How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 3)

This post is the third 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 and part two is here). You can read the original rant (in its uncut strong language) 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 8: There are NEVER “no limits”

Let’s start with a quote from the rant:

No one has “no limits”, and to say you don’t (especially as a new person to the lifestyle) is simply foolish because a new person has no idea what to expect.

And anyone remotely informed about BDSM knows this. Anyone who remotely cares about consent will challenge anyone and everyone who says they have “no limits,” because people who say they have “no limits” do not know what they are saying. Instead, their idea of what a BDSM scene could involve has limits.

The safety point here can’t be stressed enough. If you venture out into the BDSM scene and tell someone you have “no limits” and they don’t challenge you, walk away.

Now, you might think this point isn’t relevant to 50 Shades, because of all that long and messy discussion about soft and hard limits as Ana and Christian go through the BDSM contract. But I think it is relevant. You see, at the end of FSOG, Ana asks Christian to show her “the worst”. In other words, she gives him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, whatever that might be.

Now, some might say it’s not “that bad” because “all” he does is hit her with a belt six times. Sometimes I wonder if this is why E.L. James says her critics do a disservice to victims of domestic abuse when they describe Ana’s and Christian’s relationship as abusive. But we are seriously missing the point if we try and say that an action is not abusive because it could have been worse. At the end of FSOG, Christian breached Ana’s limit and she felt violated. Why? Because he accepted her “no limit” request to show her what he could do. No d-type in the BDSM scene with any respect for consent would do this. (I’ve written a longer post specifically analysing the scene with the six slaps here.)

Lesson 9: The truth tells itself in patterns

Towards the end of the rant, the author addresses the “snake the grass” whose behaviour he’s ranting against:

To use your “authority”, “popularity” or simply your standing in the community to prey on the inexperienced is nothing more than you being a f***ing rapist a**hole. …

We’re all human, we make mistakes. It’s when those “mistakes” become a pattern that raises concern. …

You, “Mr. Pro D.” crossed lines with several girls. You did not show remorse or care. You expected these girls to go care for themselves when they looked to you for what was missing and needed. …

You cannot seriously expect, as a grown-ass man, any 18, 19 or 20 year old girl with zero physical experience in the lifestyle to know what “no limits” means to you as an experienced “Master”. You’re nothing but a Command Rapist.

In the whole of the 50 Shades books, we only really have Christian’s word about his proficiency and safety-awareness when it comes to BDSM.

We know that he learned much of his BDSM from “Mrs Robinson” who, we note, had sex with Christian when he was underage. This is supposed to make him a safe BDSM partner?

We also know that Leila was a submissive. We know she has mental health problems (and shouldn’t we ask if Christian had something to do with this?) Yet Christian, when dealing with this very vulnerable woman, sees fit to go all I-am-your-Master on her, bathe her, and then get his therapist to pack her off to a medical institution. He says it’s for her protection. I say Christian (and E.L. James, for that matter) doesn’t understand medical ethics. (It’s not that I know much about medical ethics, but I can’t believe this is supposed to happen in real life and I’ll be interested if readers can give me informed comments on this plot point.)

The take-home point here is that a person’s description of their own ability, reputation and skill is just that – their description. It isn’t necessarily reliable. It doesn’t mean that person is safe to be with.

Often when someone is a piece of trouble, someone else has already learned that lesson. So it’s always worth listening out to hear what other people have to say about someone. Even if other people can’t comment on a person’s safety-awareness or sexual prowess, comments about their character will tell you a lot. Is that person with their change-the-world charity projects, helicopter rides, business acquisitions, first-edition gifts and university presentations genuinely interested in you as a person? Or after they just impressing you so they can get what they want from you?

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

Let’s step back a moment and think about this rant that I’ve been analysing. It’s written to an abusive d-type who’s known to the author, but it’s written for the benefit of s-types in the BDSM scene. Its purpose is to make it less likely for s-types to be taken advantage of and it does this by raising the awareness of the ways people can abuse in a BDSM context.

But is the author (and am I) only going to be concerned about s-types?

You see, an s-type in the BDSM scene has already, on some level, made a personal identification about themselves and their sexuality. We can debate about whether this identification is a transient desire or a deep insight into their identity, but whichever way this works, s-types in the BDSM scene have made some form of choice.

However: there are other people who haven’t chosen to identify themselves as s-types.

There is no place for a d-type to try and convince someone else that they are an s-type.

But that is exactly what Christian does. He even says at one point that he sometimes thinks there isn’t a “submissive bone” in Ana’s body and he keeps reminding her about the definition of what a “submissive” is when she doesn’t act according to his expectations (FSOG, p208).

But Ana isn’t a submissive.

This isn’t something for him to acknowledge under pressure after he’s thoroughly messed around with her emotionally, interfered with her professional life and married her (I’m talking about the scene in Fifty Shades Freed which I discussed in part 2 of these posts). Instead this is something he should have sounded out before the start of their relationship in a way that allowed her to develop her own thinking about what she wanted. Instead, he treated her as a blank sheet onto which he could write all his desires.

There is a much wider issue at stake here: one person should not dictate to another about their sexual identity – and certainly not so that they can get what they want out of that person!

Sexuality is complex. Sexual intercourse brings a person’s history, self-image, imagination and physical function (and more) all together. Yes, a person’s sexual preferences and understanding of their sexuality may develop over time and be influenced by conversations they have with other people and books they read. Yes, it’s possible that someone who didn’t identify as either an s-type or a d-type may change in this respect and vice versa. But that should be a choice they make, without pressure; it should not be a choice that is made for them. Saying to someone, “I want you to be a certain way and therefore you are a certain way and I’m going treat you as such,” is beyond obnoxious.

It’s… yes, you guessed it: abuse.

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