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Monday, March 19, 2012

Fifty Shades of Scandal

I should have mentioned this a liiiittle sooner, but this post is likely NSFW (not safe for work) and definitely NSFM (not safe for mom).

I feel really weird about this post because it's about porn, essentially. Or erotica, anyway. But I feel kind of compelled because I've got a pretty strong opinion here (shockingly), and it goes along with a post I wrote about two years ago about romance novels, and my concern about the seeming omnipresent undercurrent of rape in each one.
Back then, I wrote 
During my five minutes at OU, I took a writing class, and the professor mentioned that there was some kind of romance novel governing board who decide what can and can't be in romance novels... one of the things that this board decided some years ago was "no more rapes." When they said "no more rapes," they decidedly did not say "no more near-rapes." It seems, in all of the trashier fare that I've perused, that every woman in every trashy romance novels is just moments from being raped. Luckily, she's always just moments from being rescued by a handsome hero, so no harm, no foul, right?I just find it really weird that these books, which are supposed to be light and fun, have such a creepy thing always just under the surface. I find it so odd that these supposedly empowered heroines who read books and solve mysteries are always so hapless and helpless when it comes to rape.
There's also the fact, of course, that these things don't come with a warning label. You think you're getting an amusing bungling bounty hunter, and instead you're getting misadventures in rape avoidance.If I read the back of a romance novel at the bookstore, and all I know is who wrote it and the fact that there will most probably be naughty bits. Don't know what kind of naughty bits, and I don't know if they'll make me feel awkward or uncomfortable or grossed out. Porn, it's got labels. If there's going to be rape involved, that fact will be displayed right on the page or the box... You want rape, here's rape. You don't want rape, there's a never-ending supply of fantastic filthy consensual sex right over there, clearly labeled. 

Just lately, there's been a big hullabaloo about the Fifty Shades trilogy - three works of BDSM-flavored erotica by E.L. James that's geared at women. I read the trilogy. I enjoyed the trilogy. And unlike any other romance novel I've ever waded through, my inner angry feminist was offended not in the least.
Lots of folks, as it turns out, are offended. Some feminists are shrieking about how it's harming women by glorifying rape. Dr. Drew Pinsky is complaining that the book is "actual violence against women." A New York Daily News Columnist, without criticizing the book too harshly, does say that the book is a little sexist, and women would be bothered if it turned out to have been written by a man. It's sexist, according to reviewers all over the Internet; it's violent, and it's damaging to us poor, delicate, perpetually endangered women.
And you know what I say? This is porn, and it's good porn. It's well-labeled porn. And before any spanking, slapping, or bondage take place, there's an entire chapter explaining exactly what sex acts do and do not take place herein. The male lead is deeply into bondage. The female lead is naive and virginal. The male lead says "Hey, I'm into all these really kinky things." When she tells him she knows nothing of these things, he sends her home with a contract and tells her to do a bunch of research on the Internet to find out if she's interested. 
And the female lead says yes.
She's smart, she's educated, she's pretty, she's got her pick of the fellas, she has self esteem, and she knows how to take care of herself. She's strong, she knows self-defense, and she knows her way around a gun. She knows how and when to say no, and when she wants to say no, she does. 
This book is the opposite of every romance novel I've ever tried to read. Most romance novels I've tried to choke down, the particularly rape-y ones, anyway, you can tell from chapter one who is going to almost be raped, whom she's almost going to be almost raped by, and which charming hero will protect her from the fate she's got coming. 
This book is the opposite of rape. This is a book about a girl getting a very safe, sane, and consensual introduction to the world of kink and liking what she finds. The book very clearly differentiates consensual BDSM activities from rape, and like our main character, we can walk away at any time we don't feel comfortable. 
So what's all the hubub? Why is it that real rape between the pages of romance novels is fine as long as it's thwarted, but kinky sex is bad when both participants are intelligent consenting adults who know exactly what they are getting into? Why is it romantic when Rhett Butler romantically rapes Scarlet, but evil when a girl consents to be spanked? I kind of wonder if maybe some of the critics - a large number of whom seem to be male - aren't a little bit threatened by the idea of women getting off on their own without a big strong man around to tell them whether it's okay. 
Are my Birkenstocks showing? Damn right they are. Men look at porn all the time. Violent porn, kinky porn. Dominatrix porn, submissive porn, TS porn, midget porn, granny porn... but enough about my house on a Saturday night (rimshot). Why is it that porn is suddenly damaging when it comes in paperback and is written for women by a woman? I have never heard anybody complain about Dominatrix porn and its deleterious effect on poor helpless submissive men. 
Here's what my new hero, Jessica Wakeman over at has to say about it:

BDSM is fantasy, pure and simple. People who practice BDSM — which can be anything from vanilla stuff like over-the-knee spanking to more kinky stuff like bondage —  follow the tenets of “sane, safe and consensual.” That means everything you do is with a partner you trust, it is done in a way that will cause no real harm, and mutually agreed upon. ...Bottom line: having sex with a kinky partner is generally thoroughly discussed and rather planned out, done in such a way to maximize each partner’s mutual enjoyment. Does that sound like “violence against women” to you?

Two last things: I'm not saying, by the way, that the kinky dude in 50 Shades isn't a dick. I wouldn't lay a hand on him in real life. That's the magic of fiction, kids.
Also, Jeremy would like me to make very clear that the bit about the weird porn in our house on a Saturday night is a joke. There is no granny or midget porn in our house on Saturday nights. Not when he's home anyway.


Stephanie Z. said...

I have nothing to say but "awesome."

Lori said...

Hell yes.
Amazingly well written, Brigid. And spot on.