This is the second post in my series on BDSM and feminism. My challenge to myself was to make a list of 50 reasons why the widespread appreciation of 50 Shades of Grey is not so ideal, despite the fact that I generally think women enjoying sexually explicit material is a good thing. I thought it would be difficult to think of all those things while pointing out new problems every time, not just giving examples. I was wrong. It was really easy.
TRIGGER WARNINGS for discussions of BDSM, assault, child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and stalking. Also, spoilers through 50 Shades of Grey and the sequels.
Part One: Problematic Treatment of Consent in the books
1. Ignoring consent
2. Reacting to the sentiment “no, I don’t want to have sex with you right now” by threatening to tie the speaker up, taking their clothes off, and… having sex with them.
3. Not treating safewords as important
4. Not treating contracts as important
5. Joking about the importance of safewords and contracts in a D/s relationship
6. Having a partner sign a D/s contract without telling them it isn’t legally binding
7. Not exploring and explaining limits
8. Forcibly preventing a partner from learning about their limits
9. Forcibly preventing a partner from learning about a sexual practice you are encouraging them to engage in
10. Making a romantic relationship dependent on indulging non-mutual kinks
11. Taking sexual advantage of someone who is intoxicated
12. Refusing to allow a partner to masturbate
13. Pushing someone who has never experienced any sexual interest, including maturbation, into a sexual relationship immediately after meeting them
14. Pushing someone who has never experienced any sexual interest, including masturbation, into a kinky sexual relationship immediately after meeting them despite the fact that they have no knowledge about kink
15. Refusing to allow that partner any trustworthy source of knowledge about those kinks other than yourself
16. Forcing a partner to make specific decisions about birth control based on your preferences
Let’s wrap up!
Consent is really, really important. Consent is important because it differentiates sex from rape, and consent is important because it differentiates BDSM from abuse. So in a relationship like the one depicted in this series, you would think clear consent would be the number one most important thing. You would be wrong.
The worst part of how consent is treated is that the first book actually addresses the importance of negotiated and informed consent in a D/s relationship, and then procedes to undermine it. Christian, the male love interest, tells the inexperienced (with everything about sex and her body, and clueless about the existence of kink, much less its practice) Anastasia that he’s not going to do anything without a contract and a safeword in place.
Approximately five seconds later, he says “Screw the contract” and initiates sexual contact in an elevator.
All of bullet point number two actually happens. She was joking when she sent him an email saying she didn’t want to say him again, but he thought she was serious- and his response was to show up and tell her he was going to tie her up and then to have sex with her! He also has sexual contact with her after she drinks mulitple times, despite the fact that she has a low tolerance for alcohol (of course, she’s a helpless wilting flower) and they never, ever negotiate having sex is this context.
He refuses to let her get information about BDSM (if she could, perhaps she would realize what a deeply abusive relationship she’s trapped in). She is encouraged to look it up online, despite the fact that she’s absurdly computer-illiterate and the internet is not exactly full of super-reliable information about BDSM. She literally cannot even speak to her best friend about it.
There’s nothing wrong with having sex with an inexperienced partner, and there’s nothing wrong with controlling your partner’s orgasms in a negotiated D/s context. But you probably shouldn’t do both at the same time, since she basically doesn’t know what she’s giving up, and she isn’t given any opportunity to have anything like a normal learning curve about sexual activity. Instead, she’s pushed immediately into exactly the kind of sexual relationship her partner wants, which is clearly coercive without everything else bad that’s going on.
Part Two: Other Abusive Content in the books
17. Reading a partner’s email and phone messages without their knowledge or consent
18. Physically hurting a partner without their informed consent
19. Physically hurting a partner even though it causes them fear
20. Controlling who a partner can and cannot spend time with outside of the relationship
21. Showing up at someone’s house after they’ve literally just emailed you to say they don’t want to see you anymore
22. Routinely forcing a partner to eat when they don’t want to.
Let’s wrap up!
Okay, so Christian is exhibiting some classic signs of a controlling and abusive partner here. Normally, you could cut a guy some slack due to his extremely difficult childhood, but he is literally beating her.
It’s fine to hit your partner if your partner genuinely wants to get hit, but Ana in the books is ambivalent at best about any kind of S&M or painplay. There is one extremely telling scene where she is terrified that he’s going to spank her again.
Now, as someone who’s into this sort of thing, I can say that one of the more fun parts of the whole process is the anticipation. For me, at least, it’s arousing and enjoyable to not be sure whether pleasure or pain is coming next.
That is not the same thing as fear, which is how Ana describes her feelings. She says she’s afraid of him hurting her again. That isn’t something a submissive says, it’s something an abuse victim says.
And compared to everything else he does: controlling her other relationships and her communications, stalking her, and even deciding what she can and can’t eat after she repeatedly tells him she isn’t comfortable turning that control over—it’s a clear pattern of control outside of the bounds of any kind of negotiated D/s. He is infiltrating every part of her life and abusing her emotionally and mentally… and then causing her physical pain that scares her and that she doesn’t enjoy sexually or emotionally.
That sounds like abuse to me.
Part Three: Problematic Treatment of Women and other minority groups, Feminist Fails
23. The perpetuation of the idea that a woman has no libido or sexual desire of her own until it is “awoken” by a desirable man
24. The man as aggressor and the woman as, essentially, prey
25. Refusal to utter the word “vagina,” instead referring to female genitalia as “down there,” despite the fact that male genitals are described frequently and in often-bizarrely-metaphorical detail
26. A female character who is just so skinny and naturally feminine that she forgets to eat all the time! That’s… that’s not what people do. If you regularly forget to eat, you might have an eating disorder. And you definitely need to get that looked into.
27. The good-girl cures bad-boy trope
28. Stating marriage, babies, heteronormative normalcy as the ultimate goal for a young woman and lots and lots of kinky sex with multiple partners as the ultiamte goal for a young man
29. Racial stereotyping of a young man of color (the only vaguely significant character of color) as a scary probable rapist who nice white girls must be protected from, despite the fact that his behavior (which I am totally not condoning) is much less sexually predatory than that of the white male love interest
30. Complete erasure of queer people of all types
31. Typing- that is, the idea that a man only likes women of one physical “type,” and thus that his only possible interest in these women is their physical appearance, not their personalities or anything else
32. Excusing the rape of a young boy by a woman. The one good thing the female main character does in the series is condemn the woman who raped her partner when he was 14 and question his continuing relationship with her. However, he completely laughs off her objections and the overall plot of the books somewhat normalizes his sexual abuse.
33. Presenting the only dominant female character as a rapist
34. Treating female sexual pleasure and orgasm as something bizarre
35. Treating female sexual pleasure and orgasm as something belonging exclusively to a male partner, to bestow or not as he chooses
36. Presenting a character who has never felt sexual attraction to anyone, ever, and has never masturbated, as obviously heterosexual and ignoring the asexual spectrum completely
37. Consistent devaluing of female friendships
38. Painting the normal state of relationships as a dominant man and a submissive woman
Let’s wrap up!
My biggest problem with this book is its overall treatment of minorities and serious issues. It is dismissive and gross toward female-on-male rape (the legal definition of sex between the fourteen-year-old Christian and adult Elena). Although Ana actually is horrified by it (good for her!) her partner dismisses her discomfort about it and continues a friendship with this woman afterwards.
There are a lot of nasty sexist tropes in the books, listed above.
There are no queer characters of any type, and the only character of color at all is a rapist because he is deemed an unworthy partner for the beautiful virtuous young white woman.
This is a really, really problematic book, even barring the way it treats kink and the horrifically abusive relationship between the main characters.
Part Four: Kink-Shaming
39. Treating a partner’s kinks as something unpleasant to be barely tolerated
40. Someone seeking out a partner they know will barely tolerate their kinks because of internalized kink-shaming
41. Creating the sense that a character’s kinks must stem from some “reason” and thus the idea that kinks cannot be natural
42. Associating kinks with extreme trauma from early childhood
43. Treating a kink as something very embarassing, to be kept secret under threat of legal action
Let’s wrap up!
It isn’t really Ana’s fault that she’s shocked by Christian’s kinkiness. After all, she’s completely unprepared for it. But the narrative attitude toward his kinks, and thus toward kinky people in general, is remarkably kink-shaming and sex-negative for something that’s explicitly a work of pornography.
The storyline sets up Christian’s kink as the direct result of early childhood abuse. Although kink can be influenced by trauma, and many people find it a helpful way to deal when with a consenting and enthusiastic partner, it’s hardly the only way anyone could end up a sadist.
Literally, Christian’s reason for wanting to engage in BDSM with a long string of dark-haired pretty young women is that they look like his neglectful and drug-addicted mother. The only other kinky characters who get much of a mention in the book are his ex-sub, who goes insane and chases them down with a gun, and Elena, who molested a young teenager.
This doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of individuals with an interest in BDSM. Admittedly, Ana has a normal background, but she also doesn’t have much of an interest in BDSM. She only does it to please Christian, at least at first.
Additionally, Christian’s intense shame about his kink, to the extent of making Ana keep it a secret under threat of legal action (a provision of the contract that he neglects to tell her isn’t legally binding!) adds another level of shame for the reader to associate with BDSM. Finally, the plot tends to favor Ana’s desire to marry and settle down into a vanilla, heteronormative marriage, setting BDSM as an abnormal sexual fetish which doesn’t belong in a committed and loving relationship. A large part of Christian’s discussions with his therapist revolve around trying to “cure” his kink (something his therapist rightly says he shouldn’t do), showing once again how kink is treated as abnormal in the narrative of the series.
Part Five: General Shittiness
44. The phrase “laters, baby,” which is just obnoxious. And the whole “inner goddess” thing, which deserves a special nod for its sheer terribleness
45. Generally terrible writing.
46. Lack of aftercare. The whole second book’s plot could have been avoided if Christian weren’t genuinely a terrible Dom.
47. This one part where a female character puts her hair in pigtails to make herself look like a child to protect herself from the sexual aggression of her partner. And then he totally gets that that’s why she’s doing it, and says something along the lines of “that won’t protect you.” I actually cannot.
48. Plagiarism. Since when is it totes okay to make money off someone else’s copyrighted idea?
49. Coopting fanfiction and fanworks, by and large a feminist, queer-positive practice, to make money off an unfeminist, queer-erasing work
50. People are entering into D/s relationship based off the precepts the learned in this book, which is dangerous and frightening.
Criticizing the writing has little to do with my point here, but I couldn’t resist.
Perhaps 46 would have fit in better somewhere else, but I shoved it in here. That’s right, for somebody who structures all his relationships around D/s, Christian sucks at being a Dom. Maybe it’s because he learned it all from his rapist, but he’s fairly clueless. Except for rubbing some lotion on Ana’s butt one time, he’s not very sensitive about aftercare. He leaves her alone after a scene when she’s clearly traumatized, and lets her run out without even mentioning that maybe he’s sorry or something after he beats her until she safewords. There’s also the issue of his ex-sub, who clearly is still deeply under his influence. If he’d ended the relationship in a normal way, maybe she wouldn’t be under such an extended case of subdrop related crazy.
47. It happens. I actually can’t. Like really.
I’m so in favor of fandom. I’ve been a writer of fanfiction for years and years, and was in fact in the Twilight fandom for a little while. I’ve written more D/s porn than most people have read total words in their lives. I’m even in favor of writers finding ways to make money off the fic they love so much. Selling drabbles or auctioning off prompt fills, even changing stories to be original work… I had a friend once who did it in another fandom and was published. But she changed the character’s personalities and replaced the plot entirely, just keeping some of the sexy bits that were so thoroughly celebrated. I saw a comparison that shows that something like 93% of the text of 50 Shades is word-for-word identical to the original fic, and that just rings of plagiarism… she even kept Edward and Bella’s physical appearances.
49 is probably a whole nother post, about the value of fandom, so I’ll just save it.
And I left the worst for last.
D/s is awesome. D/s is fun. Go for it if you really want to.
But don’t fucking use Fifty Shades as a guide.
Read the books if you must- obviously, I did. But read other things too. Talk to people who’ve been in the lifestyle for years. Talk to me, if you can’t find anyone more, like, knowledgeable. Use a safeword. Don’t do anything that you don’t, really, truly, deep-down want to do.
There’s nothing wrong with reading problematic porn- I’ve done it, definitely. But don’t base your lifestyle around it, and try seeking out some other things. I could recommend you some really, really good fic.
aka 50 reasons to never buy this book.
What the FUCK. I thought this was just badly written. Apparently it’s also condoning abuse and spreading all kinds of misconceptions about BDSM, female sexuality, rape, queerness, asexuality, and people of color (wow it’s racist on top of everything else!). I kind of want to read it to fuel my righteous anger but that’s not healthy so I’ll leave it at this post which was angering enough. Argh
I need to show this post to my mother to back up my argument of “14 year olds on the internet can write better smut than the 50 Shades series”.
And that I will legitimately burn the book if it enters this house - and if it belongs to someone else, pay them the price of it.
We all know it’s a shitty book, and here is a very well-written and comprehensive explanation of why.
“One of the worst ways to stop someone from telling sexist jokes is to tell him the joke isn’t funny. He’ll assume that you’re humorless and that he needs to save the good stuff for the right audience. If you really want someone to stop telling sexist jokes, you need to tell him, “I don’t get it” and then step back as he tries not to say, “It’s funny because women are stupid.”—If This Isn’t From a Book, It Should Be (via gaircyrch)
sometimes i just want to get a fake orange spray tan and bleach my hair blonde and wear hollister and a&f and american eagle and uggs exclusively and wear frosted lipglosses and make ducklips faces and care about jersey shore and gossip girl. because apparently “nice” dudes hate when girls that because it’s “fake”, it’s “slutty”, it’s overdone/tasteless/”dumb” but fuck you. everything is fake. all persona is persona including what you’ve been conditioned to perceive as a “neutral”/”inoffensive” appearance.
because i don’t want your “respect”, and i certainly don’t need your advice on how to “respect” a body. i don’t need your fake concern about skin cancer and burns on my scalp when my body doesn’t even feel like mine sometimes. when breast cancer becomes selling sex to teenage boys who wouldn’t tell you about the lump in your breast they felt while they were feeling you up. your concern for my body will always be mediocre until it is mine to create/destroy/create, and even then it wouldn’t even matter because you do not inhabit this flesh, or these organs, or this mucus/snot/bile/blood/spit/fluid/fluid/fluid. so stop trying to crawl into my bed of skin, asshole. stop trying to own my ugliness. you can’t have it. too bad, so sad.
i don’t want you to wait before i leave the room to talk about how gross i am. i want my skin to be greasy and leave big orange stains on every man who touches me and who i choose to touch. i want my hair to make you puke. i want my clothes to remind you of how capitalism lives in tube tops and booty shorts just as well as it does in jeans and a t-shirt or whatever the fuck makes you feel like the girl you wanna fuck is real “authentic”, real “down-to-earth” or whatever. i want to remind you that every picture is posed. no expression can be pure when you can see the camera and the camera can see you. i want you to know that i spent three goddamn hours straightening my hair and putting on my eyeliner over and over again and removing it over and over again so there’s light grey rings under my eyes and when i reapplied my lipgloss for the 20th time tonight in the backseat of my best friend’s car it hit a pothole so it’s smudging against my lipliner and i’m still not “sexy” to your pretentious jonh lennon art school ass. my labor is MINE, and it’s ugly because god loves ugly. i wasn’t put on this earth to give you a hard on. i want to scream and drink and grind to shitty club music because i want to scare the living shit out of you. i want you to go home and post a facebook update about how “our generation is doomed” and get twenty likes from all your pretentious john lennon art school friends and all your fedora-wearing self-entitled pasty sarcastic bros and all your edgewatch xvx police officers and all your “nice guy” indie rock microbrew date rapists who all secretly wish they could make a man want to remove himself from this earth just by getting a spraytan.
i don’t want you to want to fuck me, BRO. i want you to have to look at me. i want to be the bright orange flesh you don’t want to fuck but you also can’t ignore. i want you to be very, very scared of what is going to come out of my mouth. i want you to cringe at the sound of my voice because it is both too feminine and too loud. your disgust makes me even louder, even more powerful. and it’s so funny to me, so funny to me, because you know and i know we are both just pretending we aren’t aware that deep down you so badly wish you could be a monster, too.
This is the best fucking thing I’ve ever read in my life.
For those of us who live at the shoreline standing upon the constant edges of decision crucial and alone for those of us who cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice who love in doorways coming and going in the hours between dawns looking inward and outward at once before and after seeking a now that can breed futures like bread in our children’s mouths so their dreams will not reflect the death of ours;
For those of us who were imprinted with fear like a faint line in the center of our foreheads learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk for by this weapon this illusion of some safety to be found the heavy-footed hoped to silence us For all of us this instant and this triumph We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid it might not remain when the sun sets we are afraid it might not rise in the morning when our stomachs are full we are afraid of indigestion when our stomachs are empty we are afraid we may never eat again when we are loved we are afraid love will vanish when we are alone we are afraid love will never return and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid.
So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.
“youths are passed through schools that don’t teach, then forced to search for jobs that don’t exist and finally left stranded in the street to stare at the glamorous lives advertised around them”—Huey P Newton (via looooooooooooooooooooooooooooool)
I feel so bad for people that are just now trying to get into hetalia
because there are already so many damn characters
I mean you start with the Axis and the Allies, that’s not too hard
..but then you’ve got the Nordics and the Mediterraneans and Eastern Europe and Asia and everyone else and
it barely makes sense like why are there two Italies why is Prussia still here and albino I’ve never heard of Seychelles where is what is up with Sealand everyone is blond I don’t understand the hair swirlies and sometimes you can’t tell who’s real and who’s an OC so you have no idea how MANY there characters there really are I swear when I first started hetalia I was sure there was a canon Brazil how was I supposed to know that pixiv scotland wasn’t real HOW MANY ARE THERE
…so you’re learning all these characters and you’re suddenly like wait why is America a girl oh I guess the artist just thought it would be fun to switch it around but then you realize there are GENDERBENDS canon genderbends for like half the cast and their personalities and looks are different from the originals and you’re like there is secretly twice as much cast as there was before, why would you do this
and then you discover 2p hetalia
And then you find expanded universe art and satw crossover art and the state-tan project and I am Matthewian and you’re just like “wtf why are there so many of you”.
I’ll just go ahead and say that if you like Laci Green then I am judging you.
and if you reblog her, i am judging you.
Did I miss something…? Who is this Laci Green and why does everyone follow hate her?
She’s a sex-positive vlogger. People hate her because of fat-shaming and islamophobia, as far as I can tell. Idk. I’d never even heard of her until all this stuff happened and I wasn’t part of the original discussion so frankly I’m not getting involved.
white girl:OH MY GOD YOU DID NOT JUST SAID THAT. DID YOU? DID YOU REALLY. YOU KNOW, LOVE IS LOVE, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF IT’S BETWEEN A BOY AND A BOY OR A GIRL AND A GIRL OR A BOY AND A GIRL, IT’S LOVE. GAY SHOULDN’T BE USED AS AN INSULT, I HOPE YOUR HEAD IS CUT OFF AND THROWN INTO A GAY BAR.
someone:That’s so gay
gay person:I know right
So I just saw this on my dash and I have some things to say. Here’s the thing: for some queer (I hate this word, the idea that we’re weirdos for this, that there’s something wrong with us, but I need a decent umbrella and let’s be honest lgbt does not cut it and gay definitely doesn’t so here we are) people that might be fine. For some of us it isn’t. I spent my senior year of high school wanting to come out and cringing every time someone described a hard test as gay, called someone a fag etc. For me it was something that made me feel unsafe and scared. So when I see people, even straight white girls (Because of course boys understand! They aren’t stupid like girls!) speak out against use of homophobic language, speak out against equating ME with things that are bad and disliked, I smile. I feel a little bit safer in a world that I’m not always sure of. For me it didn’t always matter if I knew whether they meant it to be an attack on queer people or not. Because you can’t always be sure. And when you aren’t sure, you aren’t safe.
Eeep, sorry. I guess because it doesn’t offend me I forgot to think? *apology huggle*
Not one of you, even the people I am following (minus the trans folk, obviously) have avoided messing up on this. It is subtle, it is small and every time you do it you hammer the nails into our feet a little deeper.
Every time you equate penis with sexism, erasing those women and nonbinaries with penises.
Every time you equate childbirth with motherhood and women, erasing those men and nonbinaries who give birth
Every time you evoke vaginal wording to describe sisterhood or womanhood, whether it’s “cunt power”, “sisterhood of the clit” whatever, you stab every woman who has no vagina, no cunt, no clit, no vulva, no uterus, no nothing of that sort in the back and toss us out of the sisterhood that we have as much right to as you.
Every time you wonder if society got rid of social gender, would trans people stop existing, you walk on our faces.
Every time you say transwoman and transman, as though we’re not really women or men but a merged concept, you erase our genders.
Every time you sum up gender as a binary, or even just a spectrum between poles, you erase every single person with a gender that doesn’t fit that zone (and there are many)
Every time you say women and trans women or women, men and transgender, you tell us that our genders are not valid, not as real as yours.
Every time you do these things, you don’t see it. You’re feminists. You’re anarchists. You’re vegans. You’re anti racists and anti Islamophobia advocates. You’re advocates of birthing rights and socialists, anti capitalists, multiculturalists. You’re disability advocates and womanists. Fat positive, anti body policing, anti rape, social activists and writers. You’re friends and family, lovers and colleagues.
And you all do it. Every cis person I know.
Every. Last. One.
You don’t see it. But we do. We feel the knife go in. We watch the painful hypocrisy of people who make it their career, their life’s work to fight privilege and make people see through its fog, to fight white supremacy, or sexism or ableism or fatphobia or millions of other horrific systems of supremacy and dominance and control exerted against people, exercising their cissupremacy, the boot firmly planted on our necks and they don’t even see it.
But we feel it.
Next time you talk about childbirth, remember not everyone who gives birth is a mother. Next time you talk about how many women are raped, remember that a significant group of those women, of us, don’t have vaginas. Next time you talk about sisterhood, try to remember that you have nonbinary siblings and brothers with the organs you use to label your sisterhood and sisters who lack them. Try to remember that penis is not the enemy because women have them too. Try to remember that theorizing about gender isn’t very helpful when you don’t know shit about the people who experience it most directly, most vividly, most painfully.
Try to remember to look past your cis privilege and maybe take that damn boot off our necks once in a while instead of looking into the distance and ignoring the choking.
I tend to think of younger people’s ages not by how many years younger than me they are, but by what I was up to when I was that age. I think it is very helpful re: not being a condescending douchebag.
Like, I don’t think of 15 as a solid several years younger than me. Fifteen was 9th grade. Ninth grade was when nearly all my close friends and I were dabbling (or more) in self-harm. Ninth grade was when I decided being a virgin wasn’t cool any more. Ninth grade was when I started getting into fashion more and when I came out as homosexual. And more-over, if people treated me like a kid in ninth grade, it was a quick and easy way to get me to hate them. If people had tried to tell me when I was 15 that I was too young to want to kiss near-strangers at concerts or to have hickies or to have real problems, I would have punched them.
So like… even though I consider 15 pretty young now, I’m not going to treat anyone like they’re too immature to be making their own choices unless they prove that they are.