Like Anastasia.

When I first stepped into the world of feminism; from what was a very antifeminist stance, I was stunned by the sense of community that I had entered. Women who were not only encouraged to find their own tribe and their own voice, but who had a responsibility to listen to those who, for so many reason, experienced the world in a way they never would. To form; from near or far, a deep sense of solidarity with each other no matter how different our, inequitable, oppressive experience of the world were. We had each other’s back and made decisions, especially in regards to the words we chose to speak about each other, that would let others know we’ve got this.

Of course this utopian nirvana I thought I had found has lost its shine over the last decade. Feminism is imperfect, complicated, diverse and sometimes down and out infuriating. But it is, and will always be, the one choice I will always make. To not only be a feminist but to deliberately use my space in this world to smash the status quo. 

But, to me, the almost universal premise that brings feminism from the world of theory and academia and into the ways that women, right here right now, make and experience their bodies in this patriarchal world is the curiosity and respect for each other’s voice. And right at the heart of this idea (or is that ideal) is that no other person, feminist or not, is not in any position to tell women what they should or shouldn’t do. While this new vouge feminism centred in choice is deeply problematic; choice, not just the ability but the permission to, engage or disengage with the world in informed ways, has to mean something.

One of the things I’m learning about being a submissive woman, is that I now exist in this cultural paradox. Within BDSM, when a woman tells her story and she says that her experiences of submission are negative, that she has been harmed. That she is living with trauma. She is called a liar. She is shamed. She is blamed. Outside of BDSM, when a woman tells her story and she says that her experiences of submission are positive, that she feels safe, that she is experiencing pleasure. She is called a liar. She is shamed. She is blamed.

It doesn’t matter what we are saying; our voice is ignored, ridiculed and rejected.

I’m not arrogant enough to tell women what they should be doing. So it was no surprise that Caitlin Roper’s latest account of her angst surrounding the newest Fifty Shades release was something that I was going to find hard to read. To me it is deeply paternalistic, her words and those like her are founded in the genuine belief that they know what is best. Rejecting the experiences of women who genuinely enjoy the franchise and intentionally subjugating the dozens if not hundreds of reasons why they are going to see the movie.

So when I see women like Caitlin Roper jumping from the clichéd volley of platitudes usually directed at the franchise (I’m surprised that the condescending mummy porn portrayal wasn’t front and centre in her piece) into the position that tells the readers of the Sydney Morning Herald that “these are the services where women like Anastasia end up” I have to stop and really think hard about what the overall intention of this piece was.

Did Caitlin want to add something to the numerous conversations about the structural and cultural barriers to women freely engaging with frontline services? Was she writing this because she has a genuine concern for women “like Anastasia” and a desire to make sure that we too have access to relevant interventions and services?

Call me sceptical, but I’m going to say it’s a sure bet that neither of these were part of the reason why she wrote this piece. Nor why the Sydney Morning Herald chose to take it to publication.

Because the reality is that women like Caitlin Roper have little to no concern about women like me. The women that they choose to cast as presumptive victims while choosing to ignore our voices and our stories. Women like me, who are safe in our intimate spaces even though the behaviours, language, attitudes and community commonly associated with BDSM and dominance and submission are at the core of our relationships. While people will jump to read the narratives of our sexploits when it is all about the whips and chains and orgasms; it’s getting harder and harder to get others to actually take the time to sit down, shut up and listen to us. Well they have no reason to right?

For all of the pieces about “women like Anastasia” I have not yet encountered one which actively seeks out what we need in frontline services; especially with regard to mental health care. And from the hour or so of searching on the website of those organisations behind this campaign, I can safely assume that not one of them has any dedicated service or counsellor informed about or directed to meeting the needs of submissive women.

But beyond “these services” that she has so carefully promoted in her piece not actually being services that would be responsive to who I am and what I would need if in fact I did ever need to access their services; I want to question the dominant narrative of her piece.

There are lots of things wrong with the character of Christian Grey. He is materialistic and status driven. He believes that his philanthropic endeavours account for the business choices he makes. He has acquired so many unhealthy and dysfunctional approaches to and behaviours within both his relationships with women and in his sex life (it’s interesting that, of all the pieces written about his behaviours not one piece has tried to explore the correlation between child abuse and the attachment disorder that Christian so clearly has). He has unresolved trauma. And most importantly connected to BDSM his sexual identity has stalled in its infancy stage, the only way he can feel safe engaging with sex in a mutually satisfying way is my having a signed piece of paper kept in the bedside table; or wherever a billionaire would keep his important documents. Christian Grey also embodies a lot of the fragile yet toxic masculinity that has created the realm of the pickup artist; and, unfortunately, has begun to infect BDSM. It’s egocentric, entitled and dangerous for women, because, amongst other problems it schedules women as passive in their own bodies and as characters that men create through their own sexual prowess. So I am not defending the character that is Christian Grey. And let’s be honest he and the world that he commands is one walking, talking product placement.

Christian is not the absolute everything of FSOG. And while he clearly exhibits problematic behaviours he is a fictional character that is a cluster of everything unlikable and unacceptable. And women are allowed to like him.

And this, as far as I’m concerned, brings to a head the idea that the franchise is glamourising intimate partner violence.

Finding something alluring about a fictional character; even one as dysfunctional as Christian Grey. Finding points of reference in fiction that you connect to, that resemble the story of your own sexual realities. Does not, in anyway, negate the way you perceive intimate partner violence! And to consider the audience of Fifty Shades Darker as ignorant about the realities of intimate partner violence., is quite arrogant!

And that is just not how I choose to approach the millions of women, throughout the world who have gone and will go and see Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. I see them, as I see myself as women entitled to make their own decisions regarding how they spend their disposable incomes. But more than that, I am not so isolated from the community of women who either enjoy the Fifty Shades franchise or who choose to bring behaviours commonly associated with dominance and submission into their erotic space, to see these women as ignorant about the realities of intimate partner violence. We see the same news headlines as you. We read the same reports that tell us the attitudes regarding women, violence and sexual behaviours is repulsive. We know that intimate partner violence kills at least 1 woman a week in Australia and costs our economy billions of dollars in lost wages, first responders, health care and our legal system We see the same shallow and pathetic attempts at awareness, band aid solutions, funding cuts and inadequate structural and institutional action as every other woman. We see the casual and often inadequate ways that the media engage with the complexity of gendered violence. We understand that domestic and family violence has, over generations, has been relegated to behind closed doors, assigned to the too hard or not our problem basket. We may enjoy a movie that some see as problematic, be we, as individuals and a collective group of women are neither the cause of intimate partner violence not blatantly ignorant of it.

I think that there is a lot wrong with infantilising women’s consumer choices. The women who are seeing this movie found something interesting to see; and dare I say it something that turned them on. I know I did! And I will unapologetically, defend the right for a woman to watch a movie and, when well informed by complete understanding, motivated by mutual satisfaction and framed by affirmative consent, defend the choice to be “like Anastasia” in her boudoir. 

So while I have to agree with her proposition that we (although I have no doubt that her “we” does not include women like myself) need to begin to really interrogate the way that intimate partner violence is discussed and represented I will not be actively supporting anything that intentionally creates and us and them divide. As a woman “like Anastasia” I will let other women just like her make their own choices about what they watch at the cinema and how they come to understand what intimate partner violence is.

And if that contribution to creating a better understanding of women’s experiences of intimate partner violence involves actively boycotting one book/movie franchise than, by all means, actively boycott Fifty Shades Darker; and in a years’ time when Fifty Shades Freed is released, make the same choice. But the choice to watch the movie is no more or less a choice.

But please, understand the services and the political/social ideology that you are really supporting. Spend 5 minutes Googling the individuals and organisations behind it and where exactly your money will go. Because, as a feminist, I unequivocally stand behind the idea that it is only through education; both as a social institution and self-driven, that women will be able to make the best choices for themselves.

I’m not asking you to change your opinions about the FSOG franchise; love it, hate it, it’s your decision. But what I am asking of you is that, before advocating for a particular campaign or position, you choose to understand the realities of those women “like Anastasia”. The women like me, like dozens of friends of mine – women and men alike. To stop and listen to our voices and our stories.

Being able to write and to write well is a privilege. Being given a public platform is an entitlement. Those who are gifted this public space are entitled to their own words and their own agendas. But doesn’t someone with this privilege have a responsibility to, at least consider, their potential audience? The Sydney Morning Herald is not some niche blog or sub forum. It is a mainstream media platform, and one that has a diverse audience; an audience that includes women “like Anastasia”.


Movie review

As Fifty Shades of Grey is finally hitting cinemas so too is the deluge of reviews and social commentary. Is this really glamorising domestic violence? Is Fifty Shades of Grey too raunchy to be considered anything other than porn? How are the fans of the books going to feel? While not wanting to give anything away, here’s what I thought of the movie.

Fifty Shades is not pink bit porn, you are not going to see his penis tearing her hymen, you wont see close ups of him penetrating her, and you won’t see her vulva opening for his manhood. It’s just not porn; BDSM or otherwise. You won’t see a woman on her knees begging for it. You don’t see any high protocol or highly intricate scenes. It’s not all about the sex but the sex is there. There are a lot of implied suggestions as to what is happening. You see both naked; although at different angles. It’s the wrong movie to be seeing if you want raunch and in your face kink. It’s not there nor should it be.

The BDSM itself is sensual and sexy; it was my type of kink. There was eye contact, lots of touching and kissing, caressing and real intimacy – just with rope, cuffs, crop, flogger and leather. The spanking was focused on Ana; something I loved. Her hesitation and reactions were wonderfully acted and if you think of Ana as who she is really in tune with the journey of her character.

It’s the story of Ana and Christian – minus the inner goddess (thank goddess), the foil packaging (although I would have loved the reference to safe sex other than the pill), minimal reference to how gorgeous, perfect or big Christian is, a whole lot less perfect blow jobs and a few less emails and text messages although they do form a part of the story line the same way as the book.

The movie is the story of two people with intense sexual chemistry trying to navigate the beginnings of a relationship. It’s complicated and it’s messy. Ana has never had an intimate relationship and the only intimacy Christian has ever known is one that has a written contract protecting him from anything he doesn’t like. It’s a whole new game for both of them; and you see that.

The way that the characters develop; Ana’s growing confidence and Christian’s growing vulnerability is perfectly visible. Their chemistry is undeniable and the way he looks at Ana during one scene in the Red room was intense and yes, it made me feel a bit hot and bothered.

I felt the contract in the story was so well done; I’m not a fan of them (we don’t have one at all, it was never considered by either of us) and the way Ana reacted and went about working through her reactions to everything couldn’t have been done any better.

The movie follows a similar story line and most of the important bits are there; how they meet, their first time, Ana being introduced to the “Red room”, his no touching, her need for hearts and flowers and the ending is the same; but different. The same thing in the book happens, and is shown in perfect detail ( I found this really hard to watch, we don’t have any sort of punishment dynamic and so I don’t understand the need to use pain in this way. It’s confronting for me to watch/read in any way fiction or otherwise and this was no different). While not wanting to give anything away, this ending is not one of those traditional cliff-hangers, but it certainly left me needing to see what comes next rather than the ending credits.

Now to the bad stuff:

Neither Ana nor Christian had an orgasm WHAT! Why? I don’t get the choice to remove any sign of orgasm from either Character; it doesn’t make sense at all. We live in a time where women can be restrained to a bed and flogged but we can’t see her having an orgasm. Even when it’s ‘just sex’ with no kninky fuckery there is no orgasm. I’d love to know the reasoning behind how Sam Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Marcel and E.L. James came to that decision.

Of all the angst this movie has caused, is causing and will keep on causing why has this not even been mentioned. In the dozens of reviews, pieces and morning TV coverage I’ve seen there has been not one mention of this; even in more positive pieces about the movie. There is something about a story about sex devoid of orgasm that just doesn’t sit well for me at all.

I didn’t see Christian as abusive; and I went in with an open mind prepared to see it if it was there, I saw Christian as a dominant. A man who is every single sexual relationship he has had he has played by the rules of control; one person is control the other is surrender. I didn’t see anything in the way he interacted with Ana, reacted to her, spoke to her or fucked her that told me anything other than he is dominant. Not my idea of a dominant and not someone I would bring into my intimate relationship space; but Christian is a dominant in every sense of the word.

I would have loved to see Ana a bit more assertive. Her confidence grows you can see that and the ending made my inner goddess skip away happily. I’m just hoping this part of her journey continues in Darker.

And the one thing in the story that I really don’t like is still there; all that materialism. I get that it’s a part of the story of Christian and it really does create him, but it’s just so in your face and as someone who is so far from materialistic it’s always annoying to see no matter what the story is.

I think this movie (and the next two) are going to be as polarising as the books are; you are either going to love it or hate it. The people who see it as abuse are going to see the stalking, intimidation and the manipulation. Those who see it as the antichrist of the BDSM community are going to reject it, and those who are ‘meh’ are still going to ‘meh’ it.

I think those who loved the books, for the most part, are going to love the move as well. Fifty Shades of Grey is a very specific and potentially alienating story; there is something in this story of Ana and Christian that is relevant to some; the books wouldn’t have sold so well and the opening weekend would be surpassing all expectation otherwise, and this connection is going to continue well into the next two screen adaptations and if rumours are true into the next one, possibly two new E.L. James books.

A FSOG boycott – what is this really all about?

What is this boycott really about and why should we be concerned?

Boycott is an emotive word isn’t it? It makes us feel like we are active in addressing something we see of concern. It’s a political statement, something that we voluntarily enter in to; a means of using our autonomy and choice. Socially and politically boycotts have allowed huge cultural and conscious changes; the late 1700’s saw a boycott of sugar connected to the slave trade which created powerful momentum in the abolition movement. Mohandas Gandhi’s inspired boycott of British produce in India. The 1980 boycott of the Moscow summer Olympics and the cricketing world’s boycott of South Africa during the apartheid regime were all significant moments of change in the way we see, consume in and participate in with the world at large.

And then there are the more community minded boycotts, those which are lead by a more grass roots movement, focusing on causes which carry interest, meaning and consequence to a specific group of people. This is where the boycott campaign fits, but just as with the globally political boycott grassroots boycotts have a starting place, a reason for action and a unified front to create the momentum needed for advocate for the boycott.

Not for a second am I questioning the reason for action of this campaign; I, at least am hoping, that there are not to many people who would choose to use violence against women as a means to other political and/or social agendas, and I am certainly not accusing the groups and individuals connected to the Fifty Shades boycott of any such a thing.

Violence against women is a social issue and one that needs to be addressed on all fronts. I believe that the conversations and criticism raised by interested parties about the storylines and characters in Fifty Shades of Grey are relevant to the wider conversation about Intimate Partner Violence.

What I wanted to do here is explore a little bit the organisations behind this boycott campaign. I did this more so for myself, I wanted to see where the momentum was coming from, I wanted to know a little bit more about where this all came from, and to say I wasn’t actually surprised was an understatement.

Let’s look at four of the major players in this campaign; the website Lifesitenews, Collective Shout (Australia) the London Abused Women’s Centre (UK) and The National Centre for Sexual Exploitation (US).



Lifesitenews (dot) com is the site behind the petition addressed to Hollywood executives at Universal pictures. The petition; which has (as of 10am this morning) over 60 thousand signatures, begins with “I am outraged that you have chosen Valentine’s Day to launch a movie that promotes misogyny, abuse and sado-masochism under the guise of romance”

What is Lifesite news?

Well the banner at the top of the web page should be telling enough; “LifePetitions is a community of grassroots activists seeking to create a Culture of Life and Family”

Lifesitenews is a Christian website that focuses on stories and issues that are appealing to a socially and politically conservative audience. Lifesitenews (dot) com is owned by The Campaign Life Coalition; a Canadian right winged, conservative, anti choice group.

It publishes pieces like:

This homophobic one arguing that Hallmarks choice of greeting cards featuring a same sex couples are “jeopardising its brand as a family-friendly company. Customers used to be able to trust Hallmark to produce quality products that were safe for all ages. Now parents will need to steer their kids from Hallmark’s secton of the greeting card aisle and away from its previously heartwarming movies for fear that they too will push homosexual messages”.

With a call to complain and boycott Hallmark.

And there is a whole host of anti choice pieces here, and finally this bizarre piece which claims “Many of the most common vaccines, for rubella and chicken pox for example, are grown in and then removed from cells descended from the cells of aborted fetuses”. HUH? I don’t know what else to say?

National Centre for Sexual Exploitation

Formally “Morality in media”

Established in the 1960’s and evolving into the National Centre for Sexual Exploitation only in the last few weeks  was created as an interfaith organisation in New York “after grade school children were caught with hardcore pornography”. Since then the organisation has “initiated many successful obscenity prosecutions against major commercial interstate distributors of hardcore adult pornography” and continues to be an active force against pornography.

The London Abused Women’s Centre

While providing a much needed and valuable renounce to women in the UK (something that should not be minimised) the London Abused Women’s Centre; especially it’s executive director Megan Walker are staunch advocate for the “Nordic Model” for sex work.

For me this is a huge problem, again I don’t want to come across as demanding you agree with my position here, but the Nordic model is unfair, unsafe and removes all agency of sex workers.

No one denies we live in society in which women (men and children) are trafficked for sexual exploitation. No one denies there is a need to confront, head on, the depraved and abhorrent sex trade. Having one woman in sexual bondage is one woman to many, and while global statistics are not readily available due to the clandestine nature of the act, Amnesty International estimate the number of women being kept in modern day sexual slavery are in the millions.

However I live in a State where sex work is legal and regulated and do not support this Nordic Model at all.

Here are links to pieces for  and against  the model, I don’t know where you stand but I do think this is relevant here. For me one of the reasons I identify as ‘sex positive’ is that I come to sex in the abstract (sex and sexuality outside of my own lived experiences) from a place where I believe women. I do this because, for me, to ignore what they are saying would be inviting internalised misogyny into my social consciousness and this is something I actively try to avoid. When sex workers tell me that they do not need nor want rescuing then I trust that this is their truth; to do otherwise is to distrust them and distrusting women is a keystone to misogyny.


Collective Shout and Stop Porn Culture

I’d never heard of Stop Porn Culture before this, but I will declare I have met both Gail Dines of Stop Porn Culture and Melinda Tankard-Riest of Collective Shout: both of whom I see as ‘anti porn activists’. I have nothing personally against either of them, I find them to be articulate, passionate women; who just have a different point of view than I do.

As a mother I am constantly aware of the culture my daughter is living in, I see value in recognising the influence of raunch and porn. What I don’t see what Melinda and Gail see; a definable and measurable rightness and wrongness when it comes to what women choose to consume.

This and this both very emotive pieces written by Gail in 2013 and 2014 (so before this current boycott campaign) tell me a lot about where her motivation are coming from and a lot about the motivation for this campaign.

Far from being an objective pieces about a work of fiction and the valid and needed conversations around pop culture and even pornography, Gail chooses to reveal her entirely sex negative attitude; which can be summed up in this one paragraph …

“The most likely real-world ending of Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of black and blue. The awful truth in the real world is that women who partner with a Christian Grey often end up hightailing it to a battered women’s shelter with traumatized kids in tow. The less fortunate end up in graveyards”

Again, and this piece written by Gail was published on Melinda’s website, Gail argues that women who are victims; as she sees it, of a d/s relationships could never “live happily ever after with a man who dictates, in a written contract, what to eat and wear, and when to exercise, wax, and sleep. In my work, I meet many women who started out like our heroine, only to end up, a few years later, not in luxury homes, but running for their lives to a battered women’s shelter with a couple of equally terrified kids in tow. No happy ending here, either.

Now it would only take a few Google searches to see that things like, eating, exercising, waxing, sleeping (and clothing which seems to cause some of the most vocal outrage about what Christian asks of Ana) are commonly negotiated areas of control for women and men within a d/s relationship. I know they are for me and for the women and men that I know in healthy, functioning d/s relationships.

And this is where the problem fro me comes in to play;

I am a woman. What I’m not is one of “those women”. Those women seems to be the adjective that is being used within this #fiftyshadesisabuse endeavor to describe women who, in Gail’s words, will end up as abuse victims with their kids in a shelter.


This was taken from the London Abused Women’s Centre Facebook page.

This attitude is not okay, it’s one this to question a book; and FSOG gave me a lot to question and think about, but it’s a whole other to choose to lump a whole group of very real women in with, valid, criticisms of a film. To say women like me and the countless number of other women in “real life FSOG relationships” end up abused is wrong

There is a small but ever growing body of research available which suggests that the assumptions made in the above accounts are wrong. Reasearch such as Richters, De Visser, Rissel, Grulich and Smith (2008) and Wismeijier and van Assen (2013) tell us that women who are in real life FSOG relationships – healthy, functioning d/s relationships have measurable higher subjective well beings than a comparison group and that women who identify as submissive are no more or less likely to be victims of Intimate Partner Violence. If activists want to talk about real FSOG relationships let’s start with reality.

To try to argue the complexities of porn and sex here would be futile; there are books and websites dedicated to discussing both points of view, written by people with a lot more knowledge and conviction than me. If I am really honest here I don’t necessarily understand the labyrinth of social and political layering and the dichotomy that exists here. I wish porn and sex could be easily measured and judged as right and wrong no, if you will excuse the pun, shades of grey. But the realty isn’t that simple and I’m just not the right person to argue the complexity. What I do know is that there are too many points of arguments and statements made by those at the forefront of this campaign that I out and out reject and some; like the ones made by Gail Dines I take offence too,

As I mentioned at the beginning this isn’t a piece to tell you what to think, how to react or how you should be engaging with this boycott campaign. I truly do believe that there is a need to critically look at the way that Fifty Shades portrays relationships and in the wider conversations about pop culture. The are valid points being made; some I had thought of myself after reading the books and others that made me think about points I hadn’t considered before.

But the one thing that I can’t do, myself, is actively support something which was created and championed by organisations that are anti choice and sex negative.

What is Fifty Shades of Grey?

Fifty Shades of Grey; love it or hate it the cultural phenomenon that is fifty shades is here to stay. But what exactly is it?

The erotic romance that is Fifty Shades was written by British author E.L. James in 2011. There are three separate novels to the story; Shades of Grey, Darker and Freed, with all three novels being turned into cinema adaptations. The story follows the somewhat turbulent relationship of Ana and Christian; from their first meeting through to marriage, kids and the white picket fence and some kinky fuckery thrown in.

Within six weeks of the books release ten million copies had already been sold and estimates have total sales at over 100 million copies worldwide. Predictions surrounding the release of the first cinema installment have anticipated that the ‘film is on track to open to $60 million over the four days of opening weekend.

The idea from the storyline seems to have come from two places; a fanfic ( a new piece of fiction using characters, plot lines or events from another piece of work as a starting point or guide) and from E.L. James’ own imagination and findings from Google., which isn’t all that unique. Research tells us that for 35% of women their first encounter with BDSM comes through reading; so basically E.L. James is similar to a lot of women, she just wrote a manuscript that was picked up and sold really well.

Although erotic books have been read by women for decades two things seem to have worked together to contribute to Fifty Shades of Greys’ success; social media and digital printing/ebooks. 2011/12 saw a dramatic shift in the way we consumed books. 2011 saw physical book sales down and the sale of epublications up 366% in the UK alone and it also saw government, publishers, authors and other stakeholders begin to tackle online copyright issues which allowed for more and more existing titles to be made available digitally. 2012 saw 11% of the population having a Facebook account, 190, 000, 000 Tweets were send a day and women were more active on social media than men. The success of Fifty Shades led to a range of erotic titles being released and retailers were quick to jump on the Fifty Shades wave with merchandise hitting not just the internet and sex stores but department and grocery stores. It also lead to conversations about all things (relatively tame) BDSM in newspapers, women’s magazines and on morning TV.

But Fifty Shades didn’t start this cultural phenomenon, from 2007 researchers and writers started noticing BDSM becoming more visible in the ‘mainstream’ in music, in advertising and within storylines of established television programs.

That which is Fifty Shades of Grey has offered and will continue offering much to consider; some good and some not so, but one thing this phenomenon has done is changed (hopefully for good and for the better) the way that woman consume sex in fiction and engage with it in real life. Whatever you may think of the characters, storyline, controversies, or impact one thing can surly be agreed on; the way we think about women and sex will never go back to the days before Fifty Shades of Grey.