I think I cracked the WHY. Why do so many women fail to see the abuse in Fifty Shades? Yes, I think I cracked it, thanks to a comment on another post by a Miss Luna Sol.
What is boils down to is this:
If so many of us women enjoy being dominated in bed, and there’s no difference between abuse and submission because we’re not taught there is any difference, then admitting that Fifty Shades is full of abuse means having to admit that we like being abused, but since we don’t like being abused, then what’s in those books can’t be abuse!
My point, in this very long answer (which perhaps I’ll post in my blog as well), is: is there some kind of unmet need that is being perverted into this crave for abuse? what is happening in the collective consciousness that we are veering towards these types of desire?
Is there some kind of instinctual urge for violence? what is this divide between body and rationality? All rethorical questions, of course, for which I have no answers. I’d like to end my self imposed celibacy, but not if it means losing my dignity.
I came to realize that there is a misunderstanding about the dividing line between being abused, and liking submission.
Allow me a moment to give some of my own background. Right now is the time to move on to another post if you don’t want to hear anything about an adult’s sex life in a post about a book trilogy and movie that is nothing but sex.
I’ve experienced abuse. My first relationship was an abusive one. I didn’t see it at the time, and didn’t realize that saying No when in a relationship was a valid choice. I met him when I was 17, and finally broke up with him when I was 22, when I was ready to kill myself to get away from it all. That was the wake-up call to leave. I still ended up in a psych ward because it was so unhinged from when I went through. I never want to go back to abuse.
It’s powerless, and genuinely frightening (fear and excitement both cause an adrenaline rush, which is why fear can be mistaken for excitement). I am almost ashamed to admit that I had to figure out how to make it all a game just so I could feel some control. I knew he’d do what he wanted anyway, even if he had to break down the door again. But I appealed to his competitive side, and tried making a points system. If he did certain things, he got points he could use to do what he wanted. It worked. He competed against himself to get enough points faster and faster. It didn’t end things, but it gave me some power, and made it so I could sleep some nights since I knew he wouldn’t hurt me that night.
To be frank, that’s all Ana does. She learns to manage Christian. He would have his way anyway, but she, like I, found some measure of control in an otherwise uncontrolled situation. It’s still abuse. All too often, victims are blamed by people who don’t understand how powerless you otherwise are. Ana was powerless to get away, even at work. How could she leave when Christian showed he’d buy wherever she worked so he could control her? My ex also controlled money. It’s a way to trap people, and all we feel we can do, sometimes all we literally can do, is try to find a way to take a little control.
From there, I went on to having more partners than I have fingers. I can’t even count the one-night stands. And in all of it, I did enjoy, and still enjoy, submission. But how can this work if I don’t like being abused?
Here is the crux of the matter, where I think a lot of women are misunderstanding.
Being abused always means being submissive, BUT being submissive doesn’t always mean being abused. In a clearer comparison, beef hamburgers are always made from meat, but meat isn’t always hamburger.
When I was acting out as a submissive, I had the control. I had the power. I loved being submissive. I looooooved going to San Francisco’s Power Exchange. Do you know why? It was fun, but it wasn’t abusive. One simple NO from me (or whatever word my partner and I decided on), and it was over. Full-stop.
When Jeff did what he did to me, saying No was futile. I could cry my heart out while he did the things he did, but why bother saying No when I knew he’d ignore me? Every encounter with him was stressful and filled with fear. I wanted to run away. I wanted to die. I had no value when I couldn’t even control what happened to my body.
Both situations have submission. Can you see which one has abuse, and why it’s abuse?
After we broke up, I ended up in a position of having to be That Strong Woman who needs to be capitalized. I became a family court advocate for children in the juvenile system. I was strong every time I went to watch a court case, or talk to another parent, or another social worker. In addition to that, the new man I was dating and I were working on starting a real estate equity investment trust (REIT, for short), and let’s say we dodged the proverbial bullet by pausing before plunking down money for a complex in New Orleans the week before this hurricane called Katrina. On the outside of the bedroom, I was constantly ON. Even in our own home, we often met with investors, and when out and about, I always had to be primped and ready to talk to someone who showed interest, since we did hob nob with a lot of people like that. Welcome to life in Silicon Valley during the tech boom. It was great in some ways, but my god, it was stressful. So much wasn’t in my control, but I had to try taking control anyway. When I went into the tech industry, not much changed, aside from being single for a while and while having 100% of the cost of living in the Bay Area fall on me. That’s an area that isn’t price-friendly to people living alone, let me tell ya.
So when I could let my hair down, it was behind closed doors, and sometimes it was behind locked doors where you needed an ID and an entrance fee, and to agree to a bunch of rules. On the outside, I always had to be in control. But in relative privacy, it was nice to just kick back and let someone else do the work of making me feel good. It was amazing to let someone else be in charge of me, and yet, despite that control, I knew it was safe for me to say No. My limits weren’t ignored. I was respected, despite being in a position of submission, which just might happen to include a rack with leather straps. I still retained the power. There was no loss of dignity.
Luna also said,
I don’t understand what this is. This urge, that I’ve never given into, ruined a beautiful relationship I had with a perfectly respectful man. How could I possibly ask him to abuse me? I knew that it would undermine and ruin our relationship and our dignity. I don’t think he would have done it either, he doesn’t have a violent bone in his body (sweet sweet person that he is). And, more than anything, I didn’t want to pervert him like that, I admire the man that he is.
Just as a strong career woman can be submissive in the bedroom as a mental and physical break from always being On while outside, a man can be meek and mild in the workplace and in the living room after dinner, afraid to make waves, and turn around and be a firm Dom in a place where he knows that what happens there stays there. There seems to be this understanding that, when the clothes come off, what happens between two (or more!) people stays private between those people. If you do something that ends up making you feel foolish, well, it’s not going to be the talk around the water cooler. So there’s freedom, and a lot of people act out the way they feel inside, but are afraid to act in the open world, just as a lot of people who feel they always need to be one way while out and about (like that strong, always-in-control career woman) find a night’s relief from the stress by relinquishing control to someone they trust.
Now, a lot of women like to be dominated in the sack. Let’s face it. It’s not easy being a woman. We’re supposed to want and maintain careers outside the household, or else we’re setting the feminist movement back a generation and setting our daughters up to lives of being nothing more than broodmades for a fundamentalist somewhere. But if we have a career outside the home, what about the children? Don’t want any? No? What’s wrong with you? Already have some? Why don’t you have more? Or why did you have so many? Whether you work outside the home or at an at-home mom, why didn’t you pull a June Cleaver and have dinner on the table at 6 with some fresh pearls and lipstick on your smiling, perfectly-made-up face? What? Your husband isn’t home until 7? Why not? Why aren’t you this or that or… We can’t win. Someone will always say we’re doing it wrong. Even when your life is as relatively easy as mine (writer, small-business-owner, husband who works a great job with lots of time off, one child who is generally a joy, family nights at the opera or ballet, pretty comfortable life, even if we’re not rich), there are stresses. It’s hard to escape the expectations that are put on us by society in general. Even when we’re more or less housewives, we still are societally expected to be in control of things. And it’s tiring! And letting someone else take charge can just plain be a relaxing change. And if it ends up not being such a fun night, someone else can take the blame. 🙂
Likewise, a good, caring, loving, gentle man can be a dom in the bedroom just as easily as the woman in a power suit can enjoy letting someone chain her up. It doesn’t mean that good man isn’t good, nor does it mean that powerful woman is weak. Just as Power Women can enjoy letting their opposite side some out in relative privacy, a meek, shy man can act out his fantasy of being the brute, the tough guy he doens’t feel he can be out in the open world. And if he looks a little foolish for it, well, to some degree, sex makes us all look foolish, but since it’s in private, who cares? We’re too busy having a good time to critique everything. But as long as there is respect and care and listening to what the other wants, there isn’t abuse.
Proper domination and submission requires mutual respect for each other as individuals. I can’t stress this enough.
Abuse lacks respect from one, and demands respect out of fear from the other.
Yet all we’re taught is that any form of control is abuse. Any hitting, regardless of enthusiastic and freely given consent is abusive. Being a woman who wants to let it all go and let someone else be in charge sometimes must mean not being a strong woman and feminist. But this is wrong. Genuine BDSM requires open and non-coerced consent, and it doesn’t remove the right to say No.
Submissives ARE in control. We are the ones who get to set our limits. We are the ones CHOOSING to let someone else act within the parameters we set.
Abusers don’t care about our limits. That’s why they’re abusers. Genuinely Dom men respect the boundaries that abusers ignore.
Many of us enjoy being submissive. That’s in the open. A lot of us enjoy it. But how many of us want to be abused, hurt and humiliated against our will? None of us. If we have the control to stop a cropping, it’s not against our will.
So what this all comes down to is either admitting those of us who enjoy being dominated secretly want to be abused, or forcing ourselves to see Christian’s actions as acceptable so we don’t wonder what’s wrong with us for wanting abuse.
“I like being submissive, so Ana can’t really be abused.”
And that is clouding the rest of the story, resulting in women trying to justify why Christian can’t really be an abuser. They like submission, don’t want abuse, so Christian’s dominance can’t be abuse. If we asked a lot of defenders what they’d say about a man following their best friend across the country after she asked him for a break, they’d threaten to break his balls off, yet when it comes to Christian, if they don’t defend him, then maybe he’s an abuser, and maybe Ana’s abused, and maybe they really want to be hurt. But that can’t be! They don’t like abuse, so Ana can’t be abused, so Christian can’t be an abuser, so what he does has to be okay somehow!
The saddest justification I saw for the rape scene in chapter 12 of the first book, when Christian thought Ana broke up with him and his response was to force her to have sex to “remind” her of what she liked about him (this is rape, folks), is that, well, Ana wanted sex earlier, and thought about going to the hotel to get some. Guess what. The right to say No never ends. Even if sex has started, either partner has the right to say No. Right before the first time my husband and I had sex (and I’ve cleared this post with him), at the proverbial point of no return as far as first times are concerned, he asked if I really wanted to do this. He respected my right to refuse, even when millimeters away, because the right to say no doesn’t end. Ana wanted sex earlier, but that didn’t obligate her to have sex after she said no, after Christian threatened to humiliate her in ways she didn’t want.
But again, if they don’t like abuse, but like some mild bondage, then what Christian does has to be justified somehow or else it must mean they like abuse. There is a lot of projection going on here, and it’s dangerous. And as long as women are told that there is no difference between wanting to be victims of abuse and enjoying sexual submission, then nothing will change. We’ll still tell teenagers that Christian is just fine, and ignore Ana’s lack of freely-given consent. Education is vitally important, and I’m just plain not sure where to start when it comes to reaching people who need to learn the difference. All I know for sure is that the line is blurred since we’re not told it exists, and are telling our children that this is acceptable, instead of teaching about the existence of consent, and the role it plays in making all the difference between willing submission and abuse.
I do hope that experienced, genuine kinksters, regardless of experience level, will be open to discussing how kink isn’t the same as abuse, and why. We need to get this sort of discussion out into the open. Another commenter said she’d like to see abuse and consent being a part of sex ed classes at school, but as long as even showing a condom is strongly disallowed, there’s no chance that abuse, and the role willing consent plays, will be a topic of discussion. That leaves it up to the larger world to try to give some extra education on this.
Maybe, if that can happen, more women can see Christian for the abuser he is, and not think that their own enjoyment of submission it as all related to what he does.