Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A few rageful thoughts about why 50 Shades of Grey is NOT and should not be everybody's BDSM

There was a protest last week in NYC against a 50 Shades of Grey inspired training workshop called "The Hands Tied for Two". I have no clue what the workshop actually entailed and actually want to talk more specificity about the connection the protestors are making between the book/workshop and violence against women. What caught my attention and (incomplete) solidarity this was this particular bit of messaging: "50 Shades of Grey: BAD FOR WOMEN! BAD FOR SEX!"

Perhaps because this group of protestors sees all/most BDSM as (contributing to) abuse/rape, or maybe because they wanted to keep their message simple, they missed a very important third group of folks that this book is especially bad for. Yes. 50 Shades of Grey totally is bad propaganda about women & sex/pleasure, but it is also bad for BSDM'ers and BDSM communities. BDSM communities and relationships are already inundated with the tired tropes, images, and stories about women submitting and it being the job of a women and specifically a submissive (woman) to have their limits pushed. It is expected that they will always submit to those pushes regardless of whether or not they think they'll enjoy or be able to endure the pain of having those limits pushed.

Not having read the book I don't know what the play/sex scenes actually entail, but from what I have gleaned, the protagonist receives rewards (in terms of material goods, financial security, and affirmation) for her participation in the role of sub. For this type of play to be the most preventive of abuse or danger, it needs an acknowledgment of the incredible power inequality it is playing with, more importantly it needs an escape route for both parties, but especially for the one with the least power (who risks the most damage). Part of this means (for me) exploring where the power dynamic you're playing with comes from culturally, what it has been used for in the past and how it might affect the people about to play with it.

What's more, this type of power play is only a single facet of BDSM play and NOT the one that should be anyone's (certainly not everyone's) entry point. High risk play is dangerous and better approached AFTER a rigorous setting down of ground rules and communication tools for power/pain play. I have sometimes called type of play represented in 50 Shades "transactional" because it involves one person receiving goods/social capital for their engagement in the play. It is a valid form of play, but I can't stand that through 50 Shades it has become the face of BDSM right now. It's over-prevalence now and historically diminishes the idea that anyone would engage in (non-transactional) pain play without being coerced or compensated.

Pain play and power play are not inherent bedfellows. This book will and has confused people into thinking that you can't have one without the other and that all BDSM is transactional; that all BDSM play requires someone always be there just to endure until they are rewarded by their partner. Bull. Fucking. Shit. This book also makes it seem like you can't engage in BDSM unless you or your partner have lots of extra money, time, and toys (this is whole other topic).

As I, and others, have said previously a lot of this same shitty oppressive tired broken crap really DOES happens in BDSM communities. And it does need to be called the fuck out. The narratives of 50 Shades seem like they'll just add to the crap-pile with more tired broken notions and more people who blindly believe and act them out. Which adds to the work that already needs to be done around BDSM. So yes 50 Shades of Grey IS bad for women and bad for sex, but it's also really bad for anyone who wants to build better BDSM communities!

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