Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kink in the Mainstream - Fifty Shades of Controversy


Have you heard about the Fifty Shades trilogy?  If not, you must be living under a rock.  These are a series of erotica books written for women that began as a Twilight fanfic (read by yours truly as the author was writing it) and later published by a small Australian company, then bought by Random House for a wider distribution.  E.L. James (Snowqueens Icedragon on Fanfiction.net) has made a bundle off her own vivid fantasies, and good for her!

As mentioned above, I read the story when it was purely a very graphic and compelling piece of fanfiction.  I enjoyed it, but I kept wishing that the central female character (a blushing virgin at the beginning of the novel) would be drawn further into the protagonist's bdsm lifestyle.  Alas, the author felt that she had to 'justify' the straight male character's bdsm interests by having them turn out to be a coping mechanism for severe neglect/abuse that he suffered as a small child.  Pity.

This aside, the novel is adequately written and details the minutiae of a relationship being negotiated between a dominant, controlling man and a stubborn, willful woman.  As such, it is quite entertaining.  And the softcore bdsm between them, or as they refer to it, 'kinky fuckery', is well written and very erotic.

However, there has been much controversy over the series' depiction of bdsm practices and lifestyles, both from the bdsm community itself and from the more conservative public.  The conservatives argue that bdsm is deviant and no popular woman's book should contain it.  This is simply ludicrous and displays a limited understanding of both women's desires, and the current belief that engaging in bdsm play or a bdsm lifestyle is NOT a deviant practice.  Members of the bdsm community have criticized the book, and justly so, for presenting this form of sexuality as the result of childhood trauma rather than as a benign preference to experience extreme sensation play with like-minded people.

There have also been criticisms that the central male character is a control-freak stalker who should not be presented as an object of desire to the naive female populace, who may read the book and suddenly desire to give their lives over to the next man who tells them to sit down or mind the gap.  The fact that Christian Grey is a control freak and somewhat of a stalker is addressed quite frankly in the book by the female character of Anastasia (cringe - I hate the name) Steele.  She spends the entire trilogy attempting  and ultimately succeeding to, modify his controlling and domineering ways which seem to be the product of his traumatic childhood and a projecting of his own insecurities and fears for her safety.  Basically, she doesn't take shit from this man.  She ensures that her own needs are met, and her own boundaries remain, but in a way that allows their relationship to grow and deepen, and ultimately results in Grey's being able to mature and heal from his difficult early years.

One of the things I love about writing male/male romance is the avoidance of the perceived uneven male/female power dichotomy.  I don't have to worry about the subtext.  Is one character objectifying another?  Is one character using his supposed superior societal power over the supposedly weaker character?  These questions don't even come up in m/m romance.  There is a certain freedom to depicting members of the same gender enjoying sexual relations and navigating intimate relationships, especially within a bdsm context.  My books will never be as popular as E.L. James' trilogy, but if they were, at least I wouldn't have to defend the perceived power imbalance of my characters and explain the aspects of their personalities that make them real equals.  

~ Liz

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