Category Archives: Feminism

Fifty Shades and Conversations about Feminism, Sex, BDSM, and Beyond

Ok so lately my tweets and my Facebook shares have had a lot of shares of great news and opinion pieces about Fifty Shades of Grey (I’m so not linking it for lots and lots of reasons).  I’m collating links to those piece below. The other day I waded into a twitter debate (really argument . . . and some crankiness) about this series and its film (I’m hoping to all things good and holy in the universe that it epically bombs so I don’t have to have another bout of movie hype in about a year, but I’m guessing I’m on this losing end of history on this one). One of the arguments that a lot of folks are using is that it’s anti-feminist or essentially shaming anyone who identifies as a feminist for reading and liking Fifty Shades. Before I delve into any Fifty Shades talk, seriously people, reading is a good thing . . . please read . . . read whatever you are into that doesn’t make you a bad feminist, mother, social justice educator, student affairs professional, professor, student, or fill-in-the-blank identity . . . and we need to stop shaming each other about our reading pleasure.  The hard thing with Fifty Shades right now is that many feminist activists and very conservative sectors of America are currently agreeing and working to undermine the novel’s reach.  I admit that worries me quite a bit on many many levels as I’ve never been an advocate of the “an enemy of mine enemy” and all that.  While it’s a great plot device, it’s super bad politics usually, and we end up compromising too much of our selves for a politics of respectability, which as I type that is a whole other issue.

Here’s the thing about Fifty Shades: it is bad erotica, and it’s really bad BDSM. There’s much better romance, erotica, and BDSM romance/erotica out there. If you want recommendations let me know.   It’s bad BDSM because it doesn’t embrace the tenets of safe, sane, and consensual. It’s bad BDSM because it’s based on emotional blackmail.  I find Fifty Shades’ relationships just as problematic and abusive as its source material (Twilight for those who don’t know), but that doesn’t make it anti-feminist or the women who read it anti-feminist. I can’t say that Fifty Shades is anti-feminist because that isn’t for me or anyone else to decide. My feminism doesn’t exclude romance novels, erotica, or BDSM. Also trust me when I say I read far naughtier books than Fifty Shades could even begin to imagine.

My bottom line about Fifty Shades is that I found it annoying, boring, and just BAD: bad writing, bad romance, bad erotica, and bad BDSM. But I read all three books and don’t begrudge E.L. James her success.  I do begrudge her lack of research and her blatant disregard for even the most basic tenets of BDSM.  (I mean I begrudge Stephenie Meyer her obvious disdain for a long history of vampire literature and culture, so James is upholding her idol’s methodology there.) I swear at some point I’ll stop posting and talking about this damn series and its movies, but it’s too popular not to talk about.

Here’s the other thing, though, I am thankful that it is allowing people to have good conversations about sex, erotica, romance, BDSM, women’s sexual agency, and so much more. So alas, I can’t stop sharing these awesome articles yet and thinking about it.

And thus begins some links for some great reads about Fifty Shades, BDSM, and Feminism (some will be familiar if you follow me on social media or read my Marked, Mated, Owned Blog).

Fifty Shades of Meh by Mistress Trinity (I agree with Mistress Trinity about a lot of what she says and she’s really funny.  I don’t agree with her diminishment of romance novels whether Harlequin or otherwise).

Fucking with Feministing: BDSM Subbing and Feminism by Sesali B. This one is great.  Read it.  (Also I shared this one in another blog, but I’m collecting articles here)

“I like submissive sex but Fifty Shades is not about fun” by Sophie Morgan

Jenny [Trout] Reads 50 Shades This highlights what a fiction writer sees as issues with 50 Shades while essentially writing 50 Shades fan-fiction (for a contest). And here’s my favorite post by Jenny Trout about 50 Shades and BDSM: “Dear 50 Shades fan: BDSM doesn’t need or want your defense”

Fifty Shades of Feminism by Carey Purcell (This is more an analysis of the feminist issues arising in Fifty Shades)

If you have an article you found interesting about Fifty Shades or any of the other topics (BDSM and Feminism, etc.), feel free to post in the comments as I will probably add links too.  I can only image we will see more both about the books and about the film when it finally comes out. Here endeth the rant . . . for now.

Marked, Mated, Owned

First, I’m going to state that this isn’t a fully formed thought yet, but it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while.

I’ve been spending sometime thinking about the concept of being owned, marked, and mated that is prominent within romance plots.  This runs the gamut from “you’re mine” possessiveness to being “owned” in a 24/7 Master/Mistress and slave dynamic.  In paranormal romances, it generally manifest as being mated for life in a way that means one dies without the other or can never have sexual pleasure again without their mate.  In many, physical marking of one body by the other partner carries meaning for all who see it and is a necessary part of the ownership.

I have to acknowledge all of the problematic historical contexts and issues of racism and sexism bound within this idea of being “owned.”  We cannot get away from the ways in which women and people of color have been treated as property in the eyes of the law throughout time and across many cultures.  All of these cultural institutions from coverature to slavery have economic bases.

Even with that problematic historical context, the concept of being owned is popular–not simply in BDSM erotica as many might argue–but throughout many romance plots.  The popularity of BDSM erotic romances indicate a desire to at least on a fantasy level to engage in the dynamic of gifting one’s submission to another. I want to be clear I’m not talking about the false choices to enact BDSM relationship that are sometimes present in romance novels…yes, I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey. Why is this idea so compelling?  Why do these narratives thrive and entice?  I ask myself these questions frequently as I read and enjoy a lot of these novels.

I can’t help but wonder if the appeal is the intensity of attention and emotionality that goes with being marked, mated, or owned within the universes of the stories but also traditionally in committed and/or collared relationships within BDSM in real life. It evokes an incredibly strong sense of belonging. In these relationships real and fictional it is also a two-way street. The people involved are both owned by the other person–they are bonded together though this approach. They are bound up in each other.

And yet as a feminist scholar, I’m constantly asked: shouldn’t we reject wholesale the notion of submission and therefore BDSM? The answer to that is absolutely not, remembering that the motto here is safe, sane, and consensual. But also that for many in the lifestyle Dominance and submission are not choices but an aspect that is ingrained in the person. I would recommend the great column Fucking with Feministing and also work by Clarisse Thorn. If you are looking for a great introduction to BDSM, I’d recommend Jay Wiseman’s SM 101: A Realistic Introduction.

Ok back to my original question though: why are stories that centralize the “you’re mine” moment and the “I own you” moment so terribly and wonderfully compelling? And more compelling not just to those predisposed to BDSM but to a widespread audience?

Stories, theories, etc. on this theme are welcome here.