11. Fifty Shades, Feminism and Gender Stereotypes: Notes on Researching BDSM

by Laura Zambelli

In this article I develop some reflections on my research on BDSM (bondage, domination and submission, sadism and masochism) in Italy. I comment the success of the book Fifty Shades paralleled by a tepid welcome received from the BDSM community of Milan, Italy. Empirical research on BDSM in Italy is, and was, not widespread; I briefly present the existing academic literature. Then, I reflect on the connections between BDSM and feminism both internationally and in the Italian context, starting from the sex wars of the 1980s. I discuss the total absence of the topic of feminism from the interviews and the participant observations I conducted with BDSM practitioners. I consider the traditional absence of feminism and gender studies from the Italian academia and the infrequent yet growing links between them. In general, BDSM remains an under-researched topic, in Italy as elsewhere. It is considered a marginal sexual practice or identity, but through it we can observe wider-ranging phenomena, like the reproduction or challenging of societal gender differences.

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