No, Reading or Writing Sexually Explicit Romance Novels and Denouncing Trump Isn’t Hypocrisy.
Now Bill Mitchell and Joe Walsh aren’t wrong on one account, and I’ll give them that: There’s a lot of weird shit in 50 Shades of Grey. A good amount of problematic stuff. Uneven power dynamics, a misunderstanding of how healthy BDSM relationships work, etc. This stuff has been well-documented in other places and should definitely be taken into consideration.
But at its core, Mitchell and Walsh are not trying to shame the specific work itself. They’re trying to shame the women who enjoy reading about sex and kink. They’re taking some moral stand against the idea that women should have agency in how and when they enjoy sex.
And as someone who trades in that sort of literature, I’m offended. I know other writers — writers like Rachel Kramer Bussel and Ella Dawson and Malin James and Tamsen Parker who are hell of a lot more talented and hard-working than me — who would and should be equally offended at the implication that all our work in romance/erotica is tantamount to sexual assault.
Because you know what my — no, what all of our work — has that Donald Trump’s behavior doesn’t?
Open and enthusiastic consent.
No one is coerced. No one does anything they don’t want to do. No one is pawed or grabbed or mauled or abused. Sex isn’t exactly negotiated, but it doesn’t start with the implication that my characters must do something because the other party holds all the control.
I’m offended by Trump’s remarks for multiple reasons, the least of which that women — all women, at that — aren’t objects to be possessed but people whose bodily autonomy should be respected. But this isn’t a new thing. It’s not some final straw. I’ve always been offended by Trump’s remarks. And I’ve openly said that. For years.
But back to the point: putting the blame on victims of sexual assault because of their choices isn’t anything new, but it’s particularly galling because — once again — it assumes that women have no agency. It shames them for their entertainment preferences and assumes that one form of consent is a transaction of consent for all acts.
Reading one problematic book or watching a television show doesn’t make you a willing participant in being assaulted. But assuming and asserting that it does? That just makes you as wrong as Donald Trump.