Posts Tagged dominance

Hollywood goes stupid on BDSM

BDSM_collar_back

It has been a while since the whole internet (and not only) was buzzing with “Fifty Shades of Grey” frenzy. Unlike many, I did not run to the cinema to watch it, although I knew I would eventually have to. As somebody interested in alternative erotica and how it makes it into mainstream, watching it was a must.
Despite reading a couple of reviews and personal opinions on it, I went to the cinema with an open mind. Therefore, I can say there are some good scenes, which could have given the watcher a good sense of domination in sex and everything connected with BDSM eroticism. However, the sensuality of these scenes is suppressed and even shattered by all the unnecessary and abusive elements brought into the picture without any real consideration. After paying to see this movie, some of us may feel that it was nothing but a shallow use of controversy for the sake of box office success only and no further considerations.

(Photo: from wikipedia, featured picture of Lady Byron)

Yes, very Hollywood-like indeed, if we are to be very critical of the American movie industry. And as A., my partner, put it, those intimate moments between Dominant and Submissive which are not messed up in the movie might have actually been copied from whatever material available in the sex and porn movies industry. They somehow managed to give a glimpse on the erotic pact which is part of the BDSM game, but only to later aggravate everything and turn eroticism into abuse.

And this is the reason why I am writing now about “Fifty Shades of Grey” in English, after I have done it in Romanian. Not to talk extensively about the movie itself and to mainly criticise how they portrayed the Dominant as an abuser, exactly what alternative sexuality needed, but to debate how harmful it actually is.
To do this, I will present you the following plot: a very successful business man, who is also gay, gets very passionate about a young student, who is not very certain he really likes men or not. The successful guy does everything he can to seduce and convince the subject of his desires, but only to abuse his younger lover when he finally gives in. At the same time, you actually find out that the seducer has been raped himself by an older man when he was 15, which made him become gay, and now he just somehow propagates unto the others what happened to him, saying “this is how I am”. Nice, isn’t it?

I want to believe not many would accept today such a plot on homosexual eroticism, and for good reasons. Bringing into the mainstream the idea that somehow people with other ways of expressing their sexuality than the majority are deranged, have a problem, were traumatised and therefore became little monsters in their intimate lives does not seem clever at all. Society today is still tarred with misconceptions, fears and very judgemental views on the different, and yet another media product reinforcing such things is not what we miss.  

Speaking of homosexuality, I wonder how many people know that it used to be scientifically classed as a paraphilia, which meant a sexual deviation with not very favourable psychological implications. Doing a little research, we can read that homosexuality, although it was no longer considered a crime even in the interwar period (Poland 1932, Denmark 1933), was still officially seen a “disease” or “mental disorder” until 1973. That year, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), due to sustained civil protests and lobby from the gay community in the 70s.
Think of it: how intelligent can it be to judge a person as suffering of a disorder on the basis of his/her sexuality only, if it causes no harm to anybody, if it is consensual and a source of contentment and joy?

It is true that, despite the antidiscrimination laws being clear in most of the Western world today, they cannot make each and every person think. Nothing can really make people use their brain capacity if they prefer not to. But at least stigmatising others on grounds of their personal preferences cannot be tolerated in a society which respects human rights.

Going back to “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the main message it conveys is that whoever might call themselves a sexual Dominant is actually an abuser, while whoever sees themselves as sexually Submissive are actually victims. Is this really needed?
Back in Bucharest, in 2008 I have met a guy over the internet whom I became friends with. We never dated, it was instant friendship. We talked about photography, books and also about sexuality. When I came back from the hospital, after I had my appendix removed and nearly got peritonitis in the process, he brought me a big photography album by a renowned Japanese artist. He was, to my knowledge, the first Dominant I have ever met in real life. Had he not told me, I would have never known. This guy was very polite, very intelligent, loved paragliding and other challenging sports, he loved photography and apparently he liked tying women up when he had sex with them. One day I actually met an ex of his, they stayed friends, and they were both very relaxed in each other’s presence, joked a lot and laughed a lot.

My male Dominant friend never actually told me a lot on his personal sexual preferences. He was a discrete guy. But he did tell me some stories, and also that there are some idiots out there calling themselves Dominants who treat their Submissive so badly and just push them beyond their limits. He completely condemned those people, and apparently would always encourage and even help the abused submissives to get out of that type of a relation.

So what about Christian Grey? Is he a Dominant or an abuser? Unfortunately, I guess the first and only advice my friend would give to Anastasia would be: get away from him! He will not have a relation with you, he will just abuse you and demand you be happy for being abused. And this is just wrong.
Let’s take it step by step (in big steps, we do not have all day, actually). In the beginning, Christian says he will not touch Ana until she signs the contract. What does he do? Break his own word, right away! Would you trust this man to tie you up and use a whip on you for sexual arousing? I know I wouldn’t.

Next? He presses on, despite the fact he knows Ana does not have any solid sexual experience. Apparently, the movie wants us to believe that the attractive Mr. Grey actually wants Ana so much that he makes one mistake after another. Does he, really? Well, then theory confirmed: this guy is nothing but an idiot with a very well equipped playroom, but with a very poorly equipped brain. After 12 years of experience, all he can do is loose patience, not follow his own terms (having BDSM sex with Ana only after she is fully aware and fully consenting), and at the end truly abuse his new lover? This man does not deserve to be in any kind of a relation.
And what is his actual “excuse” for it? Well, poor thing, he was the son of a heroine prostitute, he was traumatised in early childhood, before ending up as adopted by a very wealthy family. Dare I say that this is the story, up to the being adopted and raised by a high class family, of so many criminals who never ever get out of trouble. But because this guy is attractive, rich and influential we should somehow feel sorry for him and hope that Ana comes back to and tames this wild beast, shouldn’t we?

I hope at this point it is quite clear why such a movie does not do any service to people who prefer to express their sexuality through Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism. While DSM-5, the current American Psychiatric Association manual (which is a benchmark for the whole world in matters of psychiatry and psychology), released in 2015, excludes BDSM practices from any clinical classification as long as they are consensual and do not cause harm or distress, a Hollywood product throws things back to where you might be considered demented if you prefer sexual arousal by means of kink toys (ropes, whips, crops, handcuffs, and other such gadgets which apparently can be fun).

Since I have learnt about the history of how different sexual orientations used to be criminalized and also about discrimination by law on basis of one’s sexuality, I admired the work of Charles Moser, a physician specialised on sexual medicine. Based in San Francisco (what a nice coincidence, isn’t it? the city of the Beat generation), he is very well known and respected in his field, a professor on sexuality studies, and also a specialist who has long advocated against diagnosing different sexual preferences as disorders. I have read some of his work, and one very strong argument he brought against what was stated in DSM-4 was the following: 1. BDSM practices were clinically diagnosed because they pose the risk of causing harm. Therefore, a Dominant or a Submissive suffers of a disorder. 2. Extreme sports such as mountain climbing pose the risk of causing serious harm and even death. Still, no respectable psychiatrist would think of diagnosing a mountain climber who reaches the Everest as suffering of a disorder.

With the changes made in the psychiatry manual, people such as Charles Moser can be finally happy that their life long work brought positive changes for society as a whole. People writing books and making movies such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” cannot. When society as a whole and many uninformed people do not know enough about something, you do not just give them a very negative view of the subject, in terms of “how not to”. You cannot start explaining and enlarging people’s views on something which is not known to them… by telling them what that particular thing is not meant to be. I do not know how it is presented in the book, but I did not hear anybody protesting too much that they have messed the story up with the movie.

So when you want to write on a controversial and very delicate subject such as what people might prefer in their intimacy, what arouses them and can be classified as unusual, you must be socially irresponsible to make it look like abuse, and not even criticize it enough.
Fortunately, in today’s society we have tools to get informed, read and educate ourselves, then write and give others the chance to consider and dismiss products which can only be but called stupid and misleading, and not much else.

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A fresh lesson on Eastern history, with a romantic flick

Roxelana_TizianNot sure how many people really enjoyed the way history was tought in school, but I can say for myself that, whilst my former history teachers had an pleasant presence in the class room, none of them really stuck to my mind whatsoever. Considering I have always loved history, that says enough.
Bombarded from everywhere with too much information about the right here, right now, and pushed to know too many flimsy things, which do not add anything at all to our lives, I also wonder how many people today do think about the past and how history made society (and the other way around). I am saying this because loosing one’s inherited wisdom and knowledge can have a destructive outcome.

At the same time though, people who do know or are interested in history should just make an effort and see it, analyse it, understand it for what it is. Too many times I have seen the past being used either as an excuse for what we/they/nations do or don’t do today, as well as a kind of a fragile safe, golden place to escape to when failing to face the present.

If you are still reading and didn’t just press the x at the top right of the page it means I didn’t bore you to death. Or maybe you are very patient. Or maybe you are just a friend who is used to my speeches.

(Picture: Painting of Roxelana or Hurrem Sultan, by Tizian)

This particular speech on history came as a result of me reading over the internet on the Ottoman Empire. It is quite silly how I got to the topic, as scrolling and jumping around the www from page to page I read some entertainment news about the Turkish period soap opera “Suleyman the Magnificent”, very much loved especially by the feminine audience in Romania last summer or so. I watched two episodes with my mum and nan while visiting and, for a soap opera, I can say it wasn’t so bad.
Should I confess that watching period soaps with my mum and nan has been a guilty pleasure of mine? Before moving to the UK, during my three months spent at my parents’ house, we used to be stuck to the tv every evening for an hour when they had a Korean period soap on.

So I stumbled upon the Turkish series yesterday, while scrolling mindlessly up and down on my laptop. And then I wanted to check how real the feminine character which bewitched the great Sultan was. And boy she was real!
During my school years, when history written by communist standards was fed into our minds, kids who were good in writing essays and stories were always asked to start from real events and fictionalise them, and compose texts about the brave Romanian people and how they have withstood the vicissitudes of history. We all read and had to learn the stories about how the Romanians, squashed in between two great empires (the third was never mentioned, the Russian Czarist Empire, of course, as Russians were the friends of our people) have been so strong and undefeated, facing both powers and never really giving up the fight.
Nothing furthest from the truth, I believe today.

One of these two powers was, of course, the Ottoman Empire. Pushed from the East by the Mongolians who had repeatedly defeated them, the Turkish came to the edge of Europe and it was there were they started to grow. Osman I was the ruler under whom the Turkish success started to come to life, and the name of the whole Empire is, if sources correct, derived from his. Mehmet the Conqueror is another name familiar to history lovers, as he crushed the Byzantine Empire by taking over the heart of it, the city of Constantinople.
I won’t pretend I am an expert on Ottoman history now, after reading some sources such as Ecyclopaedia Britannica article on the origins and development of the empire, however there are some things that I had connected in my mind even before getting better informed. One of these things is the historic background for Romania’s flawed society and over corrupted system today, and it helps to understand how history makes reality.

What I have not known clearly before, but somehow felt it to be true, was the way the Ottoman power worked. The sources talk about how the strength of the whole empire relied on dominating territories which they were not particularly interested in occupying, but only getting resources out of (I can’t help now but say “aha!!” in my mind, an imaginary light bulb over my head – sounds a bit familiar with some approaches today). That is how the South and East of Romania, while under Ottoman rule, still had their local leaders who acted as vassals to the Sultan and had to pay tribute. Some of them would be rebellious and even managed to defeat armies sent to discipline them, which wasn’t particularly uncommon either in the empire. At times, local rulers would become strong, but then this was food for warriors in need of a new fight.
And the Ottoman power was built on the loyalty and fierceness of its Janissary army. Again, it was not clear in my mind before last night that these armed troops were actually entirely made of Christian slave boys from either occupied territories or the bordering countries, snatched from their families either by force or as an established part of the tribute. These boys were then grown and educated to become the perfect soldiers, loyal to death and always willing to fight for the Sultan. To keep them happy, however, there was need for conflict and opportunity to defeat and plunder.

At the same time, the Sultan’s Harem was made entirely of Christian girls and women. This came as a surprize, as many things concerning the private life of the Ottoman ruler. And somehow I owe this to the Turkish period soap opera. Well, my guilty pleasure proved not entirely bad after all.

In the Golden Age of this Eastern Empire, under the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent, who brought it to its largest territory in history, strange things happened in his harem.
To highlight these strange things I need to say first that the Sultans didn’t have wives. Not really shocking, considering that a wife would have had more rights, even in those times, than a concubine. If what I have read is correct, which I have no reason to believe it wasn’t, the sultan would have four Kadins, who were his favourite concubines. Also, the harem would be led by the Valide Sultan, the Queen Mother. The most favoured of the four Kadins was the one who gave him his first son and assumed heir to the throne. And then there were all the other concubines, most of them would only spend one night with the Sultan to whom they have been given as gifts or bought from the slave markets. There were many virgins in the harem, who performed the duties of servants.

So how shocking is it that the most powerful Sultan, the one who extended the empire into Europe by conquering modern Hungary and getting to the gates of Wien, broke all traditions in this aspect?
No wonder the story has the power to fire up imagination.

istanbul 303

(Photo: In 2009, at the entrance to Topkapi Palace, Istanbul)

An Ukrainian girl, kidnaped in a Tartar raid over her village, when she was only 14, then sold as a slave to the Sultan’s harem, had somehow pulled it off and got chosen for the Sultan’s bed. At the time there was already a favourite Kadin, who gave the Sultan his heir. However, the Ukrainian young woman, whom the Sultan named Hurrem (the cheerful one), became the love of his life. He wrote her poems, he named her his lover, best friend and advisor, and one of the sons she gave him became the new heir to the throne, after the former first Kadin was banished. He even freed Hurrem from slavery, and when she converted to Islam, took her as a wedded wife, breaking a strong tradition in the history of the Turkish Sultans.
Apparently, the reason why the women in the harem were enslaved Christians was that, by law, no Islamic woman could go to bed with a man who wasn’t her husband, this being considered adultery, a very serious offence. The Sultans imposed their way around it, until the strongest of them decided to wed his former slave.

I find this story fascinating in quite many ways. First, a strong woman succeeded to secure her place beside one of the strongest man in the world at them time, against odds. Second, with this started what was known in the Turkish history as the Sultanate of Women, which lasted for about 130 years, time during which either the consort or the mother of the Sultan in power, or both, played a very important and active role, behind the scenes, even in politics.
The say that behind every great man there is a great woman is somehow proven right. It might be the mother who brought him up. The correction I would bring is that there tends to be a great woman BY every great man.

Then there comes the romantic side. Give a man a whole harem, the opportunity to choose from hundreds of beautiful women, if he falls in love, he would stick by his loved one.
And another quite romantic detail is that this woman wasn’t considered to be a particular beauty. Ugly she wasn’t, according to the paintings showing her, but apparently the written sources mention that she didn’t distinguish herself by looks, but by brains, wit and a very pleasant presence.

These being said, I will go back to the way the empire dominated territories such as Wallachia and Moldavia, both part of today’s Romania. The Ottomans did not have any interested whatsoever, as a warring power, to invest in such territories, especially as they were led by local Christian rulers. They took tribute in money and resources, including humans. Some people who lived in poverty even sold their kids to be slaves, as there was a chance they could have better prospects for the future becoming Janissaries or going to the Sultans harem.
I grew up with stories in communist books about how strong and inventive the Romanian people were, how they always managed to fare through, how they faced Turkish armies even if they were outnumbered and not skilled in waging war. One of the best tricks up their sleeves was to run to the mountains when the Ottoman troops were approaching and to set fire to crops and poison wells. This way, the armies would have to go back. It was taught to us as a very inventive way to face the adversities of a strong empire.

I am not saying it wasn’t. The peasants wouldn’t have stood a chance against such armies, anyway. But on the other hand this was the state of things: lack of stability, starting everything from scratch again and again, a dominating power which never invests, but keeps on milking everything they can from the locals. This was indeed the story of the South and East of Romania, so different from how things were in Transylvania, were the Hungarian rulers, with the advantage of having a long range of mountains as a natural defence, strengthened the boarder and fought against the Turkish armies or had treaties with the Ottomans. 

It surely gives you much reason for reflection when you are of a nation always in between big powers, and only briefly managed to raise and develop, when the whole world is shaken somehow. The time Romania really flourished was late 19th century, early 20th, as both big closest empires shook and crumbled around.
Right now though, it feels like the country is still led by some distant rulers, who couldn’t care less of what really happened to it.

 

 

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