I haven’t seen the film Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve read perhaps three pages of the first book which was far more than I needed to tell me it wasn’t going to cause any quivers in my nethers, and it would be self-abuse to persist in reading the excruciatingly awful writing for absolutely no reward.
The narrative centres around the relationship between an “ordinary” young woman and a wealthy man in which she is his submissive, and he controls her life. They practice consensual bondage, domination, sadism and masochism.
I was interested in what some others were saying about the movie so I read the erudite scorn of Razer, the feminist outrage of Tyler, and the, well, I don’t know quite how to describe Mia Freedman’s take in which she claims that reading all three books brings both knowledge and understanding to the film, a brand new angle on the concept of a lord of the rings trilogy which seems to endow Fifty Shades with far more intellectual and imaginative gravitas than it can possible deserve.
Tyler’s piece in the Conversation launches a full frontal attack on the practices of bondage, domination, sadism and masochism, which she claims are only ever abusive, even when engaged in by consenting adults. Adults are never capable of “individual” consent, the argument goes, because all of our actions take place within the context of a culture that constructs our desires, so people only think they want BDSM because they’ve been taught to be dominant or submissive by the patriarchy. BDSM eroticises domination and subordination and this is wrong, she writes, when we consider how many women are subjected to violence and abuse to which they do not consent.
This argument is a little like saying that nobody should be allowed to eat hot chips because some people are dangerously obese.
The conflation of intimate violence with consensual BDSM offends me mightily. I haven’t explored all the potential of BDSM yet in my life, but I do know the erotic delight of yielding and submission, and the equally erotic delight of dominating in sexual games played in an atmosphere of trust and exploration. I’m not that interested in hurting and being hurt, so I’d be a very low-level kind of BDSM person in that it doesn’t take a lot to transport me to the altered state where complex emotions and sensations are aroused by submitting, and by dominating. And this is surely what BDSM is about – people want the feels and will do what it takes to get them, and who is to say they shouldn’t and when the physical performance is abusive, excepting those involved?
Yes, there are times when BDSM goes wrong. There are times when practically everything you can think of goes wrong: we inhabit a Manichean universe of dark and light, and oftentimes the distance between the two is narrower than a bee’s dick. Of late, this universe seems to be increasingly populated by those who wish to prevent anything ever going wrong, an impossible task that can only result in nobody being allowed to do anything at all, in case it goes wrong.
I have experienced family violence and childhood sexual abuse, and there is absolutely no comparison between those experiences and consensual BDSM, and it is dishonest in every way for anybody to claim they are inevitably the same. They may well become the same if wishes aren’t respected in BDSM encounters, just as ordinary old heterosexual sex can go wrong if wishes aren’t respected. What is wrong in both instances in the disrespect of wishes, not the practices.
To be honest, I’ve had it with pearl-clutching repressives who want to vanilla the world, and try to achieve that by shaming others about their sexual desires and practices. They are far more of a menace than Fifty Shades can ever be.
In a period of our evolution in which we are supposedly increasingly free from sexual oppression and repression, merely by virtue of being allowed to speak of sex in ways that were unthinkable fifty years ago, it seems to me that this freedom has brought with it a focus of concentration on the morality or otherwise of how we perform sex, rather than on the more important matter of respecting another’s wishes in sexual encounters of all kinds.
If I want to be spanked, I’ll get spanked, and problems will only arise for me if I’m spanked when I don’t want to be. Then I’ve been assaulted and there are already laws in place to address that.
But I can’t see anything in the least coherent in telling me I can’t have a spanking because others are being subjected to intimate violence. Conflation is one of the scourges of our times.