“I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy. Because I can’t touch you, because I’m too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse – beat me.”
This is a direct quote from the incredibly famous yet horrifyingly dangerous book Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. This erotic literary artwork was published and since then led to a trilogy series, a multi-million dollar movie franchise, and a large fanbase of women searching for their very own Christian Grey. There is nothing wrong about having a book turned into a movie and become talked about all around the world but when this book promotes sexual violence and the readers–including my own mother–begin to normalize this behavior is when I begin having problems. Despite this, Fifty Shades has become a global phenomenon, inspiring a range of merchandise including lingerie, wine, sex toys, hotel packages, hardware stores selling packs including rope and duct tape, and even baby onesies with the slogan “I pretend Christian Grey is my daddy.”
I started reading Fifty Shades of Grey and ended up having to put the book down not even a quarter of the way finished because I was utterly disgusted why it has become so popular. The overall plot of the series follows college senior Anastasia Steele who steps in for her sick roommate to interview prominent businessman Christian Grey for their campus paper. Christian, as enigmatic as he is rich and powerful, finds himself strangely drawn to Ana, and she to him. Though sexually inexperienced, Ana plunges headlong into an affair and learns that Christian’s true sexual proclivities push the boundaries of pain and pleasure in an incredibly unhealthy way.
There are countless acts of sexual violence and rape that happen in society every day and the problem is quite overlooked and subconsciously deemed as ‘okay’ and normalized because of things like Fifty Shades that toy with readers natural hormones and sex drives to correlate abuse with pleasure. Sure there is a love story within this work of literature, otherwise it would not be as popular. People love a classic love story and this one mimics the ways of Beauty and the Beast, Twilight, and any basic girl falls for a mysterious and cunning boy. However, Fifty Shades is a sexual fantasy, plays on readers’ natural hormones and instincts to elicit pleasure and condition/correlate pleasure with abuse which is why it has sold so many copies.
They say the best way to make sure a book is a success is to get it banned and the way the Christian treats Ana (and gets praised and rewarded for doing so) certainly should be. While millions of women are fantasizing about the controlling and abusive Christian Grey of fiction, there are many other women dealing with the horrors of actually living with men like him. Some readers argue that there is no evidence of sexual abuse between the couple and that Ana is truly just nervous and unsure about sex because she is so new to it and she ultimately calls the shots and can leave the relationship at anytime. The stalking nature of Christian that is prevalent through the whole series is only to look out for Ana’s own safety and all the sexual encounters are consensual. I have even had a discussion with someone that believes “everyone has an angry side so it is okay for Christian to not be respectful towards Ana 100% of the time.” Sure there are moments where Anastasia is nervous and unsure, but she’s not terrified. And when she is, she removes herself from the situation and she has no problem standing up to her lover.
I am not discounting that at all or the boundaries she sets for the relationship. However, we have to remember that these people are figments of E.L. James’ imagination. She’s no expert on the BDSM lifestyle and her scenes lack a certain accuracy which conveys the glorification of sexual abuse. There are plenty of examples of un-consensual sex and situations within Fifty Shades that, by definition, fall under the category of abuse:
“So you felt demeaned, debased, abused & assaulted…That’s what a submissive would do.”
“You have one thing, one thing to remember. Shit! I don’t fucking believe it. How could you be so stupid?”
“Please don’t hit me,” I whisper, pleading.
I don’t want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable?
He’d probably like to beat seven shades of shit out of me. The thought is depressing.
“You wanted to know why I felt confused after you – which euphemism should we apply – spanked, punished, beat, assaulted me. Well, during the whole alarming process I felt demeaned, debased and abused.”
At one point, Ana becomes so intoxicated she becomes worried he will take advantage of the fact that she is no longer able to consent to sex and even has to ask Christian the next day if they had violent intercourse.
So now I wonder, what role does this play in our society, the fact that this type of behavior to woman is glorified and made into movies that women are hot and heavy over? What happens when a film series of this magnitude frames domestic abuse and male violence against women as sexy and desirable? What message does it send to women and girls, and also to men and boys? There are 1500 women killed every year by their husband or boyfriend and 22-44% of women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual violence. There have even been cases directly inspired by Fifty Shades. Why is something that says it is okay and sexy to beat and treat women with disrespect so incredibly popular in this day and age? Normalizing abuse should not be the normal.