be if they were fucked up. Crazy. Mentally ill. This is both a blatant falsehood and a disservice to mentally ill people (as if mental illness wasn’t already stigmatized enough). Kink does not equal abuse, but her books make them seem the same. And mental illness isn’t fucked up-ness. It’s a thing 95% of us will experience, at some point in our lives.
As I mentioned above, engaging in kink requires informed, ongoing, enthusiastic consent from all parties involved. Do some assholes, abusers, and predators abuse people, under the guise of kink? Of course they do. There are dangerous assholes in every subculture. Just ask the Pope. But that’s still abuse. Calling it BDSM doesn’t make it so. Kinky people aren’t fifty shades of fucked up; they’re just aroused by different things. There are ethical ways to engage in that, and it’s irresponsible not to make that distinction, when so many vanilla soccer moms are now clamoring for their very own GrandMasterHighPoobahOfPain. If someone hits you without your consent, it’s assault and battery. If someone penetrates you without your consent, that’s rape. Legally. Literally. Everywhere.
So, there you go. The relationship portrayed is physically, mentally, sexually, financially, and psychologically abusive,by definition. The writing is inexcusably bad. And kink isn’t really like that.
Does that harsh some folks’ lady-boners? I’m sure it does. Sorrynotsorry. There’s much better smut out there, and a ton of it is written without glorifying abuse. In a time when women in the US are having to fight for the reproductive freedoms that were already won, we shouldn’t be giving this sort of thing any kind of financial support.
I urge you, instead of spending your money on such trash, to rent a decent movie, and donate the money you save to a domestic violence organization of your choice. And if you’re just hard-up for wank material, hit me up. I’ll point you in the direction of some erotica that will have your inner goddess saying much more raunchy things than Holy crap.