So I went with a bunch of friends to protest at the UK premier of 50 Shades of Grey. This book/film glamorises the abuse, rape and torture of women, dressing it up as “kink” and calling itself a “love story”. Those of you reading this who have intimate experience of men who fantasise themselves to be women may be well aware of the practice of BDSM within these relationships*. The female “heroine” of 50 Shades is portrayed as naive and “submissive”, her sexuality being “awakened” by a powerful, rich, sadistic man who stalks, isolates, tortures and ignores her personal and sexual boundaries to the point of rape. The author of the book and director of the film claim that the heroine’s journey is one of “empowerment”, as she submits to Mr Grey’s sadism and finally “heals” him from his inner “torture” that drives his sadistic impulses. It is said that since she “consents” to such abuse, then there is no harm being done. Except that the glamorisation and eroticising of dominance and submission normalises the power imbalance of male/female relationships (and all inequalities). It portrays women as “naturally” submissive or “secretly” wishing to be dominated – even when they don’t realise it (!) – and contributes to rape culture and the gender-role stereotyping at the heart of female oppression.
So what do men who fantasise themselves to be women make of these pervasive tropes about female submissiveness and otherness? In my experience, and that of many of the women I speak to, the sexual fantasies of such men revolve around them not just “playing the part” of a woman, but specifically a woman who is “submissive”, “eager to please”, willing to be dominated, moulded, created for pleasure. A fuck toy. A thing. An object. The sexual preferences and comfort of their female partners are by-the-by – irrelevant to the workings of their inner fantasy. Intimate connection on an emotional level with these men is impossible. How can anyone emotionally connect with someone who is merely playing a role? Someone so dissociated from reality, from authentic intimacy.
These men talk about finding “a dominant woman” to play the domme to their sub. Their personal ads are full of “seeks woman to sissify and control me”, and other such lurid fantasies. Fantasies that include being bound, gagged, made to perform sex acts, forcibly injected with hormones, humiliated, kidnapped and even raped. All things that I presume they think are “natural” for a woman to endure.
The fact is, that an actual “dominant” woman is the last thing they actually want outside of their all-encompassing paraphilia. A woman who would actually say NO to them is not an attractive proposition to these vampiric men, with their offensive and misogynistic ideas of what a woman *is*. Their ideas about women are shaped by their reading of pornography, their observation of sexist and woman-hating media portrayals of women, and the stench of their own male privilege. Women, initially lured in by these men’s pledges to cater to their every whim as their “sub”, quickly find out the nature and reality of being “topped from the bottom” (to borrow some BDSM speak). Their ideas about what a woman “is” would be ludicrous if they weren’t actually horrific.
So standing waiting for an opportunity to raise our banner and make some noise at the 50 Shades premier, we were subjected to scenes from the film being shown on a large outdoor screen. As I watched scenes of “Mr Grey” preparing his torture equipment, or “Anastasia” simpering or crying, doe-eyed and vulnerable, I began to shake and fat tears rolled down my cheeks at the memories I hold inside, at the cheering crowds of women believing the lie that this represents “love”.
*Please don’t bother trying to defend BDSM, or accuse me of “shaming” or “phobia” of one sort or another. I won’t publish such comments so you will be wasting your time.