We ought not to privilege some people with a higher status, absolving them of blame, according to our perception of them as a nice person. When we put someone up on a pedestal as a nice person, we fail to see them for what they really are: human. Humans are capable of anything, of rape, of murder, of assault. So what if they’re nice to their cat and they always send their gran a birthday card? The only thing we should judge people by are their actions and if one of those actions is rape, then they are a rapist, regardless of all the nice actions that came before the act of rape. Royse might easily believe that her friend was not to blame, but “mixed signals”, but for me? If a man penetrates an unconscious woman, that doesn’t make him a “nice guy”, as Royse calls him. And if a woman such as Royse defends the actions of a rapist? …Well, that doesn’t make her much more than a rape-apologist. Actions are what counts. Royse wrote a rape apologist article, and so she is a rape apologiser. It might seem black and white, but there is a very distinct line between consent and non-consent, between condoning rape and damning it.
With the final film of the Twilight Saga to début in UK cinemas this week, the time is ripe to cast an eye of scrutiny upon one of the most popular franchises of the decade. Twilight could have been a positive force in fiction and film, not least because here we have a we have a book aimed at girls, with a female protagonist, speaking of female experience, written by a woman, and with the film itself being directed by a woman. In fact, Eclipse attracted audiences that were 80% female and scraped in a whopping £45 million (1). Since then, Twilight has had a considerable knock-on effect, not least on the revival of vampire fiction, but in the fiction industry – with 50 Shades of Grey starting its life as a slash fiction version of Twilight. The effects of Twilight are boggling, but what other knock-on effects are we missing?
Twilight teaches very dangerous lessons to its readers and viewers.
- Unhealthy, emotionally abusive relationships are desirable – see Edward and Bella.
- Women’s only life choices (“choice” is a key word here) are to get married, have children, and be a stay-at-home mum.
- Sex is bad. Abortion is even worse.
- Child-grooming is acceptable so long as the adult really loves “his” child.
(NB. I will be talking in very gender binary and white-washing ways, because Twilight erases all non-het sexualities and people of colour.)
Let’s begin with number one. Edward Cullen and Bella Swan have an emotionally abusive relationship. As defined by Women’s Aid:
- destructive criticism, name calling, sulking
- pressure tactics
- lying to you, or to your friends and family about you
- persistently putting you down in front of other people
- never listening or responding when you talk
- isolating you from friends and family, monitoring your phone calls, emails, texts and letters
- checking up on you, following you, not letting you go out alone (2)
So let’s go through these. If you’ve read any of the Twilight books, alarm bells should immediately be ringing in your head right now. Edward constantly employs “pressure tactics,” the number one example being manipulating Bella into marrying him. Bella doesn’t want to get married, she is mortified by the idea, and only goes through with the marriage because she wants to have sex with Edward. This is blackmail. Withholding sex in order to achieve what he wants at the expense of Bella is highly abusive.
Edward monitors Bella throughout the entire series, from having Alice check her future, to literally stalking her to Phoenix, to sneaking into her bedroom to watch her sleep (before they’ve even spoken! See Midnight Sun), and so on. And what is most worrying about this is that in the context of the narrative, these abusive traits are romanticised and idealised. This normalises abusive behaviour, and considering the demographic as Twilight (tween and teenagers who are first forming their ideas about love and sex) this is even more disgraceful. She even fears telling him the truth: “I’d given more information than necessary in my unwilling honesty, and I worried it would provoke the stranger anger that flared whenever I slipped and revealed too clearly how obsessed I was.” Twilight, chapter 11, p.230. This is not the hallmark of a healthy relationship. This is fear.
We also see Edward isolating Bella from her friends and family. For example, he takes the engine out of her car to prevent her from seeing her friend, Jacob.
Edward lies to Bella at the start of New Moon, when he tells her that he doesn’t want to be with her any more, when in actuality he is trying to “protect” her. This shows his disregard for Bella as an equal in their relationship, with equal input, and ability to make choices for herself. Not only this, but after he disappears from her life, he also removes every item that might remind her of him. All the photographs, tapes, etc. He gives her no choice and has no respect or consideration for how this might effect her.
Examples of destructive criticism can also be found in the books…
- “Bella, it’s not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant.”
- “Bella, you are utterly absurd.”
- “Damn it, Bella! You’ll be the death of me, I swear you will.”
- “You aren’t exactly the best judge of what is or isn’t dangerous.”
Suddenly, Twilight is starting to seem a lot less romantic and a lot more abusive. The last thing that we should ever be doing is glorifying this type of behaviour.
Read points two, three and four here on my blog, Sarahgetscritical.wordpress.com
50 Shades of Grey has captured the imagination of Western women (or so we’re told) and opened up the world of BDSM to bedrooms all across Britain and America. But the ideals of love, romance and sex that EL James is promoting are highly troublesome. And not because it’s BDSM, but because she trashes the name of BDSM and encourages a dangerous sexual discourse, where safety words are ignored and one partner is scared rather than aroused during sexual interplay.
For those who have not read the book, let me briefly summarise the first book, which I will be focusing on. Virgin Ana meets Christian Grey, multi-millionaire and self-proclaimed sadist. They soon engage in a sexual affair, which quickly turns from vanilla to kinky BDSM. Ana feels uncomfortable about this but spurred on by several miraculous orgasms agrees to become Christian’s sub. Soon this relationship sours as Ana realises that she cannot be the sub Christian wants her to be, as several aspects of the BDSM lifestyle scare her, and she leaves him.
Let me stress here that my issue is not with BDSM. BDSM can be very fulfilling and perfectly healthy between two (or more) consenting partners. What EL James describes is not BDSM. It is abuse.
Any sexual relationship is built upon the consent. Consent must come first, before whips, before domination, or before vanilla sex. Without consent, what is being described is rape. Christian creates a contract with Ana that sets out their sexual relationship, to which she consents, but soon after he breaks the contract, treating it as unimportant, saying, “screw the contract!” He also makes Ana feel so scared that she can’t safe word in their final sexual exchange, which causes her to cry and run away from him, hiding in her room, and leaving him soon after. Despite this, in the second book, Christian asserts that “lovers don’t need safe words” – completely missing the mark: everyone needs a safe word, or a method of some kind to withdraw consent, to prevent rape and sexual trauma.
In one instance, she sends Christian an email saying that she doesn’t want to see him again, and in response to this he turns up (he stalks her, and therefore always knows where she is – and apparently this is romantic). He then says that he’s going to tie her up and have sex with her. If this doesn’t show little regard for consent, I don’t know what does!
A lot of the issues with Christian and Ana’s sexual relationship is that Christian pushes Ana too far, too soon, giving her little room to stand up for herself. Before Ana met Christian, she was a virgin, with absolutely no sexual experience, or even interest in masturbating. Yet soon after meeting her, he pushes her into having sex with him, and soon after losing her virginity, he turns her over and has sex with her for a second time, showing little regard for the fact that she’s sore – she can barely walk the next day! After losing her virginity, he pushes her into a BDSM relationship, showing little regard for the fact that she knows little about the lifestyle or kinks. The only knowledge she gains is through Google – one night’s research. He doesn’t try to explain fully the lifestyle, and she is still ignorant to many things even into the second book; this is shown in the scene where she re-enters the Red Room of Pain and looks through his collection of whips and toys, not knowing what they are, uncertain even what nipple clamps or butt plugs are for. Christian coerces her into the kind of sexual relationship he wants, giving Ana little time, opportunity or space to figure out what she wants. She is never allowed to learn about sex, whether vanilla or kinky, and Christian has little regard for her needs. She doesn’t want a BDSM relationship; she wants Christian and so tolerates what he wants. Some of the sexual encounters are consensual (barely) but essentially unwanted, and this is a very troubling message to put out to readers to be the epitome of romance and heightened sexuality.
here is my journey's end: Fifty Things Wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey (see TW list bolded second paragraph)
This is the second post in my series on BDSM and feminism. My challenge to myself was to make a list of 50 reasons why the widespread appreciation of 50 Shades of Grey is not so ideal, despite the fact that I generally think women enjoying sexually explicit material is a good thing. I thought it would be difficult to think of all those things while pointing out new problems every time, not just giving examples. I was wrong. It was really easy.
Trigger warnings for discussions of BDSM, assault, child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and stalking. Also, spoilers through 50 Shades of Grey and the sequels.
Part One: Problematic Treatment of Consent in the books
1. Ignoring consent
2. Reacting to the sentiment “no, I don’t want to have sex with you right now” by threatening to tie the speaker up, taking their clothes off, and… having sex with them.
3. Not treating safewords as important
4. Not treating contracts as important
5. Joking about the importance of safewords and contracts in a D/s relationship
6. Having a partner sign a D/s contract without telling them it isn’t legally binding
7. Not exploring and explaining limits
8. Forcibly preventing a partner from learning about their limits
9. Forcibly preventing a partner from learning about a sexual practice you are encouraging them to engage in
10. Making a romantic relationship dependent on indulging non-mutual kinks
11. Taking sexual advantage of someone who is intoxicated
12. Refusing to allow a partner to masturbate
13. Pushing someone who has never experienced any sexual interest, including maturbation, into a sexual relationship immediately after meeting them
14. Pushing someone who has never experienced any sexual interest, including masturbation, into a kinky sexual relationship immediately after meeting them despite the fact that they have no knowledge about kink
15. Refusing to allow that partner any trustworthy source of knowledge about those kinks other than yourself
16. Forcing a partner to make specific decisions about birth control based on your preferences
Let’s wrap up!
Consent is really, really important. Consent is important because it differentiates sex from rape, and consent is important because it differentiates BDSM from abuse. So in a relationship like the one depicted in this series, you would think clear consent would be the number one most important thing. You would be wrong.
The worst part of how consent is treated is that the first book actually addresses the importance of negotiated and informed consent in a D/s relationship, and then procedes to undermine it. Christian, the male love interest, tells the inexperienced (with everything about sex and her body, and clueless about the existence of kink, much less its practice) Anastasia that he’s not going to do anything without a contract and a safeword in place.
Approximately five seconds later, he says “Screw the contract” and initiates sexual contact in an elevator.
All of bullet point number two actually happens. She was joking when she sent him an email saying she didn’t want to say him again, but he thought she was serious- and his response was to show up and tell her he was going to tie her up and then to have sex with her! He also has sexual contact with her after she drinks mulitple times, despite the fact that she has a low tolerance for alcohol (of course, she’s a helpless wilting flower) and they never, ever negotiate having sex is this context.
He refuses to let her get information about BDSM (if she could, perhaps she would realize what a deeply abusive relationship she’s trapped in). She is encouraged to look it up online, despite the fact that she’s absurdly computer-illiterate and the internet is not exactly full of super-reliable information about BDSM. She literally cannot even speak to her best friend about it.
There’s nothing wrong with having sex with an inexperienced partner, and there’s nothing wrong with controlling your partner’s orgasms in a negotiated D/s context. But you probably shouldn’t do both at the same time, since she basically doesn’t know what she’s giving up, and she isn’t given any opportunity to have anything like a normal learning curve about sexual activity. Instead, she’s pushed immediately into exactly the kind of sexual relationship her partner wants, which is clearly coercive without everything else bad that’s going on.
Part Two: Other Abusive Content in the books
17. Reading a partner’s email and phone messages without their knowledge or consent
18. Physically hurting a partner without their informed consent
19. Physically hurting a partner even though it causes them fear
20. Controlling who a partner can and cannot spend time with outside of the relationship
21. Showing up at someone’s house after they’ve literally just emailed you to say they don’t want to see you anymore
22. Routinely forcing a partner to eat when they don’t want to.
Let’s wrap up!
Okay, so Christian is exhibiting some classic signs of a controlling and abusive partner here. Normally, you could cut a guy some slack due to his extremely difficult childhood, but he is literally beating her.
It’s fine to hit your partner if your partner genuinely wants to get hit, but Ana in the books is ambivalent at best about any kind of S&M or painplay. There is one extremely telling scene where she is terrified that he’s going to spank her again.
Now, as someone who’s into this sort of thing, I can say that one of the more fun parts of the whole process is the anticipation. For me, at least, it’s arousing and enjoyable to not be sure whether pleasure or pain is coming next.
That is not the same thing as fear, which is how Ana describes her feelings. She says she’s afraid of him hurting her again. That isn’t something a submissive says, it’s something an abuse victim says.
And compared to everything else he does: controlling her other relationships and her communications, stalking her, and even deciding what she can and can’t eat after she repeatedly tells him she isn’t comfortable turning that control over—it’s a clear pattern of control outside of the bounds of any kind of negotiated D/s. He is infiltrating every part of her life and abusing her emotionally and mentally… and then causing her physical pain that scares her and that she doesn’t enjoy sexually or emotionally.
That sounds like abuse to me.
Part Three: Problematic Treatment of Women and other minority groups, Feminist Fails
23. The perpetuation of the idea that a woman has no libido or sexual desire of her own until it is “awoken” by a desirable man
24. The man as aggressor and the woman as, essentially, prey
25. Refusal to utter the word “vagina,” instead referring to female genitalia as “down there,” despite the fact that male genitals are described frequently and in often-bizarrely-metaphorical detail
26. A female character who is just so skinny and naturally feminine that she forgets to eat all the time! That’s… that’s not what people do. If you regularly forget to eat, you might have an eating disorder. And you definitely need to get that looked into.
27. The good-girl cures bad-boy trope
28. Stating marriage, babies, heteronormative normalcy as the ultimate goal for a young woman and lots and lots of kinky sex with multiple partners as the ultiamte goal for a young man
29. Racial stereotyping of a young man of color (the only vaguely significant character of color) as a scary probable rapist who nice white girls must be protected from, despite the fact that his behavior (which I am totally not condoning) is much less sexually predatory than that of the white male love interest
30. Complete erasure of queer people of all types
31. Typing- that is, the idea that a man only likes women of one physical “type,” and thus that his only possible interest in these women is their physical appearance, not their personalities or anything else
32. Excusing the rape of a young boy by a woman. The one good thing the female main character does in the series is condemn the woman who raped her partner when he was 14 and question his continuing relationship with her. However, he completely laughs off her objections and the overall plot of the books somewhat normalizes his sexual abuse.
33. Presenting the only dominant female character as a rapist
34. Treating female sexual pleasure and orgasm as something bizarre
35. Treating female sexual pleasure and orgasm as something belonging exclusively to a male partner, to bestow or not as he chooses
36. Presenting a character who has never felt sexual attraction to anyone, ever, and has never masturbated, as obviously heterosexual and ignoring the asexual spectrum completely
37. Consistent devaluing of female friendships
38. Painting the normal state of relationships as a dominant man and a submissive woman
Let’s wrap up!
My biggest problem with this book is its overall treatment of minorities and serious issues. It is dismissive and gross toward female-on-male rape (the legal definition of sex between the fourteen-year-old Christian and adult Elena). Although Ana actually is horrified by it (good for her!) her partner dismisses her discomfort about it and continues a friendship with this woman afterwards.
There are a lot of nasty sexist tropes in the books, listed above.
There are no queer characters of any type, and the only character of color at all is a rapist because he is deemed an unworthy partner for the beautiful virtuous young white woman.
This is a really, really problematic book, even barring the way it treats kink and the horrifically abusive relationship between the main characters.
Part Four: Kink-Shaming
39. Treating a partner’s kinks as something unpleasant to be barely tolerated
40. Someone seeking out a partner they know will barely tolerate their kinks because of internalized kink-shaming
41. Creating the sense that a character’s kinks must stem from some “reason” and thus the idea that kinks cannot be natural
42. Associating kinks with extreme trauma from early childhood
43. Treating a kink as something very embarassing, to be kept secret under threat of legal action
Let’s wrap up!
It isn’t really Ana’s fault that she’s shocked by Christian’s kinkiness. After all, she’s completely unprepared for it. But the narrative attitude toward his kinks, and thus toward kinky people in general, is remarkably kink-shaming and sex-negative for something that’s explicitly a work of pornography.
The storyline sets up Christian’s kink as the direct result of early childhood abuse. Although kink can be influenced by trauma, and many people find it a helpful way to deal when with a consenting and enthusiastic partner, it’s hardly the only way anyone could end up a sadist.
Literally, Christian’s reason for wanting to engage in BDSM with a long string of dark-haired pretty young women is that they look like his neglectful and drug-addicted mother. The only other kinky characters who get much of a mention in the book are his ex-sub, who goes insane and chases them down with a gun, and Elena, who molested a young teenager.
This doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of individuals with an interest in BDSM. Admittedly, Ana has a normal background, but she also doesn’t have much of an interest in BDSM. She only does it to please Christian, at least at first.
Additionally, Christian’s intense shame about his kink, to the extent of making Ana keep it a secret under threat of legal action (a provision of the contract that he neglects to tell her isn’t legally binding!) adds another level of shame for the reader to associate with BDSM. Finally, the plot tends to favor Ana’s desire to marry and settle down into a vanilla, heteronormative marriage, setting BDSM as an abnormal sexual fetish which doesn’t belong in a committed and loving relationship. A large part of Christian’s discussions with his therapist revolve around trying to “cure” his kink (something his therapist rightly says he shouldn’t do), showing once again how kink is treated as abnormal in the narrative of the series.
Part Five: General Shittiness
44. The phrase “laters, baby,” which is just obnoxious. And the whole “inner goddess” thing, which deserves a special nod for its sheer terribleness
45. Generally terrible writing.
46. Lack of aftercare. The whole second book’s plot could have been avoided if Christian weren’t genuinely a terrible Dom.
47. This one part where a female character puts her hair in pigtails to make herself look like a child to protect herself from the sexual aggression of her partner. And then he totally gets that that’s why she’s doing it, and says something along the lines of “that won’t protect you.” I actually cannot.
48. Plagiarism. Since when is it totes okay to make money off someone else’s copyrighted idea?
49. Coopting fanfiction and fanworks, by and large a feminist, queer-positive practice, to make money off an unfeminist, queer-erasing work
50. People are entering into D/s relationship based off the precepts the learned in this book, which is dangerous and frightening.
Criticizing the writing has little to do with my point here, but I couldn’t resist.
Perhaps 46 would have fit in better somewhere else, but I shoved it in here. That’s right, for somebody who structures all his relationships around D/s, Christian sucks at being a Dom. Maybe it’s because he learned it all from his rapist, but he’s fairly clueless. Except for rubbing some lotion on Ana’s butt one time, he’s not very sensitive about aftercare. He leaves her alone after a scene when she’s clearly traumatized, and lets her run out without even mentioning that maybe he’s sorry or something after he beats her until she safewords. There’s also the issue of his ex-sub, who clearly is still deeply under his influence. If he’d ended the relationship in a normal way, maybe she wouldn’t be under such an extended case of subdrop related crazy.
47. It happens. I actually can’t. Like really.
I’m so in favor of fandom. I’ve been a writer of fanfiction for years and years, and was in fact in the Twilight fandom for a little while. I’ve written more D/s porn than most people have read total words in their lives. I’m even in favor of writers finding ways to make money off the fic they love so much. Selling drabbles or auctioning off prompt fills, even changing stories to be original work… I had a friend once who did it in another fandom and was published. But she changed the character’s personalities and replaced the plot entirely, just keeping some of the sexy bits that were so thoroughly celebrated. I saw a comparison that shows that something like 93% of the text of 50 Shades is word-for-word identical to the original fic, and that just rings of plagiarism… she even kept Edward and Bella’s physical appearances.
49 is probably a whole nother post, about the value of fandom, so I’ll just save it.
And I left the worst for last.
D/s is awesome. D/s is fun. Go for it if you really want to.
But don’t fucking use Fifty Shades as a guide.
Read the books if you must- obviously, I did. But read other things too. Talk to people who’ve been in the lifestyle for years. Talk to me, if you can’t find anyone more, like, knowledgeable. Use a safeword. Don’t do anything that you don’t, really, truly, deep-down want to do.
There’s nothing wrong with reading problematic porn- I’ve done it, definitely. But don’t base your lifestyle around it, and try seeking out some other things. I could recommend you some really, really good fic.
Thank you for writing this and thank you to Dailymurf for guiding me to it. I actually bought the book last week with the aim to do something similar. It’s hard to criticize something without actually having read it afterall, haha. The problem with 50 Shades that I’ve had so far in my abstract knowledge of it is that when people crit it, people use the “immoralistic” sex as a reason for it being a bad and harmful book. (Yes, a “feminist” on the radio actually said that. Immoral. Right.) What you wrote about the BDSM-shaming within the book itself was really fascinating. How can you put something forwards as a “sexy” book and then shame the sex at the same time? Mind-boggling.
And as for the erasure of non-het people and near erasure and demonising of people of colour… seeing as it’s based on Twilight (100% het, can’t call a poc character apart from Laurent, was he described that way in the book or am I just recalling the film here, but anyway he whooo was also a viscious murderer). Can’t wait to get started now.
this is more accurate.
also: attitudes towards gender are social constructs, gender inequalities are a social construct, and gender identities are a social construct. but gender is a biological fact.
* SEX is a biological fact, not gender.
And in fact, even sex isn’t as clear cut black-and-white. Over forty different intersex conditions exist, caused for many different reasons and rendering the sex of each individual not clearly male or female.
A matter of millimeters can transform you in medical eyes (that is, less progressively thinking medical eyes) from a female to a male - can transform a clitoris into a phallus.
Even if it isn’t obvious on the surface, a female can have an XY karyotype and vice versa. A male can have a uterus and fallopian tubes inside him and perfectly “normal” penis and scrotum on the outside. A female can have undescended testes inside her.
You guys see us reblogging a lot of things about consent and rape (and also abortion), but I feel like I need to talk about what consent really means (once again. Really, you can’t get enough of this).
Saying yes the FIRST time.
Stopping whenever someone (male, female, or any gender inside/outside the binary) says stop (or the safe word, if we’re going into kinky stuff where stop may not always mean stop. That means HAVE A SAFE WORD and TALK ABOUT THAT BEFORE SEX EVEN STARTS).
Consent does NOT mean:
Being coerced into saying yes. If you say no the first time the asker asks, they should stop asking. Pressuring people into sex isn’t consent. If they say they’ll hate you if you don’t have sex with them, it’s not consent. Don’t feel like it was. If they say they’ll love you if you do, it’s not consent. Don’t feel like it was.
Besides, if they keep bugging you about it, then it’s not really worth talking to them anyways.
Being inebriated or passed out. If someone cannot give consent, it is not a given that it is ok to have sex with them. This shouldn’t need to be said. The person CANNOT GIVE consent, so it is NOT consent.
“They gave consent once, so it’s ok whenever I want to have sex with them.”
This shouldn’t need being stated either, but it does. Things happen. Life happens. It’s ok to not want sex with someone if you have had sex with that person before. It’s ok to say so.
“We’re in the middle of it, so why can’t I finish?” Because they’re uncomfortable with whatever is going on. If someone needs to finish that badly, they have hands and sex toys. Another person’s body is not a personal sex toy. Remember that, and remember it well.
Rape is about:
Someone being in control of another person. And that’s it. It’s not about sex. It’s not about instinct. It’s about controlling another person.
It really fucking sucks that these things need to be said, but they do. Rape isn’t just something that happens in a dark alleyway. It happens in relationships and at parties. It is not something petty and stupid if it doesn’t happen like “every other stereotypical rape story”. No one’s story is invalid. No one’s experience is invalid.
Please, NEVER tell someone that their story is invalid because it doesn’t fit your window of what rape “should be” and remember that rape shouldn’t be.
Watching Jezza Kyyyle as per although I’m not sure why. A victim of domestic abuse is on there and he’s all OH WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST DUMP HIM WHY DIDN’T YOU GET RID OF HIM and I’m like do you not understand ANYTHING at all? If he’s hitting her then she’s probably too scared to leave.
Jezza (who was also nicknamed by someone else on the show as “JK”, which personally I thought was a stroke of genius) is so bad for shit like that.
I remember once he had a woman on as the feature because she “had too much sex.” And the whole segment was basically an homage to slut-shaming. OMG YOU HAVE SEX? SEX WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE? AND YOU HAVE A VAGINA? HOW DISGUSTING! HAVE SOME COUNSELLING. PER-LEASE.
And let’s not even get onto his blatant disgust for the working-class.