nonny: ([misc] not innocent)
[personal profile] nonny
Since the internet has been abuzz with rants and raves about this particular book... well. Initially, I was going to be the Cool Kid and not read it, but I gave in. ;) As always, I has thoughts!

(For those who have been living under a rock, Fifty Shades of Grey is a barely rewritten Twilight/Edward alternate universe fanfic in which Bella (Ana) is just graduating college and Edward (Christian) is a multimillionaire businessman. The book is about their romance and involves a lot of sex and BDSM. It's very clearly smut. The author, E. L. James published it through a small press which I believe is an author co-op and somehow, it sold like hotcakes. James now has a contract with Random House and a movie deal is in the works, though I have no idea how they're going to make this into anything less than an NC-17 rated movie.)

Let me get this out of the way first: The book is a hot mess. I have read significantly better prose in crit groups, and this is some of the worst writing I've encountered. I'm not surprised that the "publisher" was actually an author co-op, because it's pretty obvious between grammar errors, bad formatting, horrible punctuation, and writing that just plain doesn't make sense, that no editor touched this thing.

However, having read it, I'm not surprised it's popular. Let's face it: Many readers are not as discerning as writers are (which makes sense; we work hard at our skill and thus we see errors more easily), and I've honestly lost track of the number of times I've heard a reader say they care more about the story; good writing is just a bonus. On top of that, the story follows a well-worn wish fulfillment fantasy: that of the hot, wealthy businessman with loads of issues who falls in love with the girl next door and can only be healed by the power of true love. Look at pretty much every Harlequin Presents romance in existence; these books are not uncommon. The big difference with Fifty Shades is that it became popular outside of romance circles.

(Also I must add here: Not all romances follow this trope. There are plenty of well-written romances with strong heroines and non-asshole heroes. Considering I write romance, I don't really want to hear crap about the genre, thanks. ;)

But that's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the BDSM aspects. And for this I'm continuing under a cut with WARNING for frank talk about sex, BDSM, consent, coercion/sexual assault, and related stuffs; also includes some discussion of victim-blaming .

I've read a lot of criticism about Fifty Shades regarding the way BDSM is portrayed. That, say, "real" BDSM relationships don't have contracts, "real" BDSM relationships follow the mantra of "safe, sane, and consensual", "real" doms aren't controlling assholes, etc.

And to that I have to say: Are we in the same fucking community here?

Look, there are great things about the BDSM community. I have met some wonderful people in the scene, and I love that I am free to be myself and express my kinks without judgement. But let's be real here. Doms like Christian Grey flourish in the BDSM community.

The biggest complaints about Christian are that he is pushy about what he wants, that he doesn't particularly seem to care that Ana isn't into it, that he is controlling, and that he is really close to being a stalker. You know what? I have seen all these things, repeatedly, in real-life doms that are respected members of the community. Okay, maybe not quite to the specifics that Christian expresses, but I have no doubt that with the resources of a hotshot multimillionaire, they would do exactly the same thing.

(The other complaint about the books is that they treat BDSM as being like a mental illness, as something that Christian does because he is oh-so-traumatized. That's another matter entirely, and I'm not going to touch on that here.)

The problem with the situation in Fifty Shades is that it's a 24/7 lifestyle but these words are never really used. It's portrayed as "all Dom/sub relationships are this way", which is definitely not true, but for 24/7 D/s relationships? No, it's not unrealistic. None of the examples in the contract stuck out to me as particularly unrealistic, except perhaps the NDA. (I haven't heard of that one but it probably exists somewhere.) For people not familiar with Fifty Shades, these are the sort of things outlined in the contract: what Ana will eat and when, her exercise habits, grooming habits like shaving and waxing, what Ana will wear, Ana's behavior in Christian's presence and at other times, specific days that Ana will devote to Christian, and orgasm control; punishment is also set out for if she does not meet these requirements. None of these are too far out of bounds for a specific 24/7 relationship, but they are extreme for a standard bedroom Dom/sub relationship.

The problem for me in the book is not that these things are in the contract, but that Christian expects Ana to meet them even though she has not signed the contract. He basically assumes that she will sign it and treats her as though she already has. There is no doubt in his mind that she will do what he wants. The problem? Ana isn't kinky, and this is prerequisite for a relationship with him (if you can call it a relationship; he makes it pretty obvious that this is "kink only" but since it is a romance at heart, that changes). He is incredibly controlling and jealous. Although he has a good point about being concerned about her friendship with a man who tried to take advantage of her when they were drinking, he goes way too far. He treats her like she is already his sub when she has never agreed to such, and has in fact told him that she's not into that.

But let's talk about the community here.

A lot of people want to characterize the BDSM community as this happy-go-lucky place of awesome sex and kink where there are never any control freaks or bad guys and everyone respects safe/sane/consensual and enthusiastic consent. Sorry, but that is not the case. There are lots of essays about this (warning: nudity on page, plus discussion of sexual abuse in a kink context), and it is a huge problem in the community.

Men like Christian Grey, that have no qualms about controlling intimate details of their sub's life, including some real scary things like isolating from friends, are not uncommon in the scene. Hell, I have run into women dommes that portray the same warning signs. It's a real issue, and I'm very upset that instead of talking about these things, the reaction to the portrayal in Fifty Shades is: That shit doesn't happen here.

Sorry, but that shit does happen here, and it needs to be talked about. Because women (and men, but I'm going to continue to refer to women because rape culture definitely contributes) are being hurt by these people. They are being pressured into doing things they don't want. I have been pressured into doing things I didn't want, and I did it because I wanted to make the person I was with happy. It is in a very real sense, coercion, which is a form of sexual assault.

And you know what happens in the community? Usually, the survivors are discouraged from talking about it. They're told that it was their fault, that they gave their consent, that they had the opportunity to safeword, that they shouldn't try to accuse a dom of rape when it was "just" their "bad decision" or something they "regretted." If they don't let it drop, they are often ostracized from the community. Instead of being there for the victimized woman, the community rallies around the dom, because, how dare a "false accusation"! (Never mind that they often aren't false.) I am active on BDSM feminism groups, and I have honestly lost track of the number of women who have disclosed horrific stories of doms ignoring their boundaries, sometimes ignoring their safewords, and sometimes outright raping them (note: I truly believe that coercion is a form of rape, but I specify situations that are unarguably rape to bring attention that, no, it is not just "grey area" situations in which this happens) -- and the community's reaction was to ostracize them. The victims. The survivors.

Mind, the same survivors who have virtually no legal recourse because the legal system is woefully unfamiliar with the BDSM scene and is just as likely to say, "You let him beat you? You deserve what you get." And if a woman should go to the police, she will receive even more censure and abuse, because the community likes to believe that it takes care of their own. Except it doesn't. The problem people, the rapists, the creepers, they're still there. They're protected. It's the survivors who are left out to dry.

The rapists? People are quick to make excuses for them. They're quick to support them. Particularly if they are a Name in the community. If they are well-respected, they can get away with almost anything, and nobody will speak up in the victim's defense. It is terrifying, and it's all-too-common.

And it isn't talked about. Many women are aware that this happens, but we don't talk about it, because we would rather believe that our little paradise doesn't have its flaws. Well, it's time to stop that. It's time to start being aware that dom/mes like Christian exist. It's time to talk about it. We need to call out these behaviors when we see them. We need to protect our own. We need to offer support to women who have had these experiences happen. We need to believe them instead of immediately responding with, "Well, maybe you misunderstood......" or "I'm sure he didn't mean it that way", or "Well, you shouldn't have done something if you didn't know for sure you were going to be okay with it. Etc.

They are told to be silent and threatened with the loss of their community if they continue speaking up. They are told that nobody will believe them -- and when the first people they talk to don't believe them, well, what else are they to think? Many of them wind up believing that it was, indeed, their fault, and they stop talking about it. They may even remain in the community and chalk it up to a "bad experience", even though it was so much more.

Shit needs to change. It needs to change before more people get hurt.

And that is why I say to the people who are complaining that Christian is an unrealistic dom: Bullshit. Christian is one of the most realistic doms I have read in a very long time. And you know what? That's fucking sick. You want to know what's even sicker? He's better than a lot of the real life doms I have known. He actually cares about the well-being of his sub, even if he is an overbearing, domineering control freak. Some of what I have seen discussed in kink circles don't lead me to believe that some doms care very much at all.

Edit to add: Since I'm sharing this on Goodreads as well, I'd like to also share why I rated it 3 stars. Even though the book has huge issues, it kept my interest, and I wanted to know what happens next. It also is very much a control fantasy, and I will admit that the fantasy of this uber-hot guy who gives me no choice in the matter makes me weak in the knees. However. This is like rape fantasy; I would never want it to happen in real life, and because this book is being discussed so much as almost a how-to for kink and being presented as a guide to the kink community, I felt the need to speak up about how freaking toxic it is. (And also the extent to which the kink community is insisting that nothing like this ever happens, which is hugely egregious to me.)


Since this is unfiltered, I have some rules for discussion here.

- No victim-blaming. Nada. Zilch. Do it and you're banned.

- I don't want to hear about how your community isn't like that, either. Because, yes, it's more prevalent in some than in others, but it's widespread and it exists everywhere. Even if it were going on in your community, you probably wouldn't know about it, because of how victims are silenced. If you want to say that your community is actively working hard to eradicate these types of behaviors, I'm glad to hear it, but I'm not going to put up with the myth of "It doesn't happen here."

- If you have not experienced these things, great for you. I'm truly glad. I have. Many others have. Please be respectful to other people who might be sharing their stories, and please try not to be dismissive of what others have gone through, even if you haven't.

- General rules of "behave nice" and "respect others"; however, please be aware that intent is not magic, and also please be aware of the privilege of politeness. If someone is angry at what you've said, think about it before flaming back.

- I am also not afraid to use the Banhammer of Doom. If you are being a tool, I will use it.

With that, I now head to bed and wait for the deluge of comments I will probably have in the morning.

Also, before someone asks, this is an open post, so you are welcome to link it around as much as you should like.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-06 04:13 pm (UTC)
smw: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Default)
From: [personal profile] smw
I hadn't heard of this book. It's been instructive, the way you used it to highlight dynamics within the BDSM community (which I know fuck-all about). Thank you for the information.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this follow the pattern of the Twilight reactions: mockery on one side (with an added dose of defensiveness, apparently), pleasure on the other, and a complete dismissal of the possible discussion of pathological relationships and their appeal that might open up subsequently.

It worries me to the think what non-kink folks would make of this, though, given they don't know the norms of the BDSM community, and thus can't see what's pathological versus what's not.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-06 04:54 pm (UTC)
alee_grrl: A kitty peeking out from between a stack of books and a cup of coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alee_grrl
This is a well written, well thought out essay that brings up a lot of issues that need to be discussed. Even though I have never been very involved in the BDSM scene offline, I am a survivor of sexual abuse and there were those who tried to blame me for the actions of my abuser. So I find it important that we talk about these issues when they arise in any community, and thank you for doing just that.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-06 05:11 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
A-bloody-men. Even just edging into the edges, there are so many red flags. The whole rhetoric of "Pushing boundaries is good!", especially, pings my own omg-bad issues and makes me want to scream "For who?! Did you actually work this out first?". The answer, way too often for my peace of mind, seems to be "No, but it's good!". I've seen a few groups that really do seem to be sane and even safe, but way more that seem to be excuses for flaming assholes to be (heteronormative, misogynist) flaming assholes. Most community spaces just do not feel safe to me.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-07 05:03 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
I think a women-only space to feel things out makes a lot of sense. Bad behavior is so inculturated, so ingrained, for men that it's really easy for them to slide over into that without ever thinking "how do I do this thing, manipulate this person, be pushy and aggressive and entitled". Most women have to think about that and do it deliberately, in a sensual or sexual setting. For me, at least, a women-only space is a lower automatic-risk-assumption space, though one still has to be on guard against the kind of personality that finds being dominant a good excuse.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-08 03:21 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] nicosian
had to hunt down my login!

If you're talking about the Wet spot in seattle, been there, and it was a lovely bunch of souls, well run, very safe. I was a crashing total newbie and they were the sweetest best bunch.

we chatted kink, we watched a movie. ate cake. I got a tour of the premises and they seem to take boundaries, aftercare, respect in the highest regard.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-06 07:18 pm (UTC)
subluxate: Sophia Bush leaning against a piano (Default)
From: [personal profile] subluxate
It's still a bad portrayal of BDSM. Doms like him may flourish in communities (we don't participate in communities; it's just the two of us, so I wouldn't know), but it's portrayed as a-okay, Ana mostly ignores her "subconscious" ("conscience", Ana!) and red flags (which is not blame; it's that the text is not allowing her to fully question things for the sake of the hookup), Christian pushes and pushes and pushes, and given Christian's first relationship, it makes it look like all D/s relationships are like this, that's the norm, that's healthy.

The whole thing, though, is fundamentally unhealthy. A dom should never, ever try to push someone into a kinky relationship. Ask about it, sure! Go, "You'll agree. You will. Now we'll act like you already have," is flat-out abusive. And the text doesn't really question it, because her "subconscious"'s questions are dismissed as nothing to worry about.

I don't have a contract in my relationship. However, if one uses a contract, presumably the contract shouldn't be written by one party with no discussion of anything but hard and soft limits. (The "negotiation" was a joke.) Also, I know he said later that he'd never let her think it was a legal contract, omg, no way would he!...but he totally tried to. Which is beyond wrong.

The whole thing is just infuriating, because it normalizes his behavior and makes it acceptable. Not cool, not cool at all.

(Also, I'm so sick of the "started as a sub and grew into a dom" trope. I am.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-06 11:18 pm (UTC)
sarcasticsra: A picture of a rat snuggling a teeny teddy bear. (Default)
From: [personal profile] sarcasticsra
Except it's not really realistic, because it's not trying to portray an unhealthy relationship. If it were aiming for that, if it were obvious via the text that this is fucked-up, then absolutely--but it's treating it as totally consensual and healthy. Or if it were trying to point out how unhealthy relationships like this can be ignored/seen as consensual or healthy, then again, I agree, it'd be realistic. But it's not, and I think that's why some people are saying it isn't realistic. It's not unrealistic because it's unhealthy and ~that never happens~ (and I fully agree anyone claiming that is being ridiculous on the face of it; no community is free of unhealthy relationships, wtf); it's unrealistic because it's totally disingenuous.

Unless it's all a set up for a twist ending where Ana calls the cops on his rich ass. Oh, how I hope. In vain, I know, but still.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-07 02:21 am (UTC)
aidenfire: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aidenfire
Well, often one of the hallmarks of an unhealthy relationship is that you don't know you're in one and may even be happy with things most of the time (as long as you haven't "misbehaved" "made him angry" "pushed too hard", whatever). And I don't think not being actively portrayed as an unhealthy relationship makes this a less realistic representation of one. The hearts and flowers ending (if I recall correctly, he literally fills a room with hearts and flowers at some point in the last book?) is maybe unrealistic, but not any more so than thousands of other romance novels.

A Screaming Need

Date: 2012-05-07 02:43 pm (UTC)
robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
From: [personal profile] robertsloan2
Thank you for this depth review. I've been of two minds about getting this book - would I enjoy it or would I get annoyed and lose the hotness? Probably get annoyed and lose the mood. I tend to be picky about my erotic fiction and like a dom that I can identify with. As soon as he started doing things I wouldn't, I'd be getting creeped out and annoyed and lose the mood.

I agree with you. Relationships like this do happen. I remember one straight male dom in the group I belonged to who had two female subs in a triad that lasted for seven or eight months. He came off like he was using them 24/7 and didn't care much about them, strutted around bragging like a kid in a locker room.

Several months later one of the subs turned up alone having left him. It hadn't worked out. Sometimes bad relationships decay, it depends on how far it goes and whether someone in it wakes up about it. He was confused and didn't understand why she left him, par for the course.

It seems to me that if people are treating this like a pillow book, there's a screaming need for a straight version of the Leatherman's Handbook. I remember getting a lot of sexual ethics including safeword etc. from the Leatherman's Handbook along with the key, earring and hanky codes and terms for assorted interesting acts, some of them turned me on and others didn't.

24/7 relationships are a fantasy for many people. For a few, that's what they want. That's not the same thing as the dysfunctional relationship though.

Thanks for the warning. This book won't be on my wish list.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-09 07:08 am (UTC)
lisaquestions: Phoenix looking toward the viewer. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lisaquestions
The first dom I ever interacted with (in 1992 or 1993) basically tried to dictate all kinds of terms to me and I had never agreed to even be in a relationship with him. I was looking for people with whom I could discuss kink because I didn't have any outlet at all. Anyway, I ended up just cutting him off cold because he wanted me to come live with him in a 24/7 thing with all kinds of restrictions on what I could wear, who I could talk to, what I could do for a living, how often I could leave the house, and so on.

I mean, I am a sub, but I can't maintain that kind of thing for more than a scene and a few hours after, and the idea of someone controlling every aspect of my life is suffocating. And it strikes me as abusive.

I've read a lot of really harrowing stories about the BDSM community as well - when it comes down to it, in so many places around the world, people are far more interested in protecting rapists and abusers and preventing so-called "drama" than they are in ensuring that kink is always safe and consensual.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-13 05:35 am (UTC)
eggcrack: Icon based on the painting "Kullervon kirous ja sotaanlahto" (Default)
From: [personal profile] eggcrack
Thank you for writing this. I know nothing about the kink community, but I also don't think any community is free from the culture at large, rape culture included, so it's important people hear the things you say here.

Thanks!

Date: 2012-05-24 01:35 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] mechalith
I really appreciate that you publicly call out the community at large on Creepy Dom (and his sister Creepy Domme) and the various fucked up abuses that tend to get swept under the rug. Much as I hate the fact that things are like this (it is NOT fun having to make up for the fact that I'm male and dominant in some social groups) they won't change until people start shining a light on some of the more fucked up things hiding in the back of the dungeon.

Incidentally, re. the NDA thing: my current sub/partner's wedding vows with her ex-husband included his forbidding her to ever discuss any part of their relationship with anyone. Behind that wall of forced secrecy it was every bit as unhealthy as you probably imagine.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-09 06:22 am (UTC)
melusinahp: (Default)
From: [personal profile] melusinahp
This is a great post and something that needs to be pointed out more often. Thank you.

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Nonny Blackthorne

July 2014

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