50 Shades of Domestic Violence?
This past weekend, women came out in droves to see Fifty Shades of Grey, a hasty movie adaptation to accompany the three-part book series of the same name. Loosely based off of the Twilight saga, this series revolves around Christian Grey, a mysterious and handsome CEO, and Anastasia Steele, a young and dewy-eyed college student. Most everybody can fill in the rest of the plot blank, but let me set the scene for you. One of these two people has the power, and the other is powerless. Can you guess which one?
Christian Grey is definitely Marx’s bourgeoisie in this situation, if this situation was a class struggle. Anastasia, or Ana for short, is the proletariat up until a point — she has no power but she also doesn't seem to mind. In fact, the main ploy of the series, which I hope I never to have to read, is that this is an empowering experience for Ana. To be so free and to take such charge of her urges, that’s powerful stuff, right?
Wrong. Fifty Shades of Grey is nothing more than a tool to help perpetuate the status quo bias regarding abusive relationships. My mother grew up with several Christian Greys, one of them being my father. At one point, we all ended up living in a women’s shelter for a month or two. Trust me, nothing about abuse is empowering or glamorous. Just like the Twilight series is really a story about a passive girl and her overprotective, jealous, and controlling boyfriend, this book series and its film adaptation is clearly a story about a controlling man and a naive young woman who falls prey to his spell.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. But she liked it! It’s her body and it’s her decision to get involved in some freaky-deaky Rihanna-style S&M stuff if she wants to. I don’t argue with you there. Hey, I live in America too! I enjoy its freedoms. I would simply like to point out that there are women out there trapped in relationships with manipulative, threatening men who don’t have the advantage of a safe word to fall back on. They don’t have the glamour of a movie either. I’ll give you a quote, and you tell me who said it: “You need to learn to manage my expectations. I am not a patient man.” If you guessed an abusive husband or boyfriend, you’d be wrong. It was actually Christian Grey in Fifty Shades. He also says things like “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too,” “If you make a noise…I will gag you,” and enjoys long walks on the beach.
Violence is not sexy. It is violent. Just one weekend before the theater release of Fifty Shades, a young woman named Karlie Hall lost her life to domestic violence. She was only 18 and had her whole life ahead of her. The Millersville University freshmen was slain at the hands of her boyfriend during an altercation after the two returned from a party that night. It was the first ever death at the university where I spent my first two years as an undergraduate. According to police and other authorities, the primary cause of death was strangulation. Sexy, right?
My main qualm with Fifty Shades of Grey, aside from its lackluster writing, is that it sends a message, one I believe to be the wrong message. It tells men that women want to be controlled, slapped, spanked, whipped, and silenced, and that they actually enjoy it. It tells women that if their boyfriends or husbands are doing this to them, then they should be thrilled and enjoy it. After all, it’s done in the name of empowerment.
I don’t care what the context for the book is or why Christian Grey does what he does. I don’t need to know the context, because I lived it. Having to cry myself to sleep at night in my bedroom as a child while my mother’s boyfriend of the week slapped and strangled her in the living room down the hallway is enough context if I do say so myself. Having to hear stories from friends who have been abused but weren't sure if it was really abuse or not is enough context. I don’t find anything sexy about putting a woman down, about ‘dominants’ or ‘submissives.’ I don’t think society should, either. But the book has already been translated to over 50 languages and sold to over 100 million women. The message that BDSM is the new black is spreading fast, and my worry is that it will spread to a country where women are far more oppressed than in America. Those men might take the message seriously and reverse any progress made in the name of women’s rights.
I think that everybody who endorses the Fifty Shades franchise should take a second look at the books and the movie through the lens of feminism. This book series is being eaten up by the mothers of daughters who will grow up thinking they shouldn't bring their boyfriend home until he knows his way around a pair of fuzzy handcuffs, because that’s what women want.