Random Thoughts: The 50 Shades of Grey Edition

First, some disclaimers: I did not read 50 Shades of Grey, nor did I see the movie, and I have no intentions to do either. It’s not because I’m a cultured snob, either. The reviews are negative, and it seems many people are engaging in what is called “hate-reading” — a habit I don’t understand (ditto hate-watching — life’s too short, people). My understanding is the book is terribly written. I can’t read terribly written books.

I do not live a BDSM lifestyle, so my speculations about it are simply that: pure speculation.

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My understanding is that the portrayal of the lifestyle in the books and movie isn’t BDSM, it’s straight up abusive: stalking, isolating, using drugs and alcohol to influence “consent”.

I think one of the biggest misrepresentations of the BDSM lifestyle that comes from this movie and/or book is this: The reluctance of the submissive.

From what I have gleaned from book and movie reviews, Anastasia Steele has a lot of misgivings about being Mr. Grey’s submissive.

We want to think that submissive people don’t really want to be THAT submissive. We are more willing to think that they feel demeaned or have doubts about submitting. And I don’t think that’s the case. A true submissive can only feel sexual excitement by submitting. That may be difficult to grasp for people who don’t understand BDSM. We think it has to be non-consensual — that the sub is being pressured to do it.

No, a sub freely chooses it. She (for the sake of brevity) submits because that is what is sexually exciting and fulfilling. She’s not doing it to heal her lover (as in the 50 Shades books) or because it’s a game the two are playing, and saying yes even when she wants to say no is her role.

I’m also pretty sure that dominants, as a rule, aren’t mean people or bullies. You don’t get to slap your wife or boyfriend around and claim it’s okay because you’re a dom. That’s not how that works. There’s a very specific sexual fulfillment that comes from being a dominant and having a willing submissive. It’s not an abusive relationship.

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According an academic who has studied the books –how’s that for a career track? — (and now the movie), “[Ana] tells [Christian] she feels demeaned, debased, and abused, and he says, ‘Well, you need to embrace those feelings and deal with them the way a real submissive would.'” A real submissive wouldn’t feel demeaned or debased or abused by what her dom wants to do. This is the difference between actual consent and what is portrayed in 50 Shades.

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I also think we are focused on the wrong fantasy. The media trope was that bored housewives were reading this, and taking it to their husbands or lovers to spice things up. However, the biggest purveyors of 50 Shades were women between the ages of 18 and 34.

I think the fantasy is two-fold: The ages old “savior” fantasy. “I will cure this damaged person through the power of my life-saving and unique love.” Which I think does end up happening in 50 Shades. And the Prince Charming fantasy, with a twist: “A young, rich, hot man will find me irresistible, and will do anything to be with me. In exchange for a few spankings, he will take me away from all this drudgery (i.e. work) and I will live in a palace for the rest of my life.”

So, arguably, 50 Shades of Grey is no more damaging than Disney princess movies, where a knight on a white horse rides in to save the day.

Oh, wait.

50 Shades of Grey cover

Are you a 50 Shades fan? Why or why not?

Incidentally, I have no bones with people who have read or seen (or want to read or see) 50 Shades of Grey and the series of books that follow. To each her/his own, seriously. I’m not judging you for reading or watching anything — or for practicing BDSM for that matter. As long as everything’s consensual, all right?

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4 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: The 50 Shades of Grey Edition

  1. Well, as a 47 year old lapsed Catholic I’m as damaged as I’m ever going to get. Water can’t get wetter. I read the books – the only thing I found offensive in them was bad writing and, even more offensive, bad editing. (Not rushing out to see the film. Might have if they had cast a Gyllenhaal. Either one. In either role.) But, I’ll tell you what fantasy permeates all demographics: the idea that ANY kind of relationship is consensual at any time. STILL WAITING, HERE.

    Also, what makes you think these 18-34 year olds aren’t bored housewives? That’s prime bored housewife years.

    • certainly, I don’t find the idea of the books or in the book offensive, per se. But there’s no excuse for bad writing — or bad editing!

      And, yes, I suppose one can be a bored housewife at any age, but I saw the trope as applied to women in their 40s and 50s. So.

  2. I chose to not read the books for the same reasons you state; I heard the writing was not good. I am not opposed to reading (what I call) smut and have a few explicit books on my Kindle…ok, two. However, the dynamic that you identify as the problem with the couple in 50 Shades is spot on. The story reinforces a problematic assumption that women have to be coerced into sex in general, or certain sex acts. As if we can’t figure out for ourselves what we enjoy; as if we are confused, inexperienced girls who need to be guided to our sexuality. I can see why that scenario would be a man’s fantasy…but I can’t figure out why women find this appealing. I find it creepy. Are we women afraid to admit our real desires or actually afraid of desire itself?

    I am a fan of the advice of Dan Savage and am a regular listener to his podcast. I have heard callers to the podcast who describe their submissive role with healthy enthusiasm; it is what they have always needed to feel fulfilled. No convincing is needed; the desire is internal according to them. I am afraid that the author of 50 Shades is actually quite clever to realize that a BDSM story would not be successful in mainstream America unless the women is scared and hesitant. Unfortunately for us, she was right and now wildly successful.

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