#50ShadesOfGrey – Still #Misunderstood by the Masses

Sensual couple

The eruption of ‘mommy porn’ typified in E.L James’ 50 Shades series has been argued by some as a marker for female sexual empowerment. I will agree that it has enlightened a change in coffee table conversation, in a similar way to the emergence of Ann Summers’ parties; but here’s the rub – the series isn’t actually representative of BDSM or female empowerment – it’s simply about male possession.

If I preclude its fanfic origins, which bristle my literary snobbery, and state the book’s critical fact – Ana just isn’t into the BDSM thing; she simply submits, agrees to a one-sided contract, wishes to simultaneously fix, and please, her man. She represents the virgin-whore dichotomy and is, for me, the very notion of subjugation, her ‘journey’ concludes with a life provided through moneyed male privilege, and has a couple of kids thrown into the clichéd, Hollywood bargain; the Red Room of Pain is presumably reserved for naughty weekends in grateful exchange for the ‘normality’ Christian now provides.

In many respects, 50 Shades is not dissimilar to the writings of de Sade – readers read it for the sex, but ignore the P/politics; de Sade’s diatribes about religion, morality, power and virtue are largely ignored – in the same way the patriarchal overtones of this book are readily dismissed. So does this do any real harm? It can be argued this facilitates and reinforces male sexual dominance, and in my opinion, it does; this is in itself an issue, but the other problem is that this is bound up (pardon the pun) within the context of BDSM.

BDSM is an exchange of power within a reciprocal, respectful understanding – it is about trust, communication and honesty in relation to each party’s notions of sex, sexuality and sensuality. So for me – the porn element of 50 Shades (and its ilk) merely creates opportunities to use BDSM to mask domestic abuse and a highly dysfunctional relationship.

Now before the anti-porn brigade sign me up as a fully fledged member (there I go again), I was intrigued when porn actor, James Deen, was up for the Christian Grey role, in the anticipated film adaptation. Hollywood wasn’t quite ready for that, but a number of Deen’s films provide a more honest insight into BDSM (even within the patriarchal boundaries of the porn industry); women have full and frank conversations about their fantasies, desires and needs within the context of the shoot – these discussions are more revealing than any ‘mommy porn’ you care to mention.

Whilst I can accept that 50 Shades has opened up new coffee table dialogues – these are shaped by an incredibly narrow, and misconstrued representation of BDSM; there is little to facilitate female empowerment since women once again find themselves at the mercy of the double standard. If women talk about their fantasies (and act upon them), that makes them a deviant and therefore unworthy of commitment; if they don’t engage in the male version of this sexual engagement, they won’t get the ‘happy ending’ of marriage. One can barely imagine what would happen if women decided that that particular prize wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

In light of this, Grey’s statement as their nuptials conclude is probably the most telling; ‘Finally, you’re mine.’ It rankled me in the same way as ‘Reader, I married him’ in Jane Eyre; there is nothing empowered in becoming a possession, and there is little to be learnt about female sexuality shrouded in the trappings of stereotypes. 50 Shades – feminist? Nope. Liberating? Certainly not. Dangerous? Absolutely – no safe word makes patriarchy stop in this exchange; ‘mommy porn’ has a broad societal appeal – perhaps that’s because it’s reflective of broader society?

By Sonia Hendy-Isaac

17 thoughts on “#50ShadesOfGrey – Still #Misunderstood by the Masses

  1. Let the college professor from THIS side of the pond weigh in. FSOG has it’s place. It’s ROMANCE novel, not a tutorial. It has allowed women to openly discuss at book club what most of them have been fantasizing about for YEARS, and for that I ( and my side business…) will be eternally grateful. Everyone has sexual fantasies and fetishes of some sort, to continue to deny that reality and encourage their repression will lead to all sorts of ACTUAL deviant behavior. We are sexual creatures, very few animals derive the enjoyment from sex that humans do and the subconscious need for sex and sexual experiences drives nearly every move we make, no matter how much education and enlightenment we have. It’s not a bad thing 🙂

    • I’m with you, Peep. Honestly, I’m sick of sexually repressed women blaring on about abuse. Bahhhh. Abuse is abuse. It has absolutely nothing to do with kinky sex. AND indulging in kinky sex is not going to turn your parter into a monster. Honest. Where do these women get their ideas from and why do they have to keep repeating them all over the web? I suspect they’re hoping 50shades will go away quite soon. Not likely…

  2. I cant read it. I’ve heard enough about it to know it would piss me off …. I was thankful for the few reviews that did a comparison of my book to it and mine was better – whew!
    I know – I should read it so I can do a proper review but …. I’m just not there 😛

    • Haha. I enjoyed it, but I’m a romance gal. If it’s BDSM you’re after, you’d best look elsewhere 🙂 (And, whether you like it or not, it will piss you off at some point LOL!)

  3. I still haven’t read it. Can’t bring myself to do it. But I have been on the receiving end of very “proper” women in my life talking about it with the smirks and elbow-jabs that I typically associate with men talking about who got laid over the weekend. THAT was certainly an eye-opener. But none of them discussed it in terms of BDSM or power exchanges…for them it was about hot, kinky sex with a billionaire.

    • Still is 😉 But BDSM is coming to light much more, now that it’s out and when people start pushing the envelope with their new found knowledge… who knows where it will lead. It’s about time us women started elbow jabbing 😉

      • After thinking about it a bit I realize I might have been taken out of context – “the true” part was about the ‘latter being written better’
        – The Jetson’s would never have made anyone think for a second that it was based on reality – it was a cartoon. 50 shades is something people who know nothing about a subject (or very little) can and *will* believe it represents BDSM in some way – or a LOT of ways. The book 50 Shades to someone who lives BDSM isnt well liked because of the way it allows people to *believe* something false about the community as a whole.
        It’s a small step for BDSM – and it isnt a very good one when looking at how we want to be viewed.

      • Yes, you could hope that people might look up details on the lifestyle after watching the film – but most of the general public won’t be interested. They’ll take it as face value and BDSM will be getting a bad name. It’s a shame, but probably true. Ps. You mean the Jetsons is not based on reality? 😉

    • The original poster said, “BDSM is an exchange of power within a reciprocal, respectful understanding – it is about trust, communication and honesty in relation to each party’s notions of sex, sexuality and sensuality.” THIS IS ACCURATE.

      My take on Gray is that if I’d been Ana, he would have been accidentally shot. As an author who writes BDSM romance (which I enjoy greatly), I have also experienced REAL LIFE ‘things’ similar to what others find acceptable in these E.L. James books. And I can say, I don’t care what your take is on BDSM, when a man enters your home uninvited and exhibits sociopathic behaviours, it’s not sexy, and it’s not romance. At all.

  4. Excellent analysis of Fifty Shades. I agree that is not an accurate depiction of BDSM, but I do think it has made it more socially acceptable to read erotic fiction and has introduced many women to erotic fiction for the the first time. Hopefully those readers who lost their virginity to Fifty Shades have gone on to find better lovers.

  5. I will admit, I find 50 Shades distasteful. Not only was it trite and a pure rip-off of Twilight (don’t get me started about fanfiction is not supposed to make money -you even accept that agreement when you post your fanfiction on a fanfiction site), but BDSM? Nope. Sexy? Nope. And the three characters she mentions as part of BDSM (at least through the first book – I couldn’t make it through all three), were sick people. Edward/Christian who just wanted to abuse women who reminded him of Mommy Dearest. Irina/the friend of his mother who sexually molested him as an underage teenager. And Lauren/the supposed ‘sub’ who tried to kill Bella/Ana because she was not right in the head.

    Added to that EL James admits she knew nothing about BDSM and had NEVER been into an adult store let alone online adult novelty places when she wrote the books. She did just enough research (NONE) to get the job done enough for the twihards, but that was it.

    I remember reading the fanfiction version after the big hubbub about 50 Shades came up to see if it would be worth it to buy the books. Uh..NO! Where was all the sexiness? Where was the BDSM? What little happened in that red room was so horribly written I went “What the fuck is this?”

    But still, the part that stays with me and will always rankle me is that she painted people in the BDSM community as mentally disturbed individuals. We are not,. at least not most of us. And as much as people say “Oh, it did a great thing for erotica.” I’m not so sure. There is so much BADLY written erotica out there, horrible stuff that is getting published and is selling. Because people don’t know how to judge. If they think 50 Shades is good, decent BDSM with characters who are human doesn’t have a chance.

  6. Let’s hope that someone who portrays BDSM in a better light will hit the top spot soon – it would be nice to see BDSM a little more accurately portrayed. Thanks for the comment, Thianna 🙂

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