Thursday, February 12, 2015

That weird feeling when you nearly agree with Bob McCroskie...

New Zealand's favourite pretend charity* and purveyors of anti-gay propaganda and moral outrage about teenagers potentially having sex, Family First want you to boycott the new movie of 50 Shades Of Grey.

This is because, in the words of FF's Managing director Bob McCroskie:
"The premise of the movie is that a woman who is humiliated, abused, controlled, entrapped, coerced, manipulated and tortured is somehow an ‘empowered’ woman. And a man who is possessive, controlling, violent, jealous and coercive is somehow showing ‘true love’. These are foul and dangerous lies. This movie and the book it is based on simply glamorises sexual violence and should be rejected by everyone who is concerned about family and sexual violence."
In a bizarre twist of fate, I think Bob McCroskie is very nearly right about this - just deeply deeply wrong the reasoning that got him there.

Bob McCroskie, Family First and their pet (terrible, fake) psychologist Miriam Grossman hate 50 Shades because they're convinced that anything outside the fairly narrow template that they define as a "healthy" relationship** is automatically dangerous and harmful. This means that the BDSM relationship depicted in 50 Shades is inherently damaging and dangerous because a relationship where one of the partners binds, dominates, or causes pain to the other (even if that partner wanted them to and specifically verbally asked them to) is automatically a Very Bad Thing. Here's Miriam Grossman:
"There are vast differences between dark and light, healthy and unhealthy. Fifty Shades of Grey blurs that distinction. It leads your daughter to wonder, what’s healthy in a relationship? What’s sick? There are so many shades of grey…I’m not sure. But with her safety at risk , there’s no room for confusion or doubt. You want your daughter to be one hundred per cent certain: an intimate relationship that includes violence, consensual or not, is emotionally disturbed. It’s sick." (Emphasis mine.)
This is pretty clearly nonsense. If you read anything coming out of the kink**** community you'll know that those guys put a huge amount of effort into carefully negotiating consent so that people end up having the experiences they want to have and still stay safe. In fact, a lot of the current conversations people are having about consent at the moment have their roots in discussions that started (as far as I can tell) with online kink communities.

So given that I think McCroskie and Grossman are both wrong in their thinking, how come I agree with them that 50 Shades is all kinds of gross and weird? It all comes back to consent again - Christian Grey repeatedly violates Ana's autonomy, and this is passed off as sexy and romantic.

In some ways this is kind of understandable, 50SoG began life as a an erotic Twilight fanfic and thus (I strongly suspect) has its roots in some sort of sex fantasy belonging to E. L. James. The reason this is relevant is because when you're having a sex fantasy in your own head, consent is completely irrelevant. You're playing around with figments of your imagination, who exist only to serve the situation you're creating for yourself. If one of those characters is (to quote an example beloved of anti-feminists) raped, that doesn't then imply that you actually want to be raped, or to rape somebody else.

As long as the fantasies stay inside your head or as short-form standalone erotica*****  this isn't really an issue. It becomes problematic when it's applied to characters in a piece of fiction who are presented as having some sort of self-discovery, because the behaviour that leads to the self-discovery is tacitly presented as worthy unless it's explicitly described otherwise. And Christian Grey's behaviour is, from a kink/BDSM point of view, completely terrible.

If you want an overview of the book from a kink perspective, Cliff over at the Pervocracy has an excellent rundown (exercise caution before clicking - the Pervocracy is great but sometimes NSFW and links to some DEFINITELY NSFW places) but the teal deer version is pretty simple: Ana rarely (if ever) has a chance to set the parameters for the situations that Grey puts her in, and has no way out if she's not enjoying herself.

50SoG isn't actually the only offender here - I think it's a wider issue with fiction by people turned on by the idea of BDSM who didn't do their homework. Another good example is the movie Secretary which starts out being about two people drifting into a (mutually enjoyable) BDSM relationship but culminates with an actually-horrible-and-abusive "test" of one partner by the other, which leaves her stuck in a chair sitting in her own urine for three days. Romantic.

If you're genuinely interested in kink or BDSM, there are lots of great resources on the web, and the Pervocracy (linked above) is a pretty good place to start. I humbly submit that this would be a better and healthier use of your time than going to see 50 Shades Of Grey.

It's been brought to my attention that Secretary isn't really as good an example as I thought. Lee (the titular secretary) is actually in more control a lot of the time than I gave her credit for. It's obscured a bit because the movie follows the drifty romantic comedy template for characters negotiating romantic or sexual situations (which is its own big bag of problematic nonsense, but waaaaay wider than any single film). Sorry guys.

Also, this post (especially the first couple of paragraphs) is basically a love letter to DoNotLink which you should all be using all the time (assuming you want to link to sketchy places for the purposes of explanation or freakshow appeal). I want to particularly stress this for people who like to link weird stories from the Daily Mail.
*This may be unfair. The Sensible Sentencing Trust might actually be New Zealand's favourite pretend charity.

**They're not specific about this, but a trawl through their respective web presences strongly suggests the parameters are straight married couples having (preferably exclusively) PIV sex. It would be nice if those couples could be white***.

***This sounds like an unnecessary ad hominem but is a strong hunch based on the choice of stock photos throughout the Family First website.

****I'm not 100% certain, but I think this term is favoured because it broadens the parameters of "into non-standard sex stuff" in a way that a term like "BDSM" doesn't - like "queer" does for people whose sexuality doesn't neatly fit into a 2- or 3-state switch model ("straight, gay, or bi").

*****I think people are by in large pretty good a recognising discrete pornographic fantasies as stand-alone things that don't relate to anything else and (importantly) have no bearing on the rest of reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment