A look at 50 Shades

Fifty Shades has a lot of elements to it that I want to explore. Most of those are external cultural elements.

On the one hand, there’s the ‘porn’ aspect of it–that it’s just trashy entertainment that ultimately doesn’t harm anyone. For a certain part of the population, this can hold true. Those lucky enough never to have been through rape, sexual assault, and stalking at the hands of a partner or prospective partner probably aren’t terribly triggered by a trilogy that is, at its best, poorly-written porn.

As well, because of its quick rise to popularity and the ease of getting it in digital format early on, it has been and continues to be an introduction to BDSM–which can be good, as long as it serves as only an introduction and not the complete manual on What It Is We Do (not that there is any one complete manual–but this would be a pretty poor one). For those who get turned on by some of the sexier play bits in the books and movies–awesome.

But on another hand, I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the massive culture into which these trilogies come, as well as those things they enable in their wake. Not only are the books and movies heteronormative and cisnormative both in characters and in the roles they take on, but they promote rape and stalking and ignoring safe words as sexy. They equate Dominance with stalking and rape (not rape play, not consensual nonconsent, but actual rape), equate submission/submissiveness with being vapid/devoid of self, and sensationalizethe violent aspects of BDSM without giving any nuance or context to the types of play we consensually desire and do.

I can’t see these books and movies as ‘harmless entertainment,’ because too many of us, across gender lines, have experienced stalking, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and more. Too many of our communities still protect predators at the expense of victims and survivors. Too many are disbelieved when we try to report our rapists and assailants, and few of us ever see any support or justice for experiences of domestic violence, assault, rape, stalking, and harassment. These books and movies play into a culture that prefers to see BDSM as harmful and the stuff of severely damaged people, rather than something that is a play preference that may lead to better mental health. They play into the cultural stereotypes that men know women’s bodies better than women, that female Dominants are evil, that female submissives are lost vessels just waiting to be broken and remade in the male Dominant’s image (and heaven forbid there be same-sex or same-gender pairings, or pairings involving sexes and genders other than binary genders and sexes), that BDSM is the same as sexual assault/rape/harassment/stalking, that ignoring safewords is just fine, that ‘the rules’ set in advance don’t apply to one half of the slash, that rape isn’t rape if it doesn’t fit a certain mold….

So, sure. On the one hand, there’s trashy entertainment that will probably help some people broaden their sexual horizons. But on the other, far weightier hand, there are huge issues with these books and movies that we cannot safely ignore. We need to be ready to have these conversations with people just as much as the ‘Hi, welcome, come on in!’ types of conversations, or the ‘What’s your kink?’ conversations, the comparisons of marks and paddles and costumes and collars. We need to see the harm in these ‘entertainment’ pieces and look to our own communities to make them better, to roust out predators and support survivors, to work to make it as difficult as possible for abusers to hide behind the mask of kink.


Edited to add: This made me laugh a bit. What a reimagining.

Previously posted on my FetLife profile.

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