Feminism

I dated Christian Grey

I watched the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey last Thursday, and … I could talk about that atrocity of a film for a very long time, but did my best to condense some of my thoughts into an article for The Mary Sue, which you can find here. It’s generated some interesting discussion in the comment section there, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

It’s interesting to me that many of the people who supposedly “read” the post somehow think that I’m just anti-BDSM, which y’all know why that is hilarious. But, just to make sure it’s super-duper clear, none of Christian’s actions that I critique in that post have anything to do with sex– surprisingly, I was pretty ok with the actual sex that happened, although there was a shocking lack of orgasms.

And, honestly, if this is where the plot actually ended and we didn’t have two more books to turn into movies, I’d be tentatively thrilled-ish. The last shot of the film before it cuts to the credits has a note of finality to it. She’s given back the laptop, the car, and she’s leaving after she told him to never touch her again. I mean, if that was where we were actually leaving it? I could maybe almost be ok with it.

There’s a bunch of other shit that happened that makes me not ok with it, but a part of me hopes we all collectively forget there were ever books and that the two other movies don’t get made.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski
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  • Hell, you even said you practiced BDSM! Can’t stand when people leave comments that show they didn’t even read the entire post.

    Unfortunately, I think this is something many people won’t see the true damage of unless they’ve been in Ana’s place or know someone close to them who has. But seriously, I’ve seen people defend this series the way fundamentalists defend Scripture, and I just don’t get it. If you didn’t absolutely love it, the problem must be you, not the story.

    • Claire

      On the other hand, I’m sure that the women who did enjoy the books are tired of being told that they are broken/dirty/unfeminist/have stockholm syndrome, etc. and just don’t really know what’s good for them. Don’t women get enough of that from Pat Robertson? I’ve been surprised and disappointed, actually, by the response in feminist spheres to this series as it seems to lack nuance in my opinion. Literally millions of women defied cultural prohibitions to seek these books out- something in the book struck a chord, something about these stories turns them on. Isn’t anyone curious what that might be? Maybe someone should actually engage some of the women that like the books and find out what draws them to it rather than blithely dismissing them with a “how sad you’re so broken and brainwashed” head pat.

      Honestly these books aren’t my cup of tea, my preference is for vanilla, frankly. I could never get turned on by rape fantasies or BDSM or the like. But I feel very uncomfortable telling other women what they are permitted to be turned on by. That feels decidedly unfeminist to me.

      • Crystal

        That’s a good idea. Engaging those who like the books is A VERY GOOD IDEA. It’s a shame I never thought of it. We should not treat the fans of Fifty Shades as if they’re broken and sick. They’re not. They think they’re being sincerely empowered to have more creative, freeing sex, and the author claims that’s her intent as well. But I think that once you’ve engaged them you can explain to them the abuse dynamics (abuse dynamics are something the author is woefully ignorant of, from what I have read). The website (https://50shadesofabuse.wordpress.com/ – I HAVE mentioned this one before) would be a good place to start.

        • Claire

          “They think they’re being sincerely empowered to have more creative, freeing sex”

          This here. If you’ve already decided what they think, you’ll have a hard time actually listening to them. And regardless of what they say, it sounds like you’ve already got your speech ready. That is not a dialogue.

          • Crystal

            I’m sorry. Please tell me, how would you engage them – I mean this in the sincerest way possible.

          • Personally, I’d leave them alone and thus, avoid coming off like a bit more sanctimonious than I’d prefer. If you must engage, listen to them. Ask open-ended, non accusatory questions. Ask them what else they read. Basically, don’t act judgemental.

            I read romance novels and erotica and other things some of which includes BDSM. I have not read these books. I did not read these particular books because I found them to be poorly written and it took me out of the story. I do not enjoy it when people judge me because of what I read. I can’t imagine that other people would either.

          • Crystal

            Shall try to remember. Thanks for your perspective.

      • But this isn’t about what to get turned on by. If BDSM is someone’s cup of tea, then fine, though I’m personally like you – ‘vanilla’ is okay for now and as an assault survivor I don’t see rape fantasies ever being my thing (I have more thoughts on that, but that’s another topic for another post). The abuse factor is worth getting upset over if millions of women out there aren’t seeing it. What you’re talking about is another discussion entirely.

        • Claire

          I’m not so sure I’d say they’re not seeing it. Probably some do, some don’t. I am also a childhood rape survivor, so rape fantasies make me queasy, but something like 20 to 30 percent of women have them. Should we assume they don’t know what they’re doing? Should we assume that they’re too stupid to know that they wouldn’t enjoy being raped in real life?

          As abuse survivor myself, I am well aware of the dynamics of abusive relationships. And as a child, I ingested enough purity culture rhetoric to induce vomiting. All the same, there was something about Twilight that was oddly soothing/comforting to me. It would take a separate blog post to explain what that was, but that was my genuine experience. I also enjoy some romance novels that occasionally contain tropes that are pretty patriarchal, which doesn’t mean that I would accept or want or even find attractive some of the behavior that I find strangely comforting in the context of a pulpy fantasy. And while 50 shades isn’t my flavor, I guess I’m just hesitant to label the book’s fans a bunch of mindless sheep who don’t know how badly their hurting themselves because I know my own fantasies don’t always line up with my feminist values.

          I do understand other women’s revulsion to the books, though. Just like being consentually tied up for sex would be crazy triggering for me, other women dig it. I can respect that.

  • there are more of them coming? fml

  • It’s utterly weird to me how many people think they’re defending BDSM by…defending a series of books (and apparently, a movie too; read the books, haven’t seen the movie) which not only promote a twisted concept of BDSM but present 0 positive BDSM relationships: in that world, if you’re into BDSM, either you’re fragile and will fall apart easily, you rape fifteen-year-olds and sneer at the concept of love, or you can be (and should be) cured of being into BDSM.

    (I recently unfollowed a woman on Twitter who spent an entire day defending the books; people were trying to point out the problems with them to her, and she’d just deflect them all with, “It was written by a woman! Why aren’t you directing this criticism at one of the problematic things men write!”)

  • I posted your article to FB, and also some more academic stuff, a study by University of Ohio which concluded that Christian is abusive, and a practicing pyschologist who said the same thing.
    The weird thing to me is the pushback i got from men. I got long comments from men about how i couldn’t know if this was really an abusive relationship. One man told me that my judgement is clouded. I guess that is called mansplaining.
    I find myself intrigued though – they just couldn’t let it go, in the face of all sorts of facts. I think there is a strong refusal out there to admit domestic abuse happens. They don’t even want to admit it is happening in a book.

  • Random thought, but I’ve determined that it is not logical to be pro-corporal punishment of kids and anti-BDSM. If pain administered for corrective purposes is okay, why is it bad for it to be used for fun? People who spank their kids say they do it out of love because they want to teach their kids to not do things, so if that is good and moral, then how could it be bad for a person to spank one’s partner because he/she (Referring to the receiver of the spanking.) enjoys it? That could be easily considered to be doing it out of love as well.

    • Crystal

      Oh, but BDSM is used by homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, so it’s bad according to these people. They even claim that portraying BDSM sympathetically is evil. BDSM is a good thing IF done with TWO consenting adults, and the proper passwords, and tenderness on the part of the dom, and enthusiastic consent on the part of the sub. That’s my view on it. Be careful what supplies you use; anything that could cause cruel injury should be avoided at all costs (ie cables).

      • Please don’t use the term “homosexuals” here.

        • Crystal

          I mean this in the sincerest and most respectful manner possible: would you like me to call them LGBTQ people instead? If so, I’ll remember that’s their name in future and use it.

          • That’s fine. There’s many ways to refer to the group, although I’d prefer no one use “gay” to mean “LGBTQ”, as then it’s too easy to default to “male” when referring to a group that has women and nonbinary people in it.

            Mostly the people who use “homosexuals” are being hateful. I realize you weren’t, but it’s unusual to encounter it when people mean to be kind.

          • Crystal

            Thanks for sharing.

            “Mostly the people who use ‘homosexuals’ are being hateful. I realize you weren’t, but it’s unusual to encounter it when people mean to be kind.”

            Thanks for understanding. I didn’t mean it hatefully, but rather like one opposite of heterosexual (like bisexual and asexual), but as I have said – I won’t use it again, nor “gay”, here since you’ve requested me not to.

          • I personally like QUILTBAG best because it is a word rather than alphabet soup, although I’m not all that clear on what falls into the U of the acronym.

          • Undecided.

        • Crystal

          I’ll remember the point you’ve raised for next time so that I don’t do that again.

        • Crystal

          In case I didn’t say it, I’m very sorry for any offence caused by my use of the term, and hope you can forgive me for it.

  • Completely a side issue, but in your mini-bio at the bottom of the article, you said that you walked down the aisle to the theme from First Contact – would that be the Star Trek: First Contact movie?

    • Yes.

      • One of my favorite pieces of music and at an excellent tempo for aisle-walking. Sounds like a fantastic choice!

  • Samantha, spot on.

  • The few excerpts from the book I read were painfully bad (on literary grounds), so I’m not really eager to see the movie. It certainly does seem like it portrays an abusive relationship in an all-too-positive light, which makes me even less likely to be interested. On the other hand, I am intrigued by the plan to bring Super Sad True Love Story to the screen. I hope they don’t screw it up. I can dream…

  • Crystal

    “But, just to make sure it’s super-duper clear, none of Christian’s actions that I critique in that post have anything to do with sex– surprisingly, I was pretty ok with the actual sex that happened, although there was a shocking lack of orgasms.”

    I apologise. I have no wish to dominate the conversation at all, but I am compelled to point something out. From what I have read of the books at the website I referenced, Christian Grey practices something called “orgasm denial” where he denies Ana an orgasm so he can manipulate her into doing whatever he wants her to do. Sometimes people practicing BDSM will work out something in regards to orgasm denial – ie the sub will consent to it before the dom does it. Since Ana did not consent to said denial, however, there is only one explanation for it – he was abusing her horribly. That’s why you didn’t see any orgasms.

    • He does orgasm denial in book 3, not book 1 (it’s what she safewords over–contrary to what you may read on the Internet, he never actually keeps going with something after she safewords over it, but he does get angry with her for safewording, which is a cardinal BDSM sin). In book 1 (and 2, and the rest of 3) she has tons of orgasms. If she never appears to have one in the movie it’s almost certainly a matter of them not being shown (for reason that I, not having seen the movie, won’t speculate about), not them not being supposed to be there.

  • Crystal

    Oh, okay. But he does let her orgasm after he denies her in book one – this occurs several times. I’m pretty sure of that.

  • The most likely reason for no orgasms is the dreaded NC-17 rating.

  • Crystal

    I’m sorry to comment again, but I read this link – http://the-daughters-of-eve.tumblr.com/post/111850672917/i-stopped-a-sexual-assault-on-the-metro – and I’m grateful for what you did.

    I’m proud of you. If only more would stand to be counted, including myself.