Why Are We Still So Surprised That 50 Shades Inspires Domestic Abuse?
The Debrief: A week after a 19-year-old was charged with sexually-assaulting a fellow student in a '50 Shades-Inspired' attack, Gareth May finds out why the BDSM community isn't in the least bit surprised
Last week a Chicago student was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old female student after, allegedly, taking inspiration from a scene in Fifty Shades of Grey. I'm not in the least bit surprised. As I previously wrote here on The Debrief, 50 Shades is encouraging men to try things in the bedroom that, quite simply, they’re incapable of doing off the cuff.
According to this report, after stripping, binding and gagging his ‘date’ Mohammad Hossain proceeded to beat her with his belt and his fists. All of which he says was consensual. But as Judge Adam Bourgeois Jr. asked, before setting bail at $500,000, 'How can someone let a movie persuade him to do something like this?'
The problem, some people believe, is that at its core 50 Shades is about an abusive relationship presented as something else entirely. '50 Shades depicts abuse, not BDSM. At its core, BDSM is consensual, whereas Christian Grey’s actions are largely not,' New York dominatrix Mistress Dee tells me via email. 'Consensual BDSM uses love, communication, responsibility and trust as its central, irrefutable principles. Without those tenets, you are breaking the law.'
Mistress Tara, from Indiana, says 'SM does not support rape culture' and it’s important people understand that 50 Shades does not represent the BDSM community.
'E.L. James is not only not an S&M person, she did absolutely zero research. She's a fan fiction writer who simply took the Twilight Trilogy and changed the characters from mythological creatures [in] vampires and replaced them with actual human beings with an SM orientation,' Mistress Tara says. 'Therefore, she's put forth a complete fiction about people who actually exist.'
The ensuing misrepresentation has impacted both the uneducated intrigued by the movie and the SM community at large; the latter something Mistress Tara addressed at the LA Premier last month with her ‘S&M is not a mental illness!’ protest.
'[50 Shades] depiction of our sexual orientation feeds into every wrong stereotype of both our community and gender roles in general,' Mistress Tara says. 'That women prefer to be sexually submissive, that rich powerful men are sexually dominant and worst of all, it depicts the dominant character as damaged and mentally ill, and only through the love of a woman is he finally ‘cured’ of his demons.
'The reality,' she continues. 'Is the vast majority of the SM industry is dominant women and submissive men, and the idea that anyone partaking in our lifestyle is ‘damaged’ is dangerous [especially when you consider that] for most people, 50 Shades will be their first exposure to our lifestyle, and, what I believe is our sexual orientation. S&M should be empowering and freeing, not oppressive and debasing.'
The sexual liberty vs. mental illness, BDSM vs. DSM (the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is by no means a small debate.
In 2013 the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) and friends enjoyed a victory when the DSM changed tack and conceded that those consenting to BDSM practices would no longer be considered mentally ill. But how many people will know that distinction? And how many people will have watched 50 Shades and bought into the no prep, no limits and no clue ‘BDSM’ that the 50 Shades franchise pedals?
Does the SM community have another battle on their hands?
Mistress Dee says it’s not all doom and gloom and leather paddles. After all, the movie and the book can act as an ‘ice breaker.’
'While the book sensationalizes BDSM in a way that is both inaccurate and offensive, it can still be a useful tool in the bedroom of people who are aching to broach the subject of kink,' she says. 'Hell, I’ve used it myself to try and ‘convert’ vanillas that I’ve met in the real world.'
And from there, is it a case of self-education? Mistress Dee says not at all. The community is very welcoming to any newbs on the scene.
'I try to engender honesty whenever I can in both my business and lifestyle BDSM practice. I encourage my married and partnered clients to bring up BDSM with their significant others—even going so far as to coach them with exact step-by-step instructions when necessary.'
Mistress Dee is not the only one offering this kind of kinky pastoral care. Coco de Mer and Sh! in London offer classes for BDSM beginners. And, over in Los Angeles, Mistress Tara’s Den of Iniquity holds weekly educational events as do Lair De Sade and Sanctuary LAX.
Isabelle Sinclair, Princess Kali and Midori, Mistress Tara adds, are 'really great BDSM instructors doing really interesting and progressive work.' And for those a bit shy about getting out the houses, she recommends some ‘homework’.
'Most of the great SM literature is quite stylised and has a bit of a gothic or fairy tale nature to it,' Mistress Tara says. 'When people in SM write fiction, they’re going to really go out there and explore those fantasies in a way that you could never do in real life; brandings, castrations, torture, death fantasies, etc. That said, there are tons of great works of fiction depicting the SM community. Venus in Furs, The Torture Garden, anything by the Marques De Sade, and anything by Anne Rice; Exit to Eden, The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, etc.'
Mistress Dee also recommends The Loving Dominant or SM101. And says The Story of O is still highly regarded in the SM community even if it was published over 50 years a go. At the very least, she says, it’s required reading. The same cannot be said of 50 Shades.
'The picture that 50 Shades paints about kink culture is as flawed and socially harmful as incorrect portrayals of minorities in fiction and film,” Mistress Dee says. “For instance the representations of Native Americans in classic Westerns or African Americans in early films about the American South. Members of the BDSM community are entitled to their sexual orientation, and while the book may raise some awareness on the subject, it is ultimately presenting the culture in an inaccurate and sensationalized way in order to turn a profit.'
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At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating