Fifty Shades of Grey is abuse, not BDSM

By now I’m sure the majority of you are aware of the supposedly titillating, risqué sex-scenes depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey. Other than encouraging a huge spike in sales of whips and chains, the film has led to protests outside screenings across the country by members of the campaign group 50 Shades is Domestic Abuse. They argue that the bestselling series ‘romanticises domestic abuse’ and should be boycotted.
So, does the series portray an abusive relationship between Christian and Anastasia or is this just a hyped-up representation of BDSM?

In short, 50 shades is a textbox example of an abusive relationship, with or without the inclusion of BDSM.

There is no clear outline of how a BDSM relationship should be. However, the founding cornerstones are negotiations and informed consent between those involved regarding the form the relationship should take. Both partners should be in sound mind when they offer preliminary consent and well-informed of the risks involved in the proposed activities taking place. This should be the foundation of any relationship, not just one specific to BDSM. Without these basic building blocks, any relationship can quickly become abusive. Forcing your version of a relationship, kink or not, onto another person – as Christian Grey does – is not healthy.
In contrast, 50 Shades depicts a responsibility and consent free image of BDSM which never acknowledges the risks involved. Christian Grey’s behaviour throughout the series is not acceptable and is pertinent when considered in the context of BDSM. Christian Grey isn’t dominant, he’s a stalker. He continuously crosses Anastasia’s boundaries and ignores her right to revoke consent. He breaks into Anastasia’s house, bullies her friends and buys her expensive gifts to appease. Ultimately he beats her and then apologises charmingly, allowing the film to follow a clichéd redemption narrative to justify the abuse.
The series’ depiction of a niche aspect of BDSM: total power exchange – where a submissive gives up total responsibility to the Dominant – is also challenging. In reality, a 24/7 BDSM relationship is rare, requiring years to build high levels of trust between two individuals. Considering this and the speed of events, I’d argue this is further evidence of Christian’s abuse.

There is a presumption among the wider public that 50 Shades of Grey is an accurate representation of the kink scene. But nothing could be further from the truth.

For starters, the sex only represents certain aspects of an incredibly diverse scene! Christian may be tying Anastasia up with cable ties, but in real life [read: healthy, non-abusive BDSM] there’s frequently far more than fifty shades of play within a kink’s bedroom activity. Instead the series seems more focused on the ability of fast cars and glamourous lifestyles to arouse rather than the connection any partners might feel within a scene. Without the inclusion of BDSM you could be forgiven for feeling the lesson here is that a million or two will make you attractive no matter how deeply disturbing you are.

Pro trip here: NEVER use cable ties. They don’t have any give and cut off the circulation causing all sorts of damage. Invest in some hemp rope and a good pair of EMT shears before even thinking about trying to hogtie your poor partner!

The depiction of how Anastasia falls into BDSM is also naïve. Most people take steps over a number of years as they develop and learn from experience and research. But instead Anastasia is depicted as loving a man, who is a sadist, and then engaging in it because she loves him. This is continued through Anastasia’s dubious portrayal of a submissive, with James suggesting she is a ‘natural’ – a shy girl who thinks she’s unworthy and unattractive. In reality people who choose to submit within the world of kink have a range of personalities and often come from backgrounds that are not ‘naturally submissive’. Anastasia is therefore better seen as a character subjugating, rather than submitting.

Of course, this is not to say that abuse does not occur in the BDSM world either. However, it’s not specific to BDSM. There are people in all walks of life with unhealthy, abusive relationships. If there is one message to take away from the series it’s that EL James knows little BDSM, kink and the measures people use to ensure the safety and happiness of all involved.

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