Let’s Talk About Fifty Shades of Grey


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This is to serve as both a trigger warning and a warning about NSFW language and/or images

I know, you’re all probably tired of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey. EVERYONE is talking about it, and frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m tired of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey (henceforth FSOG), but I’m also tired of having to re-explain my points. More than anything though, I’m tired of seeing industry professionals defend this book.

Here are some things that I feel about this book:

  • The argument that “you shouldn’t read this because they’re shoddily written” is elitist as fuck. No, they’re not well written books, but you should see some of the things I read.
  • It’s awesome that people are now talking about/exploring their sexuality.
  • The books actively disregard consent.
  • The books actively glamorize domestic abuse.

I have never been a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey series. I wanted to like it, because I wanted there to be mainstream erotica that talked about sex and D/s relationships in a good way. Unfortunately, I was not thrilled by the book, in terms of the way that it made everyone who is into BDSM seem broken, damaged, or sick for being into BDSM, but also because of the casual dismissal of victims of domestic abuse. I have spoken out against the series for quite some time, and was happy that I was in line with a number of other people who share a lot of similar beliefs.

Because of that, I was so, so frustrated by the fact that Erika Moen, a comic creator I idolize defended the series especially after writing a comic about consent! In addition, someone I adore and admire defended the problematic portrayal of the relationship within the book because “it’s fantasy”. I respectfully, despite my language below, disagree.

We (as a culture) shred songs and artists who contribute to rape culture. We talk about consent, and how important consent is. We talk about video games and their effect on behaviors. We talk about how rape culture is cultivated by media that encourages shitty behaviors and doesn’t encourage active/deliberate/or enthusiastic consent. We encourage women (and men) to leave domestic abuse situations where they’re treated poorly by their partners. We (as the sex education, sex writing, and/or feminist communities) talk openly about how the things we’re writing about can affect the cultural dialogue. There is an entire conversation about how pornography has shaped the pubic hair trends in this country. It’s pretty fucking obvious how media can affect cultural change. However, we’re defending a book that blatantly ignores consent, and actively encourages domestic abuse.

I think that the biggest thing that upsets me about every defense of FSOG is that the people defending the books are quietly telling domestic abuse victims that their situations are actually romantic. That if your partner is controlling, obsessive, or displaying downright fucking frightening behavior that it is okay, he’s doing it because he is a Dominant.

“I like the control it gives me, Anastasia. I want you to behave in a particular way, and if you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn to behave the way I desire. I enjoy punishing you…I need to control you.” Fifty Shades of Grey pg. 287

 

With every person who defends FSOG because it’s “just a fantasy”, you are telling someone that the things they are experiencing at the hands of their partner are actually romantic. It is dismissive at best, and gaslighting at worst. That maybe the person that is physically, emotionally, and/or verbally abusing you is only doing it because he loves you and needs to control you. I spoke with the dear Hilary of RabbitDarling on the topic and she had this to say:

“When we permit, and promulgate, and consume media that makes it harder for someone to report that they are being hurt, we are in part complicit. Which is the difference between say, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and FSOG. It’s a question of whose side the narrative is on. Whose power are we amplifying? The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy is way darker shades than fifty. But it is such a fantasy world that it doesn’t impact, say, how we concieve of abuse. True sexual slavery is pathological. We don’t abide or permit it. We have names for the syndromes that result from it.”-Hilary

I want to make it clear that I don’t want to harsh on your fantasies my darlings. My fantasies get pretty ugly, and really walk that line between what is and isn’t acceptable. They walk the line between abuse and lack of consent. Just because I’m fantasizing about it, doesn’t mean I’m going to write erotica about it and try to sell it and market it to women everywhere. Why? Because I recognize that what gets me off is fucked up. I also recognize that just because *I* might have a fantasy about non-consent, doesn’t mean everyone does. I recognize that if I *do* have my consent violated, my kinks, fetishes, and fantasies did not imply that I was “asking for it”. 

Not everyone has that luxury.

Everything I knew about BDSM I learned from Real Sex on HBO. When I was 18 and could finally visit my first dungeon, I was waylaid by a gentleman who used my inexperience to make me very uncomfortable. That lack of comfort scared me away from BDSM and the kink scene for years. We need to keep in mind that we aren’t just dealing with bored housewives who are looking to spice things up in their marriage. There are impressionable minds reading this. There are people who don’t know any better reading this. They are getting a feel for what BDSM is, and are going to have a shocking surprise when they engage in the community. Yes, some people are seeking out education on how to try these things, but others are simply trying it on their own and seeing what happens.

We are still fighting to get people to realize that you don’t have to say “no” to not consent to sex. We are still fighting a fight to get people to convict sexual assailants. To stop blaming victims-for whatever reason. Our culture itself is not great at helping and assisting sexual assault victims. It’s regularly dismisses emotional or verbal domestic abuse. The BDSM community itself is not good at policing abusive or predatory behaviors. So glorifying this book which could lead to people using FSOG as a defense, in terms of how someone “was asking for it”, when we are already overwhelmed by our inability to encourage consent and offer support for victims is, frankly, dangerous.

Which leads me to my question. Why this series? Why this? Why are we defending something that is far more harmful than a lyric saying “I know you want it, but you’re a good girl”? If this was a depicting a highly fetishized racist fantasy, we wouldn’t stand for it, but because it is kinky it gets a pass? Is it because we want erotic fiction to be taken seriously as a genre rather than trashy literature? Is it because people are getting off to it, and we’re not in the business of telling people what to find sexy? Is it because people are actively talking about sex openly with friends?

You can love something that is problematic without defending it. You can understand and acknowledge how problematic the behaviors are within a piece of music, or a text and still enjoy it. That isn’t wrong. It isn’t wrong to fantasize, or have fetishes or kinks. It isn’t wrong to want the elements of FSOG in your own relationships. But to outright defend and behave as though the elements of FSOG could not possibly have any consequences on actual lives is irresponsible.

So that being said, I’m going to have to disagree with the defenses of FSOG, and encourage others who love the series to own their love for it, and also own how problematic it is.

Until Next Time!
-The Frisky Fairy

3 Replies to “Let’s Talk About Fifty Shades of Grey”

  1. So… let me get this straight…

    Your own sexual fantasies are very much similar to those depicted in FSOG, and you want other people to know that it’s ok to express themselves sexually however they desire, however you are against FSOG because it might be misinterpreted? I’m struggling to understand your logic.

    How can you be both adamantly in support of something, and also vehemently against literary discussion of it? To be honest this sounds a bit like the hipster culture which only values things that are considered “underground” or “subversive” until they go even slightly mainstream, at which point the ideas are disowned.

    So is it ok to discuss D/S relationships or not?

    1. I think it is absolutely okay to fantasize, enjoy something etc, but still call attention to how it is problematic. You can still like the Bond films, and recognize that they are TERRIBLE to women, and discuss it! But to simply accept it without calling attention to the problems in it, and to act as though media doesn’t have a hand in influencing culture I feel is sort of not great. Does that make sense?

  2. SO well written. Thank you. I, too, get off on fantasies involving nonconsensual behavior. I, too, have researched BDSM and D/s and learned how to “do it right” — in other words, how to get those exciting FEELINGS within the framework of full consent and safety. I think I’d have far less of an issue with this series as pure fantasizing material if Anastasia recognized the abuse and got out at the end, rather than her love “fixing” him and the two living happily ever after. As it is, well, everything-you-wrote.

    This is written as a romance, but it is actually an abusive relationship. Their dynamic is put forth as an example of standard BDSM, but there are no safewords, no prior discussion of what activities are acceptable and unacceptable to each partner, no trust, no aftercare.

    And yeah, I’ll admit that the cloying writing style was also too distracting for the material to be a turn-on for me. I mean hell, a good editor could have fixed a lot of that. (That isn’t to say that non-professionally-written material has never turned me on!)

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