How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 2)

This post is the second of three that lists some of the ways a rant I read about an abusing big-shot dominant in the BDSM scene reminded me of Christian Grey (part one is here).

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 4: Pre-negotiation must be neutral and pressure-free

The ranter talks about limits:

There is no excuse for a D/M to be unable or unwilling to discuss these things openly and in a non-threatening, non-intimidating fashion in a neutral setting (emphasis on the “nons” and “neutral”). This allows for open communication and allows the s-type to express where they are with a particular limit.

Let’s take a brief look at the negotiation between Christian and Ana as they discuss the BDSM contract. FSOG p258 Ana says to Christian:

“Don’t laugh at me, but what’s a spreader bar?”

“I promise not to laugh. I’ve apologized twice.” He glares at me. “Don’t make me do it again,” he warns. And I think I visibly shrink… oh, he’s so bossy.

Did you notice that? He’s threatening her even as they go through this contract.

Let’s carry on reading:

“And how will I use safewords if I’m gagged?”

He pauses.

“First of all, I hope you never have to use them. But if you’re gagged, we’ll use hand signals,” he says simply.

I blink up at him. But if I’m trussed up, how’s that going to work? My brain is beginning to fog… hmm, alcohol.

Christian could have said, “You know what? That’s a really important safety concern you’ve mentioned there, I’m really glad you’re thinking about it.” But he doesn’t. He brushes her concern aside. Firstly, I don’t like it when a person downplays a concern raised by their intimate partner; it’s one of those ways abusers get other people to believe they are unimportant and should accept all the creepy behaviour being sent their way. But secondly, and inexcusably from a BDSM perspective, Christian is not addressing an important safety point.

Oh, and did you spot that this whole discussion is taking place under the influence of alcohol?

No, just no.

Lesson 5: Mistakes require intentional aftercare (and are they mistakes?)

Let’s read what the rant has to say about mistakes and safewords:

Violating a limit can happen by mistake from time to time. We all get “caught up” in a scene at times. Mistakes can be made. If it’s indicated that the scene needs to stop, via safeword or other indication, then aftercare should immediately begin. The D/M should talk to the individual and understand what happened and why. …

A D/M should NEVER make the individual feel guilty or less worthy for stopping the scene.

Let’s forget Fifty Shades of Grey for a moment and skip ahead to when Christian has reformed somewhat from his Bryon-esque torment-obsessed FSOG self. By the middle of Fifty Shades Freed, he has married Ana and (supposedly) accepted her assertion that she is not to be his submissive.

FSF p248, Christian does orgasm denial on Ana and she uses her safeword after a rare moment of insight:

This is not love. It’s revenge.

How does Christian react? He starts with shock and some pleading for Ana not to safeword:

“No, no, no. Ana, please. No.”

Followed by something resembling an apology:

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Christian murmurs, his voice raw. He kisses my hair over and over again. “Ana, please forgive me, please.”

And then when Ana presses him for why he was doing this, he says:

“Ana, orgasm denial is a standard tool in– You never–“

Translation: Orgasm denial is a standard tool in punishment. Ana never does what she’s told.

What happens next? Ana apologises.

This is supposed to be aftercare?

When you think about it, it’s unsurprising that Christian doesn’t do decent aftercare; after all, his actions weren’t actually a mistake. They were intentional and deliberate because they came from his deeply problematic and non-consensual view that he’s entitled to control Ana and punish her if she doesn’t comply with his expectations. Those “mistakes” are a symptom of abuse.

And, in that kind of context, even a remorseful-sounding apology, is not repentance, it’s a means of retaining control.

Lesson 6: A threat is not aftercare

Let’s repeat this point from a rant:

A D/M should NEVER make the individual feel guilty or less worthy for stopping the scene.

So, FSOG p349-350 Christian gives Ana what can only be described as a “punishment f***.” Ana endures it and then complains afterwards. On p351 Christian says:

“But it was tolerable?” he asks softly.

I flush. “Barely,” I whisper, but I can’t help my smirk.

They are interrupted by Christian’s sister but when he next has an opportunity, Christian doesn’t reassure or apologise to Ana for uncomfortably pushing her limits. Instead, he says this:

“I will do it again, Anastasia, and soon,” he threatens quietly close to my ear, then he pulls me into an embrace, my back to his front, and kisses my hair.

Maybe E.L. James intended for the hug to be interpreted as reassuring and comforting for Ana. I see it as Christian reminding Ana how much power he has over her. Also, I don’t care if Ana finds herself capable of giving a smirk to Christian; if Christian cared about consensual BDSM, he’d have given Ana aftercare and space to talk about what didn’t work well for her.

Lesson 7: Mistakes should be prevented (and not blamed on the victim)

Let’s go back to this point from the rant again, because it’s an important one:

A D/M should NEVER make the individual feel guilty or less worthy for stopping the scene.

There is a thorny area of debate in the BDSM scene about whether a d-type or an s-type is at fault when a scene happens and the s-type later says they didn’t like it. On the one hand, an s-type needs to understand that their “Yes” and “No” need to mean something (see What s-types REALLY need to know). On the other hand, because a d-type holds physical advantage in a BDSM scene, they need to understand nuances of communication and factors that might hinder communication from the s-type.

People (rightly) say that an s-type shouldn’t blindly trust that a d-type will behave only in consented ways during a BDSM scene – instead they should sound out (insofar as they can) whether the d-type is trustworthy. But the responsibility goes two ways: a d-type shouldn’t blindly trust that an s-type will communicate in an honest and recognisable way to the d-type. Nor should the d-type blindly trust that the s-type won’t be hindered from such communication by cultural, emotional or historical baggage. (And if they can’t be satisfied about this they shouldn’t do BDSM with that person, plain and simple.)

Now, I’ll admit that Ana’s “Yes” and “No” are pretty meaningless. The whole plot starts with her doing an interview she doesn’t want to do because she finds it easier to give a polite “Yes” to her flatmate’s Kate’s face and then gripe behind her back, than to be honest. But Christian still has no excuse. He is the more experienced in BDSM, he knows darn well that he has strong sway over Ana, but he doesn’t take responsibility for really sounding out with her in advance of doing BDSM so that he can be really sure that she’ll say stop if she needs wants to. Sure, he nominally talks about safewords, but that is not enough and a consent-aware experienced d-type would know it’s not enough.

Instead, he hits her hard in FSOG p274, leaving her emotionally all over the place for the next few pages. (I’ve done a separate post on the six slaps at the end of FSOG.) Then he’s surprised when he learns on p286 that she was upset. Anyone with a bit of common sense could have seen it coming; an experienced consent-aware d-type, as Christian claims to be, wouldn’t have let it happen in the first place.

But does he apologise? Well, he tells her that:

  • he now doubts he can trust her because she didn’t speak up at the time;
  • she wasn’t meant to like being hit;
  • he enjoys punishing her; and
  • she was sexually aroused by it (I remind you, genital response is NOT the same as arousal; read “Come As You Are“).

I’m pretty darn sure he also has a go at her for not using the safeword, though I can’t find the page for that. If you meet a d-type that says even one of those things when you try to talk about something that didn’t feel right, walk away.

And stay away.

 


Part 3 coming soon is here with:

Lesson 8: There are NEVER “no limits”

Lesson 9: The truth tells itself in patterns

Lesson 10: BDSM isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be presumed

One thought on “How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 2)

  1. This is a really well done takedown of a horribly damaging book. Thank you for putting in all this work on these, and I look forward to the rest.

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