50 Shades of Grey, the movie, is released tomorrow and it’s making me ill.
Ok that may be a slight exaggeration, but honestly, I am not loving the fact that possibly one of the worst books around for condoning rape culture and manipulative relationships is being touted as a must see Valentine’s Day movie. Or the fact it got turned into a movie at all, but hey, money.
Basically: Yes, I’m boycotting.
But instead of just throwing that out there, I thought I’d go into a bit (or a lot) of detail about why the series written by E.L James is something that brings me out in hives, and makes me want to burn things. And why it definitely shouldn’t be anywhere near the list of #relationshipGoals, or seen as an accurate insight into the world of BDSM relationships. I’m always up for a great discussion so I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this too.
[trigger warnings for talking about abusive relationships and rape]
Abusive / manipulative relationships?
I’m glad to say that in the past few years a spotlight has been shone on abuse in relationships, how to recognise it, how to help, and just generally talking about it. 50SoG sort of… undermines all that. Not even sort of, actually. It just does. The number of times Christian Grey makes Ana feel like she will be disappointing him in some way if she does not comply with his wishes, or that he will leaver her, is ridiculous. It makes my skin crawl. Why? Because this is all tied up with a neat little bow and shoved under Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship.
It’s explicitly stated that the character Anastasia is shy, and has trouble expressing herself openly, something that a lot of people can relate to. It’s hard to say no when you want to please someone, lots of us feel very uncomfortable if we do something that may upset. The character of Christian is very aware of Ana’s shy demeanour, and uses it to his advantage. There are many instances when he threatens her, acts violently (in a non consensual way) towards her, and manipulates her into doing what he wants when she is questioning it. There are also constant reminders to Christian’s ‘troubled’ past and how Ana would be a very terrible person if she were to not relate that to his current behaviour. I’m glossing, but the amount of emotional abuse portrayed in this book is disgusting.
I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have never personally experienced an abusive romantic relationship, but I’ve been in abusive friendships, and the signs are there. Abuse should never be romanticised.
There is very little continual, definite consent in the relationship portrayed by 50SoG, even though the importance of consent is written in the book. The whole idea is consistently undermined: ‘screw the contract’; Ana isn’t allowed to explore the world Christian drags her into on her own, she must do so under his direction, when she’s had no prior sexual experience*; Ana is, quite frankly. forced to do a hell of a lot she knows very little about.
It makes for uncomfortable reading. When Ana isn’t sure, says no, or forgets the safe word and becomes distressed, he forces sex on her. If that isn’t the a c t u a l act of rape then I don’t know what is. I get that this book is supposed to be shocking and overtly sexual, exploring an area of kink where force, submission and pain are wanted in a relationship – but the lack of continual consent isn’t sexy. The fact that people are applauding this as a representation of BDSM relationships (where consent is key, continual, and valued) makes my stomach churn.
I keep mentioning ‘continual consent’, don’t I? Well that’s probably because I think it’s extremely important in any sort of relationship. If you don’t want to do something, no one should have the power to force you to do it, even during what you’re doing. Just because you’ve started doesn’t mean you have to finish if you’re feeling violated, hurt, or unsafe.
Something that 50SoG tosses out of the window.
The fact that so many people see this book as an ‘ideal’, or see Christian Grey as some dapper motherfucker here to sweep you off your feet, makes me worried that the steps a lot of people have taken to alert and change the consistent allowance of rape culture in society are being undone.
It’s just not cool.
*I’ll just clarify here that there is nothing wrong with being sexually inexperienced. I want to stress that it is incredibly important to be allowed to learn about your likes and dislikes regarding your own pleasure at your own pace.
There are multiple other reasons why I cannot stomach the thought of 50SoG becoming a box office smash hit, which have been outlined brilliantly by other people hereherehere and here, but these two points are things I think are probably the most damaging for society. Romanticising either of these, quite frankly disgusting, acts – pushing them as desirable qualities in a partner, is so damaging. If I were dating someone like Christian Grey, or even wanted to date someone like him, my family and my friends would be extremely worried.
I will admit that the 50 Shades franchise has brought about some incredible memes, title puns, some enlightened advertising campaigns, and a fractionally more relaxed view on womens erotica, but in my eyes, that’s about it. The parodies though, are hilarious.