Fun in Getting Taken Out of Context

So there’s this book called “50 Shades of Grey” that everyone is talking about, and I haven’t even read the damn thing, but it sounds like all kinds of silly and kind of fucked up, and probably a bad representation of BDSM and sex generally, and it’s being compared to Twilight and championed by “Mommy Bloggers” so I probably will not bother picking it up. When a journalist contacted me and asked if I’d give a quote on it, I said I hadn’t read it, but I could speak generally on issues of consent and sexuality. Great. She emailed me a very general question, I gave a general answer. This is the outcome:

The plot of “50 Shades of Grey” centers on a young and naïve college student named Anastasia Steele who is seduced by a rich and powerful entrepreneur named Christian Grey. Grey persuades Steele to sign a contract that allows him complete control over her life, in and out of the bedroom. Yet despite the fact that Steele becomes completely submissive to a very dominant man, feminists aren’t up in arms.

In fact, this is where the mommy bloggers and the feminist bloggers agree. Many traditionally feminist-minded writers are hailing the book for encouraging women to explore their sexuality.

A reviewer on the feminist-friendly website Jezebel wrote: “Our consensus: the book is pretty ridiculous — for every lashing there’s an ‘OMG!’ — but if it’s making more women feel comfortable discussing their sexuality, we’re all for it.”

Jill Filipovic, a blogger with Feministe.com and a contributor to the feminist anthology “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” told Fox411.com that because the book depicts a consensual relationship (Steele does sign that contract), she is unconcerned.

“I would say that there’s nothing wrong with BDSM when it’s fully consensual on both ends, both partners have relatively equal bargaining power, both partners feel comfortable setting boundaries, and boundaries are communicated and respected,” Filipovic wrote in an email. “I suspect it’s getting extra press because of the BDSM angle (which freaks a lot of people out).”

…yeah. I think what happened is that my actual response didn’t fit into the article’s narrative about how Women Unite around this book that actually sounds like it has a lot of problematic themes. So the writer used the parts of my quote that support her thesis that feminists are “unconcerned.”

Interestingly, the word “concern” did come up a bunch of times in my full response to her question. Here’s the entirety of what I emailed her in response to her question, which was, “The plot of the book is that a high powered executive contracts a naive and poor college student to be his sex slave in a submissive BDSM relationship. Is this at all concerning for women and does it send the wrong message that men have the sexual power in a relationship?”:

It’s really hard for me to comment on whether the book sends the “wrong message” when I haven’t read the book. I would say that there’s nothing wrong with BDSM when it’s fully consensual on both ends, both partners have relatively equal bargaining power, both partners feel comfortable setting boundaries, and boundaries are communicated and respected. Having not read the book I’m unable to say whether or not the relationship portrayed in it meets those very basic criteria; if it doesn’t — if the college student doesn’t have the ability to set boundaries in the relationship, or if she’s financially coerced into it — then yes, that is concerning, assuming the book isn’t criticizing that set-up but portraying a non-consensual relationship as sexy. It’s far from the first book to glamorize and sexualize non-consensual sexual relationships, and I suspect it’s getting extra press because of the BDSM angle (which freaks a lot of people out), but if what it’s actually portraying is a coercive or non-consensual sexual relationship then yes, that’s concerning for advocates of women’s rights and for advocates of good, healthy, consensual sexual relationships, whatever those might look like.

I often avoid writing about this stuff because it devolves into a downward spiral of stupid. “This proves that women want to be dominated!” “No, as long as someone finds it erotic, it’s ok and we have no right to look at this in the context of a misogynist culture!” “BDSM is freaky and for perverts!” “No, people who practice BDSM are always responsible and it’s never abusive!” etc etc etc.

So, a few points:

-Sex is good and healthy and fun. The things we like sexually don’t always fit into the traditional narrative of what sex looks like or should be. That’s ok. Do whatcha like, as long as it’s safe and all participants are enthusiastically consenting. And don’t be ashamed. More people should be having more fun, whatever that means for them. Maybe that means missionary position in an attempt to make babies. Maybe that means doin’ someone of the same sex. Maybe that means doin’ many people of various sexes. Maybe that means getting tied up and spanked by a man in a leather mask like the bad, bad girl you are. Maybe it means watching a lady with pretty feet squish her toes into Jello. Maybe it means wearing fake nails and a diaper and masturbating to My Strange Addiction. Whatever! Go on with your bad self. Too many people have unfulfilling sex lives, so if you’ve found something (or many somethings) you really enjoy, rock it. You’re one of the lucky ones. And if you haven’t found The Good Sex yet, whatever, keep doing whatever it is that feels good. Channel Madonna and don’t be sorry.

-Just because you like something in the bedroom doesn’t mean you want every other relationship in your life to operate that way. Just because you like missionary position doesn’t mean that you want to lay on your back on the floor of the bus during your commute to work. Just because you want your partner to dominate you in the sack doesn’t mean that you want your male coworkers to dominate you at work. It is stupid to suggest that because some women on the internet like an erotic novel with a sexually submissive female character that we all want to be submissive in all aspects of our lives. I enjoyed the documentary “Man On Wire.” I am also scared of heights and have no desire to walk a tightrope.

-It is actually worth reading these things critically, though. Sex, sexuality and sexual desire are not independent of cultural forces. The way we write about sex and talk about it directly reflects some of the most fundamental — and disturbing — truths about our society. I haven’t read this book. But the descriptions of it do raise some concerns (Example A: signing a contract does not necessarily equal “consent”).

-BDSM is not inherently bad or sexist or dangerous or weird. A lot of people practice it, to varying degrees. But it is one of the most culturally misunderstood sexual practices around, and the nuance required in discussing it thoroughly and honestly is almost always absent in mainstream media coverage (and in novels like this one, which sounds actually terrible). The narrative goes, “BDSM? Freaky! Weird! Women must all secretly want to be raped! People who practice BDSM are dirty perverts!” Which is obviously asinine, and not true (except for the part about dirty perverts. That’s true, and thank god). And so, understandably, some folks who practice BDSM get defensive and are like, “No, BDSM is always safe, sane and consensual, and I like what I like and what happens in the bedroom or in porn or wherever has absolutely on bearing on what happens outside of it!” And that’s not exactly true either. And I read these things and just want to stab myself in the head. And then I contribute to it on Fox News.

The end.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender, Sex and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Fun in Getting Taken Out of Context

  1. Here’s a pretty damning review from a dominant read most of the series (he couldn’t stand to finish the 3rd one.) (Site is NSFW.)
    http://painful-ecstasy.blogspot.com/2012/03/fifty-shades-doms-perspective.html

  2. Lucille Hunter says:

    I really like it when someone who doesn’t have the screen name “MistressKinkyBitch” writes something that is positive about BDSM. It’s good to know that not everyone outside the culture thinks BDSM people are all horrible and messed up. And written from a feminist angle too. I thought this was a really good post!

    I haven’t read this book, despite being a kinky person, and I don’t plan to. Why? It sounds…I don’t know. Naff. Like oh, he’s so rich and powerful and suave while she’s all naive and innocent and – yes – virginal. It’s like they’re typecast. Part of the fun in BDSM is that you can be like me, a tiny frail wisp of a person, and be the dominant partner because anything goes in the end. Fifty Shades of Grey just seems so…unimaginative. Still, as the first BDSM-themed novel to make a foray into the world of moms and their blogs, I guess it could be a lot worse. This post did hit on some valid concerns.

    Thanks for a good read.

  3. One media trope that I find particularly troubling is the notion that our sexual fantasies of practices reflect what we “secretly want.” It has a great deal of currency (unfortunately often even within alternative sexuality communities) because it’s just close enough to true to be dangerous. It’s first cousin to the notion that all kinky people are sexual assault survivors, which can be empirically disproved.

    The best treatment of this issue I’ve read (I don’t have permission to attribute it, though I think I recall who said it first) is that our sexual fantasies represent emotional unfinished business. That’s quite a different thing, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re either reliving not exorcising a particular trauma because elements of the culture that trouble us make direct or indirect appearances in out sexual fantasies or practices.

    I have not read the book, but my understanding from discussions within BDSM communities online is that the stories started life as Twilight fanfic and the author reworked them to not explicitly include the Twilight characters.

  4. Athenia says:

    “Many traditionally feminist-minded writers are hailing the book for encouraging women to explore their sexuality.”

    That is not how I would describe Jezebel or Feministe! ROFLOL

  5. ArielNYC says:

    I think it’s interesting to ask why you don’t see more Venus in Fur sort of novels/movies getting popular in modern culture. Popular BDSM artificats often seem to reinforce gender stereotypes – Story of O, Secretary, and now this. If fantasy has much to do with playing opposite with reality, shouldn’t more women enjoy consuming narratives about domination of men? Now that’s a literary phenomon I would love to read about.

  6. chava says:

    I hate to be a sourpuss here, but you’re not picking it up because “mommy bloggers” like it? Aren’t there better reasons, like the fact that it sounds idiotic and plain doesn’t turn your crank?

    Mothers–even mothers who blog about motherhood–liking something should not make it ipso facto idiotic…

    • Jill says:

      I hate to be a sourpuss here, but you’re not picking it up because “mommy bloggers” like it? Aren’t there better reasons, like the fact that it sounds idiotic and plain doesn’t turn your crank?

      Mothers–even mothers who blog about motherhood–liking something should not make it ipso facto idiotic…

      I’m not referring to mothers who blog, or even mothers who blog about motherhood. I am referring to the category of blogs which are known as “mommy blogs.” I find most of their posts and recommendations to be slightly mind-numbing, and about topics I do not relate to or really care about. I also find that they pitch products and books that I find mind-numbing and legitimately bad. So yeah. Sometimes, if a group of people who tend to love things I hate again love a thing, I will operate under the assumption that I will hate it.

  7. EG says:

    Well, but “mommy bloggers” refers to a particular section of the blogosphere; I don’t read it as condemning mothers’ tastes wholesale.

    I read a description of this book as “Twilight as BDSM porn.” All I could think was, isn’t Twilight itself BDSM porn?

  8. Parenting isn’t dispositive of anything. Some really heavy BDSMers live in leafy suburbs and shuttle kids to school (and avoid “stand & model” clubs and parties). In fact, the conflation of parenthood with boring and homogenized may be one of the many reasons that any discussion of parenting on this blog turns into a trainwreck.

  9. So, you make it clear that financial coercion does not equal consent, and the writer manages to ignore that in order to make the quote fit the narrative, even adding a parenthetical that implies signing a contract alone is consent. There is no context provided.

    You may wish to respond to the writer’s editor, personally.

  10. flightless says:

    Not just compared to Twilight but may have started out as Twilight fanfic… http://ankaretwells.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/fifty-shades-of-grey/

    (I haven’t read them, but I’ve heard enough about grim modeling of sexual roles in the Bella books that I’m automatically hugely wary of this.)

    This actually reminds me of the “sugar daddy” websites, which I first heard about because one of them was vying for the recently liberated Rush Limbaugh ad space. In America, it seems all financial relationships are widely presumed to be noncoercive. I shudder.

  11. karak says:

    I think, sometimes, even bad novels about sex–badly written, or even problematic relationships–have a little redeeming value.

    I went through a phase where I devoured romance novels. And they had a lot of problematic elements about the roles of women and coercive sex and so on. But they also had a lot of elements I really, really liked about how falling in love is really hard and frought with emotional peril and meeting someone you like and having great sex three days later is fine.

    And for a while I felt kind of bad that I liked books, where, frankly, a woman falls in love with her honorable captor, and I worried it was unfeminist, and then I realized the fact that these books even EXIST proves I’m not alone and LOT of women enjoy this fantasy without it being replicated in their real lives.

    So, I’m disappointed that it sounds like the books is going to be one of those that give BDSM a bad name and a lot of mistaken “facts”. But I hold out hope that it has some small percent of redeeming value. Always hold out hope.

  12. anon says:

    I’m gonna second what some other people have said – this book was originally a hugely popular Twilight fanfic, I think it was called Master of the Universe, or some such. A lot of Twilight fanfics portray non-consensual relationships as sexy and romantic (not surprising, I guess), so this story was really nothing out of the ordinary. And in fact, there are even worse Twilight fanfics being published (‘the Perfect Wife’, for one).

  13. Jadey says:

    Journalism ethics blow my mind. Like, that there don’t seem to be any.

    Otherwise, I’m going to stick with Wesley Crusher, Teenage Fuck Machine for my shallow literary thrills. :D

    (No, not really. I just like saying it.)

    [Trigger warning at that link for rape, NSFW, and deeply weird. – C]

  14. Speaking for myself here, the ways BDSM is usually portrayed in media makes me cringe, and it’s not just an outside problem. There’s too much eroticizing of coercion when the mainstream portray us, but the way the niche market material that is supposed to be for us and even is sometimes by us falls into the same patterns is really disturbing.

  15. Jadey says:

    Oh crap, I was going to put a trigger warning in that last link – the excerpt is NSFW and describes a rape.

    [Done. – C]

  16. Joe from an alternate universe says:

    (Example A: signing a contract does not necessarily equal “consent”).

    Of course, these are personal contracts, are not legally binding, and as such are pretty unenforceable. I imagine anyone keeping the terms of the contract is doing so because he/she wants to. If the woman in this book decided she wanted to leave, and he prevented her from doing so, he’s still guilty of false imprisonment, a felony, regardless of any contract. This is also buttressed by the principle that a contract cannot give someone the right to do something fundamentally illegal, and can’t be used to compel people engaged in an illegal enterprise to live up to agreements. As far as I know Al Capone never took any of his cohorts to court, and Christian cannot take Anastasia to court for not living up to the contract.

    No, BDSM is always safe, sane and consensual, and I like what I like and what happens in the bedroom or in porn or wherever has absolutely on bearing on what happens outside of it!” And that’s not exactly true either.

    Regarding the safety issue: First, while I believe that most of these activities result in few injuries, there are no statistics on the number of injuries that occur. And I’ll bet clubs don’t report them and neither do individuals. I would like to ask people involved with these things if they’ve had formal training in first aid, or CPR. Probably, the answer from the vast majority of people into this would be “no”. This, I think, correlates to the consent issue.

    I wonder about consent regarding the risk they take in these types of activities. Consenting to a BDSM activity does not mean that a person gives up all rights to legal redress in case something goes wrong. Consent is not necessarily a defense against negligence or reckless conduct, especially if the person controlling someone else claims experience and expertise.

    I would definitely be a nerd in the BDSM world.

    • Jill says:

      Of course, these are personal contracts, are not legally binding, and as such are pretty unenforceable. I imagine anyone keeping the terms of the contract is doing so because he/she wants to. If the woman in this book decided she wanted to leave, and he prevented her from doing so, he’s still guilty of false imprisonment, a felony, regardless of any contract. This is also buttressed by the principle that a contract cannot give someone the right to do something fundamentally illegal, and can’t be used to compel people engaged in an illegal enterprise to live up to agreements. As far as I know Al Capone never took any of his cohorts to court, and Christian cannot take Anastasia to court for not living up to the contract.

      Sure. But laypeople don’t necessarily know that, you know?

  17. Joe from an alternate universe says:

    Otherwise, I’m going to stick with Wesley Crusher, Teenage Fuck Machine for my shallow literary thrills. :D

    (No, not really. I just like saying it.)

    [Trigger warning at that link for rape, NSFW, and deeply weird. – C]

    Yuk. I wonder if Rick Berman has seen this yet. I imagine some copyright protections on the characters can be enforced. This seems like a cheap way to sponge off of Star Trek and make some easy money.

  18. Joe from an alternate universe says:

    Sure. But laypeople don’t necessarily know that, you know?

    Agreed. I imagine some people will read this book thinking this can be enforced, and those who know just pretend it can. It must be like going to the movies and enjoying a plot that’s highly improbable or even impossible. In order to enjoy the movie one has to “suspend disbelief” as they say.

    I am a layperson, just with too much time on hands, LOL.

  19. Actually, rape and abuse happen in BDSM contexts with regularity. Nobody can say with authority whether rape and abuse are more common or less common that in the general population, where rape and abuse happen with regularity, but anyone saying that the BDSM community is largely free of serial predators is either naive or a lying, self-serving piece of shit. And some of us insist on speaking up about it. Much of this discussion has been dragged into the open by Kitty Stryker and her colleagues at Consent Culture, and I am working on a fairly massive series of posts that I’ll start rolling out soon.

  20. Seth Eag says:

    “…but if what it’s actually portraying is a coercive or non-consensual sexual relationship then yes, that’s concerning…”

    This is kind of an interesting gray (grey?) area, no? My knowledge of BDSM lit is limited to reading Story of O a couple years ago—a book which I believe has actually been the subject of some feminist critical writings over the years—but I’d imagine that a good chunk of these books do present non-consensual scenarios; just as an actual BDSM scene may have the illusion of non-consent while, obviously, being consensual. Is it still a problem when clearly labeled as sexual fantasy, particularly when written by women for women?

  21. Seth, it’s not a question in my view of one representation, but if on the whole all we get it depictions of 24/7 dominance and submission and no limits or even kidnapping, yeah, I have a problem with that. I have a problem with positioning negotiation, limits and consent as boring and unsexy.

  22. Seth Eag says:

    @23
    Thomas MacAulay Millar

    Yeah, I’d imagine it must be judged as a culture and not individually. I do sometimes get the sense, at least from the BDSM media I’ve seen, that portrayals of men as the “sub”—at least in heterosexual scenarios—often have the air of playfulness and even fun, whereas when it’s women it seems to take on a slightly more vicious tone. Though this, again, is based on fairly limited exposure and mostly to that which is somewhat mainstream, so…geared towards men.

  23. Yonah says:

    Jadey: it’s okay, no trigger warning could possibly prepare the prospective reader. I don’t know, for some reason the whole cat thing pushed it to a whole new level.

  24. Plop says:

    What I understand about this “being forced” plot is the same as for asian drama : society says it is bad for women to explore their sexuality, they shouldn’t because it’s a man’s business.

    So being forced to do so – unwillingly – sort of set you free to actually go for what you want (in drama, the bad boy). I felt it that way a lot of time in reading : because the situation force you to do so, you allow yourself to do it – and maybe enjoy it !

    In the end, it’s not about proving that women love oppression, it’s about finding an excuse to go against society !

  25. Gappy says:

    Really interesting post, but I’m bothered by this ‘mummy bloggers’ vs ‘feminist bloggers’ thing you’ve got going here.

    I mean eh? Are we two separate groups? Because I hadn’t realised.

    I’m a feminist blogger. I’m also a mother. I hadn’t realised those two identities were mutually exclusive. And you can back-track now and say that you weren’t referring to all women who blog about motherhood, and just a specific type of blogger and whatever, but actually your attitude comes across loud and clear in your post. I wonder why you are so contemptuous of ‘mummy bloggers’?

    The fact is that the majority of women become mothers. And for feminism to have any relevance at all to the majority of real women’s lives, the needs and rights of mothers must be taken into account. Because if I can’t bring my kids, I can’t be a part of your revolution. It’s as simple as that.

  26. ~s~ says:

    I haven’t actually read the book, so take my comment with a grain of salt, but my impression is that it does portray a consensual relationship.
    According to this review from SBTB:
    http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/blog/50-shades-of-grey-by-e.l.-james
    the characters discuss consent in a pretty important way. Also if she felt the relationship wasn’t portrayed as consensual I feel like that’s something she would have mentioned in the review.

    So I guess if the journalist felt the relationship was portrayed as consensual, that might be why she felt it was okay to remove the “if this isn’t consensual” part of Jill’s statement?

  27. Anon21 says:

    Gappy:

    I’m a feminist blogger. I’m also a mother. I hadn’t realised those two identities were mutually exclusive. And you can back-track now and say that you weren’t referring to all women who blog about motherhood, and just a specific type of blogger and whatever, but actually your attitude comes across loud and clear in your post. I wonder why you are so contemptuous of ‘mummy bloggers’?

    See, but the thing is, this particular label (“mommy bloggers”) has in fact been appropriated by a fairly specific group of bloggers, who are socially conservative, disproportionately LDS, upper middle class or richer, and cultivating an ethos that women’s primary role is to raise children and keep house. I take it, from your self-identification as feminist, that that’s not you. Fine! Jill’s not referring to all bloggers who are also mothers.

    Your point is a bit like someone unfamiliar with the usage and history of the term “pro-life” in the U.S. coming in and griping that they’re a feminist, and they happen to think life is worth preserving, in general, and what is Jill doing saying that people like them aren’t welcome in the movement? This is just a terminological misapprehension; you are not being referred to.

  28. Donna L says:

    Gappy, it’s not really back-tracking. Jill didn’t make up the term, and I really don’t think she was sneering at mothers who blog. There are more than 1.4 million results for “mommy blogs” on Google; it’s a specific term that’s been used for years to refer to a particular kind of blog by mothers of young children — the ones with titles like “Redneck Mommy,” “Whiskey in My Sippy Cup,” and “Free Range Kids” — not simply to blogs by moms.

    So I get your annoyance, but I doubt that the comment was intended the way you think it was. And I’m a parent, and was one of the people who was most critical recently, in another thread, of someone’s comment that (allegedly feminist) discussions of motherhood have little or nothing to do with actual mothers.

    Personally, I find your reference to “real women’s lives” to be way more objectionable than Jill’s reference to mommy blogs. Which women aren’t real, or have lives that aren’t real?

  29. Dominique says:

    Journalism ethics blow my mind. Like, that there don’t seem to be any.

    Not all reporters are alike. Ethics do exist, but some media outlets follow them far less than others. This one is particularly bad.

    On this note: the so-called “quote” is an absolute misquote and a correction is warranted. In fact, I would appeal to an ombuds* should the correction not be displayed prominently.

  30. Verity Khat says:

    I’m with everyone else saying that this flagrant misquote should be corrected immediately. That’s not what you said AT ALL, and I’m not even sure how the author managed to twist out that bizarro interpretation in her head, much less onto paper.

    In other news, everything I’ve heard about this book (books? there are MORE?!) sounds terrible. I like my stories (especially my porn) well-written and well-researched, and this gem sounds like neither. (And I have this stubborn bias against Twilight and won’t touch anything associated with it with a thirty-nine-and-one-half-foot pole. Cuz yeah.)

  31. Jadey says:

    Not all reporters are alike. Ethics do exist, but some media outlets follow them far less than others. This one is particularly bad.

    Yeah, it’s the lack of standardization that makes me question the ethics of the field as a whole, as opposed to that of the individual reporters (sorry if that was unclear). Because it means I can’t trust *any* reporters unless I happen to know them (and their outlet) pretty well. It seems like ethics are optional and for a professional standard that sort of undermines the point.

  32. tinfoil hattie says:

    I am referring to the category of blogs which are known as “mommy blogs.”

    DonnaL says there are 1.4 million results when one googles “mommy blogs,” and

    Anon21 says that this particular label (“mommy bloggers”) has in fact been appropriated by a fairly specific group of bloggers, who are socially conservative, disproportionately LDS, upper middle class or richer, and cultivating an ethos that women’s primary role is to raise children and keep house.

    So which of these 1.4 million results are the ones you find boring and mind-numbing? And I would posit that not all 1.4 million results have been “appropriated” by the gross generalizations of people Anon21 has decided are “mommy bloggers.”

    There is contempt in the term “mommy bloggers,” and it’s directed at mothers. Just admit it, and move on.

  33. Gappy says:

    Personally, I find your reference to “real women’s lives” to be way more objectionable than Jill’s reference to mommy blogs. Which women aren’t real, or have lives that aren’t real?

    I didn’t mean that some women were more real than others, or that some lives were more real than others. What I meant was that the majority of women’s lives involved motherhood and that those experiences were just as real and valid as anyone elses.

    I’m British, and I think perhaps ‘mummy blogs’ do not have quite the same connotations here as they do in America? The majority of us may perhaps be middle class (although I personally am not) but I certainly would not say we were socially conservative. A lot of my feminist posts get a really good response from the British mummy blogging community.

    What I do find though, is that the term ‘mummy blogger’ is often used with a sneer – as though mothers are all amoeba brained, baby obsessed idiots who have nothing of value to contribute. This attitude pisses me off. It comes not only from men but also from some women who appear to feel that not only are we amoeba brained, baby obsessed idiots with nothing of value to contribute, but that we’ve sold out to the patriarchy to boot. Well fine, but only wanting to make feminism inclusive to a minority of women strikes me as incredibly counter productive and a bit stupid actually.

    I can see that I may have got it wrong here – that this is not what Jill meant – and if that’s the case then I apologise. But I think perhaps it’s something to bear in mind – the way the tone of an article might come across to someone who’s not a part of the same culture as yourself and who perhaps doesn’t understand all the ‘in’ terms.

  34. chava says:

    Re-reading the link, the “mommy blogger” term was first used by the Fox article, and then reproduced by Jill in the post here. I don’t particularly enjoy the dichotomy Fox set up between “hardcore feminists” and “mommy bloggers,” but neither do I enjoy seeing its facile reproduction here. I suppose what I am saying is that I find the label/category of “mommy bloggers” to be a false and somewhat harmful construction that gets thrown at women who write about the experience of motherhood. E.g., oh, those mommy bloggers, they act like X, and recommend Y, etc.

    Anyway, I find the term diminutive and derogatory, and I don’t think you can reasonably assert that there is a single, distasteful demographic group of women who blog about motherhood and recommend “mind numbing” products. Unless you mean products that have to do with children and babies, in which case I can see how it would be boring and irrelevant to people without kids, but should have very little to do with the status of these women as arbiters of literary taste.

    In my experience, any woman who blogs about motherhood gets the label “mommy blogger” from both the left and the right, and is then immediately seen as Not-Serious, because heaven knows a woman can’t enjoy a good book and recommend a brand of diapers simultaneously. One’s brain or one’s uterus would clearly explode!

    /rambling.

  35. chava says:

    On a different note, I do think that there is something junky in the system which produces many of the ‘mommy blogs’–the extreme social isolation many women with small children experience, which seems to often lead to blogging about the whole thing as a way to process and connect with other adult human beings.

    The fact that those adults are almost exclusively other women with young children is a problem and a creation of the patriarchy.

    Regardless, the book sounds like bad Twilight fanfic, and the mis-quote is just horrible.

  36. Safiya Outlines says:

    Joining in the eyebrow raise at the Mommy bloggers are the Borg and a boring Borg at that.

    Aside from that, this book sounds a lot like Secretary so I don’t quite understand the fuss. Also, I hope people don’t confuse this book with Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, which is amazing.

  37. karak says:

    Being a mommy blogger is like being a bro.

    If other people call you a bro, they might be wrong.

    If you call yourself a bro, you’re probably legitimately a bro, a member of bro culture, and, therefore, kind of an idiot.

    People who unironically refer to themselves as Mommy Bloggers got a bad case of Stepford Wife.

  38. Buttered Lilies says:

    Thanks for posting this; I was wondering if this was going to be actually awesome, or really just horrifying and triggering. I wish there was some website that would give BDSM erotica extra-consensual stamps or something, for those of us who’d rather our BDSM erotica be extra-consensual, not this dubcon/rape stuff. Or, that Amazon just put labels like rape, dubcon, m/m/f, PWP, etc like fanfic does in the first place, so you knew what you were getting into. But some kind of guide for people who like BDSM, but also hate abuse and rape and non-consensual things and find representations of it triggering.

    @Jadey @Yonah There’s a “whole cat thing”?

  39. Natalia says:

    In the U.S., the term “mommy blogger” does refer to a pretty specific contingent. I’m a mother and I tend to avoid “mommy blogs” like the plague (especially since the crowds there are always eager to tell you just what a bad parent you are – I was called a “bad parent” for giving birth to my child in Russia when my story about that ran in Foreign Policy, and that was by a self-described “mommy blogger”).

    In other news – that’s a pretty liberal interpretation of the quote. I suppose the author of the piece expected Jill to express some sort of outrage – and when no outrage was immediately expressed, she decided that you’re “unconcerned.” That’s the danger of giving a nuanced response to a journalist who doesn’t want a nuanced response to begin with (and probably thinks that self-described feminists are scary man-haters, or whatever).

  40. Falcon says:

    “No, BDSM is always safe, sane and consensual, and I like what I like and what happens in the bedroom or in porn or wherever has absolutely on bearing on what happens outside of it!”

    Actually, rape and abuse happen in BDSM contexts with regularity.

    Both of those things are true.

    Both BDSM and vanilla sex are *always* consensual by definition. Anything non-consensual is neither sex nor BDSM it is some sort of assault/battery/rape etc.

    I wish being kinky gave some sort of immunity to violent crime but it doesn’t work that way.

  41. ellid says:

    It started as Twilight fan fiction? And admits it?

    *dies laughing*

    Sorry, but that puts it beyond the pale for me.

  42. Andie says:

    As a mom and a blogger, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the mommy blogger comments as, the way I see it, there’s a difference between “Mommy Bloggers” and “moms who blog” or “bloggers with children”.

    It’s not case of “once you write about your kids or parenting, then you are a Mommy Blogger” but “if you occasionally write about things that aren’t kids or parenting” then you’re probably a Mom Who Blogs or a Blogger with Children.

  43. Mztress says:

    One take-home lesson I’ve learned here: don’t talk to the media, because if your comments aren’t to their liking they will not hesitate to shamelessly misquote you.

  44. Adaquinn says:

    Well I haven’t read the 50 shades of Grey book, but I enjoy the movie Secretary. What I found so intriguing about the movie is that Lee pursues Edward. When she realizes how he responds to her she’s empowered by it. She seeks it, she pushes for it. At no point does Edward tell her that her job is dependent upon their shared experiences. As a matter of fact, when they do enter a relationship she stops working for him. Edward was very adoring of Lee, even before they became deeply involved. I thought the scene where he tells her that she doesn’t have to hurt herself anymore because she’s stronger than that was touching. I say this as a person who has never struggled deeply with that urge, so my feelings on it might be misinformed.

    I wish Lee would have been more confident and stronger before the relationship started, but all in all, I enjoyed it

  45. archie says:

    One thing I have noticed is that taking care of small children is difficult work. It’s not because of the intellectual challenge of it, or the technical obstacles to overcome. The hardest thing might be giving up a degree of freedom and personal fulfillment in order to do other things, like make sandwiches, change diapers, correct bad behavior, go to the doctor and argue with insurance companies etc. There are many rewards to raising kids, but if you are a parent, you aren’t entitled to bill anyone for your time. While you might meet some smart people at the playground, it’s not the same as cultivating a friendship based on shared personal interests.

    My sense is that the term “mommy blogging” is at least a little bit ironic. Some people (both mommies and daddies) who take on familial child care responsibilities struggle with the idea that even though they are well educated, professionally qualified, competent, etc., they must defer personal pursuits hour by hour and day by day. Some of this “mommy blogging” may be an outlet for the kind of frustration that people feel in these circumstances. First world problem? Maybe. But as long as we’re talking about human potential and self-actualization, it isn’t a trivial problem. Recognizing the value of child care work would be a good first step towards…well…a better place than we are now.

  46. Mickie T says:

    Honestly, the most Jill should have or could have said to the journalist was, “I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on the book’s message.”

    I have to talk to the press frequently, and I’ve been taught to speak as if everything I say is quotable. If you don’t want something quoted or mis-quoted, you must say, “Do not quote this.” or “Do not attribute this to me.” That is the ethic by which journatlists must abide. Not the other way around.

    It reminds me of a popular aphorism about The New York Times I have heard often: “I think it’s very reliable and accurate, except they alway misquote me.”

    • Jill says:

      Yeah, Mickie, I understand that, but having been on the other side of things — needing a quote from a particular point of view — I didn’t want to leave the journalist high and dry. We exchanged a few emails, and my first response to her was something along the lines of, “I haven’t read the book so I’m probably not the best person to speak with. I can only speak generally on issues of sexuality and consent.” She still wanted a feminist view, so I gave it, so that (a) I wouldn’t blow her deadline, and (b) a feminist view on sexuality would actually be in included in the piece.

  47. Jill, my appreciation for this post is soured by your careless use of ‘mommy bloggers’. Feministe has been called out time and again of denigrating motherhood/ mothering and this comment threat is no exception. Why do the mods never step up when mothers are being silenced. It doesn’t matter what you ‘intended’, as a feminist blogger you should know that intent doesn’t matter as much as action. Your ‘intent’ aside, a lot of women feel alienated by the condescending reference and your follow up comments about “mind-numbing” products. Furthermore, the mothers in the comment threat who were offended are being told that they’re wrong/ ignorant/ unaware, which is simply appalling.
    The mainstream is real quick to deride anything to do with mothers ( the way this book is being derided as ‘mommy porn’. what’s wrong with porn that’s enjoyed by women who happen to be mothers?), and your comments don’t help. Mommy blogs, regardless of how mind-numbing YOU find them, are an invaluable resource to many people. As someone else pointed out, there are millions and millions of mommy blogs out there, so painting them all with the same brush is lazy and anti-mother, frankly.
    As a radical, transnational WOC, I could dismiss feminist blogs as online enclaves appropriated by white, western, able-bodied, middle-class women who write endless ‘mind numbing’ articles about white, western-centric activism, but I don’t. What’s your excuse?

  48. “-Just because you like something in the bedroom doesn’t mean you want every other relationship in your life to operate that way. Just because you like missionary position doesn’t mean that you want to lay on your back on the floor of the bus during your commute to work. Just because you want your partner to dominate you in the sack doesn’t mean that you want your male coworkers to dominate you at work. It is stupid to suggest that because some women on the internet like an erotic novel with a sexually submissive female character that we all want to be submissive in all aspects of our lives. I enjoyed the documentary “Man On Wire.” I am also scared of heights and have no desire to walk a tightrope. ”

    As a het cis woman who’s very femme and enjoys submission, i really appreciated this part of your post. You broke down the fantasy-/real life disconnect. I would love to see a longer post by you exploring this.

  49. Adaquinn says:

    Honestly, the most Jill should have or could have said to the journalist was, “I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on the book’s message.”

    Well that was the first thing she said. And I’m afraid I must disagree with your remark that it’s not the responsibility of the journalist to remain faithful to the interview. Jill was very clear in her feelings, everything was very articulate in her feelings.

    The journalist cherry picked the words and sentences she wanted while utterly disregarding the spirit of the message.

  50. Fat Steve says:

    One media trope that I find particularly troubling is the notion that our sexual fantasies of practices reflect what we “secretly want.” It has a great deal of currency (unfortunately often even within alternative sexuality communities) because it’s just close enough to true to be dangerous. It’s first cousin to the notion that all kinky people are sexual assault survivors, which can be empirically disproved.

    This may be just something you’re born with or reborn to be pre-disposed of, like being gay. I can honestly say that I’ve never fantasized about something I didn’t want. I can’t really differentiate between when I was kid, fantasizing about playing shortstop to the Mets, and seeing an attractive person and fantasizing about what it would be like to go to bed with them.

    Being the person that I am, I always think of myself as the ‘odd man out,’ so I assume most people do not have the ‘vanilla’ fantasies that I do.

  51. Catherine says:

    Yup, it was a twilight fanfic called Master of the Universe that you can still find for free online. Only difference between the fic and 50 shades was a find/replace on names Edward and Bella.
    What really gets me is how well the marketing campaign James’ publicist went with has worked–a couple big media outlets report “omg this thing is so dirty/secret/wrong and women are LOVING it” and it hits the top of the bestseller list.
    Like, no one stopped for one second to consider the fact that there is erotica everywhere, and this is definitely not revolutionary.
    This book is terribly written, has no idea what a bdsm relationship is, and has one of the most vapid, stupid, and uninteresting female protagonists I have ever encountered. She is actually WORSE than the original Bella Swan.

  52. LC says:

    I find it interesting that “OMG Kink!” still seems to work this way. I remember people swooning over the Kushiel series because it had kink in it, which seems a similar phenomenon.

    (As far as the rest of the kink discussion thread, I basically have nothing to add to what Thomas has said, since I’m pretty much in complete agreement with him on this.)

  53. Athenia says:

    The article’s main point was that feminists are not “concerned” with BDSM erotica……and honestly, are we?

    Personally, I get my knickers in a twist when romance masquerades as domestic violence.

  54. Jadey says:

    Personally, I get my knickers in a twist when romance masquerades as domestic violence.

    Yes, because that’s definitely what BDSM is. Thanks for the slap in the face to kinky feminists! I suppose that’s what we’re into after all?

    No, seriously, can we not have this conversation already? I’d like to think we’re all sick of it by now.

  55. Crys T says:

    Jadey, I do agree with you, and I think I’d change Athenia’s statement to read, “Personally, I get my knickers in a twist when domestic violence masquerades as BDSM–and we’re supposed to find that so wonderfully romantic.”

  56. “Personally, I get my knickers in a twist when domestic violence masquerades as BDSM–and we’re supposed to find that so wonderfully romantic”

    YES. This. This makes it very difficult for folks (women, but not only women) who have been abused in a BDSM context to come forward. It should be the case that when someone says, “I negotiated specific limits, and the top did things that were absolutely not allowed,” the whole discussion wouldn’t devolve into “well, you went there to get dominated …” but as we saw with Assange, the culture is still absolutely determined to make excuses for rapists and blame the victims, and portraying BDSM as a subset of domestic violence reinforces that.

  57. Anonymous Regular Commenter says:

    I can honestly say that I’ve never fantasized about something I didn’t want.

    I think sexual fantasy is somewhat different. Like, I can fantasize about having sex with someone who’s hot without actually wanting to cheat on my significant other. I can fantasize about a BDSM scenario that would turn me on and masturbate while thinking about it, and might even turn me on to play-act it with a partner. But that doesn’t mean that those particular power dynamics to apply outside the bedroom, or even outside of the confines of a carefully constructed scene.

  58. Athenia says:

    Yes, because that’s definitely what BDSM is. Thanks for the slap in the face to kinky feminists! I suppose that’s what we’re into after all?

    No, seriously, can we not have this conversation already? I’d like to think we’re all sick of it by now.

    Crap, I re-read what I wrote—I meant, that Twilight masks problematic behavior as romance, not that BDSM masks domestic violence.

    I mean, if 50 Shades of Grey is problematic from a BDSM perspective–then shouldn’t we be having that discussion? Apparently, the reviewer at Jezebel read it and didn’t think it was particularly problematic. I would be interested in reading a review from a BDSM perspective.

  59. I.N. says:

    There seems to be a lot of variety in sexual fantasies. Some people fantasize about things they want. Some people, like me, fantasize about that sometimes – but also about things they would never wish on anyone, ever, in real life.

    I’ve been reading some seriously dark and disturbing erotica and fanfic written by women for women (online) for a number of years, and have been part of communities that create and discuss it. I have seen a huge line drawn between fantasy and reality. In my experience, authors and readers acknowledge that the sole purpose of such stories is arousal and fantasy. And that no real-life applicable lessons should be drawn from them, ever.

    I haven’t read the book in question so my thoughts are likely useless… But I wonder if that’s where problem lies in published works. If once something is published, it’s seen as a “real book”, it can become popular, and now it has to have some moral message of what is good and bad. Or risk that the very lack of such a message will be misinterpreted.

  60. Jadey says:

    @ Athenia

    Okay, good to know it was a misstatement. The sentiment I thought you were expressing is unfortunately not rare.

  61. Buttered Lilies says:

    @Athenia Yeah, we should be having that conversation. I was really bummed out how Jez handled it. I’m not sure people who aren’t that familiar with BDSM – including those who have some fantasies, but haven’t really learned much about it outside of Secretary, Anne Rice, and Story of O – understand that consent isn’t just going “It’s consensual, because… I dunno, but it is, mmmkay?”. (Which seemed to be the Jezebel response). Or, for that matter, that those stories might be hot, but hot doesn’t make them a good model for real life practice.

    There is a good review of the first book here that goes into these issues a bit, including how the contract doesn’t make it consensual.

  62. colorlessblue says:

    Smart Bitches had a post a few days ago about the media coverage of this book (and not exactly the book per se) and the shaming of female sexuality, on the context of the war on women, and the conflation of romance, erotica and porn: Romance, Arousal, and Condescension.

  63. Safiya Outlines says:

    65
    colorlessblue 3.18.2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Smart Bitches had a post a few days ago about the media coverage of this book (and not exactly the book per se) and the shaming of female sexuality, on the context of the war on women, and the conflation of romance, erotica and porn: Romance, Arousal, and Condescension.

    That is a brilliant post you’ve linked to and I cannot recommend it enough.

  64. Avida Quesada says:

    I believe that the worst part is the lie that you represent feminists in general in this controversial area.

    I understand that the author is trying to make feminists a favor: not presenting us as opposing something that appears to be loved by most women.

    I agree with your approach, but that is far less than the norm on the feminist community.

    There are many feminist that believe that BDSM is patriarchal as it’s core. And they are not rare birds. Some go to the level of affirming that even in the case of submissive men, it’s patriarchal since the men are receiving what they want. Some see it as anti feminist even when there is no penis involved.

    That the reason some academic feminist hate “light feminism” or “girl power” feminism is not abut having fun an doing what we want, it’s about overcoming patriarchy.

  65. Jordan S says:

    I..cannot even begin to describe my discontent with that journalist. If she’s going to take you that much out of context and feed words to you, she may as well not even mention your name.

    @I.N. Completely agree.

  66. Pingback: Thoughts On Sex Positivity | My Sex Professor: Sexuality Education

  67. Kate says:

    I am so deeply troubled by these books. All of the BDSM aside (for now), the male lead, Christian, is emotionally abusive.

    I was irate after the first book but felt like I should read all three before giving an opinion. Throughout the trilogy, Christian tells Ana what she’s allowed to where, who she’s allowed to see, if she can drive her car. He stalks her. Tracks her and demands that she do what he wants.

    Bedroom dominance aside – this character is the epitome of an emotionally abusive man. I’m so scared that women are falling for him! I just…. I can’t even articulate what I want to say at the moment because so frustrated. The BDSM aspect is getting in the way of the crux of the problem – emotional abuse and control.

    I’m very sad that women want this man. Control, stalking, and jealousy are NOT sexy.

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