Last week REALSTARS participated in Kulturhuset’s event ‘Sex debate and film screening: Fifty shades of moral panic?’. A panel discussion took place after a special screening of The Ceremony, a movie about famous French dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Gillet. Sex advisor Katerina Janouch, director Lina Mannheimer, journalist Quetzala Blanco and debater and BDSM practitioner Zandar Hedlund primarily discussed whether it is reasonable to connect the movie 50 Shades of Grey with BDSM.
Catherine and other BDSM practitioners mean that BDSM involves consent from both the dominant and the submissive partner. But as was said by one of the participants, “The film does not describe a single BDSM relationship … They [Christian and Anastasia] have barely met when he starts to threaten and hit her … and as early as on the second date he has a list of what she has to do”. The problem with the film and its popularity is that there are a lot of people who are not knowledgeable enough of the difference between BDSM and sexual abuse. By viewing 50 Shades as BDSM sexual violence is glorified and it is easier for individuals to find themselves in situations they believe are BDSM but in reality are sexual abuse.
Hollywood creates false expectations
One panel participant pointed out that the way Hollywood has trademarked the film 50 Shades is a problem as the film industry defines what is considered romantic or not. The relationship between the porn industry and sexuality suffer from the same problem. The film is accused of not conveying the fundamental idea of BDSM which is “safe, responsible and consensual”, but instead shows sexual abuse and unequal power exercise that also spills into other parts of the relationship. There is a danger in that the line between sexual practice and abuse is diffused through portrayals such as 50 Shades. Many young girls are perhaps first introduced to romance through the books and the film, which is problematic as they in such a case lack the framework needed for a critical evaluation of the film’s message. If society wrongly mediates what BDSM is there is a great risk that young people end up in situations they cannot control because they do not realise it is supposed to be on equal terms.
A film that enforces expected gender roles
Another perspective that was emphasized during the panel discussion was that the film not only is about sexuality, but enforces the fantasy presented by Hollywood of the young woman who does not consider herself beautiful but then meets a successful and handsome man. How would society have reacted if Christian had been intoxicated during the abuse or had he been considerably older? Would 50 Shades of Grey in such a case be considered sexual abuse rather than BDSM? From a societal perspective it is problematic to create stereotypical expectations based on our gender. If we are to change opinions on buying sex and women’s right to their own bodies men need to be involved too and change their views on what it means to be a man.
Societal valuation of contemporary art
The film has caused an interesting debate which unites opponents from a large variety of groups. The debate and engagement shows that the film illustrates a subject that titillates and stirs us up as a society. It gives us a chance to define ourselves in relation to the world view depicted by the film. It is notable to remember that the 50 Shades series began as fan fiction for the Twilight Saga which may largely explain how Christian and Anna are described. He is in fact a misunderstood vampire and she is a mortal girl deeply in love. What is important to note in this debate is that it is about fiction. The young people who take part of this have to understand that it is an author’s interpretation of a possible reality and not a manual for a sexual (or other) relationship.
Another reflection is that we today no longer react to the extreme violence that is portrayed in many films and books. Perhaps this is the case because there previously, to some extent, has been a debate regarding the subject and we believe that we, as a society, have managed to manifest that violence is not accepted in real life.
Hopefully the film can contribute to creating a societal debate concerned with sexual relationships and abuse to strengthen the work for a world free from trafficking. The goal has to be that sex is always mutual and on equal terms. Simply put: Fair sex for everyone.