50 Shades of Coercion

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Ah, yes.  What better way to convince Ana that she does, in fact, want to enter into her first serious, intimate relationship with a stranger who’s into kinky sex than to stalk her and have more sex with her?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately around the topic of consent and what it does or does not mean and what does or does not constitute consent.  I read two separate blog posts that speak directly to this issue.  (I’m not posting direct links, due to the triggering nature of the posts.)  To sum up, in the first, a woman describes her horrific rape, which occurred after she had consented to sex—instead of having a mutually pleasurable experience, he took it as license to be extremely violent and caused her permanent physical damage.  In the second, a man wonders if having sex with his sleeping date was rape, because she had “implied” that she wanted sex—though, presumably, she wanted it while she was conscious.

In both situations, it seems pretty damned obvious that there was rape committed.  Consent doesn’t imply “do whatever you want,” and in both cases a man took things much further than he had permission for.  But what about when a woman has consented to sex, but not to a contract for being utterly at the mercy of the other person?

Why, you go have more sex with her until in her post-orgasmic state, she agrees.



I know that a lot of women find the way Christian pursues Ana to be doting, exciting, and romantic.  Here’s a clue: No, it’s not.  It’s not loving or kind to coerce someone into a relationship that makes her uncomfortable.  If he really wanted to do this the right way, Christian had many options for how to go about it.  On finding Ana to be hesitant about the relationship and the contract, here are some suggestions for him.  He could have:

  • Offered her time and space to think, with her contacting him if she decided she was interested
  • Talked her through it and explained what he meant
  • Suggested they take things slower and get to know each other first
  • Broken it off and told her he understood, but he wanted a certain kind of relationship

Yet he didn’t do any of those things.  Instead, he stalked her, showed up at her apartment, and had sex with her while her roommate was in the next room, all in an attempt to remind her of what she would be missing out on if she said no.

Sounds like coercion to me.

The difficulty here is that she otherwise seems to be in full charge of herself.  She isn’t under the influence of drugs; he isn’t doing things to which she has expressly said no; he isn’t threatening her.  He has given her the appearance of choice in that he has said that she is in no way bound to him, nor does she have to sign the contract.  He has said he will leave her alone if she declines.  But what he does is subtly attempt to control her by making her believe that her life will be less, somehow, if she doesn’t accept his offer.

This is what abusive people do.

Her consent at one time and in one place does not imply her consent at all times and in all places.  While it’s true that she agreed to another round in her apartment, he never gave her the time or space she needed to fully understand what he wanted.  Given her hesitation, he should have left her alone.

I know that this is just a story.  I don’t believe that any of my friends reading it would actually imitate the behavior of the characters just because they read it in a book.  Fifty Shades is not the cause of the problem; it’s an expression of it.  A culture that allows men to believe consent means whatever they want it to mean is reflected in a romanticized tale of a man doing exactly that.  We shouldn’t be surprised at what we read between the pages of the book, when we ourselves have created an environment in which it can flourish.


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