50 shades feminist?

This post was my first one on Fifty Shades, which eventually led to this article.

I’m in The Independent blog today discussing the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. Follow the link for the full debate or read just my bit below:

It’s rare that any new phenomenon is a purely positive or negative thing, rather it’s more useful to ask what possibilities they open up and close down.

The popularity of the 50 Shades trilogy demonstrates how common enjoyment of sadomasochistic (SM) fantasies is. This is helpful because people often have narrow ideas about ‘normal’ sex, and anxiety if their desires stray outside of this. Sexual problems are linked to an inability to tune into, and communicate about, what we want sexually, so it is certainly useful to open up a diversity of erotic possibilities.

On the downside, the books perpetuate damaging myths about people who are into SM, including links to childhood abuse and dangerous behaviours, which are not supported by any evidence. Ana rarely talks about her desires but Christian telepathically knows how to turn her on. This takes the emphasis away from communication. Also she orgasms at the drop of a hat whilst most women cannot orgasm from penetration alone.

Some argue that the female submission in the books is inherently anti-feminist. It’s possible for submission or dominance to entirely focus on the other person (linked to norms of women putting others’ pleasure before their own), or to emphasise more mutual enjoyment. It’s worth being aware of how conventional gender power imbalances can play out in any form of sex, but that doesn’t mean that a specific dynamic or activity is necessarily problematic.

Much more troubling is the wider relationship between Christian and Ana which perpetuates some problematic myths about love: that stalking behaviour is romantic; that it’s okay for a man to control a woman’s work, eating, contraception and friendships; that a woman should change a man into what she wants him to be. All promote a kind of possessiveness that would make a mutual relationship very difficult.

Find out more:

My favourite article on the 50 Shades phenomenon is Laurie Penny’s piece in The New Statesman.

Another good piece was published in The Guardian by Suzanne Moore.

Pamela Stephenson-Connolly wrote wisely about the dangers of demonising BDSM in the books in The Guardian also.

Meg-John (MJ) Barker (they/them) is a writer, zine-maker, collaborator, contemplative practitioner, and friend. They are the author of a number of zines and popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including graphic guides to Queer, Gender, and Sexuality (with Jules Scheele), and How To Understand Your Gender, Sexuality and Relationships (with Alex Iantaffi).