Sunday, September 8, 2013

50 Shades of Grey: Erotica and Truth in Fiction.

If you know me at all, you’ve probably seen my rants about sexism in science fiction and fantasy, and how superheroes, comic books, and games all tend to sexualize females instead of portraying real women. This got me thinking about what responsibility of writer has to portray realistic relationships in their writings. Particularly in the romance/erotica genre.  One of my biggest complaints about the romance/erotica genre is the unrealistic relationships between most of the women and men.  But what does the responsibility of the writer come down to? Should a writer be responsible for portraying real and healthy relationships?

I just finished two series of books, both erotica, both about dominance and submission (D/s). They both painted very different pictures of that kind of relationship. I’ll get to my review of them this week (I promise), but first I’d like to start with a popular series of books on D/s relationships that most people will at least know of, if not read: 50 Shades of Grey.

In full disclosure I did not read past the first book of 50 Shades. Please don’t email me and to tell me that the books got better or the dynamic between the two main characters changed. After the first book I knew I wasn’t terribly interested, because I felt that while it may have been a hot and steamy book, the relationship was unhealthy at best.

But was it the author’s responsibility to portray a real D/s relationship?


A lot of people really liked those books. Some people even said they improved their sex life. My rub is these books have been the first introduction to kink for a lot of people, and the picture it paints isn’t very flattering. Even more, the books perpetuated terrible stereotypes.

My issues aren’t with the exchange in power or the acts of submission and dominance portrayed…My issues with the book are the mental health of the characters. Christian Gray is a broken man with serious stalker tendencies, and because he’s damaged he’s into sadism and domination (at least that’s the conclusion the book seems to draw).

To be honest I think Anastasia was an idiot to give him control when it was clear the man needed to see a therapist. But perhaps this was the author’s purpose, if pure, virginal Anastasia can ‘fix’ him, he won’t need to be into BDSM.

The book furthers the impression that BDSM relationships are wrong and people who enjoy them have issues. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) has listed sexual sadism and sexual masochism as a “paraphilia” for years. Putting these into a mental health manual tells society there’s something wrong with people who enjoy it. The view in the Psychiatric community has changed over the years. The American Psychiatric Association website posted updates to the paraphilic disorders and actually said that "most people with atypical sexual interests do not have a mental disorder."

As a matter of fact a published study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has found that people who participate in BDSM have better mental health then people who only practice ‘vanilla’ sex. The report says BDSM participants were “less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, and had higher subjective well-being.” Perhaps it’s because the BDSM community encourages open communication and honesty. In order to participate in a healthy BDSM relationship, there’s a lot of give and take.

But back to 50 Shade…The portrayal of Christian goes back to these old notions that Doms must have control issues. There has to be something wrong with them in order to enjoy the dominance and sadism.

Fantasy is fantasy and I’d like to think readers can identify that this is not a manual to kink, but with the movie coming out there’s a new drive to say 50 Shades is just a book that romanticizes an abusive relationship.


When I hear things like:

Mass book burning of 50 Shades:
'I do not think I can put into words how vile I think this book is and how dangerous I think the idea is that you get a sophisticated but naive, young women and a much richer, abusive older man who beats her up and does some dreadful things to her sexually. 'My main objection is that at a time when local authorities are making cuts to outreach and refuge services for women experiencing domestic violence, we have libraries wasting and grossly misusing public money to buy a book which says: "domestic violence is sexy".


Leaning in and submitting, whether in life or in fantasy are not "hot" -- they are belittling. These actions erase us as women, as people.
But, the solution. Let's stand up straight, we can bounce at the knees for a stronger stance and flexibility as we stand, but we must refuse to kneel. The farther we lean in, the faster we're going to end up down and down is the last place we want to be. a href="">Huffington Post

These recent articles are the reasons I care. That a book...(and not one I find very accurate) has the power to make women ashamed for their fantasies  (or the opposite, men to feel like abusers because they have the desire to be dominate), is a load of crap. 

I don't mind being whipped, as long as she handcuffs me first.
Hey, if it’s not your thing fine, but we should stop shamming people who are in consensual relationships that exchange power.  We need to stop shamming women and men for fantasizing or enjoying sex that out of the norm. As long as it’s safe, sane, and consensual why does it matter?

While I agree fiction is an escape, there should be some responsibility in the author's hands.  Just like I scream that there needs to be more balance in the sexism presented in comics and games, I believe there needs to be balance in books.  Let me enjoy my smut.  Give me real characters. Don't perpetuate stereotypes. Shade my fantasies with TRUTH not Grey.

If you’re interesting in learning what a D/s relationship can be like, the author of Diary of a Submissive has a wonderful article about what 50 Shades got wrong. This is just one view...there are many different types of BDSM relationships out there.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I was given the books to read and havent cracked them open - those who enjoy BDSM are mostly turned off (using those words lightly) by the dynamics and the implication that, like you said, there are mental problems with those people in the lifestyle ...
    ... and now they are making it into a movie! Dagnabit