I read this erotic BDSM novel today. I thought the world was pretty cool–slightly alternate earth, slightly fantastical. What got irritating was the BDSM. ALL the relationships were BDSM and it got really annoying. And it wasn’t the BDSM parts per se. I get BDSM and I obviously wouldn’t read it if it bothered me. That wasn’t the problem. That’s not what annoyed me. It’s that all the women secretly wanted to be dominated. That, despite having life experiences that would indicate any sort of BDSM experience would likely be horrifying (we’re talking molestation, rape, plus a lot of violent abuse by male relatives. And then there’s forced submission and bondage situations for unwilling women who later want to be bound and hurt in order to have an exciting sexual experience). These women had clearly been through horrific experiences, and then the “cure” for them was a BDSM relationship.
Another bothersome thing was that women were always the submissive and men were always the master. Never the reverse. And the dominance thing overflowed into their real lives. The women were portrayed as always in the wrong, men always had to be patient and correct and rescue them and even though the women were supposedly strong, their strength was always requiring male guidance and discipline. The women turn out to be more childlike than adult. And again, not in a sexual way. This is in ordinary interactions. One woman who is a specialist doctor demonstrates complete incompetence and the men who have no idea what they are doing in the field always know better than she does and she’s always having to apologize or hang her head in shame. It’s really appalling.
So let me stress it’s not the BDSM I have a problem with. It’s the portrayal of the characters and the overall situations. Now the author does create a culture where the laws of society puts men in positions of power and women are essentially in traditional female roles. There almost seemed to be an unspoken genetic male impetus to be sexually dominant in a BDSM fashion. The thing is I liked some of the characters and the world, but kept getting annoyed at the way women were portrayed. Kept driving me nuts and throwing me out of the story.
The fact is, though, I’ve been encountering a lot of these sorts of stories where the women can only feel like real women or feel whole if a man abuses them emotionally or physically. And again, I’m not remotely saying that BDSM is abuse. It is not. It is consensual and the submissive has the power to stop at all times, which means that person has the power to say when things go too far for him or her, which means that person holds the power in the room. It’s a relationship of trust and vulnerability, which this book does talk about, but then makes it impossible to believe that these women could have have that vulnerability and trust in these men. In a lot of novels I’ve been seeing, including the one today, the woman (always submissive) has to suffer through agonizing pain, all for her own good, and even though she often clearly struggles against it, she always suddenly gets an amazing orgasm. What’s clear is that the situation is frequently not consensual, which is the part that bothers me. A lot.
I’m trying to figure out if there’s a titillation factor here that makes the BDSM a fantasy, but one that the writer doesn’t bother to understand. Or who twists it for a weird romantic angle. Fifty Shades tends to fall in this category for me. Twilight does in its own fashion, as the male protagonist is a stalker and a pedophile, and the female is passive and weak, requiring rescue and male care.
I guess what’s bothering me throughout is that I didn’t feel that any of these women freely consented, or that they had the ability to say no. And that means the scenes are abuse, not actual BDSM.