50 shades of misrepresentation

I'll start with a sort of digression: I’m not fully in the BDSM community and there are probably much more qualified people to talk about this topic. But heck if I don’t have a respectable fascination with it and have at least some fetish credentials. You don’t get tied up in a sweaty dungeon and taught how to use a riding crop by a woman double your age without at least earning a brownie BDSM badge.

Society is in a strange place right now. With Rihanna having sung about how whips and chains excite her and the Fifty Shades of Grey movie coming out, BDSM has moved from something no one ever spoke of to practically being common dinner table conversation with your mother. If I had to listen to my old coworker tell me — at work, no less — about how fantastic 50 Shades was… I was going to read it. Ugh, and read it I did.

I argue though that the “mommy porn” version of BDSM has given many people a false idea of what BDSM really stands for and is dangerous to our understanding of human sexuality. Men love it too and enjoy it often with a Fleshlight while watching it online.

Taking a few steps back, the words sadism and masochism originate from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. He wrote Venus in Furs, a story about a rich guy who wishes to be emotionally and physically abused, often with a thick dog whip in hand, by a beautiful woman (the goddess Venus). Pretty much the opposite of 50 Shades. It was pretty great until it ended with him hating all women (insert my woeful sigh here and my recommendation to read the contemporary play Venus in Fur instead). 

These depictions of BDSM were pretty brutal at times, but that’s kind of the point. Being treated like someone’s human footstool (Domination/Submission) or whipping someone bloody (Sadism/Masochism) is part of the kinks and fetishes wound into BDSM. Dealing with such heavy and potentially dangerous things requires constant communication, an enormous amount of trust, and strictly abiding by the three “laws” of play: safe, sane, and consensual. 

50 Shades is a peek into this world for people who wouldn’t likely have been exposed to it otherwise — teenagers and mothers. 

The main protagonist, Anastasia Steele, ignores safe words, is pulled into “lifestyle” BDSM by Christian with no prior experience, and is asked to sign a contract to ensure her obedience. Talk about zero to 60. It’s consensual but the “sane” and “safe” parts are a bit fuzzy.

And hell, when it comes to the actual sex, it is pretty tame and misleading. Instead of being strongly about personal exploration, sexual expression, and flexible traditional roles, it just regurgitates the same sexist shit society feeds us. It shows BDSM and BDSM-lifers as just an extension of traditional gender/sex roles put in extreme. Anastasia must kneel before Christian and be dressed, fed, and exercised by his requirements. Christian, in return for her obedience, uses his money (because she isn’t allowed to work) to buy her expensive things.

Did the last part sound familiar?

The whole servitude thing would be cool if even half the time she actually wanted it and hadn’t been asked to sign some absurd contract, which would have stripped her of her individuality without prior want for this kind of treatment.

If it were just some unknown book it wouldn’t matter, but it has become a cultural spokesperson for a community that prides itself on safety and communication and then proceeds to shit all over it. 

In December, even Jamie Dornan, the leading man of the upcoming movie, pissed off the community by stating, “Going back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards … I had a long shower before touching either one of them,” after being allowed to watch a live BDSM demonstration. Way to misrepresent a community you are about to make millions off of, buddy.

Look, I’m glad people are exploring their sexuality and the multitudes of forms that it can take. We love to test our limits and we love to fuck. When put together and done in an informed and 100 per cent consensual way, it can be exciting. 

BDSM, in a broad way, is not kissing a man’s feet as he picks whether or not you are allowed to eat a salad or carb-filled pasta tonight. If that’s your thing, that’s totally okay, but representing BDSM as only that gives the women reading these books the idea that the only way to experiment sexually is to be subservient to a man 24/7 and to have him control what makes you an individual. That, my friends, sounds more like abuse than sexual exploration.

All I ask is that if you plan on going to see the movie, do not take it as a valid representation of BDSM. Do your own homework and be safe.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.