50 Shades of Terrible

Much can and has been made of how terrible 50 Shades of Grey is as a novel, as a story and for the women to whom it was created to appeal. One of the things which was missed in all of this was how terrible the film was for the actual BDSM community and Sex positive attitudes in general.

A couple of terms to begin: BDSM is generally bondage, domination, sadism, masochism. This covers a set of activities where people get enjoyment, generally sexual, out of pain and reward. Tops, doms or dominants are the ones giving the punishment and reward. Bottoms, subs or submissives are the ones receiving. It gets more complicated, feel free to research, it’s a fun kinky world out there. Engaging in BDSM is often referred to as “playing”.

Let’s get going with the idea that most of the things which are passed off as being BDSM in 50 Shades are not BDSM, they’re abuse. The stalking, the use of a contract for consent, the manipulation, this isn’t being kinky, this is abusing a woman.

Real BDSM is all about consent. It’s about testing limits, yes, but it’s about knowing what they are and respecting them. Good tops will know what their sub can handle. They will know how to get into things slowly and explore limits. Most important of all, when a limit is reached, there are safe words. A safe word is an immediate withdrawal of consent, it translates to “This isn’t fun anymore, stop”. Note, when consent stops, play stops, and this isn’t a point assigned by a contract before, it can be determined at any time by the dom and sub together.

Moreover, the whole book series is about “saving” or “fixing” the main character, who enjoys BDSM because of childhood trauma. The vast majority of the BDSM community just enjoy it. They don’t have deep seated trauma, they aren’t suffering from anything. They don’t need to be fixed or saved, and they are perfectly fine. This is a stereotype which has been used to oppress every sexual minority in history and it’s time for it to stop.

This isn’t to say that Grey doesn’t need to be fixed. He does. However, the part that needs to be fixed is the abusive, stalking, raping, sexual predator. That is a dangerous pattern of behaviour by which a devastating number of women are harmed. The book seems fairly ok with that side of him. Instead, it focuses on getting him to turn away from BDSM, which should be a violent, but harmless lifestyle shared by consenting adults. If Ana doesn’t want to be involved in BDSM, she should be able to say no. If she doesn’t want to be forced or coerced into it, she should have Christian arrested. Very different things.