Back in August, I decided to read the trilogy “50 Shades of Grey.” The purpose of the reading was to learn the language, concepts and situations portrayed. Ultimately, by knowing those, I could speak to what was similar and different between the relationship portrayed by the novels and our own M/s relationship. It would make for a better conversation and perhaps I would find something to appreciate in the books. I have to admit that I went into this with some pretty big assumptions and bias. A vast majority of my friends in the M/s and leather community did not like the books. I had read very bad reviews and seen funny videos. Despite that, I went into the books with a “just the facts, ma’am” attitude.
After reading all three books, yes I read all three, I have the following results. I should warn you, there are spoilers in this post, so if you have not read the books yet and don’t want to know details, you might want to skip the rest of this post.
So this is what I found in reading 50 Shades.
There is no comparing the D/s – M/s relationships of Ana Steel/Christian Grey and a Real Life M/s – D/s relationship – because Ana/Christian never actually *have* an M/s or D/s relationship.
From almost the first “coffee date”, Christian implies to Ana that a relationship with him would be on his terms, would be different and “you don’t want to know, it will make you run.” There’s no real transparency or effort to build trust and intimacy. Christian then presents a “contract” (copy/pasted by EL James directly into the book and edited to fit her plot. No. Really. The whole thing. You can find similar on the Internet.) and then pressures Ana to sign it so they can “begin.” Yet upon finding out she’s a virgin, he abandons the contract so as to “make love” to her and introduce her to sex. Then goes back to the contract pressure.
However, that’s about it for the M/s – D/s because shortly after an initial back and forth, Ana proclaims that she is not submissive and refuses to enter into that relationship. No, Ana is convinced that Christian can be saved from these dark, deviant urges by … well… magic pussy, I guess. Because that is virtually how every contract, D/s, or even basic relationship discussion between them ends – with manipulative, immature behavior and then either the Magic Cock or Magic Pussy Power shines forth and they have sex.
Through-out the book, there are D/s overtones and elements, but the vast majority of their relationship is dysfunctional and manipulative and definitely not any sort of power dynamic, unless one considers the tit-for-tat, emotionally stunted actions that Christian and Ana take to be power dynamics. Any sort of discussion never really ends in resolution, aside from the fact that Ana becomes pregnant and there’s really no changing that resolution. No, the remainder of the relationship is really just one bad action after another, non-consensual behavior and obsessive jealousy from both, filled in with sex with kinky and D/s overtones.
Comparing their relationship to a real life relationship is like trying to compare the negotiations of diplomats to the negotiations of 3 year olds in a playground. While there may be consonant elements, it really is not the same. I can’t compare the M/s relationship I have with slave angie to what is portrayed in the books. The lack of an actual negotiated, consented-upon Power Dynamic is the very flaw that makes this a non-starter.
There is, however, another problem underlying the books, and it took me awhile to understand it but…
E.L. James thinks that BDSM and M/s – D/s is broken, and/or has a very serious misconception of what M/s – D/s is all about, and/or goes way over the top on how bad/broken Christian is
That’s the impression I got from almost the beginning. It is subtle at first, such as Ana thinking to herself: “He has very odd ideas, he wants to make you into some sort of kinky sex slave. ARE YOU CRAZY?”
As the first two books go on, however, James’s portrayal of Christian as a “Dominant” becomes wrapped up in emotional and mental illness, an abusive childhood, an abusive – stalker nature of his, and – in the first book, after Christian has a rough/heavy S/m scene with Ana, she declares “you are one fucked-up son of a bitch.” In fact, Ana leaves Christian over how “bad” the scene was. Then, well… Magic Dick/Pussy action in the second book – at least until this little vignette happens in the second book Fifty Shades Darker:
“What is this secret that makes you think I’ll run for the hills? That makes you so determined to believe I’ll go?” I
plead, my voice tremulous. “Tell me, Christian, please . . .”
He sits up, though this time he crosses his legs and I follow suit, my legs outstretched. Vaguely I wonder if we can get off the floor? But I don’t want to interrupt his train of thought. He’s finally going to confide in me. He gazes down at me, and he looks utterly desolate. Oh shit—it’s bad.
“Ana . . .” He pauses, searching for the words, his expression pained . . . Oh? Where the hell is this going?
He takes a deep breath and swallows. “I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore—my birth mother. I’m sure you can guess why.”
He says it in a rush as if he’s had the sentence in his head for days and days and is desperate to be rid of it.
My world stops. Oh no. This is not what I expected. This is bad. Really bad. I gaze at him, trying to understand the implication of what he’s just said. It does explain why we all look the same.
My immediate thought is that Leila was right—“Master is dark.”
And there we have it. In order to be interested in S/m, you have to be exorcising childhood demons.
The “Master is dark” part only feeds into my belief that James’s portrayal of M/s – D/s reflects her dislike of the subject. In the second book, we meet a former “submissive” of Christian’s – Leila Williams. She is a very mentally-ill woman and portrayed as an obsessive stalker. However, it is implied and (later) confirmed that they engaged in something that is labeled as a Master/slave dymamic… or what passes for M/s in James’s opinion. The whole thing is pictured as “dark” and somehow “wrong.”
With all that said, it became clear that in the third book, James was willing to portray at least some sort of functional, but odd relationship that had BDSM interactions. By the end of the trilogy, it seems as if James had convinced herself it was OK to show Ana enjoying bondage and flogging. Although that was hard to tell as the third book was like a copy/paste of the same thing – a weak plot element, some breakdown of the relationship, emotional immaturity, manipulation and then Magic Cock/Pussy sex which made everything better, or at least forgotten till the next cycle. Rinse, Relather, Repeat.
I suspect that by the time James was writing the third book, she saw that there was a great deal of interest in her writing and she didn’t want to alienate the kink crowd OR she actually did some honest-to-God real life research and found out that it wasn’t as “50 shades of fucked up” as she had portrayed it.
So with all that being said, I could not do what I set out to do. I couldn’t do a direct comparison. However, I am going to write a blog post later on that outlines what a successful M/s – D/s relationship looks like when it starts out and how it grows over time. Not to serve as a direct comparison, but only to say “This is the 50 Shades of Reality.”
Comments? Thoughts? Agree or Disagree with my opinions on James’s approaches? Let me know in the comments!