I had a post all ready to go. I spent about two days working on it, intermittently, confident that I was about to put the subject to rest. I’d gotten to the point of writing in all my html tags and what have you. But after the ten-thousandth read through that post, I decided I wasn’t satisfied, and that finishing it off could wait until today.

That post, and this post, are about Fifty Shades of Grey. A couple of days ago, when I got to work, I thought about asking my co-worker to read my post and give me some feedback. Instead, we flipped through Fifty Shades of Grey behind the counter.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, how is there any discussion whatsoever about whether or not this book romanticizes abuse and reinforces rape culture with a heavy hand? It does both of these things with gusto. And this book’s version of kink? Wow, it is both watered down and profoundly fucked up- the most palatable, vanilla hard limits paired with what is in no way informed consent. Nauseating. This is patriarchy approved erotica if such a thing ever existed. I don’t know whether to be serious or flippant in describing the shit that goes down in this book, nor do I know if I or anyone else would be able to tell the difference. Dear readers, this post is not brief. This post is perhaps not even well organized or composed, but I hope that the following two paragraphs will demonstrate why I’m too out-of-my-skull-angry to give a damn.

Progression of the first few chapters: Hello younger lady I have met a few times, I’m going to stalk you! I’m going to put the moves on you and then tell you to stay away from me because I am dangerous, but I’m also going to track your cell phone and come looking for you after you drunk dial me. I’m going to swoop in and save you from your friend Jose who is trying to assault you (and besides, it’s not like assault is a big deal, he just loves you so much, I UNDERSTAND COMPLETELY) but then I’m going to take your drunk ass back to my place, remove your clothes, and sleep next to you, and then you are going to give me cookies for not raping you (or at least the narrative of this story will suggest that’s the case). Why didn’t I just take you back to your place? Because I didn’t want you to puke in my car, you shameful mess (and also because then my brother could not take your drunk room mate home)! By the way, I sent my assistant to get you super fancy European lingerie, TEE HEE HEE! I’m going to kiss you in the elevator and I’m going to find it necessary to pin your hands above your head and push my erection into your stomach while doing that. I really shouldn’t have done that without making you sign paperwork first. I’m a big fan of paperwork and this makes it seem as if I’ve probably dealt with sexual assault allegations before or at least am uninterested in how women feel once they are in a sexual situation with me.

Anyway, you should come over some time. You have apparently had no sexual experience whatsoever, so I’m going to present you with a 24/7 D/s contract. Why? Because it would please me to get you to submit to me. I mean seriously, why establish any trust before we play? That’s ridiculous…that’s what playing is for. It’s not like I’ve exhibited any troubling character traits. Just sign it. Here, have some more wine. Oh, you? What do you get out of it? You get me, and I know that’s what you want because I’ve been totally creepy and manipulative and you’re really young and naive and everything about me just BLOWS YOUR MIND. I’m going to bust you open like a wet newspaper, missy! It shall elicit a sexy “argh!”

AGJKASNF UHHHHHGUHHH. STOP IT. This is within the first hundred pages, y’all. Some might argue I’m not entitled to a strong opinion because I have not read the entire thing, but to that, I say I don’t need to read more, and if I did read the rest I’d probably never have sex again. I know the basic synopsis of the series. I know Ana eventually marries this abusive asshole and comes to love his “kinky fuckery” (or is it that he tones it down? Once again, how are people not troubled by this increasingly influential depiction of kink? I can’t even I just…) I know that the series is a big, nasty box of tired tropes about women, sex, love, and relationships, dressed up in some overly gasp-y sex scenes that I’m supposed to think sound TOTALLY AWESOME AND SO HOT.

And by the way, when it comes to fantasy, I have no problem with rape, abuse, and coercion. I have no problem with those being features of negotiated, informed, consensual play or responsibly made media. Whatever gets you going. The Story of O (which is a good BDSM novel) makes no mention of consent, negotiations, or even lube. It is redeemed by the fact that it commits completely to the BDSM fantasy. That ethereal, detached, French narrative style, the immediate descent into total submission, the hedonist mansion…it is fantasy to the extreme, with so many clear impossibilities! But Fifty Shades seems entirely too real in that regard. It is entirely too likely that a rich, successful man would do all of those things to a young, inexperienced woman. The real fantasy of Fifty Shades is that of a woman’s love and dedication changing a damaged, damaging man (and by the way, I don’t have the spoons to get into the way the book depicts kink as a manifestation of mental illness, buried trauma, etc. but oh my god, for real? That was necessary? Let’s leave this discussion to my kinky cohort…he’ll be writing a guest post for me soon!) and both of them living happily ever after.

I’ll clarify that I’m a snob and that the best reaction anyone could expect me to have to a popular romance series would be “These do not offend me.” And before skimming that first book, my negativity regarding the series mostly boiled down to what I had heard and read about it (which was REALLY misleading), and the following (from the post I scrapped):

But there’s one more thing about this phenomenon that I cannot shake: I’m jealous. Fifty Shades of Grey is reaching untold numbers of women in a way I never could in the eight years I’ve been doing some form of sex education. It’s not the way I would do it. It’s not up to my snobby Huxley-reading, microbrew-swilling, kale-loving, raging feminist standards. My way is a hard sell, and it can be difficult to accept or even notice how much I demand and want of people versus where we’re at, collectively. In so many of the things that I want to see done better, I’m told my standards are too high and that I have to accept the small victories. I have to keep faith that we’re on the right track and will get there eventually. But I worry that small victories are too easily lost, controlled, and co-opted to fit the status quo. I constantly worry that men are going to start dragging their wives into the store saying, “Women love Ben Wa balls! Don’t you want some so you can tighten up? Oh, cuffs, wouldn’t you like me to tie you up and spank you? What, I keep hearing that’s what women want all of the sudden! Come on, I’m buying these, it’ll be great…”

It is obviously so much worse than that, and yet no different from the way our shitty culture has been for a long time. Except now it is popular and sexy, out in the open.

When I think about the contents of the book and the way women have responded to it, I feel like crying my fucking eyes out. I feel like trashing my store and collapsing in total submission to these damaging ideas that I fight against, tooth and nail, every single day. There is nothing new or revolutionary in these books. As I said, if the collective patriarchy wrote erotica, THIS WOULD BE IT. And I’m expected, as a sex professional, to appreciate its existence because these books have made women buy Ben Wa balls and rope. Another excerpt from the original post:

And then the demands for Ben Wa balls started rolling in. Mostly, women sent their husbands to fetch them, and I begged all those men to tell their wives how approachable I was, how much we value our female customers, how much I’d love to help them pick out some toys and listen to concerns and offer my expert advice. But I was especially pleased when the women came in themselves.

One day, a beautiful sight unfolded before my very eyes. A woman was in the store, shopping for Ben Wa balls and whatever else tickled her fancy. She told me her husband had refused to come in with her if she was going to “shop for the stuff in that book.” To her, I said “How silly!” and brushed it off, but privately, my heart swelled. I’ve had women come in with friends and say, “My husband says I’m not allowed to have a vibrator…I’m just here with her while she shops.” To me, these are just variations on male fear of women’s sexual autonomy, and I relished this particular woman’s refusal to put up with that bullshit. And then it got even better.

A couple walked in, a man and a woman. The woman was stone-faced, sporting an obviously tenuous composure as she strode over to the counter and said, flatly, “Where can I find some Ben Wa balls?” The man stood at the door continuously shaking his head and laughing at her, saying, “I can’t believe you!”

“They’re right over here!” I directed cheerfully. The man continued his theatrical hemming and hawing as I led his ladyfriend to our rapidly depleting supply of Ben Wa balls. And he just wouldn’t stop. The two women began discussing Ben Wa balls, much to my thrill, and much to the second woman’s manfriend’s dismay. I chimed in when I could, directed them to other items of interest (Pipedream’s adorable Metal Worx nipple clamps, bed restraints, Tiani, cuffs, paddles), and kept looking over my shoulder at the childish man who was still running his mouth about his lady’s audacity. As the women settled into comfortable discussion of the virtues of the different products I had offered, I asked the man, “What? What’s the problem?”

“I can’t believe she’s BUYING STUFF FROM THAT BOOK! And TALKIN’ with this other woman! Goddamn!”

“And? What, is her pleasure not worth that? Are you upset that she’s exploring possibilities and actively pursuing sexual autonomy and satisfaction?”

“No I just…!”

“Do you need anything? Are you looking for a toy, too?”

“No! It’s just her!”

Maybe this makes me a terrible employee (sorry, Boss!) but whenever his complaints got a little too loud I continued prodding at him, asking why he was so annoyed, why it bothered him that his lady was trying to be sexually adventurous, is he sure he doesn’t want to try an Aneros probe (but I do this to every dude who might have a prostate gland), and questioning just what the fuck was so funny about this situation. And the women continued talking, they both made purchases, even through the man’s obnoxiousness (which persisted as they walked out the door), and I loved every second of it.

And I still glow when I think about that day, but DAMMIT. And oh, the irony…that so many straight men are threatened by a woman’s enthusiasm about anything sexual, even if it’s nothing new or unusual. And I can’t help but like when straight men are made uncomfortable by a woman’s sexual desires. But oh, no, no, please not this way…

I’m sure there are people in my industry who would snap at me and say that if women are enjoying the books, that’s all that matters, and if I’m selling lots of toys, I should keep my mouth shut. By the way, you can read and do whatever the hell you want, and on an individual level, I don’t care. But in the grand scheme of things, no. No. I demand better of erotica, sexy things, women, and culture. I demand better of my industry. I will sell the shit out of cuffs, rope, Ben Wa balls, and all manner of whips, chains, and paddles. I will bust out the neon wand and cover my own arm in contact burns, turn it all the way up so you can see the little arcs, literally inflict damage on my skin for love of my job and helping people have more fun with sex. Whatever you want of me as a professional, I will grant. Ask and you shall receive. But I am not jumping on this Fifty Shades bullshit and telling people to recreate their favorite scenes. I’m not making a Fifty Shades of Grey themed display in my store until someone forces me. I’m not even going to sell women on kink if they don’t ask me to do so.
I am not playing along with this one.

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