It just occurred to me that this feels like a book report. Except I watched the movie. Oh well, here we go!
Master and I have scoured the internet on more than one occasion looking for a movie to watch or a book to read that really nailed the essence of BDSM. We know the criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey and wanted to read/watch something that people in the lifestyle praised as accurate. “Secretary” kept coming up.
Let me preface this by saying for the entire first 90 minutes, I really did not like this movie. Master and I gave up, saying “this isn’t sexy”. Plus, I noticed that there are some issues Fifty Shades of Grey has caught shit from which Secretary doesn’t seem to suffer the same level of criticism.
Let’s start with this: enjoyment of BDSM is not caused by abuse and trauma. Christian Grey was a child with a drug-addicted mother who worked as a prostitute. I’ve never actually read the books (but I have had portions read to me by Gilbert Gottfried), so I’m not aware of whether they reveal the “terrible things” he remembers from his childhood. And those terrible things made him susceptible to his adoptive mother’s sexually abusive friend, whom Ana refers to as “Mrs. Robinson”, thereby cementing Christian’s use of BDSM as a coping mechanism.
This criticism is completely valid. Psychology Today posted an article in 2013 explaining that kinksters are not perverted psychopaths (or at least don’t exhibit pathology). While I love discussing psychology, this post will be long enough without me getting into it too much. Article can be found here.
Ok, so then we get to Mr. E. Edward Grey in Secretary. The… eccentric small-town lawyer/Dominant. There’s something wrong with this guy. Very neurotic and lacking basic social skills. Probably not caused by trauma, based purely off of my armchair amateur psychoanalysis. But Lee! Oh my god, Lee! We meet her fresh out of a stint at the mental hospital, quickly learn that she is a self-mutilator, and she has an abusive, alcoholic father with an enabler for a mother. She cuts herself to deal with the pain, so naturally she finds BDSM cathartic. Is that not kind of the same issue? I get that Doms are supposed to be in control, and submissives surrendering it. But using the experience to cope with shit you can’t in real life? That’s not healthy.
Communication. Ana does not feel comfortable telling Christian when he is hurting her past her limits because she wants to please him. Basically, they both think it’s the submissive’s job to bend over and take it while the Dominant brutalizes her as much as he wants. Ana doesn’t use her safewords when she should and ends up crying and in pain. Nothing like that happens in Secretary. Because, first off, it’s primarily spanking, walking around the office wearing spreader bar on her shoulders, and getting his input on her eating. There aren’t any whipping benches, suspension scenes, or dungeons of any kind. But there also isn’t any communication. At all. Ever. At least Christian gave Ana safewords and they discussed the contract many, many, MANY times (til Christian says “I think it’s redundant, don’t you?” and we all scream “YES!!! EITHER FUCKING SIGN IT OR SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT IT ALREADY.”) While their communication sucked, at least there was an attempt at it.
Lee’s Mr. Grey just spanks her without discussion. It’s clear that Lee consents and wants to do more, but she’s left confused towards the end because he starts to withdraw and she realizes she has no idea what this relationship even is. At least Ana was told what she is to Christian: a submissive. Lee goes out to find out for herself what she is and she comes to terms with it. That’s awesome. I have no fucking clue what happens to Ana, but my understanding is that they go as vanilla as Blue Bunny.
Abuse. Yes, Christian Grey is abusive. To say otherwise is fake news. Mr. E. Edward Grey? Well, I can’t say for sure. I feel 100% certain he absolutely does not mean to be. It’s clear at the end that he loves Lee and wants to make her happy. Whereas Christian is kind of obsessed with Ana. And stalks her. And gets involved in her personal life without her permission. And her professional life. He can’t just fucking leave her alone and let her do her own goddamn thing. Lee’s Mr. Grey, in contrast, pretty much lets her do her own thing. She’ll ask his permission for certain things, but he doesn’t follow her around. He doesn’t obsessively call her (because texting did not exist yet), he doesn’t fixate on what she does outside of her relationship with him. Yes, he is involved. But he’s not in a constant state of panic over whether or not she’s following some stupid order he gave her. The reason I hesitate to completely rule out abusiveness as part of his character is because the relationship isn’t healthy at the onset. I feel it gets there, and I know he cares about her well-being (even getting her to give up cutting and start taking walks). But he allows her to get in too deep without trying to define things. This really isn’t abusive, it’s just two imperfect people messing up. But still, I hesitate to rule out an abuse of power here, at least in the beginning.
BDSM as sexual deviancy. Fifty Shades of Grey culminates in Christian coming to feeling complete and whole and therefore not needing to act out trauma because he finally found the one. Secretary wins on this point. Mr. Grey and Lee are whole at the end once they find each other and their dynamic. And they aren’t really deviants, they’re just a couple who have less-than-mainstream sexual tastes.
Virginity. Ana had never had sex before. And her second sexual experience includes floggers and handcuffs (at least in the movie. Like I said, I’ve only seen the movie and heard Gilbert Gottfried’s reading). Fucked UUUUUUUUUP. But Lee is a virgin too… I think. They don’t really go into it, but her relationship with her vanilla fiance indicates that she is also a virgin. But Secretary wins again because Mr. Grey doesn’t fuck her for the entire. Fucking. Movie. There’s some implied sex at the end, and she talks about the fact that they do have sex in the last few lines. And Lee at least masturbates. But still. We’re talking virgins getting in over their heads in their first sexual experiences with Dominants. Lee isn’t left more fucked up than she was before. She grows. But Ana is Belle from Beauty and the Beast and frees Christian from his curse. Lee, conversely, completes Mr. Grey. And he completes her.
BUT I watched the last thirty minutes of Secretary because I was bored and we’d spent $3 to watch it OnDemand. This is a movie you absolutely MUST watch til the end. If you don’t, it sucks. If you do, you realize the entire movie is kind of beautiful. Like American Beauty. A few things really stuck out for me. First, the scene where Mr. Grey is telling Lee what she can eat at dinner with her family. One scoop of potatoes, one slice of butter, four peas, and “all the ice cream you’d like to eat, Doll.” *swoon* I’m a sucker for terms of endearment. And it’s so affectionate and indulgent. I love when Master is indulgent with me. I’m not one for ageplay or petplay, but it gives me warm and fuzzies because it means Master thinks I’m cute. I love being cute to him.
The second thing that really stood out to me is when Lee is on her “hunger strike.” I loved watching Mr. Grey call her after he told her to keep her hands flat on the desk and feet flat on the floor. As she tries to pick the phone up with her teeth as opposed to disobeying him and he watches, you can see him realizing just how devoted to him she is. I was a little bit appalled that he called her fiance in to confront her, to test her even further. But when Peter asks Lee “why aren’t you moving your hands?”, she doesn’t answer “because I’m a submissive and my Dominant told me not to”, or “it’s a sexual thing, you wouldn’t understand”. She says “Because I don’t want to.” Bam. Right there. Magic. Fucking beautiful. I don’t kneel before Master because he tells me to. I do it because I want to.
Another thing that stood out to me is, despite the fact that Mr. Grey sadistically left a woman sitting in her wedding gown in his office for THREE DAYS (c’mon, she was totally shitting and pissing herself in that beautiful wedding dress. Not cool, dude.), he brought her a smoothie to drink when he gave her permission to get up. Ok, that sounds really stupid. But it was such a small act of kindness and affection. It wasn’t the first time he’d done something kind, if you count the time he got her to stop cutting, or the time he gave her a job, or the time that he started treating her like a submissive in general. But it was the biggest thing to me. He could have gone in and said “ok babe, time to get up and go home.” He knew she’d be thirsty, and really hungry. And despite the fact that he probably walked into a wall of piss-and-shit smell and a nasty puddle in his office chair, he still gets close to her and gives her sips of the smoothie.
So, I did find my way into completely changing my mind about the movie. It’s that last 30 minutes. Although there were a few times during the course of it that I giggled at or enjoyed a little. As a paralegal, watching Lee ask the woman “what exactly is a paralegal?” was hilarious. I’ve been a paralegal for 5 years. The best I’ve come up with so far is “I spend 90% of my day sending bitchy emails. The other 10% I spend drafting and filing pleadings with the court.” As far as life in a small-town law office is concerned, this movie hit the nail right on the head. As far as BDSM, well, I’m too inexperienced to say with even the smallest confidence that it’s an accurate portrayal. It has some issues similar to Fifty Shades of Grey, and it’s not nearly as sexy as I’d like. But I came away kind of loving the movie.