Just a few reminders before you buy those “50 Shades” Valentines

[Trigger warning for sexual violence and emotional abuse]

Valentine’s Day is coming up! That day of romance, of togetherness, of coupledom, of… domestic abuse… Valentine’s Day is the release date of 50 Shades of Grey, that sensationalistic movie based on the “How to Spot an Abuser” pamphlet in your college guidance counselor’s office. Women and men who have read the book and know perfectly well what the story is about will flock to theatres, either a) dreaming of the day that they’ll be stalked and violated by someone as dreamy as Christian, or b) hoping to score on Valentine’s night with the person they took to the movie.

As much as I hate to be a buzzkill (note: This is true. I do, in fact, hate being a buzzkill), I can’t not point out that the book is a horrible, awful book, and that unless the movie carves the entire storyline down to the glider scene and some of the scenes with Kate, who seems cool, it’s going to be a horrible, awful movie as well. Moreover, though, it’s a book that romanticizes a seriously abusive relationship, and while people are free to publish whatever they want and read whatever they want and get their rocks off to whatever they want (within certain limits), it’s important to acknowledge that what may (for some reason) come across as sultry and sexy on the page would, in real life, be a Razorbacks halftime show’s worth of red flags.

What’s that, Imaginary Interlocutor?

Okay, the book has sold more than 100 million copies. You can say a lot of things about it, but it can’t be that bad.

Untrue. This book is indeed very, very badly written. Consider:

— A protagonist whom other characters extoll for her multitudinous virtues when, by her actions, we can discern that she’s a crappy friend, a crappy employee, completely self-involved, and really, really dull
— A Hispanic character who says “Dios mio!” all the time
A misplaced hymen
— A protagonist who says “Aargh!” when she loses her virginity
— Approximately ten bazillion uses of “murmur” or “mutter,” making me wonder if this movie is going to be subtitled, because the book reads like nothing is ever spoken above a whisper…
— … except when Christian is yelling at her
— A protagonist in an erotic novel who can only bring herself to talk about “down there” and her “behind”
“Oh my”
— A subconscious of which the protagonist is, in fact, conscious, accompanied by an “inner goddess” who dances around like a child stage actor who’s never been given anything but positive feedback
— A college senior who doesn’t have an e-mail address or know how to use Wikipedia

Someone’s just jealous.

Bad fanfiction turned into a worse novel, now one of the fastest-selling books in history? You bet your ass I’m jealous. But I’m not just jealous.

Whatever. You’re just one of those angry feminists who thinks BDSM is awful. There’s nothing wrong with it. BDSM is not abuse.

I couldn’t agree more. BDSM between two informed, consenting parties who are both into it is great. Fifty Shades of Grey, however, isn’t BDSM. It’s abuse that happens to take place in and around a Red Room of Pain (not kidding). Examples of stuff that isn’t BDSM:

— A complete neophyte sub saying that she wants to see how extreme BDSM can get, and her experienced and oh-so-responsible Dom saying, “Sounds legit. Bend over so I can whale on you with this belt until you’re speechless with pain and can’t safeword.”
— Dragging your terrified girlfriend over your lap and spanking her for rolling her eyes at you, as well as other dubiously consensual rage-spankings
— Spanking a sub until she cries and then just leaving
— Handing said neophyte — seriously, a never-touched-herself-down-there virgin — a contract full of sexual acts she’s never even heard of and telling her to sign or GTFO
— Objecting to breath play but being fully on board with anal fisting (okay, that’s not not-BDSM, but seriously? “I won’t choke you a little bit, but guess where I’ll put my entire arm”?)
— A grown woman raping an emotionally damaged 15-year-old boy
— An activity only undertaken by sick, damaged people, who will stop doing it as soon as their emotional trauma is healed by the Power of Love
— Beating/dominating a sub with no interest whatever in her enjoyment, fulfillment, and well being
— A power-imbalanced relationship between a selfish, emotionally unstable man and a woman who doesn’t actually enjoy it but will do anything he wants for fear of losing him

So what? It doesn’t have to be a completely, 100-percent-accurate representation. It’s just one woman’s fantasy. It’s fiction.

If it really were just one woman having bathtub funtime to an image of Robert Pattinson with a flogger, that would be fine. But it’s not that. The book has sold more than 100 million copies. That’s a lot of readers hearing a message that unprovoked violence from a selfish Dom is something they should just tolerate from BDSM, and that a man only stalks you and controls you because he loves you and wants you to be safe and healthy. I’m sure that E.L. James is a lovely person and intended nothing but good, sexy things from this book, but what she ended up with was a creepy, violent, sociopathic romantic lead whom women wish was their husband.

Well, you have to admit, he’s pretty romantic. And sexy. It’s all about the romance and sex.

Fifty Shades of Grey absolutely is a romance, in the same way that Sleeping with the Enemy is a romance, and if you aren’t familiar with the latter please understand that it’s actually a terrifying and not-at-all-romantic thriller. If Fifty Shades of Grey actually were a thriller, now that I think about it, it would be way more interesting. I’d be curious to see what the movie would be like if the Jaws theme played at the beginning of every sex scene.

Regardless, my point is that it’s not romantic or sexy, not at all, unless these things get you all tingly in your bathing-suit area:

— Tracing a woman’s cell phone and tracking her down when she drunk-dials him and he disapproves
— Driving three hours to visit her at her place of business after meeting her once
— … and buying rope, masking tape, and zip ties from her while he’s there
— Following her transcontinentally — to her mother’s house — after she’s made it clear that she needs time and space to herself to consider their relationship and has specifically told him not to come
Tess of the d’Urbervilles
— Blaming a woman for her sexual assault
— … and telling her, “[I]f you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday. You didn’t eat, you go drunk, you put yourself at risk.”
— Controlling what she eats, drinks, wears, and uses for birth control
— Forbidding her, via a legally binding NDA, from talking about their relationship with her friends or family
— Getting pissed off, then withdrawn and aloof, at her for receiving a phone call from a person he disapproves of
— … and then becoming possessive and cold the next time she so much as picks up the phone
— Telling her repeatedly that he’s dangerous and that she should stay away, and then following her around
— Knowingly, openly manipulating her with sex/arousal
— Showing up angry at her door when she e-mails him saying that she wants to end their relationship
— Telling her that she can say no at any time, and then spanking her and fucking her as punishment for rebuffing his advances
— Showing overt physical affection any time a perceived dude-threat is in the vicinity
— Intentionally getting her drunk to make her more talkative and pliant
— Answering her clear “no” and physical struggling with, “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet.”
— … and then fucking her
— “The sooner I have your submission, and we can stop all this… You, defying me.”
— “Next time you roll your eyes at me, I will take you across my knee.”
— “For the record, you stood beside me, knowing what I was going to do. You didn’t at any time ask me to stop — you didn’t use either safe word. You are an adult — you have choices. Quite frankly, I’m looking forward to the next time my palm is ringing with pain.”
— “Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone — remember.”
— “I think you need to learn to manage my expectations. I am not a patient man. If you say you are going to contact me when you finish work, then you should have the decency to do so. Otherwise, I worry, and it’s not an emotion I’m familiar with, and I don’t tolerate it very well.”
— “No one to hear you, baby, just me.”
— “I know what you’re trying to do — and trust me — you’ve succeeded. Next time you’ll be in the cargo hold, bound and gagged in a crate.”
— Words like “beat,” “assaulted,” “demeaned,” “debased,” “abused,” “uncomfortable,” and “guilty”
— When she’s constantly looking for an escape route during basically every encounter with him
— When she has to lie to her friends to hide the fact that he hurt her
— When she has to lie to him about where she’s been and who she’s seen for fear of his “palm-twitchingly mad” reactions
— “This is the first time I have ever had sex in my home, and as sex goes, I think it was pretty damn fine. But now I feel like a receptacle — an empty vessel to be filled at his whim.”
— “Will he punish me? I quail at the thought. … Perhaps I’ll stay in Georgia where he can’t reach me.”
— “And he hits me again and again. From somewhere deep inside, I want to beg him to stop. But I don’t. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.”
— “I want to stay because he wants to stay with me, not because I’m a blubbering mess, and I don’t want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable?”
— “He uses sex as a weapon.”
— “Please don’t be angry with me… I’m sorry… You scare me when you’re angry.”
— “Holy crap… he’s angry.”
— “He wants to hurt me… how do I deal with this? I can’t hide the horror on my face.”
— “Are you going to hit me again?”
— “Because I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy. Because I can’t touch you, because I’m too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse — beat me?”
— “He’s not a hero, he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?”
— “[W]hen you want to punish me, I worry that you’ll hurt me.”
— This:

“You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?”

“I think we should stay in public, on neutral ground.” He smiles sardonically.

“Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning.

My eyes widen, and I swallow again.

“I hope so.”

“Come, I have a private dining room booked. No public.” He smiles at me enigmatically and climbs out of the booth, holding his hand out to me.

— And this:

“I don’t want you to go.”

“Please… I have to.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ve given me so much to consider… and I need some distance.”

“I could make you stay,” he threatens.

— And this:

Dashing back to my bedroom, I close the door and lean against it trying to rationalize my feelings. Sliding to the floor, I put my head in my hands as my tears begin to flow.

Kate knocks gently.

“Ana?” she whispers. I open the door. She takes one look at me and throws her arms around me.

“What’s wrong? What did that creepy, good-looking bastard do?”

“Oh, Kate, nothing I didn’t want him to.”

— And this:

“Were you physically punished as a child?”

“No.”

“So you have no sphere of reference at all?”

“No.”

“It’s not as bad as you think. Your imagination is your worst enemy in this,” he whispers.

“Do I have to do it?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Goes with the territory, Anastasia. It’s what I do. I can see you’re nervous. Let’s go through methods.”

He shows me the list. My subconscious runs, screaming, and hides behind the couch.

— And this:

“Are you going to hit me?”

“Yes, but it won’t be to hurt you. I don’t want to punish you right now. If you’d caught me yesterday evening, well, that would have been a different story.”

— And this:

I close the door and stand helpless in the living room of an apartment that I shall only spend another two nights in. A place I have lived happily for almost four years… yet today, for the first time ever, I feel lonely and uncomfortable here, unhappy with my own company. Have I strayed so far from who I am? I know that lurking, not very far under my rather numb exterior, is a well of tears. What am I doing? The irony is I can’t even sit down and enjoy a good cry. I’ll have to stand.

— And this:

I shrug, trapped. I don’t want to lose him. In spite of all his demands, his need to control, his scary vices, I have never felt as alive as I do now. It’s a thrill to be sitting here beside him. He’s so unpredictable, sexy, smart and funny. But his moods… oh –- and he wants to hurt me. He says he’ll think about my reservations, but it still scares me. I close my eyes. What can I say? Deep down I would just like more, more affection, more playful Christian, more… love.

— And this:

And then this evening, he actually hit me. I’ve never been hit in my life. What have I gotten myself into? Very slowly, my tears, halted by Kate’s arrival, begin to slide down the side of my face and into my ears. I have fallen for someone who’s so emotionally shut down, I will only get hurt — deep down I know this — someone who by his own admission is completely fucked up. Why is he so fucked up? It must be awful to be as affected as he is, and the thought that as a toddler he suffered some unbearable cruelty makes me cry harder. Perhaps if he was more normal he wouldn’t want you, my subconscious contributes snidely to my musings… and in my heart of hearts I know this is true. I turn into my pillow and the sluice gates open… and for the first time in years, I am sobbing uncontrollably into my pillow.

But when they’re in the Red — the Red Room — the —

See? You can’t even say it.

But of course he’s going to say stuff like that when they’re in the… playroom.

That’s all when they’re not playing. For the most part, it’s actually a lot less disturbing when they’re playing.

… Seriously?

Seriously.

Wow. That sounds… fifty shades of fucked up.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Shudder.

Tell me about it.

… That Beyonce song, though.

Oh my God yes.


Similar Posts (automatically generated):

94 comments for “Just a few reminders before you buy those “50 Shades” Valentines

  1. Lauren
    February 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    THANK YOU.

  2. Aaliyah
    February 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    There have been a few times in my life that I entertained the thought of reading 50 Shades purely out of self-destructive amusement. I was foolish (and not just because I’m a lesbian and wouldn’t ever enjoy hetero smut anyway). I always knew that this book was incredibly fucked up, but this post just goes to show that the male characters in this book truly embody stereotypes of male abusers.

    More Beyonce, less E. L. James. Please.

    • Angie unduplicated
      February 13, 2015 at 10:11 am

      More P.D. James, please, may she rest in peace.
      Gotta disagree with the assessment of the author’s motivations, though. Woman-hatred is rampant, even among women. This looks so much like propaganda for predators.
      Trauma survivors who get a trip to the movies for V-day are going to be in rough shape this weekend and stressed out in the coming work week. Extra TLC for women coworkers might be helpful.

  3. February 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Pleased that my literary snobbishness has prevented me from reading this ‘work.’ There’s enough misogyny, rape and abuse in ‘proper literature,’ if I’m going to read something ‘light’ it’s going to be something fun or at least one in where the violence occurs off page (like a ‘cosy’ mystery novel.)

  4. EG
    February 12, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    I have to go wash my brain out with bleach now.

  5. Alara Rogers
    February 12, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Every time I see this shit I think “goddamn I could do better than that” and consider the possibility of writing a paranormal romance with BDSM.

    Then I remember that my entire thing as a writer is based around breaking tropes and trying to chart less-explored territory, so my idea about a female human domme and a supernatural, godawfully powerful male sub who hates how much he loves being dominated by her would probably not be nearly as popular as a story about a naive idiot who’s emotionally blackmailed into being a sub even though she doesn’t want to be by an abusive, powerful man.

    And then I go drown myself in chocolate ice cream and weep for humanity.

    • Katie
      February 14, 2015 at 12:37 am

      PLEASE WRITE THAT.

      Seriously, just reading the description of your idea had me going, “Oh… my!” in a George Takei voice. I would buy as many copies as I could afford and give them to all my friends.

    • Annima
      February 14, 2015 at 11:18 am

      SECONDED.

      Yes please, I would love to read something like that, sounds amazingly hot.

    • Graphictruth
      February 14, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      Another “yes please.”

      Playing with the power dynamic is cool.

      Make us think about power instead of just taking it for granted; if it’s a good story and arouses us at the same time as we are led by the hand to the water to think, it may do some good.

      And at least, it won’t feel like you are selling your soul as you write.

      I’ve met some true male subs; they squick me in an interesting way.

      The ability to simply swat their dominant out of the way as they walk to the door is irrelevant. They choice to not do that because that choice is fulfilling to them. With some I wonder if it’s a choice at all – perhaps the choice they have is who to submit to; their own nature is not something they can safeword on.

      Many PAY for the privilege. Many are exploited – some even explicitly seek that out.

      I don’t get it, but clearly, “choice” is something that occurs within the bounds of limitations. That is to say; “wherever you go, there you are.”

      I’ve heard the same thing powerfully articulated by femsubs, that submission is necessary to them and that their choices revolve around how do do it ethically and safely. If they try to clamp it down and behave “properly” it will leak out and they will find themselves in harm’s way or manipulating others into creating the dynamic they prefer.

      It doesn’t seem that 50 Shades is exploring mindfulness, not even in the sense of Risk Aware Consensual Kink. I think the mindfulness and ethical structure of BDSM is what challenges people and that’s why Fifty Shades is avoiding it. It’s not like it would be difficult to research, people in the scene talk about it obsessively; there are books and people who are more than willing to discuss this topic so I have to assume the choice is deliberate.

      Mindfulness should be a huge part of just walking around in contact with humanity, but 50 shades and other formula fiction is an illustration to me as to how obscenely popular “not thinking VERY hard” is. If you pick one of these things up, more than once, you have to expect that it’s to give your confirmation bias a quick hand-job.

      I could easily do a “me too” of the above critique – if I was going to read it. But I already wasn’t. That would be some combination of masochism and overthinking.

      A Sparkly Cardboard Billionaire with a conspicuous personality disorder is hardly original to the genre of formula fiction. It’s purely paint by the numbers – and the reviews suggest that it’s not all that well done by those standards. If you like that sort of thing – there’s probably Iron Man slash fiction that’s several orders of magnitude better.

      Formula fiction doesn’t need to be thoughtful or well written or have characters that make sense, as long as every plot-point is hit along the way. It works in exactly the same way boom-chicka-wow-wow porn works. Or spray cheese. Instant gratification, innocent of any pretense of art or craft.

      But hey, there’s good spray cheese and bad spray cheese.

      Good or bad, everyone knows where the story is going and you aren’t there to be surprised or diverted. You sure as hell don’t need to relate to the characters as people! You have a schedule, dammit! Batteries are expensive!

      So yes, it’s depressing that the tropes are deeply misogynistic but pick up a normal, proper vanilla bodice-ripper sometime. I remember my shock as an innocent (and I really was very naive at the time), reading a bodice-ripper due to a lack of words in a row. (I’ve been known to read cereal boxes out of desperation.)

      I came back with the finished book. “This is PORN!” I squeaked. “You gave me porn!” (Thank Goddess it wasn’t my Mother who gave it to me!)

      At the time, it was surprising – to me – that women liked porn – hell, that there even was porn aimed at women, and most unfairly, NOBODY SAID IT WAS PORN! And they get to read it on the bus; sweet little old ladies have PORN tucked in with their YARN! Not hidden under the mattress like my adolescent stash(es), right out in front of god and everybody!!!

      If you are laughing at me for that – well, I do too. Now. 35 years later.

      At the time – there were some flirtations with redpilly thinking. I’m just like everybody else. It’s really hard to not resort to the comfortable tropes and preconceptions, particularly since I had nothing better to work with.

      That’s important to remember. I’m old enough to recall reading essays by Gloria Stienham and realizing – for the first time ever – that she was right, and she was right from first principles that I already knew.

      If I had been able to think about them in that way, I’d have thunk it myself, but in my context – that just wasn’t available, or it was buried under a ton of compost.

      Hierarchy, patriarchy, othering – all of these things come out of not-thinking. Some is lazy and some comes from not even having the idea to not think about in the first place.

      I’m not shaming – but I sometimes feel just a little entitled to brag about how much smaller my pile of compost is now.

      Anyway, at the time I felt that it was deeply, profoundly unjust that men get shamed for consuming porn while this “romance fiction” stuff can live on the coffee table – and even though it seemed to be saying all the same things male hetporn said, since there were no pictures and they used seven letter words instead of the cruder ones with four, it was ok. And it was “romantic.”

      My throbbing, pulsating ass it is. But my self-righteousness abated once I realized that I was doing the same thing with slightly different tropes and was likely just as comical or horrifying.

      No, I’m being too kind to me. There were a few fish-slapping dances along the way.

      But since I’m a writer and I found out that being able to write a Harlequin romance (and other formula fiction) is considered sort of a test for being a working writer, I did a little more research into it.

      It’s about confirming the biases of your audience. NOT challenging them but pandering to them.

      I suppose that’s why the blonde always goes into the basement when they hear a noise. It’s fucking stupid – but she has to be dumber than most of the people in the audience, just so most can anticipate what’s going to happen.

      …really? I’m that cynical?

      Anyway, this sort of… story exists to assure those who buy it that their world-view is not only ok, but natural, the very word of god. If you can squeeze in some literal arousal while nailing the idea that they are perfectly right to be the sort of person they are – that’s the money shot. Alternately, a lubricious illustration of what happens to those who Stray From The Path will do.

      Fifty Shades, Gor, Mack Bolan – it’s all about pandering to cultural stereotypes dressed up with a little paint and glitter to seem original without actually being original at all.

      So I don’t even care about the BDSM. I’ve bailed long before that point.

      I mean, you could care about it – but the author doesn’t, nor does the audience. It’s not BDSM, nor is it romance. It’s an abuse dynamic; something which a depressingly large fraction of the population wishes to be assured to be “normal” while having a good old masturbatory wallow.

      And yeah, I’m guilty too. I’ll read me some Tom Clancy. But, you know, privately.

      Anyway – if you object to Fifty Shades, well; the answer to offensive and disappointing porn is more and better porn. Feminists started doing this online in the 90’s, were absolutely crushed by the Ashcroft Justice Department and Congress, but have re-emerged of late.

      The rabid response should be an indication of how important it is.

      So, going right back up to the top. Alara, give it a shot. The worst that could happen is that it’s not much better than Fifty Shades. But if nothing else – you would have written it. If enough people try to do it better, someone will pull it off.

      Our better angels need orgasms too.

  6. Han
    February 12, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    So, so gross. It’s truly disheartening that it’s as popular as it is.

    I’ve been reading the chapter-by-chapter reviews on The Pervocracy for comedic relief, which I can’t recommend enough:

    “See the joy-stick in front of you?” he shouts again. I look at the stick that is moving slightly between my legs. Oh no, where’s he going with this? “Grab hold.” Oh shit. He’s going to make me fly the plane. No! “Go on, Anastasia. Grab it,” he urges more vehemently. Tentatively, I grasp it and feel the pitch and yaw of what I assume are rudders and paddles or whatever keeps this thing in the air.

    Stick between her legs, tee hee hee.

    Really, “rudders or paddles or whatever?”

    And man, why can’t anything ever be fun? This ought to be awesome, right? She’s getting to fly a glider! That’s totally sweet! Except that the framing is all about her being terrified and going “no no no,” and him not giving her a choice. Can’t we ever just enjoy anything in this book?

    [They land uneventfully, which I guess is a good thing, but in terms of writing, it’s kind of a “god forbid anything should actually happen” thing.] As soon as I’m out, he grabs me and holds me flush against his body. Suddenly his hand is in my hair, tugging it so my head tips back, and his other hand travels down to the base of my spine. He kisses me, long, hard, and passionately, his tongue in my mouth. His breathing is mounting, his ardor … Holy cow – his erection… we’re in a field.

    Holy cow, we’re in a field! Holy horse, we’re in a barn! Holy guinea pig, we’re in a box of wood shavings!

  7. Donna L
    February 12, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    I don’t think I could be paid enough to want to read this book, never mind see the movie. (Despite some reviews that say that the movie isn’t as awful as the book!) But then again, the idea of even genuine BDSM (with real consent and safe words, etc.) is very unappealing to me (from any viewpoint) — speaking only for myself, having spent some time watching the events going on in a dungeon — so I can’t possibly be objective about something like this book.

  8. pheenobarbidoll
    February 12, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    My biggest issue with the abuse conflated with BDSM or even just kinky sex is that there are a lot of young women who are into submission who will see this as acceptable. Most of the married women who bought the book and can’t wait for the movie just use it as fantasy porn and wouldn’t ever accept that treatment in real life. But those newbie subs already find themselves targets of abusers who claim to be dominants. About 15 years ago a girl I knew got into a dom/sub relationship and had this idea that a sub consents to anything and everything. This resulted in him beating her almost to death, she had several blood transfusions and facial reconstruction surgery numerous times. All because she was told a sub must submit to everything and a dominant has zero responsibility for the health and well being of the sub. And this book is going to result in more of that, when there’s already enough out there as it is.

    • Zuleikha
      February 14, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      IMHO, that is an unlikely scenario from this book. Christian and Ana explicitly discuss her hard and soft limits and he does respect them. She also pushes him successfully to redefine their relationship from master/sub to include more boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. There is also very little actual BDSM play in the sex scenes. What’s there is already the type of thing inexperienced doms and subs tend to explore on their own.

      I’ve read that the sequel books are more problematic in the physicality of the sex scenes that are portrayed and that there’s one part where Ana uses the safeword and Christian gets mad at her for it. I’m not willing to suffer through the bad writing to read those parts for myself, though, and I’ve seen a lot of misrepresentation of scenes. So I don’t know. But I will say that I don’t think anyone is going to confuse this trilogy for a true-to-life instruction manual for how to do BDSM and that it actually portrays safer behavior than any BDSM classic I’ve read (although I’ve seen people recommend some newer works that I haven’t which are supposed to be better).

      I’ll even make the unpopular assertion that I think the popularity of the books are more likely to improve safety for subs and doms than to worsen it. The books have provided an entry point for BDSM educators to write in mainstream media about safe practices. I think they’ve also helped make it more acceptable to talk openly about having interest in BDSM, which makes it easier for people to read the actual non-fiction books/blogs out there and go to classes and be exposed to ideas about safe practice. Once there, though, it’s up to educators and activists to make the community welcoming and safe.

      • February 14, 2015 at 6:59 pm

        Christian and Ana explicitly discuss her hard and soft limits and he does respect them.

        That’s just not true. He has little concern for her limits. For a very basic example, she sets a hard limit on him telling her what/when/how much to eat, and he agrees. He starts haranguing her about her eating in that same chapter and continues doing so for the rest of the book. When they talk about punishment in general, she says she’d rather not do it at all, and he tells her it’s “part of the deal, baby.” When she objects to caning in particular, he tells her they’ll keep it off the list “for now.” She sets anal sex as a limit, and he immediately tells her that he’d “really like to claim [her] ass,” which is far from respecting what she wants. (“I’ll respect your hard limits.” “No anal sex.” “But I want to!”)

        When they’re at dinner with his parents, and he tries to fingerbang her under the table, and she closes her legs to him, he later drags her out to the boathouse in a rage to punish her by fucking her and not letting her come — neither exhibitionism nor orgasm denial was ever discussed at all, at any point. In fact, shortly after the incident, he told her, “I can’t touch you if you say no” — despite the fact that her telling him know was what led him to punish her in the first place. Not to mention the time that she told him no in an e-mail (“It was nice knowing you”), after which he broke into her apartment to confront her, and when she told him no as he was taking her shoes off he threatened to tie her legs. This is not a man who respects limits.

        Incidentally, when he handed her the contract in the first place, she was a virgin who hadn’t even masturbated before that day, making informed consent impossible, and the entire time they were discussing her limits, he was plying her with alcohol. Again: This is not a considerate man who cares about her limits and wants what’s best for her.

  9. February 12, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    [CN for general on-topicness]
    “There are two kinds of Kinky Books: books that accurately depict the things kinky people do and books that kinky people like.”

    A wise woman said that on a BDSM in SF/Fantasy panel that I was privileged to sit on.

    This book fails on both counts. Every kinky person I know spits at the mention of it. If we don’t launch into profanity laden tirades.

    It’s a big deal because it is causing harm.

    — Beating/dominating a sub with no interest whatever in her enjoyment, fulfillment, and well being

    This is happening. Now. In the real world. A friend in the Denver scene has had to intervene in a LOT of these scenes, since the books got popular, where there is no safeword and worse, no aftercare. A lot of the neophyte doms don’t even care and a lot of the subs think this is how things are supposed to be. He tries to teach the doms how to play properly, how to give aftercare, and they’re having none of it. “She’s mine, I’ll do what I like,” is a common sentiment expressed.

    • pheenobarbidoll
      February 12, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Yep. Which IMO, has gotten worse since these “books” came out. It’s astounding how negligent it is, and the author gives no fucks at all. The defenders of these books don’t care either, because to them, people actually into BDSM are degenerates and they don’t care what happens to people like that. A bunch of white, middle class, bored housewives have managed to make a sexual subculture incredibly dangeous. And they don’t care.

      • Karak
        February 12, 2015 at 10:14 pm

        I’m going to have to argue that the people causing the problem are the ones actually in the subculture and, more importantly, ya know, the ones actually beating and raping people.

        I mean…100 million copies sold. There aren’t that many white women, let alone middle class white women, in the country (USA).

        I have no great love in my heart for the Stepford Wives of the world, but they’re not having their sexual fantasies at people. They’re engaging in sexual practices you don’t approve of in the privacy of their own home which is complicated by disdain for their race and class.

        Idle white women are not the ones harming anyone in this story, any more than idle white men are. They’re not in the BDSM community and it is none of the community’s business what erotica they decide to read and engage in as individuals. Skewer the book as circulating in a sick institution, but do we have to hold the millions of people who read it up as icky icks people?

      • pheenobarbidoll
        February 12, 2015 at 11:13 pm

        Sexual practices I don’t approve of? Unless you mean rape then you’re making an assumption you want to rethink. And no. Newbies actively seek out books like this as guidelines to what good subs do. Abusers use this shit to support it. It’s not fucking happenstance that the numbers have jumped after these books came out. There’s a good damn reason people in the BDSM community are so pissed about this series and stupid movie. And it sure as shit isn’t about disapproving of sexual practices.

      • pheenobarbidoll
        February 12, 2015 at 11:20 pm

        Oh and you know what? Those idle white women don’t exist in a vacuum. Their fucking choices can have an affect on others. Buying crap that promotes abuse and considering it innocent mommy porn affects the real lives of other women. Sorry. You buy shit that makes abuse look like romance, guess the fuck what. You’re part of the problem. At some point, you’ve got to stop pretending your hands are clean.

      • karak
        February 13, 2015 at 12:52 am

        @pheenobarbidoll

        It’s pretty clear between this and Twilight (which this is a fanfiction of) that there are a lot of people really interested in romance/porn/erotica with elements of abuse and control and danger in it (It’s a vampire! It’s BDSM!!)

        It’s tapping into some kind of aggressive unfulfilled sexual fantasy for a lot of people (largely women). Men have had porn, publicly, like this for years, and it’s virtually faded to an issue so talked about it’s a non-issue.

        I’ve seen this kind of porn in manga doujin groups and on fanfic sites and lurking in RPG boards. It’s nothing new.

        So, when women are awkwardly stumbling into the mainstream media–when their pornographic sexual desires, however gracelessly handled–become A Big Thing, suddenly it’s their fault that young subs (especially women) don’t know how to navigate boundaries and young rapists (I won’t call them doms) exploit that.

        Women have been trying to find themselves sexually for years while men rape them. This is not the fault of this book. This is a new permutation on an old, old theme.

        Men do not rape women because some other women are literate and engage in rape and abuse fantasy. Men rape women because they are rapists. And they get away with it because we insist that a 40 year old woman sitting with a purple prose porn novel is the problem.

      • pheenobarbidoll
        February 13, 2015 at 7:29 am

        There is a difference between contributing to something and it being All Your Fault!!#

        Buying, supporting and defending harmful things contributes to the harm, contributes to its defense…but it doesn’t make it all your fault.

        Launching something into pop culture then flitting away
        ..man…privilege must be nice.

      • Denise Winters
        February 13, 2015 at 9:52 pm

        @Karak
        One of the biggest problems I have with these books is that they are not being peddled as “rape/abuse fantasy” but as romance. The relationships aren’t even seen as dub or non consent/abuse by the marketers and seemingly many of the people who enjoy them. Therefore, they are part of a long line of material that conflates stalking and emotional/verbal/physical abuse with romance. It is absolutely the fault of rapist and abusers when rape and abuse occurs and that shouldn’t be blamed on any bit of media. But that doesn’t mean that media can’t influence rape culture in ways that contributes to rape and abuse not being readily identified as such by some people because it is sometimes conflated with “romance.” Portraying emotionally abusive relationships and harmful kink practices as romance and real-world BDSM is harmful in that regard. It contributes to a view that that is how relationships are suppose to be which may make it more difficult for some people, not the abusers and rapists taking advantage but the people being manipulated/abused and others in their life, to realize early on what is happening. I think if these books were regarded as abuse fantasies and there was self-aware narrative and marketing acknowledging that the “romance” in Twighlight and the “BDSM” in Shades were not in any way romantic or healthy, then it might be a different conversation. But as is, the stories and marketing do not seem to acknowledge the relationships as anything other than ideal romances.

    • EG
      February 12, 2015 at 8:30 pm

      That’s terrible.

    • Zuleikha
      February 14, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      This is happening. Now. In the real world. A friend in the Denver scene has had to intervene in a LOT of these scenes, since the books got popular, where there is no safeword and worse, no aftercare.

      As opposed to what these newbie doms/subs would learn from reading the Story of O? or the Claiming of Sleeping Beauty? I have heard recommendations for erotica that portrays this, but there’s a LOT that doesn’t. Personally, I’ve never read or seen BDSM porn/erotica that portrays safewords and aftercare. (50 Shades of Grey does discuss safewords, by the way, so if people are learning from it, they should learn about safewords) Let’s not pretend that there’s something more harmful about 50 Shades than other BDSM lit that’s out there. BDSM fantasies are dangerous and violent. They’re not the way to learn safe, real life practice.

      And if your Denver friend is intervening in scenes, that means these scenes are happening at play parties where they can be viewed rather than someone’s private bedroom. IMHO, the problem there is in how the play parties are set up. A play party that doesn’t have greeters to establish safe rules as people apply, that doesn’t have the rules posted prominently near play spaces, that doesn’t have designated people whose role is to enforce that the rules are followed is not a safe play party.

      The books apparently got newbies interested in kink to an organized kink group. That is a good thing. But the kink group is failing them when they’re there by not having structures in place to enforce safe play.

  10. BBBShrewHarpy
    February 12, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    ” BDSM between two informed, consenting parties who are both into it is great.”

    Am I really the only person on a Feminist website who finds this troubling? With all our care for enthusiastic consent for pretty much anything does nobody even question the idea that consenting to being beaten, tied up, whatever is problematic? Does the idea of “aftercare” for a submissive really strike nobody else as pretty fucking hideous? Oh sure, I beat the shit out of you but only because you wanted it and now I’m going to take care of you because I care about you.

    • Kitty
      February 13, 2015 at 12:29 am

      Nope! Doesn’t strike me as hideous! I get awesome spankings AND then I get pampered and taken care of? Sign me right up.

    • Alara Rogers
      February 13, 2015 at 1:17 am

      Some people are wired to find pain pleasurable. This is probably biological and neurological, and one can even imagine evolutionary advantages to it. So getting upset because some of those people find others willing to perform this service for them and give them the pain, or other normally unpleasant sensations like humiliation or sensory deprivation, that they crave… well, that’s kind of assy.

      It is not okay to shame people for consensual kinks that harm no one, even if you don’t understand why they would possibly enjoy that. The only thing that’s problematic about BDSM is that the desire for the kink, without all the work the BDSM community has done to analyse and come up with protocols to make it safe, can turn extremely dangerous. In other words, the problem is not the BDSM community and the doms performing aftercare. The problem is that those with a desire to be doms and subs who are not part of the BDSM community — quite possibly inhibited from joining it by shame — do not get the knowledge they need to make their desires safe… but they still pursue them. Thus you end up with people who believe that there need to be beatings with no safewords and rapes and actual violence in the sex they like, as opposed to things done to the sub that the sub enthusiastically wants and consents to.

      Or, tldr, shaming people for practicing consensual kink is hella more dangerous and more likely to lead to true violence and rape than accepting that other people have desires you don’t and it’s ok.

      • ludlow22
        February 13, 2015 at 1:55 am

        Brava.

      • BBBShrewHarpy
        February 13, 2015 at 2:25 pm

        AMM summarized some of my concerns in zir post below. For people outside this scene the boundaries between consent and abuse are probably not so clear and the potential for abuse is huge. By coincidence I’m reading an article about Howard Becker and his observation that out of necessity and human inclinations, “deviant” groups have basically the same regulatory and membership processes as “normal” groups.

        Deep down, though, I suppose that what bothers me is more the gender dynamic than the taking of pleasure in pain. It’s difficult for me to transition from the perspective of woman taking pleasure in someone inflicting pain on her to that of the man taking pleasure in inflicting the pain on a woman and then looking after her. It seems too close to the dynamic of patriarchy for comfort – I choose my choices and all that.

        I understand other D/s gender combinations exist but IME apart from the Dominatrix in a paid role, it’s predominantly submissive women taking pain from dominant men.

        I realize this may seem assy and I don’t intend to be assy, but intent isn’t everything and I apologize for offending people in the BDSM community with my naive analysis.

      • Kitty
        February 14, 2015 at 4:07 am

        By coincidence I’m reading an article about Howard Becker and his observation that out of necessity and human inclinations, “deviant” groups have basically the same regulatory and membership processes as “normal” groups.

        I’m not sure what article you’re referring to, so I may be misinterpreting this, but if you’re implying that abuse happens in BDSM because BDSM groups draw their members from the general population and abuse happens in the general population, I’m certainly on that bandwagon, 100%. I don’t pretend kink is an abuse-free, feminist utopia of joyful reappropriation. I’ve seen some horrific things said and done in the name of BDSM. But I’ve seen some horrific things said and done in the name of [insert any movement, including feminism, here]. In the end, I don’t think of it as choosing my choice. I don’t present my kinkiness is a radical, feminist act. It’s just something I enjoy doing, something which has problematic aspects to be sure, but so does practically everything else I do in a regular day.

        It’s difficult for me to transition from the perspective of woman taking pleasure in someone inflicting pain on her to that of the man taking pleasure in inflicting the pain on a woman and then looking after her. It seems too close to the dynamic of patriarchy for comfort – I choose my choices and all that.

        I’m not a male sadist, so I can’t entirely speak to this. I’m sure there are male sadists with disgusting motivations and male sadists with benign motivations. When I’m topping someone, my general mindset goes along the path of: Wow, I would really enjoy it if someone did this to me, even if it is a painful thing–>This person has likewise expressed an interest in this thing–>It would be great if I could give this person this cool thing. I take a dim view of men as a rule, to be honest, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here and think there may be some men with similar thought patterns.

        I understand other D/s gender combinations exist but IME apart from the Dominatrix in a paid role, it’s predominantly submissive women taking pain from dominant men.

        This quote is the main reason I wanted to reply as I feel it’s pretty short-sighted (what is your experience, precisely?). Granted, there aren’t necessarily reliable statistics on this point. For sure, more men identify as tops, sadists and dominants (labels which are sometimes collectively referred to as “d-types”) than as bottoms, masochists and submissives (“s-types”), but I don’t think anyone’s pinned down how big the disparity is. Understandably, people don’t like to talk about this and when they do, men are often reluctant to self-identify as s-types, while women are often railroaded into identifying as s-types. That said, dominatrixes are really, really, really not the only alternative to sadistic male/masochistic female couples. Even if the man is the dominant one, many BDSMers don’t dabble in pain at all. Then there are many couples where the woman is the dominant one; couples who switch; couples where a dominant, masochistic man might order his submissive, sadistic female partner to hurt him; not to mention the whole queer BDSM scene, of course (wasn’t BDSM originally codified in its present form mostly in queer circles? Someone correct me if I’m wrong).

        Guess what type of couple the media most enjoys portraying though? Oh yeah, a pretty, petite, able-bodied, virginal 18-year-old white submissive female with a rich, older, white male dom. As with anything, if you want to find portrayals of practically any other type of human being, you have to go hunting; and of course, if you’re not even interested in kink, you won’t have any motivation to do that, so all you see is naive young subbie girls with the occasional evil dominatrix in leather.

      • BBBShrewHarpy
        February 14, 2015 at 10:19 am

        Thanks for your detailed answer, Kitty.

        I’m not sure what article you’re referring to, so I may be misinterpreting this, but if you’re implying that abuse happens in BDSM because BDSM groups draw their members from the general population and abuse happens in the general population, I’m certainly on that bandwagon, 100%. I don’t pretend kink is an abuse-free, feminist utopia of joyful reappropriation. I’ve seen some horrific things said and done in the name of BDSM. But I’ve seen some horrific things said and done in the name of [insert any movement, including feminism, here].

        The Becker article is about the need for rules and the fact that they develop in pretty much the same way in any group. People who break the rules are shunned/excluded in any group, out of necessity for survival and thriving of the group. I wasn’t really making any point with the reference but the article seemed really pertinent to a lot of the discussion around Caperton’s article, which involves dissociating what happens in 50SoG from the BDSM community. There are probably ways to slice and dice what is allowed or not and AMM’s post touches on the idea of pushing the rules, doesn’t that make it better etc. but ultimately the way any system can survive is with a set of rules (with consent being obviously the most important here).

        Wow, I would really enjoy it if someone did this to me, even if it is a painful thing–>This person has likewise expressed an interest in this thing–>It would be great if I could give this person this cool thing. I take a dim view of men as a rule, to be honest, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt

        See I can totally understand that because there is a “do unto others” aspect to it – kind of like mutual back rubs or oral (ok, I sound really vanilla, I know). You mention later that switching does occur in D/s relationships. Because in my (very limited, see below) experience, roles in D/s relationships are tightly enough described that it would not be typical to reverse them so that the Dom would not be viewing the experience as something ze would want to have happen to them. Clearly this is a misconception.

        This quote is the main reason I wanted to reply as I feel it’s pretty short-sighted (what is your experience, precisely?). Granted, there aren’t necessarily reliable statistics on this point. For sure, more men identify as tops, sadists and dominants (labels which are sometimes collectively referred to as “d-types”) than as bottoms, masochists and submissives (“s-types”), but I don’t think anyone’s pinned down how big the disparity is.

        Yes, my view is short-sighted because I have zero BDSM tendencies so anything I know is either from friends telling me or from reading. Given that I really dislike the idea of someone inflicting pain on someone else, it is unlikely that I would read anything other than blogs, memoirs etc. that were dished up as part of something else.

        My view of the female/male role disparity and my suspicion that the enterprise is anti-feminist by nature (please accept that I’m not shaming here) is based on this limited exposure. The friends who have spoken to me of their experience (and most of these I have known before they became kinky) don’t seem to have very healthy stories and I would say this accounts for 90% of my negativity. These stories include a friend who escaped from a very abusive vanilla relationship that scarred her emotionally, a friend who was very promiscuous in college and burned out as a result of her experiences when the guys she had picked out as “special” saw her as anything but and ended up being very careless with her feelings, another friend who had abuse in her past before I met her. The common thread was that being an s-type made them feel in control because they are accepting pain rather than receiving it unexpectedly. There is definitely pleasure involved and obviously I can’t deny their experiences or even question them (they are friends and I am there for them) but they concern me. Of course there is a selection effect here: it is quite possible there is a larger population of s-type women (or d-type) whom I meet and even befriend but who don’t tell me about it because their emotional lives are perfectly healthy and they don’t see any reason to talk to their vanilla friend about this stuff. Bue IME I would say the common thread is that my friends in the BDSM scene don’t like men very much, probably as a result of their experience of abuse/mistreatment. You also say above that you take a dim view of men and I think that’s the aspect that I really don’t understand: leaving yourself so vulnerable to a class of people you don’t much like, with a huge trust in some rules you have established for the experience.

        My only other experience counts as more of a close shave that showed me how the dynamic might be established. I met a man to whom I was attracted emotionally and physically and we grew close. He told me he and his wife were into scenes and voyeurism and went to clubs (I have no reason to believe pain was involved) and said he would like me to join him in such a venture. I suppose I was open to the suggestion because I was attracted to him but only because I was attracted to him, not because the scene had any interest for me. I didn’t do it and apart from a bit of snogging nothing happened between us, ever, but I could see someone being seduced by such a thing. I guess it’s not really a problem and that it’s good to be open to new experiences, but I do think there is a reason that the stereotype you mention of a virginal 18 year old girl sub exists and yes, I do worry about women being vulnerable. In a feminist world I should not worry because they have their agency and are not going to succumb to some dude unless it’s what they want, but that’s not the world we live in.

      • Zuleikha
        February 14, 2015 at 5:46 pm

        I understand other D/s gender combinations exist but IME apart from the Dominatrix in a paid role, it’s predominantly submissive women taking pain from dominant men.

        I had to do research on this from a class (which was useful because it was also when I started exploring personal interest). That was eeek… two decades ago, but at the time, the stats were that male submissives were, by a landslide, the most common role in BDSM groups. I didn’t take any count in the groups I was in, but male subs felt pretty common. You certainly could not make assumptions about what role someone preferred by their gender. There were some pro-Dommes in the group, but most of the female dominatrices were not pro.

        I feel like BDSM lit does disproportionately feature female subs as the POV character, but that may be perception bias since that’s what I was looking for. I would like to see more mainstream works feature gay and bisexual couples, genderfluidity, and male submission/female dominance. I think that’s a slightly different discussion than 50 Shades, which was mainstreamed but is definitely not a mainstream work (or even really a professional one).

      • Kitty
        February 14, 2015 at 6:57 pm

        Man, I have so much to say to this (I have a reply all typed out), but it’s quite personal and I’m shy about posting it!

      • BBBShrewHarpy
        February 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm

        I’d love to read it providing you’re comfortable about posting, Kitty.

        Zuleikha, thanks for your insights regarding the gender dynamics. It’s certainly nothing I’d have guessed.

        Elsewhere in this thread, Graphictruth posted this: “I’ve heard the same thing powerfully articulated by femsubs, that submission is necessary to them and that their choices revolve around how do do it ethically and safely. If they try to clamp it down and behave “properly” it will leak out and they will find themselves in harm’s way or manipulating others into creating the dynamic they prefer.”

        It’s something I’ve wondered about with my friends who are now involved in BDSM and who leave behind a slew of dysfunctional relationships. Is it that they were looking for something in a vanilla relationship that wasn’t there rather than the more obvious assumption that the horrible relationship pushing them into trying something else? I’m not convinced but it’s worth considering.

    • Karak
      February 13, 2015 at 2:03 am

      There is totally enthusiastic consent for everything from the totally vanilla to the hardcore.

      Some people like to lift weights, or compete in punishing athletics, or climb mountains without ropes. All things that can–and do–often hurt, sometimes seriously. That’s okay.

      • PrettyAmiable
        February 13, 2015 at 9:07 am

        I really like that analogy – thanks :)

    • Karak
      February 13, 2015 at 2:03 am

      There is totally enthusiastic consent for everything from the totally vanilla to the hardcore.

      Some people like to lift weights, or compete in punishing athletics, or climb mountains without ropes. All things that can–and do–often hurt, sometimes seriously. That’s okay.

    • ludlow22
      February 14, 2015 at 3:58 am

      Like, you can definitely critique BDSM practices. Kink isn’t immune to criticism. For example, I think it’s probably problematic that there’s a strong correlation between male/dom and female/sub in BDSM, and that’s probably tied to gender roles and patriarchy and all that other fun stuff.

      But the fundamental idea that people who get off on things you don’t are *wrong?* Yeah, that’s not going to fly very far.

      • BBBShrewHarpy
        February 14, 2015 at 10:23 am

        I think your first paragraph is what I have said and is what I worry about.

        I don’t think I said anything like your second paragraph.

        In this and your earlier post you seem to be reading things into my thinking that I haven’t stated and don’t feel.

      • ludlow22
        February 14, 2015 at 11:37 am

        No, that’s not true. You wrote:

        With all our care for enthusiastic consent for pretty much anything does nobody even question the idea that consenting to being beaten, tied up, whatever is problematic?

        My point is questioning the way gender roles and the broader culture impact the way people practice BDSM. Yours is a challenge to the existence of BDSM itself.

      • BBBShrewHarpy
        February 14, 2015 at 11:43 am

        I introduced it by saying “On a Feminist website”, implying that it was from a feminist perspective that this bothered me rather than just “Ugh ick, wrong”.

        And I explained it later:

        “Deep down, though, I suppose that what bothers me is more the gender dynamic than the taking of pleasure in pain. It’s difficult for me to transition from the perspective of woman taking pleasure in someone inflicting pain on her to that of the man taking pleasure in inflicting the pain on a woman and then looking after her. It seems too close to the dynamic of patriarchy for comfort – I choose my choices and all that. “

  11. Fiona
    February 13, 2015 at 6:14 am

    Thank you for this post. I have been feeling this way since I read the book. I was so sad at the end. It was dreadful. I can not imagine the movie.

  12. AMM
    February 13, 2015 at 6:32 am

    The problem is that those with a desire to be doms and subs who are not part of the BDSM community — quite possibly inhibited from joining it by shame — do not get the knowledge they need to make their desires safe… but they still pursue them.

    Well, there’s also the problem of predators — people who knowingly ignore their partner’s non-consent and perhaps do unsafe things to them as well. One of the things that has scared me off from trying BDSM as a single person is that I keep reading reports of abusive behavior, and of BDSM communities that side with and protect abusers and ostracise victims when they complain.

    This sort of thing happens in non-BDSM communities, too, but BSDM practitioners consent to a lot of things that would be seen as unconscienceably abusive in any other context, so predators can get away with a lot more if they claim it was just BDSM (anybody remember the “rough sex” defense?)

    Another problem is that pushing boundaries and “consensual” non-consensuality seem to be popular ideas in BDSM communities. Back when you could see BDSMers discussing BDSM on publicly visible websites (i.e., not members-only), I often read people portraying edging past a sub’s stated limits as “edgy” and good for the sub, and a lot of people agreed with them. Another popular topic was getting subs to “total submission,” meaning that they were no longer emotionally able to say no to anything. “No safeword” BDSM seems to also be a thing. I don’t know how widely these things were done in practice, but it sure seemed like a lot of people not only didn’t think there was anything wrong with them, but also thought that these things were what “real” BDSMers should aspire to.

  13. February 13, 2015 at 8:53 am

    well, I don’t know. That was a really long post with a lot of examples of things that seem rather problematic. Then again, its a book. Like, an apparently shitty, poorly written fan-fic piece of smut. According to some anyway. I guess its all relative.

    I can see the point that supporting this book is possibly damaging to those who are finding themselves in abusive or perilous situations because they didn’t do their homework or whatever. Didn’t prepare to do it “properly”. I can see that point, but I don’t 100% buy it. I think Karak’s points above about not blaming the bored housewives(and others) who consume this as cheap porn are just as valid.

    I agree the book sounds like trash. But I also think there are way more trashy books in the world than non trashy books. I think this is one of those popular because its popular things that always perplex those who do not follow the herd as readily, or who use more critical thinking skills when deciding what media to consume.

    Here is a webcomic (not written by me) that has something to say about it. Food for thought: 50 shades of my kind of trash

    I also think that censorship is inherently dangerous. That being said, there is personal responsibility that must be exercised by the artist.

    It’s kind of like BDSM. It’s inherently dangerous, but if personal responsibility is exercised, one can mitigate the danger. (apparently. I’ve never tried it.)

    I guess you have to ask yourself who is shouldering more of the responsibility? the author? or the BDSMer’s who aren’t “doing it properly”

    After you solve that riddle, you can ask yourself “who are we to judge either way?”

    • February 13, 2015 at 9:45 am

      I also think that censorship is inherently dangerous. That being said, there is personal responsibility that must be exercised by the artist.

      I really wish people would look up the meaning of censorship.

      I don’t recall anywhere in the post or ensuing comments where anyone suggested that governing bodies should sanction or imprison E.L. James for her terrible book.

      Suggesting that publishers, movie studios, the book-reading and movie-going public practice some critical thinking before promoting the shit out of and/or buying into this kind of harmful drivel is not censorship.

      In this case, the writer, the publishers, the movie studios are not exercising personal responsibility in promoting this kind of garbage.

      • February 13, 2015 at 11:10 am

        So Andie, it sounds like we agree that there is an element of personal responsibility and critical thinking involved. I’m not sure what term I should’ve used other than censorship. I didn’t mean to imply that we were talking about governing bodies were potentially getting involved by putting the author in jail.

        What I did mean, is that people are calling into question the validity of this book even existing. At least that’s how I read it, (and maybe I’m wrong). I just think it has a right to exist, and people have a right to read it and get turned on or whatever by it, and you have a right to hate it and I have a right to be ambivalent about it. yay everybody! We all win.

      • PrettyAmiable
        February 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm

        I had the same reaction as Andie. The problem with the use of the word “censorship” when you mean “people think you should exercise critical thinking before amplifying dangerous messages” is that your argument hinges on the emotional reaction people have to the word “censorship.”

        Censorship: terrible. Critical thought: AWESOME.

        I’m not really with you on the artwork tangent below either. What you’re suggesting is that fanfiction.net is the single largest depository of artwork anywhere in the world. Nope. Not on board.

      • February 13, 2015 at 2:06 pm

        PrettyAmiable, it sounds like you are assigning value to certain words or phrases, like “censorship” or “art”. I’ll agree that a pretty standard visceral reaction to the term censorship is “terrible”… I still don’t think I used it incorrectly. you might also say a reaction to the word “art” is “good” I disagree on that too. Lots of bad art out there.

        If people are saying that they would like it if this book didn’t exist, I feel they are at least “wishing censorship” on the thing. That’s fine. I’m kind of on board, at least in sentiment. From what little I know about it, it sounds terrible. I flipped through it at the store one time, and found several passages where the female protag would say something about the guy, only to follow it up with “holy fuck” or something like that. It seemed pretty laughable from my skimming. The stuff pointed out in the post all sound pretty bad, and it’s definitely a horrible message for impressionable people.

        But, I personally have to maintain a wide definition of art. And it doesn’t contain value judgements like “fanfic can’t be art because fanfic is bad or poorly done.” I think that is the wrong approach.

        I am an artist, and one that doesn’t really get a lot of compliments or any kind of regard as being “good” or “skillful” in a general sense. I still consider myself an artist. My skill set may be equivalent (in quality) to that of a fanfic writer. So what? It’s art. period. Having put this book in the category of art, I feel it is awarded the protection against censorship that all other art should be afforded. That’s just my take on it.

        Basically, I feel like, ok, so its a terrible book with bad or rather “anti feminist” messages in it. So what? don’t read it. I kind of wish it was never written either… but so what? who cares about my wishes or opinions on this book? I can stuff them in a jar and toss it in the ocean for as much practical value my opinions on this book have.

        When things like this happen, I don’t see any other rational response other than to accept that someone created an artistic creation that you are not fond of, and because of some set of circumstances it has become a cultural item, consumed by many, and that’s kind of it. It sold well, people made some money, others got some cheap porn out of it. Some trees died. And other people spent time in front of their computers typing stuff about it. All in all it could’ve went down worse.

        I don’t know, I might be having a different conversation than everyone else.

        I just don’t like when conversations start popping up like “such and such is bad art or damaging, so we should destroy it based solely on our reaction to it.”

        Art as a concept is more sacred than that. Ask Charlie Hebdo what they think about people wanting to tear down art they don’t agree with.

      • February 13, 2015 at 2:21 pm

        If people are saying that they would like it if this book didn’t exist, I feel they are at least “wishing censorship” on the thing.

        What? No. That’s not the same thing at all. That’s like saying “I wish my neighbors didn’t have such noisy dogs” means I wish they hadn’t been able to get noisy dogs, or that their noisy dogs should be taken away. I don’t. I just wish I could sleep in on a Saturday. So maybe I talk to the neighbors about keeping the dogs inside more, or maybe I put one of those sonic egg things next to the fence so at least they’re quiet when they’re near my house. But none of those things is anything like keeping them from having the noisy dogs.

        “I wish E.L. James hadn’t written such an awful book” just means “I wish this awful book wasn’t something we had to deal with.” But since it is, we get to point out how wrong and irresponsible the book is. She gets her opinion — that the book is great as it is — and we get ours — that additional things need to be said to put the book in its proper context. None of that is anything like censorship, whether or not you want it to be.

        Basically, I feel like, ok, so its a terrible book with bad or rather “anti feminist” messages in it. So what? don’t read it.

        Again, no. “Women might romanticize Christian Grey to the point that they end up in abusive relationships because they think that kind of behavior is okay, but it doesn’t affect me so I just won’t read the book” is not something I feel comfortable saying. Which is why I haven’t said it. I’ve said other things. Here, specifically. And that’s not censorship, either.

        Ask Charlie Hebdo what they think about people wanting to tear down art they don’t agree with.

        What?!

      • February 13, 2015 at 3:15 pm

        @Caperton. I follow your reasoning with the barking dogs and all that. You have a point. You definitely can dislike the dogs(book, movie) and still feel that the owners(author) have a right to have them at the same time. I totally agree.

        I really wish I had another term for censorship I guess because people are getting hung up on that. What I am saying is that some people here and other places are kind of acting like the book is something that needs action taken against it.

        “I wish E.L. James hadn’t written such an awful book” just means “I wish this awful book wasn’t something we had to deal with.” But since it is, we get to point out how wrong and irresponsible the book is. She gets her opinion — that the book is great as it is — and we get ours

        again, I agree, she gets her say, you get yours, and I get mine. I do disagree that it’s something you “have to deal with” though… like, unless I’m missing something, no one here is personally responsible for reacting to this, or policing it or whatever. Except for whatever personal responsibility you feel that you have.

        Call that what you want. And if I have read people’s comments and posts incorrectly than I guess I have egg on my face.

        I feel like (no matter what term you call that) it’s wanting to disrupt or destroy a work of art. You and everyone else has that right to want that. To want the destruction of the book, to want EL James to never write again, to want time to reverse so someone can knock the laptop out of her hands, whatever would “solve” this crisis.

        All I am saying is that as valid and as right headed as those wants and wishes are, it does nothing to stop the avenue for works like this to enter the world. I totally agree the book has potential to be harmful. Almost anything in this world does as well. One can smother someone to death with a pillow too.

        I see it like this:

        1. It’s a work of Art (regardless of value statements or safety concerns, still art unfortunately)

        2. Art has a right to exist. All people have the right to create.

        3. Wanting it to not exist is a valid opinion that we are all entitled to.

        4. Our opinions are worthless in terms of practical real life effect on the book. It exists.

        “Women might romanticize Christian Grey to the point that they end up in abusive relationships because they think that kind of behavior is okay, but it doesn’t affect me so I just won’t read the book” is not something I feel comfortable saying.

        I never said to say that. But really, if people here feel strongly that the book is going to cause damage, then by all means advocate against it, or alternatively take steps to educate people who may have been negatively effected by this book. Maybe posting on here is your way of doing that, if so great, I fully support that.

        my invoking Charlie Hebdo might seem crass, and if so, I apologize. Obviously, it’s a completely different scope. Putting scope aside, I see it as a valid metaphor. a work of art illicits a negative response from a group of people, for content that they feel is harmful to a set of ideals they hold dear. They want it to not exist.

        I am not implying anyone is going to go to the measures that the extremists went to with the massacre. I just find it ironic that when something like that happens, we can all pretty much agree that the Charlie cartoonists had a right to make their art. for this book, it’s like we are all agreeing that the author is in the wrong. Is she? Lots of people thought CH were being racist. Lots of people love this 50 shades book. Who gets to map the boundaries of acceptable art?

        Art is one of those all or nothing things. Either we all get to shoot our mouths off about whatever we want, or no one does. I vote for all.

        I feel like I am coming across as a major jerk. That is easy to do online, and not my intention. I just want to end by saying that I respect each and every opinion I read here, and I applaud everyone’s intentions for wanting to steer this thing in a better direction for the sake of potential victims.

    • February 13, 2015 at 10:22 am

      The thing is, all of those examples? Took place outside of the playroom. They’re just straight-up abusive partner red flag material. So a woman who isn’t interested in BDSM at all, who’s thinking, “I don’t want the pain thing, but I’d love to have a strong, self-assured man like Christian,” is still getting a dangerous message.

      His anger scares me. I’m afraid he’ll hurt me. I don’t want to do this, but I’m afraid of losing him. I hate it when he’s violent, but the few times he’s sweet and tender make up for it. He hurts me and controls me, but it’s because of his abusive past, and I can heal him with my love. I want to leave, but he’s emotionally fragile and I can’t just abandon him like that. He stalks me, but it’s just because he wants me to be safe. He’s possessive, but it’s just because he loves me so much he wants me all to himself. He pressures me and forces me to have sex with him, but I come at the end so it’s really all okay.

      You don’t have to be into blindfolds and spanking to end up accepting abuse because of that kind of thinking — and that’s what Anastasia is dealing with throughout the entire book, whether they’re playing or not. Discard the BDSM aspect of it, and it’s still dangerous. Romanticizing that kind of behavior is bad news for everyone.

      Like I said in my post, people are free to write and read whatever they want, and I’d never argue that E.L. James shouldn’t have been allowed to write this book, or that people shouldn’t be allowed to read it. But it’s irresponsible to present it as an edgy, sexy fantasy without acknowledging that the real-life implications can be damaging. Whereas James outright denies that it’s abuse, and says it’s actually empowering — so even readers who do find it questionable are assured by the author herself that no, it’s really all okay.

      • February 13, 2015 at 11:29 am

        you make a good point about the potentially problematic or harmful material existing outside the BDSM scenes. I wasn’t thinking along those lines. I also haven’t read the book(s) and don’t plan to. But you did make that clear in the post.

        I still think if it involves content of a work of art, however much of a piece of dreck it is deemed to be, then you have to tread lightly when talking about what is “allowable”. everyone here on this thread, or anywhere else has the right to love or hate the book(s) or movie(s)… but that doesn’t affect the rights of the artist to produce or the audience to consume, or even the BDSM neophytes to look to it for guidance.

        I’ll agree it seems like a shame that this is popular given the poor messages it seems to have dripping from every page. But I kind of feel like “add it to the pile” there are probably millions and millions of examples of works of art that “do damage”. All the more of a shame I suppose.

        In fact, I would say that if you consider any piece of art at all, and if you were able to poll the planet on whether it was “damaging” in some way, way more often than not, someone somewhere will have a problem with the vast majority of them. If not, it’s not much of a work of art in my opinion.

        Even the Mona Lisa might piss of some people, because they might view that she as a female should be covered up in a Burqua or some other garment that is important to their beliefs. (for example) I know I am reaching with that statement, but not by too much, and I think my point is valid.

        Art, and yes I include shitty fan-fic under the vast umbrella of art, challenges perceptions.

      • February 13, 2015 at 11:47 am

        I misspelled “burqa” above, and also said “piss of some people” when I meant “piss off some people”.

        Also… I don’t get any points for the comparison between responsible BDSM and being a responsible artist? I thought that was astute. Not to pat myself on the back too hard (I might be accused of self flagellation :)

      • Alara Rogers
        February 14, 2015 at 6:32 am

        I don’t think anyone on this thread was ever talking about allowable.

        I would be perfectly happy if 50 Shades of Grey had been written and published as exactly what it was… a bad Twilight fanfic in a no-supernatural-AU where the characters are OOC even for Twilight, published on a fanfic board somewhere. However, this did not happen. This piece of writing was picked up and shared with the entire world, and promoted by the publishing industry, for money, without anyone considering the message it sends. I mean, at the very least, the Twilight Saga ends with Bella achieving literally equal power to Edward — she doesn’t learn to tiptoe around him, she becomes a powerful vamp who can kick him to the curb. Ana never does achieve any power over Christian that he cannot take from her if his feelings change. And Edward was a stalker, but he was not nearly as abusive as Christian is.

        In the fanfic community, because it’s online and therefore has huge overlap with social justice circles, extremely problematic writing gets critiqued, and comments get left on it explaining the issues, so the act of reading the story usually also involves reading the commentariat, who often are savvy enough about feminist issues to leave some posts explaining the problem. So you can enjoy some hot but problematic porn without worrying so much that naive youngsters will be influenced into thinking that this is what reality is like. 50 Shades of Grey belongs there, along with all the “Loki is an innocent woobie who never did anything wrong” fics and “Beverly Crusher is a bitch because I want Picard and Riker to hook up” fics and “it’s totally okay for Buffy and Giles to have sex because mentor/student with a 25 year age difference is hot” fics. Fanfic is a wonderful medium, but a lot of its creations come straight from the writer’s id, with no filtering, and so the filter function is performed by the commenters. People who read Buffy/Giles *know* that a relationship between a high school student and a 40-something teacher she must trust with her life is wrong; they read it because it punches their buttons, it’s fantasy, and because it’s being published in a community where everyone lets their id hang out and the readership will point out what’s problematic, there’s little fear that readers will emulate the behavior.

        This is not true for mass market publishing. The only communication the average reader of 50 Shades is receiving about it is coming from the people selling it to her. They tell her it’s a hot, kinky romance and that Ana can heal Christian with love and it’s not abuse. She has no one to point out to her that this isn’t true, that the story is really problematic, and that it has nothing to do with how BDSM is supposed to work and Christian Grey would be shunned by the kinkster community as a predator. Normally, stories with really, really problematic shit being presented as normal and wonderful will either not get published at all, or they won’t get particularly widespread attention, or they aren’t that problematic in the end. This one is a perfect storm of similarity to a prior bestseller, the promise of racy kink, and a total lack of responsibility from the editors, publishers and the writer (who could, you know, say in interviews that Christian Grey is a fantasy and his behavior is actually abusive, but no, she doesn’t.)

        I do not believe 50 Shades of Grey should have been published in mass marketing. I believe that the original publication in the fanfic community was the appropriate place for it, and it should have stayed there. I am not in favor of any legal restrictions whatsoever that would have required that to happen — in fact I am strongly in favor of the legality of transformative works, or in other words, publishing your fanfic with the serial numbers filed off — so I am not calling for censorship, any more than wishing that my mailman hadn’t rear-ended my car means I want his driver’s license taken away. (He wasn’t driving a mail truck at the time, he just recognized our address from my driver’s license when we exchanged info.) But given that it has happened, I believe that the only appropriate response is to broadly disseminate the information about how badly screwed up this story is, and repeat it as loudly as possible, in as many channels as possible.

        BTW… there are many, many stories that are popular that presented something problematic. Girl With Dragon Tattoo was mentioned. The issue is not that abuse exists in a story. Christian Grey could be an abuser, and if the story was a tragedy about a naive young woman being sucked into a web of lies and abuse by a wealthy, hot predator, no one would be objecting. In Girl With Dragon Tattoo, the rapist who victimizes the main character is presented as disgusting and completely in the wrong; the brutal assault she commits on him is presented as something she did because she is a violent and screwed-up person but also because she is trying to survive in a system that has deprived her of the legal power to protect herself, so she must turn to vigilante tactics. No one was supposed to get the idea that these rapes were hot, sexy, romantic, or something to be emulated. The closest thing we’ve had to a bestseller that presented fucked-up stuff which it claimed to be sexy love, recently… was Twilight itself. Which feminists *did* complain about, loudly.

      • February 14, 2015 at 7:58 am

        @Alara Rogers… All good points. I’m with you guys on this. I agree it’s not a good thing that this was published so widely, and read so widely. There are some points here that I hadn’t considered mostly because of my ignorance of fanfic and twilight. My larger point was kind of a big tangent. I thought it was related, but it’s not. Thank you for the well thought out reply. :)

      • a lawyer
        February 13, 2015 at 4:12 pm

        Romanticizing that kind of behavior is bad news for everyone.

        But aren’t there a ton of books in which some character is objectively doing bad things, or being an asshole, but the other parties don’t think so? Or the other people fall in love with him/her anyway? Or the author doesn’t write it in a way that shows as much distaste for the actions as you might want?

        Other than the fact that this book uses BSDM as the plot point and that it sold way more copies than it deserved given its quality, how is it so different from any other book in which people do bad shit? Why should this book, in particular, develop some strange obligation to Step Carefully when buying, reading, or recommending?

      • February 13, 2015 at 4:22 pm

        @a lawyer. Spot on. I don’t see that this book should have a different set of rules applied to it than any book that features violence, racism, sexism, or any other kind of “unacceptable” behavior. (whatever unacceptable really means… that is personal to everyone)

      • February 13, 2015 at 5:22 pm

        Good thing that’s not happening then.

      • February 13, 2015 at 5:07 pm

        Why should this book, in particular, develop some strange obligation to Step Carefully when buying, reading, or recommending?

        There are lots of books in which people do Bad Shit. Most of them don’t become record-breaking bestsellers where the irresponsible selfish abusive jerk who should be accompanied by the Jaws theme wherever he goes (thanks for that Caperton) is presented as the epitome of Desirable Maleness.

        SotBO: Art/Entertainment that becomes super-popular is always going to be examined by more people more frequently than less/popular art/entertainment – why is anybody surprised about this?

        As the mounds of words devoted to a pop culture “hit” grow, the fine-tooth examination of problematic details naturally grows as well, and people who’ve been writing about specific social issues for years and decades rewrite their usual arguments through the lens of the latest pop culture hit where they can see relevance, because they know that more eyeballs will be drawn into seeing the relevance of their social criticism through that pop culture lens.

        Feminists have been banging on about the toxic nature of many/most “romance” tropes for centuries now (read your Wollestonecraft). Every single time theres a big pop culture hit containing those toxic tropes, feminists use it as a jumping-off point to continue banging on about how dangerous and damaging it is when abusive relationship behaviours are glamorised as romantic. Why would we stop doing this as we watch the saturation marketing for this film adaptation of a book feminists have criticised ever since it was published being cynically released as a supposed ultimate Valentine’s Day date movie?

        BTW, TV Tropes has a page listing all the tropes employed in Fifty Shades. If anyone reading is not already aware of just how creeeeepy so many romance tropes really are, follow the links to each example, it’s a damn good introduction.

      • February 13, 2015 at 5:45 pm

        P.S. A very short thought to add to my above:

        Why should this book, in particular, develop some strange obligation to Step Carefully when buying, reading, or recommending?

        No critic is singling this work out as uniquely worthy of any “strange obligation”. This work is merely being held up as the latest in a long line of examples used to promote critical art/media consumption in general. That this work is being heavily marketed as uniquely suitable fare for a commercialised holiday that feminists have spent decades critiquing on its separate demerits merely marks an especially powerful critical conjunction.

      • February 13, 2015 at 6:25 pm

        Good thing that’s not happening then.

        I don’t know. Caperton tore it a new one. I haven’t been following this blog all that long, but did say the girl with the dragon tattoo get a similar level of treatment. It had some rape scenes i believe (didn’t read that one either). The scope might be different, but you get what I’m saying.

      • February 13, 2015 at 6:34 pm

        I don’t know. Caperton tore it a new one.

        So now analyzing and/or criticizing art at all qualifies as censorship and trying to destroy it and disrupt it and tear it down like the attack on Charlie Hebdo? I’m starting to suspect that you and I will never see eye to eye on this subject.

      • Zuleikha
        February 14, 2015 at 5:54 pm

        Whereas James outright denies that it’s abuse, and says it’s actually empowering — so even readers who do find it questionable are assured by the author herself that no, it’s really all okay

        You are completely misrepresenting what EL James said in the linked interview. She said women found reading the books to be sexually empowering. She did not say the books portray a sexually empowering relationship.

        I don’t think she denied that Christian’s behavior towards Ana is abusive either, although I think that’s a little more up for interpretation. Her quotes are “Nothing freaks me out more than people who say this is about domestic abuse,” she says. “Bringing up my book in this context trivializes the issues, doing women who actually go through it a huge disservice. It also demonizes loads of women who enjoy this lifestyle, and ignores the many, many women who tell me they’ve found the books sexually empowering.” She’s earlier explained that she wrote the book for herself to explore and express her own sexual fantasies. So I interpret that quote to be her saying that it trivializes issues of domestic abuse to say that women can’t tell the difference between what works in a sexual fantasy and what works in real life.

      • February 14, 2015 at 7:14 pm

        I think that’s a very generous read on your part. I tend to take at her words:

        “Nothing freaks me out more than people who says this book is about domestic abuse. Bringing up my book in this context [in the context of domestic abuse, saying that Christian’s behavior toward Ana is abusive] trivializes the issues, doing women who actually go through it a huge disservice [despite the fact that numerous women who actually have been through it say that Christian’s behavior is completely identical to the way their abusers treated them]. It also demonizes loads of women who enjoy this lifestyle [conflating Christian’s abusive behavior with BDSM as a whole], and ignores the many, many women who tell me they’ve found the books sexually empowering [which is irrelevant in this discussion, because identifying Christian’s behavior as abusive doesn’t mean that women don’t still get their rocks off to the book].”

        She doesn’t say anything there about women not knowing the difference between sexual fantasy and real life. She says that saying her book depicts domestic abuse trivializes actual domestic abuse, which is absolutely not the case.

      • EG
        February 14, 2015 at 8:48 pm

        I’m not so sure people do know the difference between fantasy and reality in personal dynamics. A friend of mine was asked by an online magazine to review the movie Twilight. She went to the midnight showing the night it came out and interviewed about ten different young women on line. She read them a list of signs of an abusive relationship–all things that Edward does to Bella, and she gave examples–and asked what they thought of the movie given that list, and to a woman they all said some version of “I wish someone loved me enough to do that to me.”

        This is hardly a scientific survey, but I think there’s a difference between knowing that Christopher Reeve can’t really fly and knowing that the relationship model you’re being bombarded with in pop culture is actually abusive and dangerous.

      • EG
        February 14, 2015 at 8:59 pm

        Another example: when I was in my early 20s and my then-boyfriend was in his late 20s, we were talking about how fucked up it was when older married men took up with teenage girls. He related this conversation to an old female friend of his, and she said “Oh, when I was a teenager, we all had big crushes on grown men and would’ve loved it if they’d had affairs with us.” I said “She’s operating off her teenage fantasy. I lived the reality. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

        So here we have at least one woman nearing 30 at this point who couldn’t recognized the difference between a teenage fantasy and reality.

    • February 13, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      Am I using this blog wrong? I’m not being facetious. I really want to know. I went off quite a bit on this thread about my theories on art etc, and I’m not sure if it was welcomed or warranted. I felt like those things were appropriate for the topic, but I could be very wrong. Is the purpose of this site to kind of blow off steam about upsetting things etc? Are discussions like this getting in the way of said blowing of said steam? Or is it welcome? If I’m doing it wrong, someone clue me in.

      • February 13, 2015 at 7:12 pm

        The focus of the post was on how abusive behaviours are commonly glamourised as romantic, which is a longstanding feminist concern, and how 50 Shades is a particularly egregious example. By focussing so hard with comment after comment after comment about your “theories on art”, you have derailed the focus of the thread. If you want to go off on a tangent to the topic of a thread in future, please use the spillover thread – that’s why it’s there.

      • February 13, 2015 at 7:27 pm

        ok, makes sense. Thanks for the note on how it works.

    • February 13, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      So now analyzing and/or criticizing art at all qualifies as censorship and trying to destroy it and disrupt it and tear it down like the attack on Charlie Hebdo? I’m starting to suspect that you and I will never see eye to eye on this subject.

      Well, I’m not saying that criticism qualifies as censorship. And really your original post doesn’t either. You’re right, I’m not sure anyone actually said that it should be censored, but I feel like that was the thrust of the arguments in this thread. Maybe I read too much into it. I dunno. I think we actually agree on most of this. Like, reading your original post, I was basically nodding my head the whole time.

      It’s just, I have a strong distaste for decreeing something as “not valid” I guess is the best term I can think of. Again, no one necessarily actually said those words, but this is what I am gleaning here. That this book shouldn’t exist. I mean, some people like this thing, right? Or else there are approximately 100 million hate-readers out there. Terrible tropes or not. It’s a thing out in the world. It’s in people’s minds now. The author should’ve done better, but she didn’t. It shouldn’t have gotten so popular, but it did. We shouldn’t be having this conversation, but we are.

      Criticize all you want, like I said, we all have the right to say what we want. I even agree… it seems like a steaming turd of a book.

      I feel like I started defending a point that maybe didn’t enter the conversation until I started defending it. :/

      Censorship sucks, but feministe and Caperton et al are cool.

  14. February 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    So a woman who isn’t interested in BDSM at all, who’s thinking, “I don’t want the pain thing, but I’d love to have a strong, self-assured man like Christian,” is still getting a dangerous message.

    Don’t forget ‘rich.’ From what I understand the character is, like, a gazillionaire. ‘If you want to get a rich man you need to be submissive’ is also a dangerous message.

    • February 14, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      That is a very very good point. Combined with all the other messages about how to “land” a rich man by complying with elite fashion/grooming standards and elite conspicuous consumption expectations while making all the work required to maintain that level of everyday elegant display look totally effortless and as if 3/4 of it is just how they naturally happen to be anyway because that’s how exceptional the elite are.

      That’s a ton of invisible physical, intellectual and emotional labour that is meant to go unrecognised because it’s the accepted *minimum* standard, and then of course such women get scorned as “lazy” because their work is designed to fly under everybody’s radar.

      I’m not a fan of conspicuous consumption for high-status displays, but as a performer I’m very aware of how much work goes into staging any show. At least directors and stage managers and sound/lighting engineers get public credit for their efforts that show the performers at their best.

  15. PrettyAmiable
    February 13, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    First – congratulations to anyone who has the capacity to wade through 50 shades, because so much of what you highlighted in the post makes me seethe with rage.

    Second – has anyone done a similar analysis on the source material for Feministe (i.e. Twilight)? I ask, because vampire Christian is creepy as eff too.

    • February 13, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      I’m curious. I see that it’s called fanfic of Twilight. I’m not familiar with that book serious either ( mean I haven’t read them or watched the movies). So, like how are these works related? does 50 shades feature characters from the twilight books? I really don’t know the connection and I’m curious what it is.

      • February 13, 2015 at 5:21 pm

        James originally wrote a fanfic based on Twilight and published it to an online fanfic forum. The main characters were originally Bella and Edward from the Twilight novels, it was a rewrite of them meeting in an urban sexy-adult environment rather than a rural sexy-teens high-school setting. When it became very popular online the author renamed her characters, took out the vampire/werewolf references and went for a book deal.

        Feminists banged on about the abusive romance tropes in Twilight too, BTW.

      • February 13, 2015 at 6:27 pm

        Thanks for the explanation. That seems like an unusual way to get a book published.

      • February 13, 2015 at 7:05 pm

        It’s becoming more and more common for book deals to be made on the back of extremely popular internet thingys. Have you really not noticed that this is a trend?

      • Godfrey de Bouillon
        February 18, 2015 at 6:05 pm

        And, fortunately, Twilight was immensely popular with huge numbers of American women who don’t care what feminists think.

      • February 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm

        Twilight was immensely popular mostly with very young teenage girls, many of whom have since become feminists and marvel at what the hell they were thinking 5 years ago, so yeah nah bro. As P.T. Barnum said, ‘nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public’, which is why reality TV where the contestants are deliberately humiliated is extremely popular. Lots of people criticise all sorts of entertainments which they find tasteless/problematic in various ways, knowing that not everybody will listen to their critiques, but knowing also that some people will listen and will appreciate the insights.

        (BTW, using your postgrad email addy when playing reactionary culture warrior on the interwebs is not the cleverest attempt at pseudonymity the world has ever seen, “Godfrey”. 2 minutes on Google and all that – you might want to make a bit more effort.)

      • Aaliyah
        February 20, 2015 at 7:49 pm

        And, fortunately, Twilight was immensely popular with huge numbers of American women who don’t care what feminists think.

        Wow, there are women who read the book and aren’t feminists? Thank you for providing such an insightful and unprecedented observation. /sarcasm

        The fact that there are tons of women who don’t take a critical approach to heavily misogynistic fiction doesn’t undermine feminist criticisms, but instead highlights their relevance.

    • Li
      February 13, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      There’s a bunch of analyses of Twilight in the archives.

    • EDguy
      February 14, 2015 at 12:11 am

      Ana Mardoll has done a bunch of deconstructions of Twilight chapters: http://www.anamardoll.com/2011/02/twilight-twilight-deconstruction-index.html
      Reading through her analysis, it’s pretty clear that many of the problematic issues in 50SoG are also there between Bella and Edward in the original source material, though in a somewhat different form.

    • karak
      February 15, 2015 at 6:28 pm
  16. BJduvall
    February 13, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    I’ve noticed it with web comics, something I am more familiar with than fan fiction.

  17. February 13, 2015 at 9:20 pm
    • February 13, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      Nice! Here’s one that I liked as well.

    • February 14, 2015 at 6:10 am

      Just remembered Tatsuya Ishida’s most apposite One Shade Of Grey webcomic.

      If someone else had posted that, I probably would have read it as a jab at ‘sexless, humorless feminists.’

      • February 14, 2015 at 5:07 pm

        Like most webcomics (and blogs/magazines/newspapers/etc), reading the archives helps to develop a picture of where the author(s) is coming from.

  18. Raja
    February 18, 2015 at 2:41 am

    The guy who played the male lead in Fifty Shades of Grey previously played a role in a popular BBC drama of a sociopath who straggles women for enjoyment. Eerie similiarties

  19. Harlequin
    February 21, 2015 at 8:27 am

    So this is really super late on this thread, but I wanted to respond to one item:

    Objecting to breath play but being fully on board with anal fisting (okay, that’s not not-BDSM, but seriously? “I won’t choke you a little bit, but guess where I’ll put my entire arm”?)

    Breath play can be deadly, even the light stuff–Jay Wiseman has a long article on this. Basically, there’s a small (but nonzero) chance that choking someone will cause a cardiac arrest that can be deadly even if they haven’t yet passed out or stopped breathing, so it’s not a sufficient safety precaution to just stop before the person blacks out. It’s way, way more dangerous than fisting.

  20. ParadoxicalIntention
    February 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    I just was reading through your article, and thank you so much for writing it, but as someone who does practice BDSM myself, I’d like to correct something.

    50 Shades of Grey is BDSM. It’s abusive BDSM, so it’s tempting to say that it’s not, but it’s still BDSM, and that’s important to note. So many people have tried to use the No True Scotsman fallacy with this, and it frustrates me to no end. Saying this gives this illusion that BDSM is never abusive and there’s no problems with people like Christian Grey in our community, which there more certainly is, and it’s something we need to be able to talk about.

    There are people out there who use the BDSM community as a shield for their shitty behavior, I don’t deny that. But there are also people who, like Christian Grey, practice things that would be considered normal everyday practice within the BDSM community, and are still abusive bags of horse manure.

    There still is a huge capacity for abuse in a BDSM relationship, and there’s still abuse not being addressed within the community. I’d like to see more people try to use 50SoG to not only address the abuse that’s already within the community, but to educate people on how to not be abusive, rather than to try and deny it’s a part of it and pretend nothing’s wrong.

    Granted, E.L. James did no research whatsoever into this book, and it shows. It’s hard to miss, actually. But the bits are still there, and rather than just shun the book (as tempting as it is to do so), I’d rather we use it as a great “What NOT to do in a dom(me)/sub relationship” guide, and as a good list of red flags to look out for and call out this behavior when we see it.

Comments are closed.