Fifty Shades of Grey filled with all its ‘romance’ and ‘passion’, will undoubtedly be followed by cries of ‘Where’s my Christian Grey?” – I would like to remind everyone that should a Mr. Grey come into your life, he should be reported to police immediately before given the opportunity to coerce you into an abusive relationship and commit several counts of sexual assault.
Somehow we have been swept up in the façade of the novels ‘romance’ and ‘sexual liberation’, and in anticipation of the film are forgetting, ignoring, or failing to notice Fifty Shades’ alarming themes, and what that means for a popular film that will reach millions. In addition, I fear that those who do see the ‘romance’ for what it is – sexual abuse – will directly correlate that abuse with the practice of BDSM.
First off, Fifty Shades is such a terrible portrayal of a BDSM relationship that it’s not even remotely a BDSM relationship; and in fact crosses the border into a scary land of abuse and violence. The problem is that this abuse is not only masquerading as BDSM, but that it is so effortlessly glossed over as common practice in an exciting new relationship.
If we could all easily identify this fact, then perhaps the upcoming film could be used as an opportunity to openly discuss domestic abuse and society’s increasingly nonchalant attitude to violence against women both in the make believe world of film and in real life. But I doubt a wider discussion of this is happening anytime soon, not when there are sequels to produce and money to make.
If Fifty Shades is your introduction to the BDSM world, then you’re likely to be as uneducated by the series as Anastasia is by Christian. Here is a short introduction to BDSM (bondage discipline/dominance submission/sadism masochism): The BDSM community’s mantra is ‘safe, sane, and consensual’ – there are rules put in place to protect all participants and ensure their physical and psychological safety. While BDSM does involve exchanges of power, limits are placed by each member of the relationship and clear boundaries are set. Using a safe world means ‘stop’ – immediately, using a safe word is a withdrawal of consent.
With this in mind, read Fifty Shades. Look for the egalitarian discussion, look for the respect, look for the guaranteed physical and psychological safety. You won’t find any of it in Christian’s contract.
The reason all of this matters is that now woman and young girls are being taught by a best-selling-novel-turned-blockbuster-film that abusive behaviour goes hand in hand with affectionate, healthy relationships – when the truth is, abusive behaviour should go hand in hand with nothing but a restraining order and a jail sentence. (But Christian Grey is wealthy white male, he won’t be imprisoned anytime soon, will he?) They’re being taught that their ‘sexual liberation’ includes feeling at least a little bit uncomfortable, and that it’s totally normal to read a novel about sex which doesn’t include the world ‘vagina’ once.
The reason all of this matters is that now men and young boys are being taught by a best-selling-novel-turned-blockbuster-film that abusive behaviour is not abusive, it’s just what you do in a relationship. The way Christian Grey oversteps boundaries, is manipulative, controlling, intimidating, the way he ignores safe-words (and thereby consent), keeps Ana ignorant about their sexual practices, and generally takes complete advantage of her – it’s just what you do, it’s romantic, even.
All of this matters because now is the time for wider education, for society to have an open discussion about domestic abuse and how it’s not okay; now is the time for a discussion about sexual liberation and how it’s okay to try new things, it’s okay to say vagina, and it’s okay to stand up for yourself if you’re being made to feel uncomfortable. Most of all it’s okay to be outraged by a book series and the industry which published abuse and called it romance; it’s okay to be outraged by a film and the industry which is produced yet another movie casually condoning violence towards women and paraded it about as a passionate love affair. Above all else, this matters because things have to change – in the way we function as a society, in the way the media and various industries respond to us – and change is not achieved by sitting passively.