June 15, 2015

Against Men or Reason?

Marc Esadrian

An article mentioned recently in our community discussion was quite timely. It allowed me to comment on some thoughts I’ve had after having engaged in a debate (loosely termed) with a self-described radical feminist who unequivocally agreed with Taylor Swift’s recent smugly produced pot stir—in a lad magazine no less—that “misogyny is ingrained in people from birth.” The gratuitous count of young, blinkered heads bobbing in agreement over that pearl of wisdom is by no means a surprise to me, but it’s always far more curious to engage the dealers of extreme rhetoric rather than its buyers, and so I inevitably ended up turning my attention to someone in the discussion with fiery feminist convictions that went far above and beyond Ms. Swift’s inane social commentary.

This person, who identified as a feminist, painted a pretty terrible foregone conclusion of men, if not a conspiratorial depiction of reality, to boot. Along with much of her angry and condescending argument, she brought out the laws protect rapists canard, too (which she could never quite adequately defend, of course). Weighing her ripostes after I cited failing marriages and declining male attendance in college, I saw vindictive, if not apathetic dismissal of men—a sort of callous, mean-spirited pleasure in hearing accounts of their disenfranchisement. I inevitably concluded, based upon this person’s willful bias and absolute contempt for anything male, that no, she wasn’t a liberal at all. Liberalism is supposed to consider the viewpoints and criticisms of all with rationality and compassion, not just favor a particular group. In the sickly light of her gross caricatures and hateful rants, I realized that I, the malevolent founder of Humbled Females, was more liberal in theory and practice than she could ever possibly be.

So it was with some considerable pleasure that I read Brendan O’Neil’s commentary entitled Feminism and the Turn Against Enlightenment, for I saw it concluded something similar, among its many points: feminism today, though it stands beside and interweaves itself throughout liberal politics like a pernicious weed, isn’t so liberal in theory or practice. I know that I have, time and time again, encountered incredibly close-minded people engaging in feminist apologia who insist that they are liberal, but it was not until recently that I realized this glaring contradiction. I’m sure the irony of that observation has dawned on others long before either O’Neil or myself, but it is a bit of a moment when, after having kept your mind open to hear out the views of the other side, you realize the crumby hypocrisy of it all.

But here is where O’Neil and I part ways a little: he claims that feminism isn’t really anti-male so much as a depart from reason. He goes on quite impressively to explain this point of view, and while I often do see feminism as anti-intellectual for all its verbose logical pretzelism and political correctness, I’m not certain how one making a critical commentary of modern feminism could not acknowledge its inherent anti-maleness. Its rhetorically negative slant on men, in fact, is one of the larger reasons why I don’t think feminism is often of the liberal mind, though it may window dress as such. Despite the best of intentions that some of its constituents have, feminism so often feels like an over-glorified hate group advocating for women, and I do feel it should be called out as such. This is not to say that what O’Neil says about feminism being anti-intellectual and thus effectively misanthropic is incorrect, but it is to put a finger on observations he himself makes about how the institutions of education are attacking maleness with plenty of straw:

“The new feminism is strikingly concerned with exposing what it—and the political and cultural elites more broadly—views as the folly of ‘male ideas.’”

If we recognize how feminism is shading something to be attacked because it involves male ownership, even something so unassailable as the sound arts of reason and the disciplines of the sciences, it’s really just one step removed from the premise of demonizing men in general, all the while conveniently tearing down the very ways in which we can call it out on its folly. While feminism railing against the supposed evils of structuralism is accurately described by O’Neil, the vehicle by which this attack on reason is justified cannot and should not, ever, be ignored. Attacking what is perceived to be male (whether it really is or not) is already a foregone conclusion as being good in the halls of higher education. How is this not a misandrous accomplishment of feminism, which claims to stand for the dignity and compassion of both sexes?

Demonizing men has gone beyond propaganda in education, however: it is a practice notably employed by feminist advocacy research, like the preposterous “1 in 5” rape myth produced by a poorly constructed telephone survey with overly broad definitions of rape by the CDC (which was later used, by the way, to justify federal funding for colleges in their fight against “rape culture,” a term RAINN itself denounced). The gender pay gap myth is another often reinforced and repeated lie, as O’Neil also points out, long after it has been pointed out that any perceived gap is a result of lifestyle and career choices between men and women. As I mentioned earlier, we just had one of the most popular female pop singers in the world declare that society is steeped in misogyny, despite the fact that it’s increasingly quite the opposite in developed nations.

And that is the crux of what I see as terribly subversive and erosive about feminism today. In debating feminists and their paranoid views about patriarchy and the ever-evaporating unicorn that is “male entitlement,” it seems, increasingly, that it doesn’t even matter if you bring good countering facts to the table, or a reasoned argument, for that matter. They will skip past the facts and instead of debating, engage in indignant deflection, ad hominem, or many, many political speeches. Speak about subjects like rape, equal pay, or the supposed scourge of the objectification of women with people randomly on the streets, in the neighborhood, or in your own family, and you’ll likely hear feminist myths regurgitated unthinkingly, to much head nodding of agreement. It’s for this reason that modern feminism is more akin to a belief movement (or a psychological disorder) that, as O’Neil points out, views all of humanity through a lens of distrust and a motherly need to control it. We shouldn’t discount how much of that mistrust has been directed at men, however, as well as feminist apologists attributing anything to males as corrupt and evil by default. If we can recognize the effigy that is “all things male” in feminist theory, we can certainly see how misandry is being spread, particularly when under the insidious rhetoric that it’s all “for a good cause.”

I understand that avoiding the fall into the typical anti-male argument is a reasonable attempt to move critical commentary of feminism away from its association with the train wreck that is the men’s rights movement. That men’s rights activists have lost their brand and have often become caricatures unto themselves does not mean they also don’t have some good points about feminism’s double-standards, biases, and outright lies. Of course, most who identify as feminists are not hardened lesbians who wake up each morning with intense conscious hatred of men first thing on their minds. Many well-meaning feminists, young and old and male and female alike, will recite the mantra that they are advocating for the rights of men as well as women, but in reality, the larger gestalt of the politics they support does, in fact, perpetuate an ongoing anti-male bias, to lesser or greater degrees, no matter how much the political machine that is feminism attempts to rebrand itself away from the ugliness of it’s deeper, albeit “hidden” extremism. For those who actually believe feminism stands for equal consideration of the sexes, I would offer a simple thought exercise. Outside of pointing to examples of how both sexes are clearly not equally honored or advocated for by feminism, I’d ask anyone to consider how, if the genders were swapped out in the “ism,” it wouldn’t sound quite right. If masculinism doesn’t feel like it would be entirely sympathetic to women and girls, you’d probably be right. Why is it we can’t see this with feminism in the modern age, where men and women are, without a doubt, equal in their rights?

There is a movement unhappy with many of the current dispensations and inequities throughout the world today—a movement that desires equality not just for women, but for men, too, and for people of all colors and creeds. It’s not a deeply entrenched and divisive sociopolitical movement that manifests itself through biased research and corrupt philosophy, hiding behind a shield of political correctness. It’s not engaged in antagonistic information and media warfare, or angry polemics against crumbling vestiges of classical patriarchy. This force is as open-source as it gets and as humanitarian as any personal modus operandi could possibly be, though it’s not something up for lazy grabs by lazy minds that would rather regurgitate tired if not politically expedient platitudes. You could call it egalitarianism. You could call it secular humanism. You could simply label it the equal rights movement. I prefer to call it something else, and the sum of its goodness proves feminism has no exclusive rights to ideas like compassion and humanism, or modern thought on the sexes. That thing is, simply, reason.

February 20, 2015

Christian Grey: The Disneyland Dom

By Marc Esadrian

Anyone familiar with my original thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey will likely not find this supplemental rant much of a surprise, but I suppose it’s necessary, being who I am, to say something. After all, it would be irresponsible of me to avoid commentary on a subject that hits so close to home (or as close as it can, at least) on the silver screen. So, begrudgingly, I dragged myself to the theater to see the movie adaptation directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, starring Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele.

I laughed, I winced, and shook my head in mild annoyance over the neutered and underwhelming spectacle before me. When the movie ended, I wondered how many people in the theater found it to be little more than a flat, safe, sterile, PG-13-like buzz kill. Afterward, I put my thoughts to keyboard, struggling with what I should title this commentary. 50 Shades of Fail? Not-a-True-Dominant: The Movie? Or how about Rich and Kinky Boy-Faced Beta Male Tries to Seduce a Smug, Temperamental Virgin? It was quite a conflict.

I finally settled on Christian Grey: The Disneyland Dom, for I think that among the movie’s many flawed premises, the one that irks me the most is the inadvertent message that women might be interested in male domination…permitting you’re a hot Armani-suited billionaire. While I’m happy to see the subject of consensual female submission going mainstream, I feel the idea of it, as conceived in this tale, is tied too closely to the mystique of wealth and bling. If we strip away Christian Grey’s expensive raiment, his luxuriant urban address, his stable of exotic sports cars, his private helicopter, and above all, his top notch “red room” that would make any professional dominatrix drool, what remains? Beyond image, where in this film is Christian Grey really dominant at all, aside from the entitlements afforded him through money? We see him chasing after Anastasia Steele, a woman who, despite her waking desires, repeatedly denies him (a common romantic cliché). In the wake of her rejections and sarcastic remarks, he chases her like a cross between a stalker, a wounded puppy, and a well dressed front-door salesman. And yet he dramatically avoids her at all the wrong moments. In many ways, this man acted like der uber jerken, getting up and abandoning her when he should have enriched their bond, shutting her out when sharing would have maximized intimacy, and wallowing in his own self-pity over a shiny piano while she stands half naked, a foot away. Which brings me to my next peeve.

Second in my list of grievances about the film (but just barely so) is the absolutely dysfunctional portrayal of male dominance we are subjected to, over and over. I understand that a story needs a conflict and that stories serve more as entertainment than enlightenment, but as I originally lamented regarding E. L. James’ trilogy, 50 Shades the movie had an opportunity to present the D in D/s in a more positive light—to show the world that you don’t have to be an emotionally (and psychically) scarred person to partake in these things. We are left, especially at the gloomy end of the first film, not only assuming that Christian’s interest in D/s directly and unequivocally stems from his dysfunction and romantic ineptness, but also feeling like that man is a bit of a wimp and pushover.

Segue to peeve three: Sassy Steele’s domineering and passive-aggressive vibe is tiresomely obvious throughout the film. So obvious, in fact, that no self-respecting dominant male I know of (real dominant men, mind you) would put up with her sneers, snide remarks, eye rolling, and condescending jabs. It’s here where I see the usual girl power scripting of Hollywood, likely uncomfortable with the subject matter to begin with, tinkering more than a little with her character to make her “hipper” and more palatable to the public’s genteel standards. Anatasia’s character was a little playful and opinionated in the books, though she was also naive and subdued. The movie made her much more bold and sarcastic, bordering on hostile, but I certainly didn’t find myself surprised in the least about that. I honestly don’t think anyone churning out films from major studios today is capable of presenting a woman as anything but strong and sassy (and I’ll add domineering, while I’m at it).

This presents a problem with the portrayal of submission for the D/s-illiterate yet nonetheless intrigued female viewers. Ana is not just a brat or a typical SAM (Smart Assed Masochist): she is disrespectful, dramatic, passive-aggressive, and tries her best to be as unimpressed as possible with her seducer throughout the film. Granted, Ana is what they call “vanilla” in BDSM terms. With that in mind, many of her lame reactions to lame dominance were plausible (even if her twenties-ish virginity isn’t). Still, her contentiousness doesn’t set a very good example at all for impressionable women who are on the cusp of taking marginal interest in this way of life. Women drawn in from the 50 Shades Effect who make the mistake of approaching authentically dominant men as their personal Christian Greys (it has already happened to me, and more than once, I’m sad to report) will likely have a very rude awakening when the face of mommy porn meets the concrete of reality.

But the movie isn’t all bad. For BDSM 101, the film did well with respect to consent, negotiation, and safe words. The War and Peace sized contract scene conveyed, at least, the detailed consent of kinky play partners. It took great pains, in fact, to inform the novice yet curious public that these interactions are based upon consent. Zooming out to see the big picture, the 50 Shades Effect helped to bring BDSM—and, to some degree, D/s—into mainstream discussion. This helps to “normalize” D/s a little more in our culture and foster an environment where more men and women can at least consider the idea of dominance and submission as something other than shameful and pathological interactions between deviant adults.

But normalizing D/s for the general public’s consumption might only swap out the old canards with new ones. It remains to be seen what effect E. L. James’ trendy story-made-movie will have on mainstream views regarding actual dominance and submission. Aside of being annoyed at how much of a cheesy cartoon D/s may now be in the eyes of some, my real concern is that instead of accepting the deeper and wider practices of our world, there will be a polarization between what’s deemed good and bad D/s, where a gamut of consumable acts and ideas are sanctioned and others remain stigmatized. In other words, some progress toward wider acceptance, but otherwise business as usual.


February 3, 2015

On the Garish Ubiquity of Girl Power Anthems

By Marc Esadrian

I’m not what one would stereotypically refer to as a sports fan. In fact, I think my time spent at sports events, sports bars, or before games broadcasted live on cable equals less than 1% of my time spent for any given year. It’s not that I don’t find a backyard game of football—back when I used to play such things—fun, or that I’m adverse to physical activity (I run and muscle train on average four days a week), it’s just that, ultimately, I find that what a collection of athletes are doing on a field or court on any given day to be far less consequential than evolving matters of scientific discovery, state policy, or news about what conflicts arise in the world.

But on Super Bowl XLIX Sunday, I sat down and watched. When games matter—when something is on the line—I tend to find these events a little more interesting, especially when the team representing my home region of New England is in that final arena. And I must say, it was quite a game to behold, even if we had to tolerate Katy Perry’s flashy, somewhat incongruent halftime performance bringing all the usual specters of snarling female arrogance atop a leashed lion float (I personally thought the dancing sharks stole that show!).

That sort of thing is par for the course these days, but what really raised an eyebrow, for me, was the saccharine feminist commercial advertisement—featured during an overwhelmingly male-dominated television event, mind you—advocating for the confidence of little girls by none other than Always Tampons. In it, three women, a man, and a boy express all too predictably the stereotypical ways that girls usually run, throw, and fight. When good younger (see feminist idealized and pre-scripted) little girl-bots were asked to run, throw, and fight like girls, they confidently showed what they thought doing these things as girls meant: they ran a little less limply, punched a little less awkwardly, but beamed with confidence, nonetheless. These admittedly cute poster children were, apparently, teaching us the lesson not only to pre-program our children to fight against these deleterious and assuredly ingrained stereotypes that perceive women as weak, but change some of our own apparently baseless sexist attitudes about the weaker sex, in turn. All this, despite the very likely fact that, among boys, being called female will invariably be seen as an insult, for females are and always will be, for the foreseeable evolutionary future of our species, at least, the naturally physically weaker sex. Granted, the powers that be are trying incredibly hard, again and again, to make males and females goose-step to a new order, to equalize them and whitewash their obvious differences, and while this may yield some culturally reinforced results, the natural realities behind male and female difference will inevitably (and disappointingly, to some) prevail, I’m afraid.

Overnight and over the course of the day after, it seems, people on Twitter were all aflutter over the hashtag #likeagirl, though Always, our smarmy child-championing tampon company, probably didn’t anticipate the retaliatory remarks from the viral ripostes of the #likeaboy tag. The conflict is amusing in a light-hearted way, and while I don’t find myself taking the ad or its fallout too seriously, I do wonder what a company that creates intimate female products was doing spending millions of dollars for commercial time on a mostly male-oriented prime time cable event. The answer, I concluded, must have been to reach out to boys, men, and fathers with a blatant emotionally manipulative feminist message (surely, it couldn’t have been about selling tampons). But that’s not the only thing it did, in my mind. It also demonstrated the tremendous intersectionality between consumerism, the entrenched social engineering of feminism, and the smarmy servitude of corporations to its messages—even in the least likeliest of places.

May 30, 2014

On Sex Slavery, Lies, and Palatable Politics

By Marc Esadrian

Road of Lost Innocence, by Somaly Mam.

On the tail end of Newsweek’s recent cover story about sex, slavery, and the slippery truth, anti-sex trafficking activist Somaly Mam—considered among one of Time’s most influential women in the world—has resigned from her own foundation.

Mam claimed to have rescued thousands of women and girls from the clutches of sex trafficking. Not only that, she has repeatedly asserted that her passion to help these women has come from her own abuse at the hands of sex traffickers.

That a former escaped sex slave from Cambodia would later on become the co-founder of AFESIP (Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Précaire, otherwise known as Helping Women in Danger) and rise to celebrity status in order to fight the evils of human trafficking rings with a magnetism of poetic justice that is irresistibly seductive—especially for the political climate in the modern West. It was an inspiring story—so inspiring, in fact, that it won over many high profile women, like Hillary Clinton, Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon, and Shay Mitchel. Mam also attracted the attentions of Brandee Barker, whom the New York Times recently dubbed the most sought after image consultant in the start-up world, along with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, an avid feminist (Ban Bossy Campaign), and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

In Somaly Mam, the world had a pretty face for the fight against the sex trafficking of women and girls. Her ghost-written book, The Road of Lost Innocence, became an international bestseller in 2005. Since then, she has raised millions of dollars across the globe with her astonishing story and courted many influential figures in media, industry, and politics to her cause. She was larger than life, a saint bent on rescuing the exploited. She was a modern “from the trenches” heroine for the fight against the exploitation of women around the world, a figure standing up against untold evils of sex trafficking. And she was a complete lie, as it turns out.

Simon Marks of Newsweek wrote a scathing and rather thorough article alleging that Mam was, indeed, never kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. Through tracing her roots back to her home village and questioning old relatives or neighbors who remembered her, Marks unraveled what later came to be discovered as a grandiose fabrication on the part of Somaly Mam.

The deception, as Marks went on to point out, doesn’t stop there, either. In 1989 she apparently coached Meas Ratha, another supposed outspoken victim—and subsequently one of AFESIP’s biggest stars—into giving a convincing performance on French television about how she was sold to a brothel and forced to work as a sex slave. Ratha eventually confessed that her story was a complete fabrication—and a carefully rehearsed fabrication, at that. In 2009, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times wrote about a girl named Long Pross, who had her own dark tale to tell about her sexual slavery and torture, where she was beaten with electric wires and cruelly disfigured. Pross also told this heart wrenching story on Oprah to a moved audience, but as with Somaly Mam herself, Pross’s relatives and neighbors back home had a much different tale to tell, and one that eventually exposed her story as more than just a little misleading.

Following Simon Marks’ article in Newsweek, AFESIP began its own investigation, and shortly thereafter, Somaly Mam stepped down from the very foundation she found and helped to build. Mam’s scandalous fall from grace leaves quite a few high profile figures in a bit of an awkward position, you might say. What struck me about this story was how eager it seems many were to believe these sensational tales for the politically cohesive effect they had. Chief among those with egg on their faces would probably be our beloved feminist capitalist, Sheryl Sandberg, who took on the role of an advisory board member in Somaly Mam’s organization herself.

What inevitably comes to mind while contemplating the above is the absence of due diligence and the discipline of responsible scrutiny. Where was this diligence when powerful women, like Sandberg, aligned with the fashionable and politically expedient boost that Somaly Mam represented? Is it any wonder that so many of those who seek to champion feminine goals of “unity” can be so very easily duped into going along with a likely tale they are all too eager to believe in order to forward the goals of their victim politics?

And that question leads to another, far broader one: why do we, as members of the human species, so often enjoy bending truth or not looking for it well enough between the lines in order to rush along a power grab for our own causes? Where the subject of sex slavery is concerned, this raises another important if not uneasy question, too: how large of a problem is human sex trafficking, really? To what degree have we allowed the sensation of certain stories and accounts over subjects that capture our imaginations to warp our perception of what’s truly happening in the world? I’m not certain I can answer that question, as it’s really an unknown quantity and I certainly don’t have enough data to even begin fathoming it. I certainly don’t deny that the evil of forced sex slavery exists throughout the world, but what I do wonder, especially since the Somaly Mam scandal, is to what degree these ideas of sex trafficking have stimulated the West’s imagination and galvanized the politics of feminine protectionism.

If anyone questions that sense of feminine favoritism/protectionism within the forefront of our political consciousness, consider the recent kidnapping of 276 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram. By now, we’ve all heard of this atrocity from nearly every corner of the media and the Internet, but how many of you ever heard of Boko Haram attacking a dormitory and shooting or slitting the throats of 59 boys this past February 25th? If you never did, don’t feel bad: the event was almost completely ignored by Western media. Washington didn’t commit to dispatching American intelligence and military advisers to West Africa to investigate the matter, as they did recently with the news of the missing girls. It should also be added, to further underscore the point, that February 25th did not mark the first date of atrocities committed by Boko Haram—not by a long shot.

So we find ourselves wondering why the press was rallied so fervently when young women were kidnapped and possibly sold into slavery, but ignored the event of young boys being slaughtered. Could it be that anything scandalous or tragic having to do with the oppressions of women is the right reason to get alarmed in the Western media and even government today?  If so, what are the cultural reasons for this attitude? Does the scandal surrounding Somaly Mam and her cynical masquerade to pull at our heartstrings allow us all a moment to look into the mirror and ask ourselves some of these inconvenient questions?

March 6, 2014


By Nina E.

There is no difference between being raped
And being pushed down a flight of cement steps
Except that the wounds also bleed inside.

There is no difference between being raped
And being run over by a truck
Except that afterward men ask if you enjoyed it.

There is no difference between being raped
And being bit on the ankle by a rattlesnake
Except that people ask if your skirt was short
And why you were out anyhow.

There is no difference between being raped
And going head first through a windshield
Except that afterward you are afraid not of cars,
But half the human race.

—from “Rape Poem” by Marge Piercy

If truth be told, there is a huge difference between being raped and these other four fates. When one of the above events happens to someone, the results frequently involve blinding pain, broken bones, massive bleeding, organ shutdown, comas, or death. Those who survive these things are often disfigured or crippled for life, living with chronic pain. In other words, the physical effects from these events are profound. But unless a rape is unusually brutal and savage (a rare event) most women do not die from it and they might even suffer no physical damage beyond a few light bruises and a sore vagina. I’m going to talk more about rape, but first I want to talk about something worse than rape, worse even than the devastating personal traumas that the poem falsely equates with rape, before I return to the subject. I want to talk about war.

Wars are terrible, ugly, and, most of all, massive things. Their sheer size and effects make them hard to comprehend. The physical destruction of shelter, roads, farms, vehicles, food, clean water, and other necessary elements of human survival is only the tip of the iceberg of misery they visit upon us. Wars ruin lives, shatter minds, impoverish people, break up homes, and take from us the things or beings we most love. They tear apart families, drive people to utter despair, or embed immense hatreds in the victims’ hearts that ring like warped harmonics through several generations before they heal. A war causes so much pain, such intense physical and emotional suffering among so many that, in most cases, the scope of the evils wrought by it are incomprehensible in their vastness. How do you get a mental grasp on the reality of war? How do you imagine thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people dying or suffering terribly and then dying? Even the most well-researched books, lengthy tomes that took years to write, can only convey to us a small part of a war’s grinding, immense horror. Their depictions of war’s effects, even when clear and focused, only spotlight tiny slivers of the total devastation to human lives and human hope.

Among the wars humanity has suffered through few equal the scope of World War II. The vast scale of suffering that huge war caused is indeed incomprehensible, and we are lucky that it is. A mind which could grasp the full extent of that monstrous mid-twentieth century event would likely go mad. The only way I’ve found to comprehend even a small part of such a wide-sweeping hell is to do as some experts do: to look very closely and carefully at a few microscopic bits of the whole and observe how they affected a single individual or a small group. I can’t possibly imagine the unique, individual pain of hundreds of thousands who died in concentration camps, for instance, but I can get a sense of the suffering of those masses by hearing the detailed stories of one or two individuals who experienced the camps and lived to tell the tale. Or I can look at the surviving photographs of skeletal and near-naked people trying to survive the bitter winters with almost no food and little shelter and then multiply that out by six or seven figures and shudder. I cannot begin to imagine the individual hells experienced by thousands of soldiers on the front lines but I can see the plight of a few from the horrific descriptions of those who survived it. And, once in a while, I can get a clear, realistic picture of what a minuscule part of a war must have been like from a work of very good fiction that doesn’t defy informed common sense.

In this editorial, I’d like to pay tribute to one such fiction: a movie I saw last week. This movie is being largely ignored at the box office (on opening night in our locale there were probably only 12 other viewers in the theater), perhaps due to its “old-fashioned” themes or “difficult” subtitles (it’s spoken in Russian) and panned by the critics for the very things I appreciated most about it. The film is called Stalingrad. It depicts the fate of a small group of Russian soldiers who are scouts for an advance force trying to take back the city of Stalingrad from the Germans by crossing the Volga. The beginning of the film is a scene straight from hell: it shows war at its worst and heroism at its best, as dozens of Russian soldiers, set afire by fuel tanks that were blown up by the Germans in an attempt to stop their advance, continue to run, while on fire, up from the river and into the enemy ranks, screaming and using their bodies as living torches to burn the defending German forces whom they grappled with. When I looked at those courageous, agonized running men, I asked myself, “Could I do that if I were on fire?” As the film progresses, we see highly realistic and detailed views of this once-prosperous Russian city, now reduced mostly to rubble but still continuously bombed. Nobody could possibly be living in those shelled out buildings but, lo and behold, thousands still are: both Russian residents and the German occupiers. The film focuses in narrowly on the half-dozen Russian soldiers charged with taking and holding a specific key building for a few days and the encounters they have with local residents and the Germans as they carry out their orders. This part of the film—the individual lives of a few men during a handful of days—is likely fictional but the circumstances surrounding them (and quite accurately depicted by the film) were not: this five-month siege and reoccupation of the city by the Red Army was the battle that finally turned this terrible war in the Allies favor.

The story of the Russian soldiers wasn’t very likely in one sense and the critics were right to point this out: while taking a building they discover a 19-year-old girl still lives there and refuses to leave her former home. She becomes their goddess, muse, and good luck charm. They treat her first with a level of distant gallantry and later with a fawning worship that is highly unlikely from men stressed to their limits by the extremes of such a war. But it’s a charming story, nonetheless, showing that happiness, smiles, gift-giving, sharing of fond memories, and cooperation can occur, at times, even among hardened fighting men who’ve been literally drenched in blood and seen the worst the world can offer. Great attention was paid to period realism and it was a delight to observe those details in the sets and the props. The intense, stressed boredom of the soldiers, who each live with great individual grief and know that they are the walking dead, simply waiting for their inevitable fate from the stronger German force nearby; their sometimes foolish or callous attempts to relieve their fears and sorrows; and their preoccupation with the brave young girl, who takes their minds off their individual sorrows and likely hopeless fate, are all expertly depicted.

But the film isn’t just about them: there are many other subplots occurring within it, including a few glimpses into the lives of German forces occupying the building across the plaza and who are determined to roust the six soldiers. One not-so-small subplot seems almost a cliché as it unfolds: a German officer is smitten by a beautiful Russian girl who reminds him of his dead wife. Despite her terror of and distaste for him (emotions she dares not express too boldly but which show plainly in her face as she watches him), he visits her regularly and brings her food, clearly courting her and attempting, in his own way, to change her alienation and abhorrence into affection. But things do not go as he would wish and one evening, deeply disturbed by worsening events and personal pressures placed on him by his commander, he comes to the little curtained alcove where the girl lives within a building housing a group of civilian survivors and catches her crouched behind a pillar with a raised knife, hoping to kill him. He easily disarms her and then, in a combination of rage, frustration, and confused desire, he rips off her clothes and viciously rapes her. When he is finished, he talks to her frankly and with great emotion, as men who rape sometimes do with their victims after the act, while she lies crying on the bed. Her pain and horror is apparent, but she listens to him as he talks about his destroyed personal past. When he leaves, she is insulted, hit, and dowsed with water by the survivors living in the same building. In their eyes she’s now a whore, a collaborator with the enemy, although, with just a tattered curtain for a doorway, they all must have known that she was taken against her will. But they desire a scapegoat, someone they can turn their hostility toward without getting shot in return, and this beautiful young woman makes a convenient target.

As the few short days that are the span of this film pass, the German officer and this young woman bond; in fact, they fall in love with each other. I was pleasantly surprised to see the makers of Stalingrad take a brave and bold step to honestly depict an alternate reality associated with rape that happens more often than modern feminist propaganda would like us to believe. In the tunnel vision that is feminism, victims of rape are always deeply traumatized and hate their rapists. In the much larger world that we all live in, things are not always that simple—or politically convenient. When it comes to real human reactions people are complicated and women don’t always end up despising their rapists. Human emotions don’t follow the convenient political scripts set out for them. We don’t always toe feminist propaganda and turn into traumatized victims of a terrible male monster who “fattens on fantasies…like a maggot in garbage” (Marge Piercy). And men who rape are not always vile animals who callously laugh at their victims or derisively kick them on their way out to their next “act of violence.” Rape is Sex, and as such it is a very intimate act that can affect the emotions of both parties in profound and unexpected ways.

Being a former rape victim, there is no question in my mind that rape is frequently a horrible experience for the female, an experience that can scar her emotions for years, but still, things aren’t ever as cut and dried, as black and white, as caricatured, as feminist anti-rape propaganda paints them. The “bad guy” is sometimes a good guy or, at very least, a “neutral guy.” Sometimes the “abused victim” is not badly affected by the rape. Sometimes she even attempts to tease and torment a man just to see if he’ll break down and take her despite his good intentions. And sometimes, as this frank look into the realities of war depicts, the event is a mixture of both bad and good. Something as pure and liberating to the soul as deep affection and even a dedicated, constant love can arise from an act that the feminists tell us is bestial and only signifies intense hostility.

The German captain in Stalingrad bares his heart to his victim after committing his acts of rape and then does his best to protect the woman he’s supposed to, according to feminist rhetoric, walk blithely away from without a second thought for her welfare. He does so at a deep cost to himself. But, as is so often the case in war, it is all to no avail. Ironically, her life is callously mown down by one of the alleged “good guys”—the Russian soldiers—a young, angry and careless sort who automatically assumes, like the other civilians, that she’s an evil whore who willingly has sex with the enemy. The German’s chilling scream of rage and horror when his woman is taken from him with a bullet to her forehead is the sound of a man who has just lost his soul and his reason to live, not the sociopathic chuckle of a cold, calculating beast, feeding his obscene hungers without a second thought for the helpless. I applaud the director of Stalingrad,  Fedor Bondarchuk, and its writers,  Sergey Snezhkin and Ilya Tilkinfor, for honestly depicting both the complexities of war and the complexities of rape, neither of which can be easily understood by the narrow good-guy/bad-guy generalizations that those with an axe to grind (or a political objective to obtain) so love to use to box in and limit rich human experience, experience which doesn’t always follow the rigid rules set out for it by blazing, “poor little female victim” or “men who rape are all pigs” rhetoric.


July 1, 2013

Feminism in the Media: Does it Protest Too Much?

By Marc Esadrian

While I’m not the type of person who watches much cable, I have taken a liking to the Starz show channel from time to time. I admit, Spartacus, the half serious, half soft adult porn series was one of my guilty pleasures. What’s not to love about gratuitous sex and violence in the ancient Roman world? These days, I’ve taken a particular liking to Magic City, a smooth and sexy hotel/casino mob story set back in the 1950’s. Between catching up on reruns of that show, however, I was subjected to the repeated teasers of an upcoming series entitled The White Queen, a story that, in its own part cheesey, part historical fictionish sort of way, tells the tale of the “War of the Roses,” a dynastic struggle among rival houses for the throne of England—the facts of which historians still quibble and argue about today.

But I’m not going to go too far into scholarly conflict about actual facts relating to these episodes in history and I’m quite sure, given the reality that cable programming is meant more to entertain than enlighten, The White Queen won’t either. What struck me as particularly eye rolling about the trailer for this series is its service to the usual girl power propaganda. While treated to flashes of hyper-stylized bits and pieces of scenery related to the series, we’re informed in heavy gold letters across the screen that “Men go to battle…Women wage war.”

It’s particularly irksome, how entertainment media today gushes, drools, and fawns over women in a conspiratorial circle-jerk to stroke the increasingly inflating egos of (particularly) young women. I suppose the marketing powers that be know now that if you want to sell anything, you really need to appeal more to notions of female supremacy than just equality. For how much more obvious must the repeated propaganda of female primacy hidden in plain view be, I ask? What particularly amused me about the men go to battle, women wage war line is how banal it insinuates the role of men to be. Men, who have been over thousands of centuries the primary agents of action—the warriors, despots, messiahs, tyrants, prophets, kings, and emperors—are reduced to brainless wooden figures in a medieval game of table hockey between scheming female nobles. The gist is, “men are petty and do the stupid fighting, but women are the real movers and shakers…high five!” What a wonderful thing to insinuate to young male and female minds. And come on, who cares if this marketing line lends to bogus history or overlooks some important details in the least; it makes a great punch line and gets across, for the umpteenth time, that chicks rule and dudes drool (in case you weren’t aware, by now).

This show is but one of many in a long line of movies and cable programs that are increasingly making female characters the polestar powers of the script in a politicized sort of way. In Oz the Great and Powerful, the bumbling buffoon that is Oz is surrounded by three witches, the truly great forces in the story who are in a war for control of their world. In Snow White and the Huntsman, the male characters are fairly incidental to the most powerful characters in the story: the wicked Queen who is evil incarnate (and I must admit, played wonderfully by Charlize Theron) and Snow White, who, we’re told, represents the essence of all life. Of course. For upcoming movies, try the charming title of Girls Against Boys, where “misandrist overtone” is more of an understatement.

Movies aren’t nearly where the silliness ends, however. Cable shows like American Dad, Everybody Loves Raymond, or The Simpsons tend to portray men as generally goofy, stupid, and inept. Much of children’s programming today isn’t free from such meta messages, either. In the very least, they are guilty of inspiring young girls to be as sassy, conceited, and as cutely arrogant as possible. Remembering Hannah Montana, a show that was and still is avidly consumed by the young female cable viewing population, we may find ourselves noting what type of girl the veritable pissant Miley Cyrus, who regularly snarls at the camera in her videos and threatens her father publicly on Twitter, has grown up to be. Some food for thought, perhaps, about the personalities that are raising our kids when we’re not?

This may seem like a petty gripe. In some ways it is, I suppose, but in some ways it’s really not. Our entertainment, as much as we may like to think so, isn’t just a harmless diversion that ends when we turn off the screen or amble out of the theater. Movies, just like music and the arts, help to inspire and influence the sentiments of the masses. The mythology these stories create conspire to tell us what is true and right, as stories throughout the centuries always have. Books, plays, and orations, which were once the primary media for this story telling, have simply stepped aside for the medium of cinema, roughly 40 years of which have been increasingly devoted to dissing men and boys in commercials, talk shows, cable programs, and the silver screen.

I think it’s about time, if you haven’t done so already as a parent, to guard your young minds against this new sexist media onslaught when at all possible. In the very least, I think it’s vital to balance out the increasingly hostile attitude writers and directors show toward the male sex by having conversations with your children and teens about what they are digesting on a daily basis. Teach them how to spot misandry (you’ll likely need to define what that word even means) and dysfunctional feminine glorification in the media today, if only to balance their perceptions.

Yes, I know…this commentary is coming to you from a site entitled “Humbled Females.” Who are we, exactly, to be complaining about sexism, of all things? A casual visit to our about page will reveal, however, that our way of life is consensual and that, societally speaking, we are not advocating revoking women’s rights to have a job or to vote. The message in this entry today doesn’t have to reside only here, but, perhaps in a space like this, what needs to be said can be said without fear of reprisal or rebuke from sponsors or employers, who are ever on the look-out for anything they perceive as anti-feminist—the new Satan, apparently. I say this not to advocate female submission so much as to put a sober sticky note on the forehead of this agenda called “anti-sexism”—an agenda that modern society, so we’re told, is supposed to support and uphold. And I think it’s time we all, male and female, black and white, liberal or conservative, god fearing or not, recognize that feminism today is often not so much about ending sexism as it is about fashionably asserting a new form of sexism. So please join me in saying that the male bashing has to stop. We can have female equality in society without lowering the perceived value of men and boys. I encourage all who are reading this to boycott films and shows that cater to this increasing cultural disease and counteract the effects of its rhetoric in your children, if you have them. Make an effort to raise awareness about misandry in the media and speak out against it when you can.

You may not subscribe to the message and attitude of our site. After all, we do believe women, generally, have a place in loving service to their men—a place of loving submission. We aren’t afraid of articulating our opinions on the female sex, which certainly aren’t always politically correct. This all is beside the point, however, that the future of real harmony and equality between the sexes in society, if you really value that sort of thing, partially depends on rejecting these condescending attitudes and messages about men.

April 16, 2013

Money: An Ultimate Litmus Test

By Nina E.

Females are, by nature, weak creatures. There are many dangers that we can fall prey to along the path of complete submission to a man. There are, figuratively speaking, deep pits we can stumble into and never escape from; fanged snakes whose venom spreads quickly through our bloodstreams; and enticing detours to restful glens along the side of the road that cause us to forsake the “straight and narrow.” If you are a submissive female, such metaphorical dangers to submission are actually within you. They are part of your mental and emotional makeup, specifically, the part of yourself that seeks to subvert your progress.

In actual life, such dangers may include jealousy, possessiveness, self-importance, resentment, deception, carelessness, bad habits, stress, and fixed ideas that run counter to slavery. While such are the traits of a normal and, for the most part, “healthy” woman, these symptoms of humanity’s common cold sabotage genuine submission and are a particular bane of women who crave to be slaves. Dangers confront the aspiring slave when she allows her inner weaknesses to lead her away from the clear and simple path set down by her master. How she handles such trials reveals a great deal about her nature and can help a prospective master determine whether she can serve him successfully.

Let’s take a closer look at one such danger. Imagine that you are a bird, flying high above the winding, dangerous road that leads to complete surrender and submission. You swoop down now, right above a spot where a well-defined fork occurs. One fork is muddy, dark, and riddled with stones. It heads toward the storm-covered peak of a forbidding mountain. A slave knows this is the way she must go. The other path is grassy and smooth. The sun shines brightly upon it and in the distance can be heard pleasant music from a guesthouse just ahead. Which fork does she choose? In every submissive reader’s mind I can hear the resounding answer, “Up the dark path to my master, of course!” Of course. In painless fantasy the choice is clear and one is certain of oneself. But when it comes time to choose the real-life equivalent of this fork, something very different can happen.

Picture yourself as a prospective slave. You’ve sworn to do anything for the man that you serve. You’re thrilled that he’s given you a chance to prove yourself worthy of him and are determined to show him what a marvelous servant you are. You follow his rules for your life to the letter, overjoyed that this wonderful man has taken an interest in you. You’ve got many of the things that trip up other slaves under control. It’s smooth sailing and everything is perfect. It’s so easy: all you need do is obey him.

Then it happens. The other day, he told you out of the blue that you would be sending him regular, large sums of money from each paycheck. Without fail. But you aren’t even his slave yet! You haven’t even been collared. And yet he’s demanding money from you. You are shocked to the core and you start to panic. You have excuses. Dozens of them. The amount is far too large. You can’t live on what’s left. You can’t save anything, take the vacation you’d planned, get your hair colored and cut, buy a needed car. The excuses, the rationales for needing the money race endlessly through your mind and the stress builds to a head. You’re now determined to show him how unreasonable all this is. It’s too much for you to bear, far too much.

But that is just the start of things. He is not talked out of this demand. He will not see reason. He continues to demand money from his potential slave. So next, the suspicions begin.

“He’s a lazy shyster who doesn’t want to earn his own living, like a real man would. Instead he sponges off hardworking women.”

“He’s going to take all my money for a year or two and then dump me. I’m just a flesh piggybank to him.”

“I don’t really feel comfortable giving money to a relative stranger who hasn’t enslaved me first/isn’t even living with me yet/hasn’t promised to control me for life.”

“He hasn’t even given me an idea of what he’s going to do with the money. OMG! Is he going to use it to shack up with that other slut who serves him?”

With such suspicions (which also provide her with convenient excuses not to obey), the prospective female slave forgets that this is the man she swore to do anything for, the man she vowed to obey fully and serve for the remainder of her life. But apparently doing “anything” for him includes everything except handing over her hard-eared money.

This is what happens with many a woman who considers herself prime slave material. She loves her money far more than she loves her master or else she sees it as some sort of bargaining chip: “You make me your slave or commit to always be there for me and I’ll gladly turn over my paychecks to you. But if you don’t, well, sorry, but I just feel, you know, uneasy about that.”

The demand for money hits most starry-eyed women who imagine they are slaves squarely where they really live.  It quickly uncovers the inherent selfishness in most females, even those who claim they will do anything for a man. It is also a good indicator of how a given female will respond to other serious commands that don’t quite fit into her romantic plans for herself—or for him. If she makes loads of excuses about why she needs to keep most of her money to herself, a man would be wise to count on her doing the same with any other order she dislikes. If she swore absolute devotion to him but then decides he’s a common criminal or user when he demands she provide proof of her devotion, guess how she’ll regard him when he requires something even more difficult. If she suddenly starts finding all sorts of problems with the relationship that she never mentioned before, it’s a sign she’s seeking a way to weasel out of sending him a cent by finding fault with the other things he does.

I’ve seen all of these responses and worse from submissive females as soon as their masters start to demand that they literally “put their money where their mouths are” by handing over a good percentage of their incomes. All of a sudden their carefully hidden greed, parsimoniousness, suspicion, and demands for special consideration that lie nascent in their shriveled little hearts crawl to the surface. It’s extremely ugly to observe.

Why does it happen? Why do most women so tediously and predictably swear to lovingly do a man’s will in all things and to give him anything he might require then completely go back on their word as soon as money is mentioned? To many of us, money represents energy, it represents hard work or perhaps something that was handed down to us and that we “deserve” to have. It is “our” energy and we feel this deep in our selfish bones despite our romantic self-beliefs that we can give up all in order to serve a worthy man. Theoretically, submissive women are thrilled by the idea of taking that hard, cold, road up the mountain. But then, when faced with their first true difficulty, their gigantic me-first SELF jumps out of the bushes and says, “HEL-LO?” The female predictably thinks, “To hell with this s–t,” pulls out a few lame excuses that make her disobedience OK in her own eyes, and then trots down the far more conventional (and certainly more comfortable) grassy path to the warm comfy guesthouse that awaits her around life’s easy bend.

Some of us deeply feel, down to our very core, that our money is ours and ours only to dispense as we will, not at the command of another. Our ability to hand it over or not rests largely on what is inside us: are we truly as unselfish, giving, generous, and trusting as we claimed we were? Or are we the standard female product of this day and age: a greedy, suspicious little grubber always looking out for her own best interests but at the same time proclaiming loudly how pure she is? Money is energy, and if we are willing, even joyous, to provide that energy to the one we serve so that he may grow stronger (even if as a result we grow weaker) and if we do this passionately and without care for our own situation or survival then we prove our real worth to a master. We prove that we actually do care about him more than we care about ourselves.

I am convinced that relinquishing money is one of the primary tests of a woman’s genuine desire to be a slave. It is not the only test she will face, but it can be a pivotal one: it can accurately predict her future behavior as a slave. There is nothing that will tell you more about a woman’s true attitude toward servitude than how she responds to a demand for a significant amount of money from the one she serves. To judge this truly, a man can’t trust what she says about her willingness to pay up. She may just be slyly mouthing the expected words.  Instead, he has to observe how she actually performs when repeated demands for money are made. Does she give it instantly, willingly and cheerfully, thrilled to be of service? Can she see it as a sacred privilege and a strong sign of her master’s trust? Even more importantly, is she still providing it six months from now, without missing a single tithe or coming up with excuses for why it’s not available? (This assumes that you have demanded a reasonable sum that doesn’t make it impossible for her to live.) And now that she’s giving you cash, does she still treat you with the same loving respect and awe that she first expressed when she was trying to win your favor and prove herself? Or has she become irritable and demanding, suspicious or even snidely condescending? Does she act like she has “bought” you? Has she started to resent you, to suspect you of treating her falsely? These are all signs that money’s corruption has seeped deep into her soul and that she cares far more about protecting “her own” than giving everything she has and is to you.

Women would do well to bear the following old, but relevant, wisdom in mind before embarking upon the hard road of slavery:

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  —Luke 16:13

October 10, 2012

D/s and the Digital Cult Of Personality

By Marc Esadrian

The Internet: it’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Especially for those who practice dominant-submissive relationships, the creation of the Internet was a watershed moment for anonymous and remote communication. Pre-Internet, the fear of being stigmatized for one’s prurient interests were walls that kept social exploration of such interests effectively hammered down among all but the most daring. But when the Internet did arrive, it became a means of connecting to others by shared interests without the risk of personal exposure. If you had long been haunted/blessed by strongly submissive or dominant motives and unable to practice these things for lack of finding a willing partner to take the opposite role, the “information superhighway” and all its wonderful anonymity tore down those barriers for minds across the globe that, until the advent of such communication, would have never have had the chance to make union before.

So here we are, all together online in a big melting pot of collective consciousness, all sharing our ideas, all learning and evolving from all the experiences and perceptions we have to share. We’re so much more well-rounded now because of the Internet. Or are we?

As anyone who has even the slightest notion of how news blogs react to scandal before having any solid facts, how libelous mere Tweets can become, or how much anger and argument drives the larger proportion of Internet message boards, one will inevitably concede there’s more to the Internet than merely a superhighway for information. The Internet has a dark side: it’s just as easily a misinformation superhighway, too.

This is the digital age in a content-rich medium of countless sources and opinions. Today, we can easily “choose our news” and preset the spin that suits us best. On the Internet, we can all too easily elect association with personalities and ideas that stroke our world-views and perpetuate comforting half-truths without verifying anything grounded in reality. This monster has a tentacle in the “BDSM” community as well, on message boards and groups that associate with terms such as master and slave, owner and property, or total power exchange. Within these groups the phenomenon of politics and popularity is alive and well and it’s not long before visitors begin learning who the celebrities are. In the virtual world of M/s chat, the cool kids are those who identify as having “a lot of experience.” After all, they’re in relationships that have lasted X amount of years. Their profiles say so. But beyond that, they may seem popular, well-liked, and tend to garner applause from whatever group in which they have their roots firmly settled. This network of users quite often chats behind the scenes, forming alliances and intimate dyads with other users. Beneath the floorboards of public discourse, another current of communication is always buzzing through PM and a network of remote relationships begins to develop. Before long, the group is marbled with these alliances. Suddenly, critical discourse isn’t so much about being critical over the heart of things discussed: it’s about influence, affirmations, and communal back patting. It’s about backing up your buddy at the expense of intellectual honesty. In such places, the fate of group discussions becomes a smarmy strength in numbers game, no matter how ignorant or creatively dishonest those who make up those numbers are.

Ironically, it’s “submissive females” I see doing this quite often online (which reflects, no doubt, the indirect aggression of female cliques in real life). How many times, for instance, have we seen an individual who identifies as a dominant male make an open statement, only to have the “submissive female mafia” descend upon him and tell him how wrong he is in a dog pile that grows increasingly belittling and mocking? Within the course of a few replies, this hapless visitor has somehow managed to personally insult dozens of users who find it perfectly justified to pitch ugly jabs his (or her) way and take his (or her) words completely out of rational context for the sake of snark. Just what exactly is going on in these scenarios? Is it that the newcomer’s ideas are universally abhorrent or is it that such ideas have not properly genuflected and observed the delicate feelings of a tight-knit cyber support group? Things to contemplate, I think.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with liking the personalities people present online and forming friendships that occasionally migrate to the real world. There’s nothing wrong with friends list building and finding yourself among said groups online. But is wanting to be liked and accepted (and continue being accepted) by a group reason enough to forgo critical discourse or keeping a truly open, fair, and balanced discussion? Is it reason enough to ignore basic courtesy? Is it reason enough for a submissive female to forget that no matter wherever she goes in the world, she is a reflection of her master and should thus demonstrate the better angels of her nature? Perhaps for some, it is.

I feel a little differently, however. I like to keep politics and the cult of personality out of good debate and discussion. I think that when we make the discourse at hand about the subject and not about the person and his/her popularity or ability to tow the politically correct line in a group, a chance for the expansion of good discussion (and freedom from from groupthink) comes into play.

Where online discussion board celebrities are concerned, I’d warn to be vigilant of their sociable influence while they quietly murder rational thinking in the other room. Liking someone is not a good enough reason to ignore the validity of their opponent’s points and to do so is tantamount to being an enemy of truth. And while we’re on the subject of truth, I’d like to remind everyone to take what they see and read online with a certain grain of salt. There is no defacto arrangement of words, phrases, or story telling that guarantees someone can be verified as “sincere” in what they’re showing or expressing online, but this often doesn’t keep people from assigning certain online characters more clout in a discussion group, due to their charisma and bold claims of experience.  Online, we can dress up in words in any way we wish with impunity. That is the virtual nature of the Internet. One really needs to keep that in mind when considering expressions of “experience” online and how much we invest in them.

Ultimately, I look at the thought or argument or idea expressed, not the person’s credentials formed of a self-styled resume, their number of years lived “in the lifestyle,” or their popularity level in a group. What I care about is the thread count of their ideas, described experiences, visions, and what can be gleaned from them. And I trust they care about what I have to contribute, in turn. That is the atmosphere I hope Humbled Females continues to contain and project well into the future as our reader membership increases.

May 25, 2012

50 Shades of Grey

By Marc Esadrian

“If I do this thing, will he be my boyfriend?”

Well, someone has finally done it, as you probably know by now: BDSM erotica has been brought out of the shadows and into the garish light of mainstream “mommy porn” publishing. Indeed, there is still a buzz going on about the book, 50 Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.  After a thorough review of the books (yes, it’s a trilogy, for those of you who have been living under a rock and still haven’t had the details of this book crammed down your throat yet), there isn’t much to be excited about for those with a lick of real-world experience.

We’ve read such things before and in various iterations with far greater intensities, aside of having lived the commonly described scenarios out in real flesh. Delve into the history of erotic literature and you’ll find the legacy of shady erotic fiction present with us since the days of De Sade and beyond. Delve into human history and you’ll find the practice of bondage and discipline during sex isn’t exactly new. But for a very wide swath of impressionable readers, these subjects might as well have come from Mars—sexy Mars, that is.

50 Shades of Grey may not be such a revolution to the erotic literature world or those who practice master-slave and dominant-submissive relationships, but it may very well be a great example of the viral power of e-publishing and the practical use of writing fan fiction. Perhaps all those Harry Potter and Twilight fan fiction writers now feel just a little more justified with their keyboard hobbies? As a tale that is apparently interwoven with “shades” of domination-submission and what some might naively label darker sexual themes, the result, ultimately, is still a typical romance story pattern dressed up in saucier threads. Good woman Anastasia Steele meets Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, Christian Grey, who is a bit shady, but she gradually tames him as he obsessively courts her under the enigmatic guise of reserve. Of course he’s terribly young and handsome. Of course he is a billionaire with his own private helicopters, and a man who buys mansions upon a whim. Of course he speaks fluent French, is well-endowed, and incredible in bed. Of course he treated all the other women like servants and deviant paramours—until the female protagonist steps into his life. Then he’s smitten, but tells her nonetheless to keep her distance—such delicious conflict. And, of course (spoiler alert), they eventually live happily ever after and—ta da!—married with children in a palatial home dripping with wealth. A perfect teen vision, perhaps?

Banality aside, the books are amusing reads…for guilty pleasure reading, that is. It’s clear Ms. James is an entertaining writer, if not a little repetitive. The slanted subtexts in the story leave much to be desired, however, and as much as I’m happy to see the mainstream bestsellers list contain a book associated with the pariah that is BDSM (that is, the pariah it tends to be when Rhianna or Brittany Spears aren’t singing about it), I’m not entirely thrilled about the stereotypes it portrays about those who are partial to these practices—playtime or otherwise. For instance, we learn that Christian Grey, the dominant male character in the story, is the way he is, for the most part, due to severe childhood abuse. Well, of course he’s that way; his mother was a crack whore. And now the fact that he’s an eccentric deviant with a penchant for dominating women makes perfect sense! I’m sure the American Psychological Association would agree, as well as what remains of Kraft-Ebing’s cliff notes.

Little gems like these in the story are pretty toxic to the idea of accepting the practice of domination-submission positively and looking at it as thus. We learn as the tale progresses that Christian Grey is basically a freak tormented by demons of his terrible past, where his mother’s pimp would put cigarettes out on his chest, for instance. He’s taken in by rich foster parents and by the time he’s a grown young man in his late twenties he is the head of a multibillion dollar enterprise. The protagonist, Anastasia, is required to sign a “contract” that gives Grey complete control of her life—including her sex life (they haggle over the details by email—an enchanting discourse, without a doubt). Grey, being the eccentric, control-mad pervert that he is from his childhood of abuse, introduces our virgin 21 year-old flower (why are virgins always more attractive as romantic heroines in these stories?) to bondage and Sadism, and for her, it’s oh so very overwhelming, but exciting, and it’s not long before she’s rattling off orgasm after orgasm and listening to her “inner goddess” as she navigates the path of submission. Excuse me?

I could go on, but I won’t, as that might prove to be rather boring. The plot, stretched over three books, serves as little more than staging for the next sex scene—but this is par for the course with romance novels, is it not? Needless to say, this trilogy is enjoying popularity because it somehow found its way into the mainstream, and we all know the topics in these books are seldom explored in the mainstream. In that light, the 50 Shades series of books successfully exploited an interestingly untapped niche. But does it truly deserve to sit pretty there, enjoying all this hype? Is it possible a better series of books could be sitting in its place? I doubt I have to explain my obvious position on either of those questions.

Without a doubt, 50 Shades has its flaws. My primary contention is how silly—and toxic—the story casts the practice of dominance and submission. Readers are aligned to view these practices as a result of damage, emotional instability, and an inability to properly seek intimacy. In that sense, how far along have we come in this book compared to such wonderful television shows as CSI or Law & Order, which chronically pathologize master-slave and BDSM relationships for the sake of entertainment? The crumby reality is it hasn’t really come too far at all, and that’s a shame, for the opportunity to present male dominance as something positive and natural and female submission as something actualized and informed has been lost once again. I have no doubt these books have helped a large demographic of people to find interest in such practices, though I tend to wonder what preconceptions will need to be debunked and outright smashed as they proceed to explore the reality of dominance and submission. In this sense, 50 Shades Of Grey has conspired to support the mainstream’s perfect cognitive dissonance on the subject of personal subjugation, which is to say, a distanced love-hate relationship with it all. I hope you’re ready, ladies and gentlemen: the next wave of the kinky and slightly confused are already among us.