I hadn’t intended on writing about this particular topic. I feel like the subject of the 50 Shades of Grey series has been hit at so many different angles and beaten over the head so many times already, that I can’t really say more than what has been by others. We all by now either love it, or hate it; there’s rarely an in between, and everyone has a reason for why they do or do not support the franchise.
Every now and then, though, I come across an article, and it makes me want to say something. [This article,] for example, posted to Fight the New Drug, was one that had me squinting a bit – and that’s saying something considering I actually managed to put my glasses on this morning.
I want to start off and say, that I think the author’s heart was in the right place. 50 Shades of Grey isn’t the best portrayal of a relationship – the story is rife with stalking, abuse, and themes that, by 2017, you would think wouldn’t be so prevalent in romantic literature or even erotic literature. That being said, I think the article ultimately fails to explain the real problem with 50 Shades of Grey, and stories like it.
A large portion of the criticism that I see for 50 Shades of Grey, especially in this article, lies less in criticism that it normalizes an abusive relationship, and more in the criticism of the kind of sexual relationship that’s portrayed, and the demonization of ‘deviant’ sexual relationships by associating them only with abuse.
To break it down. Christian Grey is marketed as a sadist – a person who enjoys inflicting pain during sex. He and the main character, Ana, are written as entering a BDSM relationship – which, for those who are unaware, means bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, and masochism.
Kinky sex, in laymen terms.
This, at the end of the day, wouldn’t be a problem. BDSM, while not for everyone, is a sexual and emotional relationship that requires a lot of trust and care, and most importantly, active consent from all parties involved. 50 Shades of Grey, if it were truly a story about BDSM, revolving around a Dominant and his submissive exploring their desires together in a healthy way, would actually be an interesting story, especially given BDSM is so misunderstood by mainstream society, and mainstream portrayals of it (in books, on T.V., in porn, for example) often don’t touch on the intricacies of what a real BDSM relationship entails.
Unfortunately, 50 Shades of Grey takes elements of BDSM (the sadistic Dominant, a submissive, bondage, etc.,) and wraps them around what is, inherently, an abusive relationship. 50 Shades of Grey is not an accurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship; it’s the story of a man with a slew of personal and mental issues using his desires as a justification for his actions. While BDSM is involved on the surface, yes, the problem is not inherently in BDSM, it’s in the fact that Christian Grey is a creepy scumbag. E. L. James did not do her research, for one, before setting out on her journey to write 50 Shades of Grey, and rather than deliver what could have been an eye-opening story about a BDSM relationship, instead gave something wildly different from what an actual BDSM relationship is.
What articles like the one posted to Fight the New Drug fail to realize, ultimately, is this distinction. BDSM is not inherently sexual abuse, and abuse is not inherently BDSM. What we’re left with is a distraction from the actual problem at the core of what the popularization of 50 Shades of Grey does (the normalization of abuse against women) as well as a lack of understanding the differences between consensual ‘deviant’ sex, and harmful sexual violence. People write stories like 50 Shades of Grey, or who write articles like the one linked, ultimately fail to understand BDSM at its core, and are not equipped to write informed pieces about it.
Further, while 50 Shades of Grey is a very good example of the exploitation of women, and the public’s fascination with the romanticizing of violence and abuse against women, conflating BDSM as inherently exploitative to women specifically, implies that women are the expected ‘victim’ parties, and associates submissiveness within the BDSM relationship as being abused. Submissives, whether they are women or men, or nonbinary, are not victims because they have chosen to be submissive within the realms of their personal relationships between them and their Dominants.
I could easily go into how insulting that entire notion is, not only to women as a whole, but to victims of abuse, especially those who enjoy BDSM in their relationships, but that is another topic for another day.
The bottom line is, when we discuss 50 Shades of Grey and the problems that come with it, we need to understand all aspects of the content we are critiquing. You cannot claim to be against something you do not understand, and this ultimately causes more harm than good.