Today’s guest post is from “Erin” who is a graduating student of Women’s and Gender Studies at a local university. She specializes in sexuality as it relates to gender and her main focus is reproductive rights history.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has intrigued the nation, including me. I think everyone is highly aware that it is a raunchy novel about the budding sexual relationship of Christian Grey, a BDSM Dominant and self-made billionaire, and Anastasia Steele, a young, naïve woman graduating from university. Though Christian wants Anastasia to participate in a BDSM relationship as his submissive, she is not sure whether this is the life for her, though she finds she likes participating in the sex play that goes along with the lifestyle. Here at the Feronia Project, we are sex positive. We believe that any consensual sex is perfectly all right, including BDSM. In fact, another take on “50 Shades” is that it has great benefits as erotic literature. Throughout the trilogy, there are countless hot sex scenes that empower women to go after their desires and realize that female sexuality exists, for one, and is just as potent as male sexuality. From a feminist perspective, the sexual empowerment is amazing; that said, if this were a movie, it would not pass the Bechdel test.
Jealousy is a pervading theme in the novels. Christian is constantly concerned, frustrated and angry about the other men in Ana’s life; and Ana is perpetually worried about all the women who swoon over Christian’s devastating good looks, not to mention Christian’s “Mrs. Robinson.” According to Psychology Today, “As emotions go, jealousy is neither subtle nor kind, but it is definitely complex, encompassing feelings from fear of abandonment to rage to humiliation. It strikes both men and women when they perceive a third-party threat to a valued relationship, and that distinguishes it from envy, which involves wanting something someone else has. Conventional wisdom holds that jealousy is a necessary emotion because it preserves social bonds, but it more often destroys them. And it can give rise to relationship violence.” Or as Havelock Ellis put it succinctly, “Jealousy, that dragon which slays love under the pretense of keeping it alive.”
If you have ever experienced romantic jealousy, you know it is a horrible feeling, which often makes us react irrationally. It comes from within and usually has nothing to do with the other person’s actions. It stems from insecurity, low self-esteem, and lack of trust. The only way to effectively overcome jealousy is to have open and rational communication, as well as taking a serious look at the underlying emotional issues (namely insecurity, low self-esteem, and lack of trust). The problem with jealousy is that it’s a slippery slope from there to violence. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center:
• 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime
• Almost 1 in 3 women murdered in the U.S. was killed by an intimate partner
This means that domestic abuse is real and serious. The first step to take to end an abusive relationship is to recognize that it is an abusive relationship. There is a typical pattern that abusive relationships take called the cycle of abuse:
Not all abusive relationships follow this linearly, so if you find yourself in a relationship that looks somewhat or even minutely abusive, please seek help. There are also different kinds of abuse: emotional, physical or sexual. These can be intermingled or separate. There are definite warning signs to look out for – I’ve always called them red flags throughout my dating life:
Jealousy and Possessiveness: This can manifest as isolating you from your friends and family, rifling through your belongings, wanting you to drop all your friends (especially of the same sex as your partner), and/or expecting you to spend all your time with him/her.
Controlling Behavior: This can manifest as calling or texting you constantly to keep tabs on where you are and what you’re doing, showing up at your work or school to check up on you, checking mileage on your car, bossing you around, giving you orders, making all the decisions, disregarding your suggestions and wishes, discounting your feelings, making you feel trapped or crazy, blaming you for all his/her problems and making you feel his/her behavior is your fault, withholding approval, and/or putting you down and calling you names.
Hypersensitivity and explosive behavior: This can manifest as bursting out in anger unpredictably, and/or making you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
Threatening and using violence: This can manifest as grabbing, pushing, shoving, slapping, shaking, kicking, punching, and/or choking you; pressuring you for sex; breaking or destroying objects, especially those you value; making your friends and family concerned for you and your safety. If you or a friend find yourself in an abusive situation, here are some resources, local and otherwise:
• The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay –> Tampa
• CASA- Community Action Stops Abuse –> St. Pete
• SPARCC- Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center –> Sarasota
• Dial 2-1-1 for 24/7 Crisis Hotline and Resources
Back to ‘50 Shades’
The relationship between Christian and Anastasia includes some “kinky fuckery” that uses inflicting pain in order to enhance pleasure. This is defined as sadomasochism. These sexual experiences are consensual and they use safe words – even if the safe word is simply “stop.” The only times when Anastasia is not comfortable with the sadomasochistic practices that Christian so dearly desires is when his intention is to discipline her, not to pleasure her. These are the times when she removes herself from the situations or uses the safe words. Because the interactions between Ana and Christian are always consensual, I do not find anything wrong with their portrayal of BDSM relationships in the novels. It is only the jealousy and controlling behaviors that are alarming. When life is a little less ideal than an erotic fantasy novel, these behaviors may lead to other less endearing ones, namely abusive behaviors. Don’t be afraid to get help if you need it.
What did you think of “Fifty Shades of Grey”? There are so many interpretations out there already, but I want to know yours.