Fifty Shades of Sexual Policing

So I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I’m sure as hell not paying to see it, but I have read the piss-poor book on which the film was based, so I think I have the right to an opinion.

For the last two weeks or so I’ve been seeing blog after blog after article posted on social media as well as world news sites condemning Fifty Shades of Grey for the message it’s sending to young women about what love and sex is. Do these people not understand that there was a book, a book that most of these young women have read and that their protests are a little late? Believe me, anything that a film company can distribute with the rating R isn’t half as twisted as the stuff we can think up in our powerful, wonderful imaginations.

Fifty Shades is an incredibly poorly written account of a young woman delving into her sexuality, love and a pretty fancy lifestyle. It’s not torture-porn. I fully believe that anything consensual between lovers is A-OK. When I was experimenting sexually in my first relationships I used handcuffs and ties and was the benefactor and beneficiary of the occasional spanking. I cried for attention and emotionally manipulated my partner. I wasn’t a depraved sexual pervert, I was in love; crazy, burning, scarring, tortured love and it was incredible and awful at the same time.

People do all kinds of things in and out of bed to please their partners and, if you’ve read the shit-storm of a book you’ll know that Ana, as well as her “inner goddess” were really into Christian and his red room of cliches. Both characters were adults and both knew what they were getting into. There was a written contract, for Christ sake. No nasty surprises were lurking, it was all very open, measured and clinical. 

This kind of criticism of Fifty Shades sounds a lot like slut shaming to me. “Good girls don’t do that kind of thing.” “Poor Ana allowed herself to be corrupted by this man.” “Protect your daughters…” From what exactly? From experimenting safely with their partner? From exploring erotic fantasies? From potentially finding a fulfilling relationship that isn’t exactly like a Disney fairytale? Now I know I’m giving this film too much credit, but so are its critics. There are hundreds of films I can think of that have more potential for damage than this one, yet Dr. Grossman actually says this in her blog: “Excluding hard pornography, I believe Hollywood has never produced a film so hazardous to young women.” That’s right, a doctor and a woman said that. Sigh.

Let’s think back a few years to the film The Secretary (2002), a film I think portrays BDSM in a much more quiet and sinister way than Fifty Shades. In this film Ed, the male lead also controls Lee, the female but through their sexual relationship, though potentially violent and humiliating to the outside world, it is actually safe and transformative to the psychologically damaged Lee. This film was not shouted down as being pornographic or damaging despite the humiliation and control exhibited by Ed. Spoiler alert: Lee becomes so obsessed with Ed that she sits at his desk waiting for him for days, not even leaving to use the toilet. To my recollection Ana never pisses all over herself in desperation in Fifty Shades, so why all the fuss?

Most likely publicity and recognition. People are all trying to jump on this juggernaut to get a piece of the action. It’s a money making machine and we are all desperate to give it an MOT. But let’s face it, it’s out there, it’s been out there and the only harmful thing about it is its horrible use of grammar and repetitive metaphors. The same middle-aged women who were flicking their beans to the book are shouting down the film. We all know this book and film are not going to make young women everywhere want to be pooped on. It’s not going to make young men out there everywhere want to beat their partners, but if history has taught us anything it’s that the more the status quo dislikes something the more likely the youngens are to try it. So let’s stop giving this topic so much negative attention.

Policing young women’s bedrooms and shaming them for wanting to try new things is what’s damaging. So let’s all give it a rest. Regrettably we’ve all read the book and most likely all already coerced our poor partners into giving us a good spanking. We women aren’t as weak as these critics would like to think. We have the power to control what happens to our bodies and ourselves, but some of us occasionally like to give the control over to someone else and that’s OK.

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