Abuse Does Not Have “Fifty Shades of Grey” by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

WARNING: This article or pages it links to contain information about domestic abuse and sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.


Freyhauf, Durham, Hahn Loeser, John CarrollNo 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 deviantPicture from fanpop.com

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 happenedUniversity 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”
  • Picture from fanpop.com

    Picture from fanpop.com

    “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+.

Categories: abuse, Domestic Violence, Ethics, Feminism, Film, Gender and Power, General, power, Rape, Rape Culture, Relationships, Violence, Violence Against Women, Women and the Media

Tags: , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Thanks for writing this Michele. Like Melanie Griffith, I choose not to see the movie, and living in Greece I have never even seen a copy of the book. I knew the book was about sexual bondage, but I had no idea that it also included stalking and threats of murder. This is really sick, and you are right to name it abuse.

    I too wonder why women are attracted to the book and movie. Is it the fantasy of marrying a rich man? Or as you say a desire to escape boring sex? Or again are some women so well-schooled in domination-submission psychological and physical dynamics that they consider the scenes you quote and describe “normal”? If it is “gender-normal,” I am definitely “gender queer” to refer to a theme from last week!

    However, there probably are those who would consider bondage and domination to be bursting the bounds of “normality” without (my opinion) recognizing that domination and abuse are “normalized” under patriarchy. The debate on whether feminists like you and me and Melanie Griffith are prudes defending sexual conformity and BSM is feminist liberation has a history that goes back to the 1980s if not before.



  2. Thank you for posting this. I find it so disturbing that women cannot recognize the obvious abusive patterns in the relationship.


  3. I am as confounded by the success of this book as I was by the “Twilight” series a few years ago. Both books written by women, for women. They are tapping into something, but what a gooey tar pit it is!


  4. I’ve heard that this is called “mommy porn.” I’m not altogether sure what that means, but I guess it refers to pornography for women who want something more “stimulating” than they get from their husbands. Correct? I’ve known abused women. Fortunately, the ones I’ve known have escaped. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie and don’t intend to. But I gotta ask: is it significant that the man’s first name is Christian?


  5. I can not even fathom a movie made from these books. To me, they have put women back into the dark ages of being a man’s chattel. I will never go and see it, nor read the books, so I’m just writing by what I have heard. So far, the only thing that has made me even remotely happy, is that the male star (don’t know who he is) does not want to do the sequel. And alot of that has to do with his wife, who was very uncomfortable. And I also feel that we should all let this topic drop to the gutter, and maybe then, no one will talk about it anymore, which only promotes it further


  6. I find what I’ve read about the story here, sick, and wonder about the health of people who find it “entertaining”. What the hell are we as a society advocating? I can only hope that people who read it will question and reject abusive relationships and call them what they are. Thank you for your post, Michele.


  7. Good grief!! Make mine vanilla!


  8. Thank you for posting this. Ever since I heard about this abuse glorification disguised as a titillating BDMS fantasy, I thought, how could women possibly read this? As a survivor of both abuse and sexual assault, I am doubly confused. It is sickening and only serves to normalize sick relationship systems where men can expect women to submit to all their whims and service their needs while neglecting their own wants and desires.


    I have never read the book or seen the movie and never will. I am not one for censorship, but I think sh*t like this should be sold in adults-only sex stores. I can only imagine the emotional damage it would cause a teen girl to read BS like this and believe that that is how you do relationships and how romantic love should be.


  9. I too consider this book and movie disgusting and disrespectful and demeaning to women. I try to be “broad minded” but I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could get sexual pleasure out of abuse, and BDSM, in my opinion, is abuse… physically, mentally, and emotionally. Thank you for writing this blog!!


  10. Thank you for posting that warning at the beginning of the article! That is true consideration.


  11. Katha Pollitt may have nailed it:
    Fo me, the troubling aspect of it isn’t the porn but the romance. Like the fairy tales of Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast, to say nothing of a thousand Gothic novels, Fifty Shades romanticizes the angry, unpredictable, potentially dangerous man. It says that deep inside, he’s a victim (Christian’s birth mother was a crack-addicted prostitute), it is a woman’s job to heal him, and suffering in this cause is what love is. That’s the fantasy that keeps women with abusers, not the one about being tied to the bedpost with a fancy necktie.



  1. Fifty Shades of Interpretation: How Fanfiction Writers Critique Fifty Shades of Grey – The Fanfiction Reader

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: