Karen Fratti
February 07, 2018 5:47 pm

Although there are many Christian Grey devotees out there, there are just as many fans who rightfully feel like Secretary is a much better BDSM film than Fifty Shades. To be fair, they’re both perfectly cheesy and, er, sexy in their own right, but the 2002 movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader did the whole “Mr. Grey” thing first, and it’s honestly a lot less problematic than the portrayal of a BDSM relationship we see in Fifty Shades.

On the surface, the two seem to have a lot in common. Like Fifty ShadesSecretary is based on a written story, “Bad Behavior” by Mary Gaitskill, and is about a young, submissive woman, Lee Holloway, who works for a dominant lawyer, whose last name is also Grey. But other than those plot points, the movies are entirely different animals. While Anastasia struggles with Christian’s need for kink and the couple seems to be analyzing their relationship all the time, Secretary’s sexual tension builds without any conversation (until the iconic spanking scene, at least).

That lack of communication is one reason why some people in the BDSM scene aren’t totally in agreement that the earlier film is healthier portrayal of kink: The one thing that Fifty Shades gets right is that Christian and Ana at least have a conversation about safe words and consent, even if their relationship is sometimes more abusive than kinky. Edward and Lee, on the other hand, don’t emotionally support each other at all in the movie until the very happy, rom-com ending. But Secretary eventually works out those problems by its end, which is just one reason that Secretary is a better BDSM movie. Here are some others.

1Doms should never try to change someone.

At the heart of 50 Shades is Ana’s struggle to accept Christian’s kink, which, along with Christian’s lack of empathy, is why so many people are uncomfortable with the portrayal. For some people, it feels like the movie conflates BDSM with abuse, which is totally off base from what a healthy reality would look like.

Although Lee and Edward never explicitly talk about the ground rules or aftercare for their play — which you should definitely always do if you’re into BDSM or really in any relationship — their relationship is immediately more consensual and steamy. Lee isn’t talked into being a submissive, and there’s a good argument that Ana is, in a way. Instead, it’s something she never even thought she wanted and now can’t get enough of. When she sniffs loudly or messes up the bed, she’s straight-up begging to be called into his office for “punishment.” It’s like her own kinky version of a “u up?” text.

2Their relationship is empowering for Lee.

Edward’s dominance and need for control works in Lee’s favor for the most part. It’s when he tells her to stop cutting herself for good that their relationship becomes sexual. His idea about how to release all of that pent up energy is way healthier, physically and emotionally, than that kit of razors under her bed. It’s after their first session that she finally tells her mother to stop babying her by waiting in the parking lot, takes her first walk alone in a park, and tosses all of her razors out. She essentially grows up — her clothes are more stylish, she smokes (which, ew, but it’s symbolic), and starts masturbating. It’s the only “makeover montage” from a rom-com we’ll ever need.

Ana, on the other hand, just stops talking to her friends and obsesses about her relationship with Christian.

3The sex is way more interesting.

Let’s be real: The cheesy dialogue sort of ruins most of the sex scenes in 50 Shades. And it’s sort of your average “movie sex” that we see all the time. The props end up being just that — objects in the room while they’re getting busy. But Secretary really knows how to turn up the heat. That little finger rub after he orgasms behind her? That’s so much hotter than the more obvious sex between Ana and Christian. (Also, Christian Grey can keep his jets and Red Rooms. Edward Grey’s house, complete with an indoor lawn, would be way more fun to have sex in.)

Secretary also gets sexy dominance right in another way: BDSM is not all about being tied up and whipped and yelled at, though it can be. The little things, like wanting to know what she’s eating and all of those red pens, is all foreplay. Also, when was the last time you saw female masturbation done so authentically and unapologetically? Secretary has not one but two masturbation scenes. We need more masturbation in pop culture, in our humble opinions.

4She’s actually the boss.

Some people judge submissive women, but those people have it all wrong. Lee’s character perfectly illustrates why. She’s not only the one who puts the calls out for sex, she also ends up being the more confident partner. Lee’s the one who’s unafraid to “come out” with her kink, learns about it, and then helps Edward stop hating himself for his sexual fantasies. Sure, she has to go on a hunger strike to show him how to be sex positive, but eventually she ends up in a good, giving, and game marriage. That teaches us a valuable lesson: Sexual compatibility is everything, so you should never settle for less than what really turns you on.

5It’s really a comedy.

Unlike 50 Shades, which treats BDSM like this super serious, life-or-death situation, Secretary focuses on the complexity of fetish and kink and doesn’t stick to stereotypes. BDSM, like all sex, is awkward, hilarious, and messy sometimes, which is part of what makes it so much fun. Secretary might be a little ridiculous at times, but that’s what makes it so damn good. It’s both an exploration of BDSM, a fairly feminist rom-com, and a coming of age story. There’s a reason it’s a cult classic.

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