WARNING: This article or pages it links to contain information about domestic abuse and sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.
No matter what you call it abuse is abuse. This is highlighted in the popular book and now movie Fifty Shades of Grey. Because of the stir this book caused, I delved into the first book and my initial reaction was that of repulsion and wonderment. How could a woman let a man control her like that? Why would she let him do things like that to her and continue to come back to him? Why is this book so popular?
Are women sexually repressed in a way that their own sexual experiences are routine and boring (the book is full of BDSM) or they have never orgasmed (every time they have intercourse, Anastasia is guaranteed to orgasm)? Why do we find it okay to label body parts as “love boxes” or “considerable length” or the multitude of references to a man’s penis or woman’s vagina that is meant to sound sexy or romantic? Why does he announce “I am going to f*** you now” every single time they have intercourse? Can’t the reader figure out what is going on without making this announcement?
However, after I got beyond my initial reaction (or shock), I took a step back and became upset and outraged. In essence, the overall issue with the book can be summed up in one word: control. Some women argue that the awkward doe-eyed virgin journalist exercises control over the sexually deviant
Picture from fanpop.com
billionaire that keeps him coming back to her – I disagree. I see control exercised by the sexually deviant man over a woman enamored by him in such a way that is sexually, physically, and psychologically exploitative and abusive. Yes – I understand this is fiction, but this type of writing causes immense problems.
In a culture that embraces “Blurred Lines,” money and power, and “the bad boy persona,” this storyline fuels the fodders of the fire with a sensationalism that plays on sexual fantasies and/or those wishing prince charming will sweep them away. One needs to look no further than “The Bachelor” or Bret Michaels’ “Rock of Love” television shows that promote the exploitation of women’s desires to be with the rich handsome man at any cost to self and dignity. In fact, an article posted about the movie stated that if Christian Grey was not a billionaire and behaved in the same way, he would be arrested and labeled a sex offender. So again, is the message we want to send to our daughters, nieces, and friends is that the rich can do whatever they want and you should let him? I think not.
Looking at it from the other side of the coin, with the release of the film on Valentine’s Days and many couples attend the movie together, does the perception that women want this kind of partner and give a green light to this controlling abusive behavior? This already happened – University of Illinois Chicago student raped a classmate by attempting to recreate a scene from the movie by tying up, whipping, and raping a girl in his dorm room. What allegedly started off as consensual turned into a nightmare for this young co-ed.
Moreover, this book/movie glamourizes stalking, sending a message that stalking is acceptable behavior for a potential love interest. The Academy of Women’s Heath points out that Fifty Shades displays emotional abuse through isolation, stalking, intimidation. They also point out that alcohol is used to impair the woman’s consent and that because of the interpersonal violence and abuse, the young woman suffers stress, altered identity, disempowerment and even entrapment. In the end this is another movie that sensationalizes controlling relationships where domination occurs by one party over another but emphasizing or rather distorting BDSM.
If you do not believe me, here are some quotes from the book (WARNING: these quotes parallel the real situation of abuse many have suffered and may be difficult to read):
- “No” – I protested, trying to kick him off. He stops. “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet together too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening, right now”
“Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone – remember?”
- He narrows his eyes, and then seems to remember himself. Releasing my hand, he takes my elbow and leads me out of the room. “This conversation is not over,” he whispers threateningly.
- “You need to learn to manage my expectations. I am not a patient man.” “He’d probably like to beat seven shades of shit out me. The thought is depressing.”
- “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday.”
- “I belatedly realize he’s not asked me where I live – yet he knows. But then, he sent the books, of course he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone tracking helicopter-owning stalker wouldn’t?”
- “I can see your house from where I am now. Your bedroom light is on.”
- “Yes, but it won’t be to hurt you. I don’t want to punish you right now. If you’d caught me yesterday evening, well that would have been a different story…”
- “It’s for me, not you, do you understand? Don’t come or I’ll spank you… Don’t touch yourself. I want you frustrated. That’s what you do to me by not talking to me; by denying me what’s mine.”
- “I know what you’re trying to do – and trust me – you’ve succeeded. Next time you’ll be in the cargo hold, bound and gagged in a crate. Believe me when I say that attending to you in that state will give me so much more pleasure than merely upgrading your ticket.”
- “So help me God, Anastasia, if you don’t eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant and it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification.”
- “You are coming back to my apartment even if I have to drag you there by your hair.”
There are many more. Dr. Miriam Grossman, M.D. essentially states that there is no grey here; abuse is abuse. This movie glamorizes a sick, dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional abuse because of gorgeous actors, expensive cars, private planes, etc. – – Abuse is never glamorous or cool, under any circumstances. In the real world, 1) Christian Grey would be in Jail and Anastasia would be in a shelter or a morgue, or 2) Christian would continue his abuse and Anastasia would stay and suffer.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013 and 2014). She also wrote “The Catholic Church and Social Media: Embracing [Fighting] a Feminist Ideological Theo-Ethical Discourse and Discursive Activism” that appears in the recently released book, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century: Technology, Dialogue, and Expanding Borders, edited by Gina Messina-Dysert and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+.