When 50 Shades of Grey came out, everyone around me was swooning over it. Family members purchased it, friends were talking about, yet I was slightly put off on how mainstream and beloved it became. BDSM has always been looked down upon, questioned, misunderstood, and shamed in society. As someone into BDSM, as someone who had friends into BDSM, as someone who perused Fetlife, as someone who listened to other people share their stories, as someone who dabbled in different kinks, and as someone who was open about it - I knew how others viewed it. So hearing a supposed BDSM book was popular among communities? I had to check out the hype because something seemed -- off.
And I was right.
The central relationship is not a consensual BDSM one: it is abuse and manipulation. Hands down. In abusive relationships, consent, respect, limits, and trust is nonexistent. In true BDSM relationships (and relationships in general), there is consent, trust, limits, respect, and understanding being given from the beginning. In true BDSM relationships, pain is voluntary and pain is desired. Both the dominant and the submissive know what they are getting into. In Ana's relationship, she was emotionally and mentally manipulated into pain she didn't actually want and wasn't even remotely prepared for.
What is BDSM?
To put it simply, it is the erotic practice or roleplaying involving Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism. BDSM strongly encourages consent, trust, communication, education, and safety. Bullying, blackmail, and emotional manipulation is not an occurrence in BDSM. There are no contracts. Consent is given but can 100% be revoked at ANY time. Communication is present at every turn. There is an illusion that subs are not in charge - when in fact they are. Tops will obey immediately when a bottom requests the stop. It is very important for the top (or Dominant) to be very aware of their bottom (or Submissive). It is important both top and bottom are in tune with one another. The top holds a strong responsibility of making sure their bottom is safe and enjoying themselves.
Education is key in BDSM due to safety hazards - both mental and physical. It is strongly stressed in the BDSM community and it is something that is lost within this book giving people the idea that it's okay just to go out, buy some products, and begin paddling their partners or tying them up improperly potentially causing nerve damage. There is an art and a technical aspect to many things in the BDSM community that this book fails to reiterate and understand.
The main character. She has no sexual identity, has low self-esteem, is introverted and seemingly shy, has abandonment issues (aka the typical "daddy issues" portrayal), is bullied by her only friend, and pretty much holds no personality or unique traits, and feels no self worth until Christian Grey comes along and tells her how and when to do things. She is vulnerable and co-dependent and an abusive man uses that to his liking and treats her like prey to manipulate the way he sees fit. It is not okay to portray quiet, vulnerable, introverted, and nonsexual women as potential submissive victims that can be molded, manipulated, and treated like shit and name it "romance" or "true love". It is harmful.
He has everything tracked. He has told her "Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone - remember?" He constantly shows up unannounced wherever Ana is - her work, her home, the bar, her mom's house, he repeatedly calls her no matter how many times she doesn't pick up. Unwanted attention is not affection and it is not flattering. It is harassment.
He bought out all the photos Ana's friend took of her at an exhibit because he didn't want anyone else to see them. Red flag. She's hired as a publishing assistant and he buys out the entire company claiming he wants to make sure she's safe when in reality, he wants to keep tabs on her every move. Red flag. Literally says, "I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele." Red flag. She goes out with a friend to a bar and gets drunk after Christian told her not to so he flies from New York to Washington. That night. Red. Flag.
Christian Grey gets close to rage anytime anyone touches or talks to Ana. Jealousy is a natural reaction in relationships but Christian's consumes him. He acts as if it is an emotion that can't be controlled and that's not noble -- that's horrifying and often the beginning sign of abuse. Possessiveness is not attractive and this is not what it would look like in a true BDSM relationship and it is not what it should look like in a regular relationship.
Ignoring Safe WordS & a Partner's Limits
"No, I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. 'If you struggle, I'll take your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you." Anastasia was uncomfortable and unsure for the entirety of the book. And although, no is not often used a safe word in BDSM, Ana has never been apart of the BDSM community to truly grasp the concept of safe words. He also manipulates her into thinking she shouldn't be using safe words anyway by basically saying any sort of no is a "convince me" i.e. “If you say no, you’ll say no. I’ll have to find a way to persuade you.” And let's not forget this horrifying gem from Ana's perspective,
"I blanch. What can I tell him? That he frightened me. That I didn’t know if
he’d stop. That I begged him—and he didn’t stop. That I didn’t want things to escalate
. . . like—like that one time in here. I shudder as I recall him whipping me
with his belt.
I swallow. 'Because . . . because you were so angry and distant and . . . cold.
I didn’t know how far you’d go.'"
He was never concerned with how Ana felt but merely how it affected him.
I won't beat this horse anymore than I have but obviously, the portrayal of BDSM is completely out of touch with what it actually is. Not to mention, portraying Christian Grey as a man with deep seated emotional trauma stemming from childhood abuse who is unable to initiate intimacy outside of sadomasochism because of it is a continued mockery to the community. It states that people participating in BDSM do so because of some sort of psychological damage and that is not always the case.
Self-Awareness & Removing Accountability
Christian Grey is not an idiot. He knows he's dark and twisted, he knows he has issues, he has stated it. This is why he's been in therapy for years (with seemingly no progress). He admitted his actions and motives were often selfish yet he continued to repeat old behaviors and the same path. Self-awareness is great but useless if one continues to manipulate someone for selfish reasons.
Love Can Make Someone Change
So many women (and men) in abusive relationships strongly hold onto the idea that their love and their sympathy can help the abuser change their ways. No matter how many times the opposite occurs. This novel perpetrates that idea and allows women in this same position to keep on trucking on. To keep on taking abuse in hopes that something will change. We need to be teaching our women that it is okay to leave. That we are not emotional saviors of men. That it is not our job to fix someone. That we are important and that we have self worth.
My other issue I hold is with the author herself. I remember watching this interview and being mortified that this was the woman who was attempting to normalize abuse and calling it BDSM. She did research via the internet and seemed as though BDSM was something to be ashamed of while being questioned by the interviewer. She had a huge platform to help normalize the misunderstood BDSM community. She had a huge platform to promote sexual positivity. She did none of it. But I don't blame her, I would be ashamed with this mess of a book as well.
This series is an insult and mockery to the BDSM community. Christian Grey is portrayed as a romantic, edgy hero when he is, in reality, a master manipulator. Horror movies are labeled as horror movies. There is no question about the purpose of a horror movie. There will be gore and murder and brain matter. Rape culture and abuse masquerading as a romance movie gives the wrong idea to countless viewers. And in a world where rape culture exists, normalizing and fetishizing this type of relationship is dangerous.
By all means, watch the movies and read the books. Enjoy it. Go out and buy yourself a blindfold, some rope, a whip, and pick a safe word. Feel sexy. Feel inspired. Feel seduced. Feel horny. Feel aroused. But do research. Talk to your partner. Understand each other's limits. Understand safety concerns. Be open. But please do not use this book or this movie as a manual or a relationship to achieve. It's important to realize the problematic undertones within this series and have an open, honest discussion about it.
What we truly need is more erotic books that fetishize making women squirt and partners that equally communicate needs and desires. Romanticize consent.