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Fifty Shades of Grey:
Transcript of Fifty Shades of Grey:
The Impact on the BDSM Community
A comprehensive exploration of the ways in which the Fifty Shades of Grey books, and their presence in mainstream culture increase the oppression of the BDSM community.
What is BDSM?
Bondage & Discipline
Dominance & Submission
Sadism & Masochism
Fifty Shades of Grey
"Beginning life as Twilight fan fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey and its follow-up titles Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, by English writer James, skyrocketed from a successful Australian e-publishing venture in 2011 to a mainstream bestseller . . . The trilogy depicts the romance between a young, virginal college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and self-made billionaire CEO, Christian Grey, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a BDSM dom" (Downing, 2013, p.93).
"The extensive sales and popularity of the novels have placed BDSM in the sexual spotlight . . . In the same year [as the book release], the online sex toy retailer Lovehoney developed an ‘official’ range of Fifty Shades inspired sex toys. . . The mainstreaming of the Fifty Shades trilogy has increased the visibility. . . of BDSM as these works of erotic fiction have become embedded in everyday discourse" (Martin, 2013, p.981).
"each of us experiences a saturation of images so intense and pervasive that it is difficult to create meaning outside these images. Since these pervasive dominant images construct one's worldview, they also have a political purpose" (Moffat, 2012, p.2)
The saturation of the Fifty Shades trilogy lead to reinforcement of the stereotypes and dominant discourses around BDSM
Who am I and Why?
In the practice of BDSM consent is essential, yet Christian Grey continuously violates the consent of Anastasia Steele, often crossing into patterns of abuse.
"In the novel, however, nothing happens at Anastasia's pace: Christian has an agenda and he sets the pace for both of them exclusively based on it. He continually introduces new elements of BDSM into the relationship before Anastasia is ready, and a lot of that happens with minimal to no communication" (Schorn, 2013, para.11)
"James got so very much about BDSM wrong. Completely, dangerously wrong" (Hunter, 2014, para. 13).
"Someone asked recently why I “hate” on the readers who liked this series. I don’t “hate” them. I’m just pissed off at them for making excuses for this blatant anti-female, anti-sex propaganda that tells women that kink is only for fucked up people" (Trout, 2012, para.45)
"Ana tries a few times to draw the line, but it doesn’t work. She says no to BDSM? He breaks into her house, ties her to her bed and attempts to, and I quote the book, “fuck her into submission.” She rolls her eyes at him? He spanks her hard and then fucks her. She won’t allow him to finger-fuck her in front of his parents? His response is to physically carry her to his parents’ boathouse for a beating, a “punishment fuck” and orgasm denial. She goes to visit her mother in Georgia? He stalks her across the country. And all of this is presented as loving and romantic" (Gehayi, 2013, para.2).
"I ran Christian Grey through Gavin de Becker & Associates’ Risk Evaluation Test. Based on his actions in the first book, he got a) 8 out of 10 for risk and b) a 154 out of 200 for quality of the assessment. (It could have been higher, but he did not own a handgun or share children with Ana. Both of these things will become factors in the next two books, so Ana’s situation will only become worse.)" (Gehayi, 2013, para.23).
"Whilst Christian insists on negotiation of consent in the sexual side of the relationship, his behaviour within the rest of the relationship is often far from consensual. He frequently violates their arrangements and does things that Ana has explicitly asked him not to do" (Barker, 2013, p.899).
"Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction, including: stalking (Christian deliberately follows Anastasia and appears in unusual places, uses a phone and computer to track Anastasia’s whereabouts, and delivers expensive gifts); intimidation (Christian uses intimidating verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as routinely commanding Anastasia to eat and threatening to punish her); and isolation (Christian limits Anastasia’s social contact). Sexual violence is pervasive—including using alcohol to compromise Anastasia’s consent, as well as intimidation (Christian initiates sexual encounters when genuinely angry, dismisses Anastasia’s requests for boundaries, and threatens her)" (Bonomi, 2013, p.1)
The ongoing, repetitive, and obvious occurrences of abuse Christian Grey imposes on Anastasia Steele with in the Fifty Shades novels serve to reinforce the commonly held view that BDSM is equal to abuse.
This reinforcing of the stereotype of consensual BDSM as inherently abusive marginalizes the community of people who willingly engage in, and enjoy, this type of sexual practice or lifestyle. It automatically pits society against this type of sexual practice, forces the conceptualization of this group of people as criminals or victims, and inherently excludes them. It refuses to acknowledge the way this community views itself.
Fifty Shades greys the line between BDSM and abuse
BDSM is practiced by a wide variety of people with different backgrounds and histories.
"One of the biggest problems I see with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it treats the interest in BDSM as the result of trauma, trauma that in this case was suffered by Christian Grey, the love interest of the protagonist, when he was a child. . . I am concerned that this introduction to the lifestyle will lead many to suppose that all people who practice BDSM are, in E.L. James' words, "fifty shades of fucked up." This is not the case. There is no single or even prevalent reason that people turn to BDSM. Further, the practice of BDSM does not necessarily constitute a disordered sexual behavior" (avflox, 2012, para.4)
"The causal relationship asserted between Grey’s childhood trauma and the form his adult desire takes is but one of the problematic, universalising clichés about non-normative sexuality which the trilogy liberally indulges" (Downing, 2013, p.93).
"Grey is not ‘a sadist’ or ‘a dominant’ because that is, if you will, his ontology. Rather his past abuse has made him into this type of personage, fitted him for this identity. James borrows a cod psychoanalytic model of childhood trauma and reinforces the commonplace that the person who seeks non-normative sex is inevitably a victim who misguidedly seeks therapy through reparative adult acting-out" (Downing, 2012, p.98).
"Instead of promoting politically progressive forms of acceptance or understanding, these representations offer . . . understanding via pathologizing. . . SM is understandable only when it is the symptom of a deviant type of person with a sick, damaged core" (Weiss, 2006, p.105).
"After ridiculing the book for its pornographic language, its hokey representation of SM-sexuality and its portrayal of women’s desires, in particular, and heterosexuality, in general, DeGeneres washed her hands of it. While assuring us that the book was bound to be popular, she made it clear that she was going to have nothing to do with it. It had nothing to say to her, had nothing to do with her sexual desires and – by implication – had nothing of interest to offer any feminist who has thought critically about gender and sexuality" (Davis, 2013, p.119).
"When focusing on humor about culturally identifiable folk groups—including national and ethnic groups, gays/lesbians, and women—the jokes tell us about culturally held stereotypes and a society’s collective anxieties" (Nardi, 2008, p.389).
"the joke teller ethnocentrically boosts her or his group’s self-image and prestige by putting down the other groups; intergroup conflict and differences are created and maintained; newcomers to the society learn about the stereotypes (negative and positive) about particular ethnic, racial, or national groups; and some simply experience entertainment and pleasure (Apte, 1985; Dundes, 1987). In most of these outcomes, performer and audience also reinforce a sense of community and social cohesion through the process of creating and sharing information about themselves and other groups" (Nardi, 2008, p.390).
"Good-natured humor, that is humor "innocent in its purpose and free from anger" (Grant, 1924/1970, p. 22), might be acceptable. However, ridicule, satire, or any other such form of humor characterized by anger is unacceptable. Indeed, any type of humor that aims at laughing at another, except on account of such an individual’s vice or folly, lacks dignity and falls short of true nobility. Humor brings some pleasure and amusement but has very little social and moral value, and should be used sparingly" (Gordon, 1998, p.255).
While it could be argued that the prevalence of Fifty Shades of Grey in popular culture increases the visibility of those who engage in the behaviour, I argue that society uses the pervasive stereotypes and tropes in these books to reinforce ideas that BDSM equals abuse, and to pathologize those who engage in this behaviour. In other words, these books lead to the oppression and marginalize the BDSM community, and serve to create a discourse of humour, exerting power over those who practice BDSM.
Why this format?
An academic paper is consumable to very few. The practice of disseminating information to larger groups of people in a meaningful way requires more skills than the preparation of a paper. Prezi, as a presentation tool, offers a more dynamic way to communicate information using different formats.
This presentation is an exercise in alternative ways of communicating ideas in a format consumable to more people, particularly outside the academy and academic institutions.
"Marginalization is perhaps the most dangerous form of oppression. A whole category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life. . . it also involves the deprivation of cultural, practical, and institutionalized conditions for exercising capacities in a context of recognition and interaction" (Young, 2000, p.41).
"To experience cultural imperialism means to experience how the dominant meanings of a society render the particular perspective of one's own group invisible at the same time as they stereotype one's group and mark it as Other" (Young, 2000, p.44).
"Those living under cultural imperialism find themselves defined from the outside, positioned, placed, by a network of dominant meanings they experience as arising from elsewhere, from those with whom they do not identify and who do not identify with them" (Young, 2000, p.45).
"The culturally dominated undergo a paradoxical oppression in that they are both marked out by stereotypes and at the same time rendered invisible" (Young, 2000, p.45).
The representation of the BDSM community as damaged, sick, deviant, crazy, and in need of being fixed conceptualizes them as others. Fifty Shades of Grey reinforce this by keeping the main characters sexual preferences hidden and secret from everyone, with the exception of those on Grey's payroll.
Viewing people engaged in BDSM as deviant, sick or crazy excludes them from meaningful participation in social life.
BDSM is a valid sexual preference and lifestyle choice, not the butt of society's jokes.
As another example of the pervasive nature of Fifty Shades humour, we need only observe internet memes. One specific meme, the Fifty Shades E-cards has multiple incarnations sprinkled throughout this presentation. Overwhelming examples of more memes are available on the next slide.
The use of humour against a marginal group is the exertion of power in a way that is palatable to the masses.
"modern power is more likely to be exercised rather than possessed, productive rather than repressive, bottom-up and networked rather than top-down and tyrannical" (Pyne, 2014, p.82).
Society beats down the BDSM community, and makes them the punchline of the joke to keep them in their place, to keep them in the dark, and to keep them as the oppressed other.
I am a white, middle class, heterosexual woman.
I am an ethical, kinky slut.
I am a submissive masochist.
I am dedicated to dispelling myths and stereotypes surrounding fetish, kink and BDSM.
I decided to focus on this topic because I believe that the Fifty Shades of Grey books have had a negative impact on society's perception of my BDSM community.
50 Shades of WTF (Video File). Retrieved from YouTube
avflox (2012, April 23). The Troubling Message in Fifty Shades of Grey (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://www.blogher.com/troubling-message-fifty-shades-grey?page=full
Barker, M. (2013). Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere. Sexualities, 16(8), 896-914. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508881
Davis, K. (2013). Complicit sex: Or what’s feminism got to do with it? Sexualities, 20(2), 119-121. doi: 10.1177/1350506812472621
Downing, L. (2013). Safewording! Kinkphobia and gender normativity in Fifty Shades of Grey. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(1), 92-102. doi: 10.1080/19419899.2012.740067
Ellen Reads ’50 Shades of Grey’ (Video File). Retrieved from YouTube
Fifty Shades of Grey – Official Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD (Video File). Retrieved from YouTube
Gay Men Read 50 Shades of Grey (Video File). Retrieved from YouTube
Gehayi (2013, April 5). Fifty Shades of Grey – Final Thoughts (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://das-sporking.livejournal.com/377666.html
Gordon, D.B. (1998). Humor in African American discourse: Speaking of oppression. Journal of Black Studies, 29(2), 254-276. Retrieved from http://journals1.scholarsportal.info/details/00219347/v29i0002/254_hiaad.xml
Hunter, Dana (2014, September 22). Fucking Shades of F**king Abuse (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad/2014/09/22/fifty-shades-of-fking-abuse/
James, E.L. (2012). Fifty shades of grey. New York, NY: Vintage.
kinkylittleigrl (2013, January 3). Fifty Shades of Abuse Romanticized (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://kinkylittlegirl.net/2013/01/03/fifty-shades-of-abuse-romanticized/
KRISSYNOVACAINE (2013, September 7). Fifty Shades of Grey is Offensive (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://krissynovacaine.weebly.com/blog/fifty-shades-of-grey-is-offensive
Lessa I. (2006). Discursive struggles within social welfare: Restaging teen motherhood, British Journal of Social Work 36, 283-298.
Martin, A. (2013). Fifty Shades of sex shop: Sexual fantasy for sale. Sexualities, 16(8), 980-984. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508901
Moffatt K. (2012) Instruction in the art of the masculine, The art of Daryl Vocat. In K.
Moffatt (ed.), Troubled Masculinities, Reimagining Urban Men.
Nardi, P.M., & Stoller, N.E. (2008). “Fruits,” Fags,” and “Dykes”: The portrayal of gay/lesbian identity in “Nance” jokes of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Journal of Homosexuality, 55(3), 388-410. doi: 10.1080/00918360802345107
Pyne J. (2014). The governance of gender non- conforming children: A dangerous enclosure, Annual Review of Critical Psychology 11, 79-96.
Sakamoto, I. (2007) An anti-oppressive approach to cultural competence. Canadian Social Work Review, 24:105-114.
Schorn, Johanna (2013, September 2). 50 Shades of BS – How To Tell The Difference Between Kink And Abuse (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/joey/2013/09/02/50_shades_of_bs_how_to_tell_the_difference_between_kink_and_abuse
Trout, Jenny (2012, October 8). Fifty Shades Darker chapter 14 recap or “Yes, but what about the Volturi (Web Log comment). Retrieved from http://jennytrout.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/fifty-shades-darker-chapter-14-recap-or-yes-but-what-about-the-volturi/
Weiss, M.D. (2006). Mainstreaming Kink: The politics of BDSM representation un U.S. popular media. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2), 103-132. doi: 10.1300/J082v50n02_06
Young I. M. (2000). Five faces of oppression. In Reading for Diversity and Social Justice. New York: Routledge.
Please note, the thesis of this presentation is not at the exclusion of the knowledge that abuse does exist within the BDSM community. "Fighting stereotypes is not escaping stereotypes . . . since the action itself acknowledges their existence and prevalence" (Sakamoto, 2007, p.106).
Using the lens of Focault, the oppressive dominant discourses surrounding BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey emphasize the constitution of current "truths", and serve to maintain the power relations that are already established (Lessa, 2006).
Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie, is being released in February 2015.
The process of completing this presentation has been incredibly challenging. An academic paper allows the author to guide the reader through a series of thoughts to their logical conclusion, which then the reader can either accept or contest. A prezi on the other hand, particularly without the ability to do a full presentation, requires short and somewhat disjointed statements that do not guide the reader in a step by step manner. This has been nerve wracking, to say the least, to leave the argument of my thesis up to the interpretation of the reader. Finding faith in my ability to communicate in this medium without being able to speak was an interesting challenge.
Yet, in spite of the difficulty, I feel like this was an incredibly valuable exercise. In the era of liquid modernity it is essential to be able to communicate in a way that is quick and engaging, and easily accessible. Disseminating information to large or diverse groups of people requires flexibility and multiple communication skills. As my intended career includes providing academic lectures, speaking at conferences, and delivering sex education, my intention in completing the project in this way was to refine the skills necessary to present and teach in a dynamic way.