Sunday, March 1, 2015

An Addendum to Psihopați, Fifty Shades și anxietăți feministe (2)

Secretary seems to be at the top of the list when it comes to alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey. I have no idea why. These are two very different movies. Secretary is a quirky odd little movie, so I get the appeal. I get why people would root for the indie movie and not for the blockbuster. My biggest problem with Secretary is exactly what I've said in the previous post: a professional power dynamic reproduced sexually makes me want to vomit. Then: what year is this supposed to be? It is so retro-sexist. The secretary who gets spanked for typos. One thing that 50 Shades has managed to do is make me accept that spanking can exist in an erotic context and not be sexist. Up till reading the book, I could not get past the association of spanking with those sexist ads from the Mad Men era, which encouraged men to spank their women if they weren't the perfect housewives. When Lee first gets spanked, the whole thing is rather infuriating - even though she's into it. There's no discussion whatsoever about limits or safewords, and the bruise she's left with is appalling.

One of the things 50 Shades gets criticized for a lot is the fact that it seems to suggest that only people with some sort of past trauma or who are damaged in some way can be into BDSM. But then why not extend the same criticism to Secretary, and Nine 1/2 Weeks (as read through Ingeborg Day's biography), and The Story of O, and Sylvia Day's Bared to You, and so on? Is 50 Shades getting singled out b/c of its massive popularity? I guess so.

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50 Shades is primarily a feminine fantasy. But it's also a masculine fantasy. There's the materialistic aspect - the cars, and private jets, etc. There's the power, obviously. And then there's the waiting. Having a woman waiting for you. Doing nothing else but waiting for you. That's the thread that connects 50 Shades, Nine 1/2 Weeks and Secretary. In 50 Shades, this is not so transparent. It's just for a few minutes, in the Red Room, and mostly just to build up the anticipation. He doesn't make her wait for an entire day (Nine 1/2 Weeks) or for days (Secretary). These two movies - Secretary & Nine 1/2 Weeks - instantly made me think of Don Draper, in the 6th season, asking his new mistress to stay at home and wait for him. He doesn't even allow her to read a book! What an a-hole. (I kinda have a problem with this male, sexist perspective on waiting because "waiting," as a theme, is very important to me.)

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I suppose I took my text for DV to a rather dark place with the whole bit on psychopaths, and I almost took it to an even darker place. What stopped me was my memory. It is so frustrating to be so sure of a memory and then discover that oh, actually... no, you're not remembering it right.

The first BDSM scene I've ever read (well, as far as can I remember; now I'm not sure of anything) was in Paulo Coelho's 11 Minutes, back in high school. Coelho was really popular back then. Everyone would recommend The Alchemist. I even had that book on my reading list for the universal lit class - the result of a negotiation between us and our (female) teacher (I was glad my suggestion, Wuthering Heights, got on that list.). We didn't get to discuss The Alchemist because by then we had a new (misogynistic) teacher who gave us a new reading list made up only of male authors. So anyways, I wasn't really into The Alchemist, I didn't get what all the hype was about. But 11 Minutes... yeah, I definitely remember liking that one. Except for this one scene that made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Re:reading it now I've noticed that it's actually really similar to the first scene from the Red Room. (I've just googled "cravaşă" just to make sure it's the equivalent of "riding crop" and I've got one question: does one buy riding crops from the horse shop for their BDSM needs? Oh, this reminds me of that scene from Nine 1/2 Weeks in which he's buying a riding crop and hits her right there, in the store. Their vulgar exhibitionism was yet another thing I hated about this movie.)

Getting back to 11 Minutes: at the time, I was also reading quite a bit on torture methods. I was more interested in witches and the Inquisition (and read the only book I could find at the school library; I don't even remember its title or author) but I also read a bit from Procesul de la Nurnberg. So my memory was that the BDSM scene from 11 Minutes made me feel really uncomfortable because Maria finds pleasure in a sexual act that was also a method of torture used on women in Nazi camps. In the weekend when I finished my fragmentary text for DV, I must have spent two or three hours on the floor, mostly on my knees, flipping through Procesul de la Nurnberg, crying, but also getting angry at myself because I couldn't remember where I had read about a riding crop used to torture women. Which is fucking insane. How can you cry reading about torture and at the same time feel detached enough / so self-centered as to worry about your failing memory? Then I started a googling session that contained some seriously fucked-up search terms. And I finally found it. The testimony of a woman in which she describes getting sexually abused with a riding crop. It was 1940s Poland alright, but her torturer was a communist. I'm not linking to the testimony because meanwhile, I've forgotten her name again and I don't want to look for it. I couldn't stomach another search like that again. Now I wonder: where the hell could I have read about this in high school? Have I heard of it in a tv documentary? Where?

Reading the scene with the riding crop in 50 Shades might have reminded me how the same scene from 11 Minutes made feel ten years ago, but it also made it clear that in my head there was finally a distance between BDSM scenes and torture. Even so, the question still remains somewhere in the background: how can a woman's torture be another woman's pleasure? And here's smth I don't think men really understand. I've heard plenty of lesbians saying that the greatest thing about being a lesbian is knowing you can give another woman pleasure. That's where the real power resides: giving a woman pleasure. Not in controlling her or dominating her. So men who think that humiliating and degrading a woman equals power make me sick. They make me lose faith in humanity. They make it difficult to trust other men. Yeah, that Andrea Dworkin quote (#NoShortageOfKitchenKnives).

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I do wonder if BDSM is maybe easier to make sense of in a lesbian relationship. Yes, even in such a relationship there might be a power imbalance, but at least they're free from the historical weight of misogyny. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing The Duke of Burgundy. If you want an alternative to 50 Shades, this is it. Although I could argue that the first 50 Shades book / movie falls a little outside of heteronormativity, The Duke of Burgundy is the real deal. It's queer desire in its purest form.



(To be continued...)

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