Rethinking virginity: yes, it is about purity, but it’s not like a silk scarf

OK, first up: caveats.

That tweet was in April. It’s now July. What I’m about to write is a mixture of theological thoughts I’ve been mulling on in the interim and talking over my husband – because he’s a fabulous deep-thinker who sometimes sees things I don’t.

When I’ve been talking to him about my ideas about virginity he’s said to me,

“OK but… this idea is like the fur of a cat. You can stroke it one way and it’s fine, but if you stroke it the wrong way, you get the cat’s back up. It’s still the same fur, but it doesn’t work. You’ve got to be careful with this.”

So, I could be on the wrong track, but even if I’m on the right track, you’ve got to look at my direction of travel here. Also, even if I’m on the right track and going in the right direction, this is a curiously complex issue. Again, it’s like cat’s fur: you can stroke a cat anywhere, but you can’t stroke a cat everywhere on its surface at the same time. (This is also called the ‘hairy ball theorem’.) In a similar way, what I’m about to say may not the have logical consistency the way we might expect at first.

But I think there’s something big here.
Continue reading Rethinking virginity: yes, it is about purity, but it’s not like a silk scarf

#ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

With so much noise coming through my Twitter feed, and just the general busyness of life, it’s not uncommon for me to scroll past good articles and links without reading. But wow! When I saw the story about David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from Friends) making six short videos about sexual harassment, I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They are brilliantly made, directed by Israeli-American director Sigal Avin, and achingly, shockingly real.

In the space of less than five minutes, each one illustrates a perpetrator preparing their victim for the consent violation, the violation itself, and then their tactics afterwards to rationalise their actions and prevent subsequent disclosure. They are all in a context of power imbalance. And yet, they are also all different. What’s more, they show abuse outside the obvious examples that people think of when they think of sexual abuse. In all but one, the victim is fully clothed; in all but another, the perpetrator is fully clothed. None of them involve a man forcibly grabbing a woman. None of them include one person touching another’s genitals. All of them are more subtle than that.

These are so well acted and scripted, I’m half tempted to present them without any commentary at all. However, one of the insidious things about abuse is its deceitfulness; I’ve therefore shared some of my thoughts in the hope that other people will feel more able to articulate theirs. It does mean this post is rather long, especially if you watch all six, so make a bookmark or come back when you’ve got the time. These reward close attention.

CONTENT NOTE: There are six videos here, all of which show sexual consent violations, and I discuss the coercive behaviours in detail. I’ve put notes above each video so that (if you want to) you can consider each one before you watch it, but needless to say – you might still find them difficult viewing. Continue reading #ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Woman standing arms folded in from of Christian Grey picture from 50 Fifty Shades Darker.

With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.


So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades. Continue reading I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Reflections from standing outside the Fifty Shades Darker premiere

Protest banner against 50 Shades "Not consent, not redemption, not a fairy-tale" with quotes from Fifty Shades Darker
The banner I held up during the protest outside the ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ premiere

It wasn’t as bustling or as glitz as the Fifty Shades of Grey premiere two years ago. There weren’t as many presenters and DJs to whip up the crowd; there weren’t as many fans; and there wasn’t as much press. But there were enough.

We were outside the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, London. The waist-high metal railings had been carefully placed to allow space for fans, space for VIP vehicles and narrow passages at the side for the general public to mill past. The fans who had got there early were already inside enclosed areas while the security detail urged people outside the railings to move on if they didn’t have tickets. Every now and then, you’d see one or two people together dressed in very expensive outfits and you know they actually had tickets to go inside and see the film. Everyone else was wrapped up in gloves, coats and scarves – it being February after all.

The giant screens played the Fifty Shades Darker trailer silently but on repeat throughout the evening, much as had been done with its prequel two years before. And music thumped its way across the square, providing many (myself included) with a well-needed excuse to bob up and down and keep moving. Continue reading Reflections from standing outside the Fifty Shades Darker premiere

Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p3

Redeemer’s privilege comes in two halves

So… redemption stories involve a person who saves – a redeemer. A redeemer needs to be good (I talked about that in my last post) and they need to have privilege.

A person having privilege is often framed as them having some characteristic that means their status is advantaged (or not disadvantaged) compared to others. Redeemer’s privilege is similar, but broader, and it comes in two parts – I’ll call them “position privilege” and “identity privilege.”

Position privilege means the redeemer has power; they are not subject to constraining forces – at least so far as the redemption arc is concerned. Identity privilege is about having a secure and fulfilled sense of identity. The redeemer may experience distress at being insulted and injured, or indeed at witnessing suffering in others. But that doesn’t take away from their identity.

Because a redeemer has both position and identity privilege, this means that if they intervene for someone else, they do so because they want to. Not because they have to and not because they feel they need to.

In this post I’m going to compare Belle’s position and identity privilege with Ana’s.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and the introduction to this series explains why I think Redemption is beautiful love, not beastly suffering.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

Belle vs Ana: Two embodiments of redeeming virtue?

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I’m in awe of you.”
— Christian, Fifty Shades Darker, p36

The need for outside help

In a redemption narrative, the person who is redeemed cannot redeem themselves on their own. They need a redeemer.

That isn’t to say that the person being redeemed doesn’t do anything to aid their redemption – quite the opposite. But what it does mean is that if it weren’t for the help of someone else stepping into their darkness and bringing them out of it, they would not have been saved.

In this post I want to compare Christian’s need for Ana with Beast’s need for Belle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and you can find the introduction to this series here.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Two embodiments of redeeming virtue?

Beast vs Christian: The Curse of plot-serving entitlement

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“I don’t have nightmares when you’re with me.”
— Christian, Fifty Shades Darker, p234

Living in a state of death

Redemption stories start with a fall and the Fall brings a curse. Usually the effects of this curse are so severe they represent a state of death. After all, the story is mimicking the curse(s) in the Genesis narrative where all death, sickness and destruction come into the world.

This state of ‘living death’ is one of the reasons why redemption in particular is needed. After all, redemption involves a good saviour stepping into the dark place and bringing a fallen, wretched, broken person out of it. I’ll talk more on this in my next post, but for now, let’s just note that life is meant to be pretty bad after the Fall.

Because I want to compare Christian’s state of ‘living death’ with Beast’s.

(Content note: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including sexual violence. I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and why I write about BDSM. If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page.)

Continue reading Beast vs Christian: The Curse of plot-serving entitlement

Beast vs Christian: The Fall that brings guilt and shame

So I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“You’re a good man, Christian, a really good man. Don’t ever doubt that.”
— Ana, Fifty Shades Darker, p195

The moment when things went bad

Redemption stories tend to start with something very bad happening. After all, people don’t need saving from good things. I like to refer to this event as ‘The Fall’ – not because Jamie Dornan, the actor for Christian Grey, starred in a TV series with that name – but because that’s the phrase generally used to refer to the very bad event described near the beginning of the book of Genesis.

(Content note: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including sexual violence and childhood trauma. I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades.)

Continue reading Beast vs Christian: The Fall that brings guilt and shame

Redemption is beautiful love, not beastly suffering

So I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.
Yes I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“I think the reason why you love Beauty and the Beast so much is because it has such a strong redemption narrative.”

My best friend was right of course. I love stories of redemption. To borrow from another saying, these stories have power, not because they tell us that there are monsters in the world, nor because they tell us that we can be monsters. But rather, because they tell us that – even in our most wretched and unlovable state – we can be saved from being monsters. We can become children of light.

In fairness, the appeal of Disney’s film when I was growing up probably also had much to do with the fact that I could identify with the heroine who didn’t quite fit in. Plus I admired her beauty, ability and courage. And then there were the songs.

Continue reading Redemption is beautiful love, not beastly suffering

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.

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

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.

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

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 1)

One of the biggest myths spoken about 50 Shades of Grey is “It’s not abuse, it’s BDSM.” I recently read a rant from a guy in the BDSM scene calling out abusive behaviour from a big-shot d-type who was using his reputation to silence his critics and the people he was abusing. Unlike 50 Shades, the rant is not fictional, which is why the strong parallels it has with 50 Shades are so serious. You can read the rant (in all its anger and uncut strong language) here. In the meantime, this post is the first of three that lists some of ways the big-shot dominant the ranter described reminded me of Christian Grey.

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 1: Abuse can happen – even in a BDSM setting

“It’s BDSM” is never enough. There should always be a discussion about consent, risk and appropriateness: that’s what distinguishes abuse from what gets called “safe, sane and consensual BDSM” and “risk-aware consensual kink”.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 1)

A real-life rant about “command rape” in the BDSM scene

This guest post is about abuse within the BDSM scene, particularly what the author calls “command rape”. It’s not a piece of fiction. I asked to reproduce it for one thing because the author is in the scene and makes some good points about BDSM and but also because the “Snake in the grass” he’s ranting against also bears uncanny likeness to Christian Grey. I’m writing about that separately in three different blog posts, but in the meantime, this will give you a gist of why he’s writing:

We’re all human, we make mistakes. It’s when those “mistakes” become a pattern that raises concern. When there are multiple individuals coming forward talking about a local “Master” who appears to have abused, coerced and straight-up disregarded the hard limits of, not just someone close to me, but several others, I get [very angry].

Content note: This post is very angry in tone, has very strong language, discusses abusive practices and uses graphic hyperbole to make a point (I have put a warning into the text). Also, although the author gives useful definitions to make his points and help convey understanding, these are not intended as legal or definitive definitions and should not be understood in that sense.

Continue reading A real-life rant about “command rape” in the BDSM scene

Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

This post is a writer’s-commentary on a sketch I wrote, based on two Bible stories: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-20, and the book of Ruth. If you haven’t read the sketch, it’s in my previous post.

I originally wrote the sketch as an illustration of the differences between good and not-so-good sexual desire, which in the church often get called “love” and “lust”. But these words are often unhelpful as they are often used in different ways. Bigger than that though, is the problem that “love” and “lust” don’t usually come on their own.   Continue reading Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

Why do I write about 50 Shades?

It was just gone midday on the 21st January 2015. The previous evening I’d decided that it was worth doing a blog about 50 Shades of Grey and now I was having some time out to think about how exactly I’d go about doing that and how I would explain it to people.

It so happened that I walked into St Paul’s Cathedral (London) just as a passage from one of the gospels was being read as part of the midday communion service. It was Matthew 18vv1-7, about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And there was this bit:

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (NIV)

That’s when it hit me. Continue reading Why do I write about 50 Shades?