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Since the internet has been abuzz with rants and raves about this particular book... well. Initially, I was going to be the Cool Kid and not read it, but I gave in. ;) As always, I has thoughts!

(For those who have been living under a rock, Fifty Shades of Grey is a barely rewritten Twilight/Edward alternate universe fanfic in which Bella (Ana) is just graduating college and Edward (Christian) is a multimillionaire businessman. The book is about their romance and involves a lot of sex and BDSM. It's very clearly smut. The author, E. L. James published it through a small press which I believe is an author co-op and somehow, it sold like hotcakes. James now has a contract with Random House and a movie deal is in the works, though I have no idea how they're going to make this into anything less than an NC-17 rated movie.)

Let me get this out of the way first: The book is a hot mess. I have read significantly better prose in crit groups, and this is some of the worst writing I've encountered. I'm not surprised that the "publisher" was actually an author co-op, because it's pretty obvious between grammar errors, bad formatting, horrible punctuation, and writing that just plain doesn't make sense, that no editor touched this thing.

However, having read it, I'm not surprised it's popular. Let's face it: Many readers are not as discerning as writers are (which makes sense; we work hard at our skill and thus we see errors more easily), and I've honestly lost track of the number of times I've heard a reader say they care more about the story; good writing is just a bonus. On top of that, the story follows a well-worn wish fulfillment fantasy: that of the hot, wealthy businessman with loads of issues who falls in love with the girl next door and can only be healed by the power of true love. Look at pretty much every Harlequin Presents romance in existence; these books are not uncommon. The big difference with Fifty Shades is that it became popular outside of romance circles.

(Also I must add here: Not all romances follow this trope. There are plenty of well-written romances with strong heroines and non-asshole heroes. Considering I write romance, I don't really want to hear crap about the genre, thanks. ;)

But that's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the BDSM aspects. And for this I'm continuing under a cut with WARNING for frank talk about sex, BDSM, consent, coercion/sexual assault, and related stuffs; also includes some discussion of victim-blaming .

I've read a lot of criticism about Fifty Shades regarding the way BDSM is portrayed. That, say, "real" BDSM relationships don't have contracts, "real" BDSM relationships follow the mantra of "safe, sane, and consensual", "real" doms aren't controlling assholes, etc.

And to that I have to say: Are we in the same fucking community here?

Look, there are great things about the BDSM community. I have met some wonderful people in the scene, and I love that I am free to be myself and express my kinks without judgement. But let's be real here. Doms like Christian Grey flourish in the BDSM community.

The biggest complaints about Christian are that he is pushy about what he wants, that he doesn't particularly seem to care that Ana isn't into it, that he is controlling, and that he is really close to being a stalker. You know what? I have seen all these things, repeatedly, in real-life doms that are respected members of the community. Okay, maybe not quite to the specifics that Christian expresses, but I have no doubt that with the resources of a hotshot multimillionaire, they would do exactly the same thing.

(The other complaint about the books is that they treat BDSM as being like a mental illness, as something that Christian does because he is oh-so-traumatized. That's another matter entirely, and I'm not going to touch on that here.)

The problem with the situation in Fifty Shades is that it's a 24/7 lifestyle but these words are never really used. It's portrayed as "all Dom/sub relationships are this way", which is definitely not true, but for 24/7 D/s relationships? No, it's not unrealistic. None of the examples in the contract stuck out to me as particularly unrealistic, except perhaps the NDA. (I haven't heard of that one but it probably exists somewhere.) For people not familiar with Fifty Shades, these are the sort of things outlined in the contract: what Ana will eat and when, her exercise habits, grooming habits like shaving and waxing, what Ana will wear, Ana's behavior in Christian's presence and at other times, specific days that Ana will devote to Christian, and orgasm control; punishment is also set out for if she does not meet these requirements. None of these are too far out of bounds for a specific 24/7 relationship, but they are extreme for a standard bedroom Dom/sub relationship.

The problem for me in the book is not that these things are in the contract, but that Christian expects Ana to meet them even though she has not signed the contract. He basically assumes that she will sign it and treats her as though she already has. There is no doubt in his mind that she will do what he wants. The problem? Ana isn't kinky, and this is prerequisite for a relationship with him (if you can call it a relationship; he makes it pretty obvious that this is "kink only" but since it is a romance at heart, that changes). He is incredibly controlling and jealous. Although he has a good point about being concerned about her friendship with a man who tried to take advantage of her when they were drinking, he goes way too far. He treats her like she is already his sub when she has never agreed to such, and has in fact told him that she's not into that.

But let's talk about the community here.

A lot of people want to characterize the BDSM community as this happy-go-lucky place of awesome sex and kink where there are never any control freaks or bad guys and everyone respects safe/sane/consensual and enthusiastic consent. Sorry, but that is not the case. There are lots of essays about this (warning: nudity on page, plus discussion of sexual abuse in a kink context), and it is a huge problem in the community.

Men like Christian Grey, that have no qualms about controlling intimate details of their sub's life, including some real scary things like isolating from friends, are not uncommon in the scene. Hell, I have run into women dommes that portray the same warning signs. It's a real issue, and I'm very upset that instead of talking about these things, the reaction to the portrayal in Fifty Shades is: That shit doesn't happen here.

Sorry, but that shit does happen here, and it needs to be talked about. Because women (and men, but I'm going to continue to refer to women because rape culture definitely contributes) are being hurt by these people. They are being pressured into doing things they don't want. I have been pressured into doing things I didn't want, and I did it because I wanted to make the person I was with happy. It is in a very real sense, coercion, which is a form of sexual assault.

And you know what happens in the community? Usually, the survivors are discouraged from talking about it. They're told that it was their fault, that they gave their consent, that they had the opportunity to safeword, that they shouldn't try to accuse a dom of rape when it was "just" their "bad decision" or something they "regretted." If they don't let it drop, they are often ostracized from the community. Instead of being there for the victimized woman, the community rallies around the dom, because, how dare a "false accusation"! (Never mind that they often aren't false.) I am active on BDSM feminism groups, and I have honestly lost track of the number of women who have disclosed horrific stories of doms ignoring their boundaries, sometimes ignoring their safewords, and sometimes outright raping them (note: I truly believe that coercion is a form of rape, but I specify situations that are unarguably rape to bring attention that, no, it is not just "grey area" situations in which this happens) -- and the community's reaction was to ostracize them. The victims. The survivors.

Mind, the same survivors who have virtually no legal recourse because the legal system is woefully unfamiliar with the BDSM scene and is just as likely to say, "You let him beat you? You deserve what you get." And if a woman should go to the police, she will receive even more censure and abuse, because the community likes to believe that it takes care of their own. Except it doesn't. The problem people, the rapists, the creepers, they're still there. They're protected. It's the survivors who are left out to dry.

The rapists? People are quick to make excuses for them. They're quick to support them. Particularly if they are a Name in the community. If they are well-respected, they can get away with almost anything, and nobody will speak up in the victim's defense. It is terrifying, and it's all-too-common.

And it isn't talked about. Many women are aware that this happens, but we don't talk about it, because we would rather believe that our little paradise doesn't have its flaws. Well, it's time to stop that. It's time to start being aware that dom/mes like Christian exist. It's time to talk about it. We need to call out these behaviors when we see them. We need to protect our own. We need to offer support to women who have had these experiences happen. We need to believe them instead of immediately responding with, "Well, maybe you misunderstood......" or "I'm sure he didn't mean it that way", or "Well, you shouldn't have done something if you didn't know for sure you were going to be okay with it. Etc.

They are told to be silent and threatened with the loss of their community if they continue speaking up. They are told that nobody will believe them -- and when the first people they talk to don't believe them, well, what else are they to think? Many of them wind up believing that it was, indeed, their fault, and they stop talking about it. They may even remain in the community and chalk it up to a "bad experience", even though it was so much more.

Shit needs to change. It needs to change before more people get hurt.

And that is why I say to the people who are complaining that Christian is an unrealistic dom: Bullshit. Christian is one of the most realistic doms I have read in a very long time. And you know what? That's fucking sick. You want to know what's even sicker? He's better than a lot of the real life doms I have known. He actually cares about the well-being of his sub, even if he is an overbearing, domineering control freak. Some of what I have seen discussed in kink circles don't lead me to believe that some doms care very much at all.

Edit to add: Since I'm sharing this on Goodreads as well, I'd like to also share why I rated it 3 stars. Even though the book has huge issues, it kept my interest, and I wanted to know what happens next. It also is very much a control fantasy, and I will admit that the fantasy of this uber-hot guy who gives me no choice in the matter makes me weak in the knees. However. This is like rape fantasy; I would never want it to happen in real life, and because this book is being discussed so much as almost a how-to for kink and being presented as a guide to the kink community, I felt the need to speak up about how freaking toxic it is. (And also the extent to which the kink community is insisting that nothing like this ever happens, which is hugely egregious to me.)


Since this is unfiltered, I have some rules for discussion here.

- No victim-blaming. Nada. Zilch. Do it and you're banned.

- I don't want to hear about how your community isn't like that, either. Because, yes, it's more prevalent in some than in others, but it's widespread and it exists everywhere. Even if it were going on in your community, you probably wouldn't know about it, because of how victims are silenced. If you want to say that your community is actively working hard to eradicate these types of behaviors, I'm glad to hear it, but I'm not going to put up with the myth of "It doesn't happen here."

- If you have not experienced these things, great for you. I'm truly glad. I have. Many others have. Please be respectful to other people who might be sharing their stories, and please try not to be dismissive of what others have gone through, even if you haven't.

- General rules of "behave nice" and "respect others"; however, please be aware that intent is not magic, and also please be aware of the privilege of politeness. If someone is angry at what you've said, think about it before flaming back.

- I am also not afraid to use the Banhammer of Doom. If you are being a tool, I will use it.

With that, I now head to bed and wait for the deluge of comments I will probably have in the morning.

Also, before someone asks, this is an open post, so you are welcome to link it around as much as you should like.

This entry was originally posted at http://nonny.dreamwidth.org/478761.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Comments

( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
kaelstra
May. 6th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
I haven't read 50 Shades, though I have access to a copy, after hearing about a scene where he literally rips a tampon out of Ana to have sex with her, I was like LOL what? and just have not bothered to read it.

That said, this article gives me a lot of heebie jeebies about the book. I am not actively participating in the BDSM subculture currently, but I have seen plenty of similar stories to yours.

Christian is a startling realistic Dominant that borders on abuse on his good days, and is far darker on his bad. Honestly, this isn't that far from 50's source material, where Edward was a creepy controlling stalker.

I knew a girl who was 16-17, and was basically just becoming aware she was really interested in BDSM. An older male member of this message board we all used to be members of found out and zeroed in on her almost instantly after all but ignoring her before. We became aware he was pretending to be a Dominant just to basically get close to her, and they were planning a meetup at some point, and it eventually happened. He talked about how he beat her so badly she couldn't walk properly, how he broke a belt on her, and hit her with a coatrack in the hotel room they were in. She was distraught after their first meeting, but sighed it off and said, "Well, he's my Dom, I guess this is what it's like." I tried to tell her that it was wrong what he did, but she had no other experience to compare it to, and just assumed to get the kinky sex she wanted, she had to put up with outright abuse. Sadly, I don't know what ever happened to her, but I hope she's okay.
elialshadowpine
May. 6th, 2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
That particular scene didn't actually disturb me that much in context. Out of context, it's weird, but in context, it goes along with the whole "You are mine to have sex with as I see fit" in the contract. (And this is something that isn't uncommon in 24/7 relationships I know of.)

Unfortunately, I have heard so many stories like that. It is really sad. I mean, some of it is pretty close to my own story, which I'm not sure I'm comfortable with discussing publicly. :(
(no subject) - everstar3 - May. 6th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kaelstra - May. 7th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
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soundofherwings
May. 6th, 2012 03:47 pm (UTC)
I've not read it yet but probably will just to know exactly what everyone is talking about.

The stuff you wrote about is why I will likely never get involved in a local scene. I am involved in the scene on Second Life, mostly spending my time in women-only sims (they're not entirely safe either. I logged on one day and immediately a Domme I am friends with messaged me to vent about a guy showing up on their sim and giving one of her subs problems). I like having a computer between me and whoever I am playing with, especially since I've run into trouble on there before.

By the way, I've seen you on fetlife. We're both in the feminist group I believe. Would you mind if I sent you a friend's request?
elialshadowpine
May. 6th, 2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
Of course! Go right ahead :)
(no subject) - soundofherwings - May. 6th, 2012 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
nicosian
May. 6th, 2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
My main concerns: not in order of critical importance..

1. That people think this is good writing.
2. That it was put to press sans ANY editing, straight off the fanfic source document ( legal issues? fuck it, Meyer HAD to have been paid off IMO.)
3.That people wanting to dabble, will see this as a template for normal sexual relations, of which BDSM can be.

And its that last one, that gets me. That now anyone INTO any aspect of BDSM or even just not quite vanilla....

That it does set up this horrible horrible scenario as a normal situation, leaves me wondering now will the people who want this for less than egalitarian purposes ( and in my view, BDSM and all its flavors should be, must be, the balance has to be there), are going to find it a nice little hunting ground and basis for abuse.

That Ana/Bella is this gog eyed newbie virgin is also epic horrible, not in a shaming way, but that the author thought it a clever trope.

That Edward/christian just abuses on her ( I found the orig fanfic online, it is, save for name changes, exact and identical, i won't pay for such garbage), that he ignores her wishes, her needs, no care, no anything, I cannot even comprehend. the character has utterly no...will. no self esteem. Its horrible to read. The tampon scene, I might be insane, but that would be incredibly painful and dry, for her. He doesn't care. Its edgy! its taboo! He mentions FISTING and Anal sex, and "train her ass"....well, no. Asses don't need to be trained like a puppy but if he's the sort to just use her as he pleases, its a massive damn red flag.

I am no hardcore girl in the "scene". But I wager this woman did next to NO research, no reading, made zero attempt at understanding the psychology of sex, dominance, BDSM, and the proper USE of any gear. Flogging a pregnant belly? Jumping fuck WHAT?

That he completely utterly goes off the deep end screaming abuse when the character winds up pregnant, belittling her, is the hallmark, IMO of an abuser.

And so what we have isn't this slinky sexual fun tale, its this horrible horrible story of an abuser and his victim. Read a crime novel, and you'll see "shades of", because its exactly that.

I'm well inclined now to add to my novella/novel, which is very much a safe, sane, equal, rational BDSM tale, a page on "here's resources. Educate yourself if you're going to be dabbling, because I do not want people to get hurt." I am meticulously aware of making sure none of the scenes read creepy or abusive. I really want to raise the damn bar from the depths where this fool has set it.

( and oh, the editing. Iced water: no. its "ice water." And an audi isn't a particularily high end car. nor is "twinnings tea", paracetamol is a britishism, used by two apparent americans. its Louboutin, not Lobatan or whatever multiple misspelling. And on and on. This woman SHAT out a fanfic, and if that's what trad publishers are gunning for now, I'm pretty much done with traditional publishing methods. Not one single effin edit.)

And yet people are reading it for fun, and ideas and fantasy. Good gods. this isn't Tolkien, this is things people DO in real life. And mark my words, someone's going to be stupid and get hurt.

Your story, non, your history, is exactly why this thing red flags all my red flags and then goes out for MORE red flags.

I have to wonder if the author really "researched" with her husband. She coyly mentions it but I strongly doubt she's ever so much as done anything past missionary. I really just don't see it. She writes Ana having these impossible one touch orgasms. Leaving any room for suspension of disbelief, and you still have nothing left to go with. I don't expect someone to go whole-hog on it, but come on, try to put some effort into it, EL. ( this isn't uncommon from what I've seen/heard of M/M fanficcers, who just don't understand biology, sex, or physiology in any base sense.)

Fuck. I hate this book. I hate that it's marketed as mommyporn! and openly as "fanfic!".

Augh.

Ok.

Feeling a bit better now.



elialshadowpine
May. 6th, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
I only read the first book so the details of 2 and 3 are beyond me ;)

Fisting, anal sex, and anal training are things that I have run into when reading kink checklists online so those didn't seem especially strange to me.

FLOGGING A PREGNANT BELLY? Is this in the 3rd book? Cause, uh, WTF. O.O At least the stuff in the 1st book seemed relatively accurate, but there wasn't much more described than a spanking, light flogging, and use of a crop. (None of which I consider particularly hardcore and all of which are often available in joke shops like Spencer's.)

Yeah, one of my big concerns is how many people have said they have read this book and that it's given them ideas to try in the bedroom. Eep! I hope they do proper research first, because while this is honestly realistic to things I have seen in the scene -- it is not safe!

The prose is another matter entirely, and one I left alone otherwise I would be here ranting for several hours. ;)
(no subject) - nicosian - May. 6th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elialshadowpine - May. 7th, 2012 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
everstar3
May. 6th, 2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
But if she'd done any research, she wouldn't have been faithful to her source material!
(no subject) - nicosian - May. 6th, 2012 10:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
naamah_darling
May. 7th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
I'm well inclined now to add to my novella/novel, which is very much a safe, sane, equal, rational BDSM tale, a page on "here's resources. Educate yourself if you're going to be dabbling, because I do not want people to get hurt."

I actually think this is an amazing idea, and if you wouldn't mind, I'd kinda like to steal it for future use. Something I'm going to FINISH SOMEDAY BY GOD has pretty dysfunctional relationships going on at the beginning, and I'd like to acknowledge that it's problematic in a way that is classy and also not self-undermining. This seems like a good way to go about that.

Also, the line about asses not needing to be trained like puppies made me LOL, which I very badly needed on a very frustrating day.
(no subject) - nicosian - May. 7th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
everstar3
May. 6th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I have to admit part of the reason I've never explored the local scene is my awareness that going in as a newbie and a woman screams "I'M NAIVE AND VULNERABLE AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING" to any fuckneck on the prowl. I'm older now than I was when I was in my first (ha, only) relationship, but I'm still extremely wary of sex as a situation where my partner would most likely feel entitled to being in control of me. I do like to think I've evolved to the point where I'd disagree very strongly with anyone who tried to assert his control, though.

True story: my ex, whom I was dating during a time in my life when I was undiagnosed and unmedicated for depression, suggested to me that we might be able to slap each other to jar the other out of a dark mood or whatever. Why I agreed to this I do not remember, except that it seemed reasonable at the time, along the lines of Mrs. Peacock getting slapped in Clue. He tried it exactly once with me: I slapped him back and yelled, "You never get to do that again!" In retrospect, it was a terrible idea to which I shouldn't have agreed, but I did because for some reason I thought he knew better than I did. Well, back then, I thought everybody knew better than I did. Ah, well.

I was going to say that I wished there were classes or something to help subs negotiate the idea of being submissive without being spineless, but I think that sounds a little blamey on my part. In my own extremely limited experience, though, it was really easy for me to talk myself into a mindset where any boundaries I tried to have meant I was somehow "in the wrong." I guess what I'm thinking is that I wish there were a way for the idea that subs are people first to exist in the scene without spoiling it.

Ah, never mind; I don't know what I'm talking about.

Edited at 2012-05-06 09:45 pm (UTC)
nicosian
May. 6th, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
Makes sense. I'm no authoritative thing on BDSM but I've done a frackton of reading/thinking/research on what I find so much more interesting, on the mental/psych aspects of why people partake, and found some interesting blogs from doms who are as equally as introspective and its been a good foundation for my own ideas on what i'd want/not want, what to expect, how things might go.

( I don't identify as dom or sub, its a completely subjective thing at the moment. I can be one, I can be the other.)

The thing that jars me so much is I don't see much consent in the book. I see pressuring, badgering, coercion and manipulation and not a scenario where either character experiences real growth, or connection. Its so...just..clashy and wrong.

And yeah, it could totally set un-aware folk up for some abuse if theyre not careful. I really wish the writer had done her responsibility.

(no subject) - everstar3 - May. 7th, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
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thistle_chaser
May. 7th, 2012 01:10 am (UTC)
I dabbled in things when I was younger, and luckily we did have classes. A few of the groups even required that you take X number of classes before you'd be considered for membership. Even as a younger person, I was happy to go! The first one I attended covered basic things like "always tell someone where you'll be, make sure they have a phone number for the place [pre-cell phones], a time you'll be back by, etc". This was in San Francisco, which might be part of why. (I'm not at all saying nothing bad happened here, I never got active enough to know one way or the other, but that we're such a sex-positive place might be why we had classes available.)
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elialshadowpine
May. 7th, 2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and there are definitely doms out there that prey on young, naive women who don't know any better.

There are classes. The problem is that the people teaching the classes are not always trustworthy. There's a huge problem with people that are well-known in the kink community, that teach classes, and associate with newbies, and help people learn the ropes, that then take advantage of these people (frequently women).

I generally advise people to go with a friend who is experienced and aware of these things. Problem is, a lot of people like to view the community through rose-colored glasses and don't believe that bad stuff happens there. And it does; the dark side of consent being important is that people who manipulate others into consenting to things they don't want, or sometimes even violate consent entirely, get a pass. And some communities are worse then others.

If you did get involved, I would just go to munches and socialize with people and not play until you have a better idea who is and isn't trustworthy.
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nicosian
May. 7th, 2012 01:40 am (UTC)
I think a contract makes sense.Got no problem however people want to negotiate or implement one. Its just that the one in the book isn't really addressed and when it is, the protagonist completely disregards it anyway. he brings it up. insists on it, and turfs it, as far as I can tell. Her wishes, her needs, mean NOTHING.

I know quite a few people in happy kink sex communities, there's always bound to be drama when there's other people, but No happy? Not sure I believe that. I just think the drama stirrers in groups get more control than they deserve to be given. It would be like saying there's no such thing as a happy straight vanilla community.

The issue I have with the book extends to people thinking this is the way of a normal BDSM/ or ANY relationship, and that women are swoonypants over this horrible horrible dynamic. I wouldn't have expected the writer to make this a teachable lesson book, but the least she could have done was written it less ghastly and abusive. But if it's ripping from the same screwy relationship from Twilight, I'm not the least bit shocked. Neither author did any research or thinking and now we have girls thinking these sorts of situations are normal.

Its not like harry potter, we all know magic is fake. Its a real life topic, and issue, and practice, and in my view, incredibly stupid of her to present it the way she did.

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emily_goddess
May. 14th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
This is a good post and you should feel good. I'm only passingly aware of 50 Shades, but if someone had described it to me as simply a 24/7 D/s fantasy, I probably would have snapped it up in a second. So I'm glad for your commentary.

And yeah. I'm not in the kink scene at all (kinky, yes, but not in the scene) but even I know that abusive doms are a problem. Bless you for not being silent about it.
( 47 comments — Leave a comment )