An Interview with Jenny Trout about the Dangers of Fifty Shades, Part Two
By Margaret Bates
5) What aspects of the Ana and Christian relationship do you find troubling? What might raise the “red flags” that denote an abusive relationship, for example?
Blogger and pre-published writer Kelsey St. James has a social work background and sent me some literature about abusive relationships that really helped me pinpoint everything I found wrong with the relationship between Ana and Christian. When this book first started making media waves, Dr. Drew Pinsky said that he felt the BDSM aspect of the book was indicative of an abusive relationship. Of course, the BDSM community rushed to defend the physical parts of consensual BDSM, and the entire blow up was so badly handled by both sides that everyone ended up ignoring the real abusive relationship at the heart of the book. To my mind, there is no consensual BDSM in 50 Shades, because Ana is unable to give informed consent. She’s too inexperienced, too sexually naïve, and Christian is unwilling to explore her sexuality without those BDSM elements in play.
He’s also emotionally manipulative, withholding approval or affection until he gets the consent he desires. The first time Christian spanks Ana, she considers it an assault, actually uses the words “beat” and “assault.” Those are not sex-positive words from an informed and consenting participant. There are also the blatant red flags of Christian tracking Ana’s cellphone, removing her from the safety of a public place to his hotel room when she’s unconscious, his repeated threats to rape her (although the word “rape” is never used, he tells Ana that she wouldn’t be able to stop him if he wanted to have sex with her), his “gifts” of a computer and cell phone so he can maintain constant contact with her… there are so, so many problematic things happening in this book that people aren’t bringing up, because they’re focused on whether or not the kink is acceptable. Christian openly stalks, intimidates, and threatens Ana, and blames her for making him feel negative emotions. There is nothing about their relationship that isn’t a hallmark of emotional control and abuse.
6) I also noticed a subtle recurring theme of homophobia in the novel. For example, it’s the one question Ana asks that offends Christian and later on in the novel he says he’ll punish her for that. Do you believe this novel has shades of homophobia?
I definitely found Ana’s embarrassment over just saying, “Are you gay?” very tiresome, and I do think their reactions to that question made Ana and Christian both come off as homophobic. But then later you’ve got Christian easily admitting that he enjoys receptive anal sex, albeit with female partners. That’s something you’re not likely to see in a lot of romance novels, or strictly male/female erotic romances, so I give James a thumbs up on that one. Too many authors would be afraid of letting their heroes admit they like butt play, because god forbid we read about a romantic hero enjoying anything that could be seen as “too gay”.
7) Have you heard of the Philadelphia Incident? What do you think this novel might do as far as enticing people who aren’t ready or knowledge to enter into a rigid D/s relationship? And can you explain why you think this book might misrepresent or be harmful to the BDSM lifestyle from what you have since learned in reading up on that group?
I think that link highlights exactly why this book is harmful to the BDSM lifestyle. It doesn’t factually represent what goes on in the scene, or what is actually expected of submissives, and someone is going to go to a club or enter into a relationship expecting to fulfill their fantasy of being Ana Steele. I’m worried because while many people practice safe, consensual BDSM, there are people out there who want to exploit naïve newcomers to the scene. Their prospective prey pool has just filled to the brim because of this book. Someone who has entered into the scene through experimentation with an understanding and experienced partner is hopefully going to know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior from a dominant, and what their rights as a submissive are. People trying to come into it armed with only the knowledge they got from this book aren’t going to have those tools, because they’re not present anywhere in the text.
8) Finally, this book presents BDSM as aberrant and a lifestyle only entered into by those who are abused. Christian’s background includes both neglect from a crack-addicted mother and being molested starting at age fifteen. What harm do you think these assumptions do to the BDSM community as a whole when it is often just an activity on a normal spectrum of sexuality?
Obviously, it paints everyone who engages in any level of BDSM activity as emotionally or sexually broken, when in reality, it’s just something that either turns your crank or it doesn’t. Again, we can’t forget that James was writing this as a Twilight fanfiction. She removed the element of vampirism, so she had to add something to make Edward/Christian tortured and dangerous. Since vampire myths are so tied to sexuality, why not make Christian’s sexuality tortured and dangerous? And BDSM is a perfect choice, specifically because of all the misconceptions surrounding it. It is going to create a problem for anyone who is into BDSM, because they’re going to have to defend themselves even harder than before. They’re going to have to defend themselves against allegations of abuse, they’re going to have to defend themselves against allegations of perversion, as they have had to in the past. And now, they’re going to be faced with well-intentioned people wanting to delve into their sexual and emotional history to cure them of their fetish, or judgemental (sic) people snickering at them for being damaged.
I want to be clear, though, that I don’t think this is an attitude we’re seeing just with regard to BDSM and this book. I think it’s a sad part of Western culture, that we’re always trying to figure out why we like certain things sexually. James decided to portray BDSM as something someone would only be into if they’re psychologically damaged, and that’s the same thing most people think about exotic dancers, prostitutes, really any kind of sex work. “Oh, she must have been molested, that’s why she’s a hooker.” It’s like we’re so uptight about sex, we have to have some negative reason to make it a part of our lives. No one, male or female, is allowed to own our sexuality for what it is. If I were to say, “I enjoy sex because I like to have orgasms,” someone is going to inevitably tack on a more valid (to them) reason, usually, “And you have a husband and we need to keep them happy, right?” or “And you spend all day writing those books!” We’re absolutely not supposed to want or enjoy sex, while being constantly bombared with sex at all times. No wonder everyone is so confused.
Jenny Trout is an author, blogger, and funny person. Writing as Jennifer Armintrout she made the USA Today bestseller list with Blood Ties Book One: The Turning. Her novelAmerican Vampire was named one of the top ten horror novels of 2011 by Booklist Magazine Online. Jenny writes award-winning erotic romance, including the internationally bestselling The Bossseries (written as Abigail Barnette), as well as young adult and new adult novels.
As a blogger, Jenny’s work has appeared on The Huffington Post, and has been featured on television and radio, including HuffPost Live, Good Morning America, The Steve Harvey Show, and National Public Radio’s Here & Now.
She is a proud Michigander, mother of two, and wife to the only person alive capable of spending extended periods of time with her without wanting to kill her.
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