Why you need to ditch the ‘I hate 50 Shades of Grey’ bandwagon

Official Stampy Pants RantI have just about come to the end of my rope with the entire anti 50 Shades of Grey bandwagon. Those people who, for whatever reason, find Fifty Shades of Grey far more damaging to society and worth campaigning to ban than, for example, films like Saw, American Pie or a myriad of other dodgy morality films. Or how about TV shows such as Family Guy which blatantly features bestiality, paedophilia, a murderous baby and a ‘fun’ rapist neighbour? Apparently these are all fine to continue.

Tamsin Flowers made a great point on Facebook this morning, regarding the actor playing Christian Grey in the 50 Shades film.

When you compare what Jamie Dornan acted in The Fall (tying up, torturing and murdering women, if you haven’t seen it) with what he does in 50 Shades – and that series went out on BBC2 at 9.00pm – it makes the world appear completely crazy!”

Liv Honeywell also provided a fantastic quote which is spectacularly relevant:

“I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.” – George RR Martin.

Consider this. If you are a person who identifies as vanilla or have given yourself the label of ‘normal’ (whatever that really means), and you’re bemoaning the Fifty Shades of Grey film then really you’re against freedom of speech and expression. If you count yourself as a part of the BDSM scene and slate both 50 Shades of Grey as well as those who have found it exciting and new as ‘doing it wrong’ then you’re doing BDSM a disservice yourself. Your kink is not my kink. Your understanding of BDSM is not my understanding. BDSM, to my mind, is meant to be welcoming and inclusive. The only real ‘rule’ is adulthood and consent of all parties.

If you see yourself as the Olympic standard swimmer or diver of BDSM, don’t be a bully and laugh at those in the perceived shallower end of the swimming pool with their armbands on. Cheer them on. Give them support. Feel happy that they dared to get in the damn pool at all.

Ok so 50 Shades of Grey might not be the perfect expression of BDSM. Or maybe it is. I don’t count myself as a judge of ‘perfect’ and ‘true’ BDSM. If anyone should be riled by 50 Shades of Grey (books and film) it’s a male chastity loving Femdom kinkster. The books didn’t offend me. The film looks pretty sweet, to be honest. Not earth moving for ME personally but I understand and recognise that is IS and WILL be earth moving and life changing for many people out there. In a positive way. In a ‘now I can indulge my fantasies and not have to hide them or feel wrong about them’ kinda way.

So 50 Shades of Grey might not be an ideal representation of how you understand BDSM. It might not be hardcore enough. It might be too much. It might not have elements you would have wanted and it might include scenes, subjects and issues you’d rather it didn’t. But 50 Shades is what we’ve got. Yes, there have been plenty of other kinky books, bondage stories, tomes which are beloved by the D/s crowd and held up in a white-knuckled grip by those screeching from their soap box that THIS is what you call a kinky novel and THAT is what you call ‘good’ BDSM erotica. Ann Rice. Story of O. The Marquis de Sade. Sacher-Masoch and Venus in Furs.

None of these books ever went on to be sold in supermarkets. None of these would be made into a film that would be viewable in ordinary cinemas. None of these were accepted by the masses, talked about globally and set the world buzzing (yes, literally too) with the possibility of something different actually happening in the bedrooms, relationships, love lives and/or adult lives of millions of so-called ‘normal’ (ugh) folk. Not a view any more than ‘BDSM is something dark, dangerous and seedy’ but rather a more positive ‘hey wait, this bondage stuff seems quite nice. It seems like something I might want to do.’

It’s being talked about on morning TV, with types of bondage restraints and implements discussed and their comparative merits and flaws debated by personalities and celebrities alike. This is the world changing. This is part of the process. Not a ready-made, completed process. But a shift towards a world and time more tolerant of kink, bondage and alternative sex lives and relationships. You are lucky enough to be living in this time of societal evolution, a time of changing attitudes towards kink and BDSM. And you have the audacity to poke holes in the catalyst for this change, to attempt to discredit the works, as if this is the most important part of the entire equation. You have the gall to, time and time again, mock EL James’ writing, ok maybe her lack of finesse, her repeated adjectives and turns of phrase. All this despite maybe not even attempting to write anything yourself; or if you have, nothing that has made it into the mainstream consciousness.

I don’t know why this book in particular did this. Perhaps it’s the very tameness of it itself, the rushed terminology, the vague settings, the almost bland nature of the characters (in my opinion). They are doable, achievable, for us normal-type-folk. People could be not only like them (in nature, if not in finances) but do it BETTER. If Ana Steele can only come up with falling through a doorway and biting her bloody lip all the time, what could Jane Smith from No 9 Union Road achieve in her life? If Christian Grey is the epitome of a Dominant, lusted after man for having some nipple clamps and doing a bit of flogging action, perhaps Andy Brown who works on a building site but has enough spare cash to buy such accessories could introduce it into his (consensual) love life with his partner?

I’ve read blog posts which slate 50 Shades because it is Hollywood romanticising ‘this’ (with a picture of Christian Grey sitting and Ana Steele at his feet) as sweet love and romance instead of the oh-so-sweet 80s film type romance that said blogger grew up with – and is obviously therefore the perfect and only allowed representation. There are laments that the next generation (won’t somebody please think of the children) will not be taught ‘sweet love and romance’ but instead we’ve sold them out for an orgasm over such ‘abuse’.

But even in so-called vanilla courtships there are elements of power exchange and levels of control. The guy who plays a favourite song in the garden of the girl sulking at him from her bedroom above. Publicly humiliating himself. The girl playing hard to get, making the guy jump through hoops to impress her. The ‘passionate’ love scenes with the woman being forcibly knocked back against a wall to be kissed. The stereotypical bed shaking action of a ‘rough’ sex scene. They’re all examples of ‘acceptable’ love, romance and passion, yet to be honest they are on the same spectrum of 50 Shades and also, of BDSM as a whole.

I’ve always said I don’t believe in BDSM and vanilla being different worlds, we’re all on the one spectrum of sexuality. It comes down to personal preferences as to how much control a certain relationship will have, will need in order to appeal to those involved, in order to be consented to. The only thing ‘wrong’ in ANY adult, sexual or other relationship is where there is no consent and things happen against a person’s desire and will. ie. Not agreeing to the actions, no care for the persons involved, no pleasure.

I grew up in a very repressive, protected (from reality) religion. As a young teen I was only allowed to watch U films or at best a PG which had been checked by my parents first.  Still, even with this, it was from such a young age that I realised I got absolutely fuck all from watching the typical romance films (that I was allowed to watch). If a guy was humiliating himself in order to woo a woman’s interest then I would be mildly interested. If a woman was being restrained, even if just a guy’s arms holding hers down, I would be more interested than if there was no restraint.

This wasn’t due to external influences, I’d had none in this way. I was not exposed to anything labelled BDSM or kinky on TV, in films, or in conversation with others. But something innately in me knew that in my nature I was more curious about, interested in and eventually aroused by different factors than were presented to me as love and romance. I didn’t want soft hugs and tender kisses without being held down. I didn’t want a man (or woman, as it turned out) to look into my eyes and say my name softly as he/she fucked me gently. I wanted to have my wrists held behind my back, I wanted a hand tight around my throat, I wanted my hair around a fist and my head yanked back as I was kissed so hard that I would think I was actually dying from not being able to breathe, for my lips and neck to be bitten until they bled and I had lasting bruises to wear with pride. I didn’t want soft sex in the dark I wanted flipping over and beating with the lights on full. I didn’t want private intimacy I wanted to have hot wax dripped over my tits with an audience watching. I didn’t want a long, hard cock with a rich suitor attached, I wanted the choice of a man or a woman as a sexual partner, to ride life’s taboos which had been denied to me for so long and to taste the most exotic (to some, obscene) pleasures that the world and other consenting people could offer.

I could very easily differentiate between those lusts and longings and the ACTUAL abuse that came after those thoughts had first appeared in my psyche. They are opposite. The desire for those things was there. I wanted them. I wanted to be respected enough and for a person to feel such affection for me that we would explore them together. Those things are not rape. Those things are not abuse. Those things are not damaging or harmful to me. Those things were begged for, as I begged an early partner to tie me up to sleep at night and they wouldn’t, and I would cry because I felt I wanted and needed it but they thought it would be wrong. But I was locked away in a cupboard by the same partner to hide me during parties and this was justifiable in his mind. He wouldn’t spank me consensually but he would take to beating my body, throwing me down the stairs, threatening to throw me from an upstairs window into the road and not believing me when eventually I was raped by two of his friends.

The desires I had as a part of my stubborn and yet only just blossoming sexuality were and are NOT abuse. Those things were abuse that he did. Not the things I wanted to happen instead from someone who loved me enough to do them. Those desires that grew up inside me like one flower in a desert. A stubborn, straggling, singular blossom which refuses to wane and die even in an arid environment without being fed or watered. Not only not being fed or watered by anyone around but in fact, someone actively trying to stamp it out. I’m a stubborn bitch. I’d had my time being told no, being repressed, being sheltered away from reality and adulthood and pleasure. I wasn’t having it any more. I was going to explore my wants and pleasure. No matter what. Don’t you dare try and stop me.

So, are you going to try and blame those early desires on external influences? From 6 months to 18 years the adults around me shielded me in an extreme fashion from anything sexual. Sex scenes in films were fast forwarded through and my brother and I were not to watch. I could not associate with children who weren’t part of the same religion, not to play out with them, to go to their house or even go on any extra-curricular school trips. The only associating with people who weren’t in the same religion that happened was when I would be taken door to door on a Saturday and Sunday morning to sell the bible to those who answered the door. I saw nothing kinky or BDSM there either.

But I am kinky. I was kinky. It is IN me, it’s not something that’s happened TO me. It is a part of my nature and it cannot be denied. The 50 Shades of Grey movie will not cause the next generation to be kinky/abusive, whatever your take on the story. It may be the way in which many find a way to openly express what is already inside them somewhere, that they have been denying or refusing to admit, for fear of what a partner/neighbour/the world at large would say. If people didn’t already harbour a desire for different sex, different pleasure than the accepted-by-the-mainstream type sex, then 50 Shades would not have made them suddenly want it. All it did was allow people to explore it in the open and actually do something about it, rather than stuff it to the darkest recesses of their mind, for those desires never to be fulfilled.

Fact: The post- 50 Shades of Grey world is more open to ideas about bondage, sexy punishments and the use of sex toys in adult relationships. Is this really such a terrible thing? I don’t think so.

 

 

 

17 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, Cara. What an intense and personal post.

    Coming from the place I do, the abuse I’ve seen 50 Shades get is mostly divided between poor, badly researched writing, non consent/abuse issues and negative portrayal of BDSM – from writers who resent its popularity, consentier than thou younger scene people and kinkier than thou practitioners.

    I don’t argue with any of them, though I have to confess I enjoyed the book (well, the original fanfic, which in fairness worked better in installments) far more than their preachy and bitter tones… but that makes me an undiscerning reader. I don’t think they’re wrong, but they’ve put me off.

    I’m going to copy a comment of mine from an online paper today, in response to a woman who knows nothing about S&M dismissing it out of hand – the articles about how a small town in North East Ireland has banned the film, which is really hilarious if you’ve ever seen Father Ted.

    don’t know about the movie but from all accounts, the book, is not about sex but S&M. Yep, perverted.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 17 hrs · Edited
    Hide 17 Replies

    Iris so you’ve read it then
    Like · 20 hrs

    Catherine Nicol Nope not my style to crack open trend books -friends say it’s about S&M Why would anyone give that a look?
    Like · 1 · 20 hrs

    Iris ah, of course, the ‘friends’….no need to be shy
    Like · 20 hrs

    Catherine cryptic iris ?
    Like · 20 hrs

    Catherine Prudish = S&M
    Like · 20 hrs

    Vida Laughing out loud. Because it makes them come? Because it’s what they’ve always thought about? Because it makes total sense to them? Because it’s all about consent, communication and empowerment? Just because you don’t understand it or know anything about it doesn’t mean it’s not like fresh air to the people involved in it.

  2. I applaud you Cara! Excellent piece. These books brought me back to reading and has led to seek out further (better written) literature involving BDSM /Erotica, but it hasn’t changed me … I’m still same person I was 3 years ago. Vida’s above comment about Father Ted had me in stitches as I saw this episode lately and said to my hubby ‘wonder if we will see any protests like this when the Fifty film comes out?’. People have the option to watch or not, to purchase the miriad of products being released to tie in …just coz its there, don’t mean you have to buy it. Just don’t give me and and my friends shit for standing up for Ms James. It’s my choice not yours. BTW – I’m not going to the cinema to see it, I don’t have the time. I will watch it once it’s on blu Ray eventually…. A personal choice – I prefer to read my smut not watch it.

  3. Wow, great post.

    I don’t believe people are born kinky, it’s just something that grows in people as they get older. Some of us then follow those desires whilst others ignore them and try to live past them. But regardless of that there should be more of a live and let live culture.

    People wouldn’t rip into someone about their religion, but those same people will rip into someone about their sexual desires. As long as no one is hurt (well not too much anyway 🙂 ) and it’s between consenting adults it shouldn’t matter.

  4. Have you considered that there are some of us who dislike 50 Shades, and who also dislike all those other movies/TV shows you mentioned? I don’t watch TV, and very rarely watch movies, partly for that reason.

    In addition, the people who are unhappy about all the abuse that the books promote as ‘loving’ and ‘romantic’ and ‘perfect’ – they want for that abuse to not be normalised and accepted anymore. They don’t want the kind of abusive relationships you, and they, went through to be considered the epitome of relationship to aim for. Because some of those women who internalise that message will not be able to leave those abusive relationships. They will blame *themselves* for not being happy. For being a disappointment to their partner. For not being ‘enough’ for their partner. There is real, significant damage that is being done to people when this sort of abusive relationship is promoted as a good model to follow.

    Also, as a kinkster myself, I’m suddenly seeing all those guys that got kicked out of regular nightclubs because they wouldn’t accept a ‘no’ (after all, that’s what Christan Grey does, that’s what women want, right?) going to the fet clubs. They try to out-alpha all the other doms, and prove themselves the dommiest dom, by laughing when someone says no. They’re telling me that I’ll go home and have sex with them whether I like it or not, because I’m ‘just a sub’. They’re holding up 50 Shades as a good way to conduct BDSM, and conseqently they’re *really* bad at the consent stuff. So yeah, thanks for encouraging that, James.

    I get that you’re really happy that BDSM is being discussed in public now, I really do. I’m very pleased about that myself. I appreciate that side effect. But it’s when you like something that you have to be most prepared to critique it thoroughly. There’s a danger that you’ll brush aside the worrying things (like the abuse, stalking, rape, gaslighting, etc) because you like it as a whole. Which is fully within your rights, but to tell everyone else that they can’t be worried about the effects that this will have? To dismiss the critiques put out by DV survivors or other kinksters as ‘jumping on the bandwagon’? That’s the defensiveness of someone who is worried their beloved thing won’t stand up to scrutiny.

    All you needed to say was “I’m aware of these other critiques put out by others, but I’m not commenting on those, I’m just going to point out how great it is that this has suddenly gotten BDSM into the public sphere! Isn’t it great we can talk about it? We should be talking about this more!” and I would have entirely agreed with you about that.

    • I agree with most of this.

      From the article: “The only thing ‘wrong’ in ANY adult, sexual or other relationship is where there is no consent and things happen against a person’s desire and will. ie. Not agreeing to the actions, no care for the persons involved, no pleasure.” But that’s exactly what is shown in this series – no consent, things happening against Ana’s desire and will. She doesn’t agree to his actions, and he doesn’t act with care or concern for her.

      And oh my god, Cara Sutra. I am so glad you survived that terrible relationship.

  5. One of the more balanced comments on the phenomenon that is 59 Shades. For me the bottom line is, women in their milions LOVED this book and will no doubt adore the film too. We can’t all be wrong

  6. it’s not bad that more people are talking about BDSM, but that’s not the fault I find with 50 Shades. If the one rule of BDSM is consent, then we have to recognize how the lines in the story aren’t blurred but outright ignored. I do take offense to that, in addition to the bland characters, poor writing and terrible editing. Others love 50 Shades in the same way I love other problematic media. We cherry pick the meaning and themes and ignore things that don’t apply, but analyzing those problems regardless is always a smart move.

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