I keep seeing posts and articles about the movie Fifty Shades of Grey wherein commentators suggest that women are abused, the BDSM community is wrong, and consent isn’t enough. Forget about the characters for a moment. I want to talk about another side of it. I want to talk about judging the BDSM lifestyle based solely on a poorly written book and a movie.
Disclosure: I read the book but haven’t seen the movie.
Let’s make this clear: it sucks that Christian Grey and Ana Steele are the poster children for the BDSM community. They shouldn’t be, and EL James has done the community a great disservice by presenting this as a normal BDSM relationship. From what I understand from members of the community, it isn’t. But…it could be. No two relationships in the community are the same. But consent is key, and it’s a huge part of the “safe, sane and consensual” banner that is so proudly celebrated.
I know a couple who practice the Dominant/submissive lifestyle. They are in their 50s and they have kids. They’re normal people. He’s so loving and protective of his wife; he even jokes that she bosses him around even though he’s the Dominant. They are the most loving couple and most folks are shocked when they learn that they practice D/s. They’re totally open about their lifestyle and they enjoy educating people about it.
It’s not our place to judge what people do in their personal lives. Newsflash, people: some people get off on being bossed around and tied up.
Perhaps we should steal a page from the BDSM playbook and implement contracts in all of our personal relationships. That way the boundaries are set and the rules are clear. Break the rules and it’s game over. Many BDSM couples review and renew their contracts on a semi-annual basis. (For more information, see links below)
FSoG is not a great way to learn about the BDSM community; instead of judging the community based on the film’s depictions, do some research:
I have to disagree. I have a lot of friends who practice BDSM, and they are all very vocally against this film because Ana does not actually have the opportunity to give full and informed consent. Christian stalks her and controls her before they begin a relationship, and there are scenes which are so far beyond consensual that he couldn’t see it with a telescope. If she says “no” and he carries on (which he does), it’s rape. She is not sufficiently experienced or informed to sign the contract.
He demonstrates all the traits of a typical abuser, including those which will keep Ana in the relationship and blind to her situation. That’s the problem with this film, not that it depicts BDSM, but that it depicts an abusive relationship as a healthy one and rape as kink.
It’s a polarizing issue for sure. But I’d actually argue that Ana should have stayed away. In the early stages, Grey warned her. She wanted to change him, and that never works well. She did research and persisted despite his warnings. He was used to being with like-minded people, but she kept going.
I don’t buy the “she was a victim” argument because she could have stopped. She did the research and was able to articulate her objections to hard/soft limits before signing.
Is this an accurate depiction of the BDSM lifestyle? Not at all. It’s unfortunate that Ana and Christian are now the unofficial poster children for BDSM. They really shouldn’t be.
He warned her, all the while buying her expensive gifts and basically stalking her. He tracked her phone, found out her address and ‘dropped by’ her workplace. Warn her away to get her interest, but keep up the pressure to make sure she doesn’t heed his warning. It is, sadly, very common behaviour at the start of an abusive relationship.
‘She could have stopped’ also sounds a lot like ‘why don’t victims leave their abusers?’ It’s never as simple as that, especially after he buys the company she works for.
I don’t have first hand experience of either BDSM or abuse, but there’s a lot of people who do have written about it. This blog is a really good resource on it: https://50shadesofabuse.wordpress.com/warning-signs/
I have a lot of problems with your analysis, honestly. First off, most of the criticisms I have seen are the exact opposite of saying that “the BDSM community is wrong” or that “consent isn’t enough”. In fact, most of the criticism that I see (and that I share) is that 50 Shades is NOT reflective of BDSM in the least, and people–very much including people involved in the BDSM scene–are outraged that this story of abuse is being framed as a love story with a sexy BDSM twist. Enough people already have the perception that BDSM is abusive or “sick”; 50 Shades is contributing to that awful misconception. It isn’t a BDSM relationship. Because Grey violates even the most basic principles of BDSM: Safe, sane, and consensual. If you’re so familiar with a couple who practices BDSM, surely you can see that.
“Grey makes a point to say that he will not do anything against Ana’s wishes. She is free to leave at any time, unlike the women in abusive relationships who feel (and are) trapped.”
I categorically disagree with everything here. He may make a point of saying that, but then he goes against her wishes on multiple occasions. And not all women who are in abusive relationships feel trapped. Some dismiss the abuse (like so many do when defending 50 Shades of Grey and Grey’s abuse) and try to convince themselves that nothing is wrong. They even act like nothing is wrong. And most women in abusive relationships are technically “free to leave at any time”. But they don’t. Because they’re scared or because they love their partner or because they don’t recognize the abuse as such. It doesn’t make them less victimized. And Grey manipulates and stalks Ana from the beginning of the book, therefore calling into question the entire “relationship”. He hits almost every point on every checklist of abusive behavior. He lures her into the abusive faux-BDSM relationship knowing full well that Ana was completely unfamiliar with BDSM, that she had no idea what she was getting into (perhaps making it that much easier to disguise his abuse as “run of the mill” BDSM)…and I don’t even want to get into just how awful and ludicrous that contract of his was. There are, indeed, couples to go for a TPE (Total Power Exchange) arrangement, which entails the kind of minute control that Grey continuously exerts of Ana. But NEVER when one party is completely new to BDSM, NEVER when that person doesn’t understand fully what’s going on, and NEVER when that other person doesn’t give their full, informed consent. Ana didn’t know what the hell Grey was into or what she was getting into by associating with him. And he included provisions designed (though the contract itself would have no legal baring–something Ana wasn’t aware of) to isolate her from her support systems and prevent her from seeking guidance from outside sources about his abuse.
So yes. What people do in the privacy of their own homes and bedrooms is entirely their own business and no one else’s, and that’s great. As long as there is, in fact, consent. In 50 Shades, that consent is questionable as hell, and Grey blatantly ignores Ana’s withdrawal of her consent (which turns the scenario into rape, not a BDSM scene).
“If a man tells a woman he is into Dominance and Submission, and she does her research and decides she wants to be a part of it, that’s their business.”
True. But in 50 Shades, Grey stalks, manipulates, and coerces Ana to get what he wants. He doesn’t tell her what he’s into and then back off and let her make up her own mind. He’s pushing her from the very beginning, and he continues to push her in future interactions when she doesn’t give consent right away for him to play the way he wants to. Her desires are on the backburner the entire time.
“Perhaps we should steal a page from the BDSM playbook and implement contracts in all of our personal relationships.”
And now I have to question if you really know much about BDSM, aside from a vague familiarity with one older couple and your reading of 50 Shades. Contracts aren’t a part of all BDSM relationships, and even when they are used, if at any point one party decides they don’t wish to participate in something that’s in the contract, that’s it. Consent withdrawn, boundary redrawn. Because, once again, it’s all about safe, sane, and consensual activity between consenting adults.
Criticism against 50 Shades really is not criticism against BDSM. It’s criticism against outright mental, physical, and emotion abuse, stalking, and manipulation that’s being framed as BDSM and as a love story.
It isn’t accurate an accurate depiction at all…but people judging the entire community based on the film’s depiction is also wrong. Most BDSM couples I know are more loving than Vanilla ones, and yet the critiques are painting the whole group with a broad brush.
The thing about the BDSM community is that one person’s kink is not the same as the next person. This is their relationship. Right or wrong, it’s what they have.
All I’m saying is that we need to move away from judging whole groups based on the actions of one couple.
And that’s very true. But like I said, I haven’t seen a single criticism of 50 Shades saying that BDSM is wrong or abusive or inappropriate. The critiques I have seen have quite rightly drawn a strict distinction between BDSM and the contents of the book, which merely poses as BDSM. At least for the most part, judgments are not falling on consenting couples who engage in BDSM.
Very true. I have seen a few anti-BDSM articles, as well as shoddy reporting by mainstream media. That’s where I get frustrated. Hence the post. (And I went back and added a few websites to my post for those people who would like to do their own research)
You got a point, Sarabeth. I have a big time problem with male violence toward women, though. I’ve never been involved with this kind of activity myself and have often wondered why people do it. Obviously the couple get something out of it or they wouldn’t be involved.