Hectolitres of electronic ink have been poured out by various bloggers in the BDSM community on the subject of the ‘Fifty Shades‘ trilogy and, in many respects, the matter has been written into its grave.
I think pretty much everyone has read the resounding criticisms of Christian Grey as a dom by now: he is emotionally distant, uncommunicative with his submissive, stalks her, and otherwise exerts unwanted control over her life, punishes her in anger without prior communication… The list of things which no sane dominant would ever do goes on and on.
The relationship between Grey and Ana is abusive and above all lacking in the sort of extensive and clear communication which forms the backbone of any healthy dynamic. It’s wholly unrepresentative, and naturally, not the ideal way for the BDSM lifestyle to have entered the public psyche.
So far, so done to death.
However, in all of the criticism that has been levelled at the literary atrocity otherwise known as the ‘Fifty Shades‘ trilogy, not once have I come upon any critical view of Ana. Aside from being something of a Mary Sue character, (which, given E. L. James’ litany of literary sins, should have rather been expected) she repeatedly makes clear to Grey that his D/s desires and needs are, in of themselves, wrong and shameful. She embodies the idea that the D/s lifestyle is somehow twisted and perverted by its nature, a choice no normal, healthy person could reasonably make.
Now, I’m not talking about those bondage and impact play scenes which drove scores of vanilla people to purchase those useless pink, fluffy handcuffs. I’m talking about the formal way in which Grey takes on subs before Ana, (which he initially tries with her) – the contract, at which the reader is supposed to be outraged along with Ana, which is fairly ordinary in quite a lot of dynamics.
Although obviously having no legal standing, such contracts are generally a helpful vehicle for setting out both parties’ needs and expectations – precisely the sort of clear communication essential for ‘safe, sane, and consensual’. What is more, that contract actually shows Grey trying to do what a lot of good dominants would: trying to care for his sub’s physical well being.
Ana turns her prissy little nose up at the entire idea, but then apparently accepts, only to use the feelings Grey has for her to steer him towards the ‘good’ vanilla side of things. This is incredibly disingenuous and manipulative, and she then goes on to make it clear to him exactly how disturbing and unacceptable such a manner of arrangement is to her.
That, I think, is my biggest issue with ‘Fifty Shades’, because it’s one thing for Grey to be a bad dom. After all, he is supposed to be the poor rich darling, a damaged man, himself abused as a child. But Ana is supposedly the good and bright protagonist, and her attitude seems to creep by, unnoticed. I have met plenty of people, on both sides of the slash, whose shame at their desires led them to make decisions which made them profoundly miserable.
There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with D/s, and ‘Fifty Shades‘ sends precisely that message.