There are dozens of reviews out there concerning Fifty Shades of Grey, so you’ve probably heard almost everything there is to hear about here. Here I want to talk about the issues I had with it and those issues prompted me to take a closer look at the world of BDSM and address my own concerns that I had with it.
Right, to start with, Fifty Shades of Grey originally started out as a fan fiction of Twilight, so it was never going to be War and Peace. This was the state of mind that I approached it with; I expected a fairly shallow piece of writing – like Twilight, only with more sex. However this isn’t what disturbed me about this book, it wasn’t even the fact that it dealt with BDSM themes – what did worry me was how BDSM was represented in it.
It may help if I first describe the characters a bit. The female protagonist is Ana, a virgin whose closest thing to a relationship is what she’s read in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (shame the book she appeared in wasn’t to the standard of her own reading tatstes). She’s beyond inexperienced; she’s never even kissed anyone and certainly has no idea about BDSM. She’s a complete doormat and spends most of her time blushing and quivering with delight under the gaze of Christian. Seriously, she orgasms if he so much as farts in her rental vinicity. Also she has no gag reflex. Really.
Christina himself is totally abusive and manipulative with Ana. When he finds out that Ana’s a virgin he initially yells at her for not mentioning it before (because it’s obviously so easy just to slip ‘oh hey, just so you know – I’m still a virgin’ into a casual conversation). He then assures her that he’ll ease her into it all and then proceeds to bang her like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, (“don’t tap it, smash it!”) because obvious having sex for the first time isn’t at all painful. Not to mention that he’s already drawing up a contract that’ll basically make Ana is 24/7 slave – pretty sure that drawing up a contract with an extremely inexperienced girl who hasn’t even heard of BDSM would be considered completely out of line. How on earth can she be expected to give consent to something she doesn’t understand?
What they almost do right was making a list of do’s and don’ts ( I say almost right as this list was part of the aforementioned contract and should have been done before there was any sexual contact). He proceeds to completely terrify her with mentions of electrical and fire play (not completely sure but pretty sure this kind of thing would be complete off the books for a first-time, regardlesss of how enthusiastic they may be) and even tried to pressure her into changing her mind on certain things (she says she’s not sure on anal and he basically turns that around and says to her ‘but I really wanna! You’ll like it- promise!’). He’s perfectly aware of her lack of knowledge because every now and again he takes the time to have a good laugh about it – because someone who’s entering something as scary as their first relationship, never mind their first BDSM relationship, would feel really reassured by their partner mocking their inexperience.
The only positive thing I can say here is that it introduces the idea of a list and the concept of hard limits (things you WILL NOT do) and soft limits (things you’re not sure about, but may be willing to try under the right circumstances). I hope people really take that on-board – it could potentially be very damaging to a relationship if one person takes it too far in a scene because they didn’t know how far “too far” was. Couples need to acknowledge that there’s some things that one or the other simply WILL NOT do and that there’s also the chance that upon trying something out, the reality doesn’t live up to the fantasy – either for one person or both. Of course this is where safe words come in. I personally believe that if you’re doing anything that carries an emotional or physical risk you should always have a safe word. The book does mention safe words, with Christian mentioning that he wouldn’t want Ana to need a safe word when she points out the problems associated with gags (more pressuring? Or trying to make her feel safer by implying that he won’t cross her limits? I’m not entirely sure, but either way I think that at this point in the relationship he should be emphasising the fact that she can always use the safe word when she needs it).
The most important thing lacking her is trust. BDSM isn’t about hitting or humiliating people – anyone can do that. It’s about understanding your partner and their limits and being able to push them in a safe way that isn’t damaging to either of you. The sub needs to trust their Dom won’t take it too far and the Dom needs to trust that the sub won’t cry rape if things go a little bit wrong. There needs to be communication and complete trust on both sides.
Christian is clearly not to be trusted. Aside from taking advantage of Ana’s innocence he constantly ignores her limits – after being spanked for the first time she asks him not to do it again, but of course, he does. Yes she did enjoy it, but she was clearly experiencing some mixed feelings about it. Any sub with more experience would have been straight out the door the minute their Dom began to ignore their set limits. It isn’t BDSM, it’s abuse – being a Dom doesn’t mean that what he says does. Quite the opposite – it’s usually the subs who set out the soft and hard limits and it’s expected that those will be completely respected and stuck-to. I hate to think of some idiot treating his sub or partner like shit because they think they’re just allowed to do whatever the hell they want.
On top of all this is Christian’s background. He had various serious issues with his parents and his first sexual and BDSM experience was when he was fifteen years old with a female pedophile that he refuses to acknowledge as such. So of course, all of Christian’s kinky sexual preferences and his general aloofness are put down to his bad experiences as a child. Moral of the story? The only people into BDSM are psychologically damaged. Bullshit. (Now i have to be honest and say that I personally believe that there are exceptions to this rule, which I’ll talk about in another post. That’s not me saying ‘people into so-and-so are deranged,’ it’s me talking about the fact that it’s sometimes difficult for me to distinguish between some forms of BDSM and genuinely self-destructive behavior).
What’s important to take away is that participating in BDSM does not equal damaged. It’s just a preference, same as the type of food or music someone likes – albeit a bit more complex.
It’s here where Ana starts to become manipulative as well. She finds that by agreeing to do certain things she can get Christian to do things he’s not comfortable with – for example, talking about his past. It’s basically prostitution for non-monetary pay. (God, I think they might deserve each other). As it is they do get together in the end. Christian is cured of his unhealthy BDSM issues and they gallop off into the sunset. Well, perhaps not quite what happened as there are two other books full of the same incredibly boring sex scenes. I’ve heard mention of whipping a pregnant belly – something that I have to say I definitely do not find acceptable, although I can’t be sure of how this particular issues is usually approached. That’s assuming that it’s even true of course, I don’t particularly feel like reading on to find out.
All that without mentioning the appalling writing style (‘holy cow’ is the new ‘chagrin’).
So, how does this all affect me? Quite frankly the thing is that upon reading this book I had some quite serious misgivings about it. I’ve limited exposure to BDSM but only in the form of porn, which is hardly a reliable source. It had never bothered me before because I had never considered the mindsets – the fact that people sometimes like to give or receive pain and humiliation. Without knowledge of the various safety nets and the predominance of trust which are the cornerstones of BDSM – those nations were, quite frankly, horrifying. How was I to distinguish between the consensual act and abuse?
The thought of this all was seriously affecting me. Perhaps there is a little in the self-destructive masochist in me and when I come across a thought that disturbs me, I tend to take a good bit of time dwelling on it and generally making myself feel worse (such as a period in my life where I was seriously upsetting myself with constant thoughts of death. I can’t really say these thoughts have been resolved, I’m not sure they can be resolved as the answers to those sort of questions tend to be worse than the question themselves. I have however got myself to the point where I’ve not constantly thinking about it and upsetting myself all the time).
But quite rightly, I didn’t like being driven to near sleeplessness and a severe drop in appetite just from merely thinking of the subject. So I decided to go on an epic quest for knowledge as it’s my belief that fear is usually seated in ignorance of that which you are afraid of.
So I got on the internet and googled away, trying to get as many different viewpoints as possible on as many different topics as possible. Everything from what BDSM is, why people like or don’t like it, why people sometimes fear or hate it, what the varying levels of BDSM are, the opinions of vanilla people on BDSM, the subject of trust, responsibilities of the various parties involved, keeping safe, how people approach their vanilla partners with their desire to participate in BDSM, what people can get or achieve through BDSM, what happens when it goes wrong, the BDSM ‘scene,’ the concept of 24/7 slavery, the various mindsets of the people involved and people’s own stories and experiences. God I love the internet – imagine trawling through the library trying to come up with that lot!
What this blog is about is what I discovered and how I feel about what I discovered. Sometimes I found myself with mixed feelings on a subject or feeling very angry about others, without knowing quite why that was how I felt. I want to be able to decipher the reasons behind my anxieties and anger and see if they can’t be turned into something positive. There may be some aspects of sex and BDSM that I can never understand – but I’ll be damned if I won’t try.