Fuck this book.
And fuck this movie.
Now, some brief contextualizing…
I ran across a meme recently, defending fans of FSoG with a very Wil Wheaton-esque message of “don’t let anyone make you feel bad for loving what you read.” My intent is not to shame anyone for the content of either their bookshelves or their fantasies. I just want to be sure we’re all starting from a common point of understanding.
Simply put: If you find yourself all hot-and-bothered at the thought of “Mr. Grey will see you now,” you are indulging in a fantasy about rape and abuse.
And not a fantasy about BDSM.
As long as you acknowledge that, then you and me? We’re good.
Plenty of people — both with and without sexual damage in their backgrounds — fantasize about rape and/or abuse. Just like plenty of people who engage exclusively in non-stigmatized sexual behaviors and relationship patterns may (or may not) do so for reasons relating to their own histories of trauma or eff’ed-up family dynamics.
I do strongly recommend, should you and your sexXy funtime partner(s) decide to role-play from this novel, that you follow actual BDSM best practices, including:
- negotiate the sh!t out of every detail in advance, so that both Dom and sub get their needs met safely and and with fully-informed consent;
- have a clear safeword explicitly in place before beginning; and finally,
- provide aftercare like everybody’s life depends on it.
Scenes based on rape or abuse are a pretty extreme form of BDSM play and — like any extreme play — can run the risk of harm to participants if not practiced responsibly. [/public service announcement]
Not that you would know any of this from reading EL James’ book.
Y’know what really grates my cheese about this novel? (Other than the romanticizing of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, I mean.) The author’s clear disdain for — and occasional disgust towards — the diverse practices and people of the real BDSM community.
I don’t know any other way to describe the specific “hard limits” outlined in Christian Grey’s it-would-be-laughable-if-it-weren’t-being-taken-as-serious “contract” that masquerades as the book’s idea of informed consent, and which Christian insists Anastasia must sign. (SPOILERS: She never actually signs it. He never actually waits for her signature.)
By the by, that Chapter 11 link above? Is to Mark Oshiro, of Mark Reads fame, reading his way through the entire FSoG oeuvre on YouTube, as a Thank You! to fans for crowd-source funding a critical surgery for his sister.
Or possibly Mark was terribly, terribly naughty in a past life and this is his penance.
(What? You didn’t really think I kept a copy of this book on an e-Reader stashed beneath my bed, did you??)
If you’re wondering — as some of my friends have expressed — why I would read this book at all, given some of my own history (and subsequent ability to sniff out abuse-disguised-as-kink from over 100 yards away), my motivation’s quite simple: KNOW YOUR ENEMY. Mark’s read-aloud is a lovely way to do just that.
Another great source is Cliff Pervocracy’s blog-along. While entertaining, Cliff’s notes have the added benefit of being written from an experienced kinkster’s perspective. (Jenny Trout did something similar. Haven’t read hers, but — given her other work — I suspect it’s snarky, informative-but-entertaining, and heavily focused on the book’s limitations specifically as a piece of writing.)
Just want a taste of the issues and not the full 50 flavors? At Feministe, Caperton has a concise-but-thorough rundown of examples taken from the book, and Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon can fill you in on why the movie is even worse than the book.
In conclusion: Do something lovely for yourself, and those you care about, this weekend. Like not seeing this movie.
Try donating to a good cause instead.