‘Fifty Shades’ and pornified rape victims


I have no personal vendetta against E.L. James. Really, all I think she set out to do was capitalize on a taboo – BDSM – that even the most sexually positive people are reluctant to talk about in public. It’s a money-maker, plain and simple. As a woman with a family herself, I’m sure the last thing she intended to do was cause further stress to abused women struggling to have their stories taken seriously.

But that’s pretty much what’s happening. And it kills me a little inside to read the excited Facebook posts of friends who went to high school with my rapist, who probably still keep in touch with him, who are dying to see this movie. It kills me for a number of reasons:

Christian uses alcohol to numb Ana’s senses enough so she is easily manipulated into rough sex. By law, this is rape.

While I’m not interested in BDSM myself, my research and discussions with a few friends willing to share their experiences explained that there is heavy emphasis on “safe words.” If the experience gets too intense, you say whatever word you and your partner choose, and the activity stops.

Ana uses the safe word; Christian ignores it. This is rape.

Ana hides from Christian and occasionally fears him. This is a classic hallmark of abuse.

This is so eerily similar to what my ex-boyfriend did to me from age seventeen to twenty-two. I assure you, there is nothing sexy about it.

I have to believe that the reason for this story’s popularity is not so much because people find this sexy – although plenty of people might – but because it’s different. It’s not the ‘normal’ love story, where the male protagonist says all the right swoony things to invoke the usual unrealistic expectations of romance in real life. Authors have been there, done that. What’s happening here is a desire to break out of the mold that people expect by capitalizing on a darker side of relationships that is often overlooked.

But abuse is overlooked for a reason: abuse is, by definition, uncomfortable. Talking about it means acknowledging it, and acknowledging it means having to deal with it. The first hurdle for domestic violence victims is finding the courage to share their experiences with the right people. Now, it’s having to explain why the things that happen to a pretty girl onscreen are downright dangerous when the man doing them isn’t as rich, sexy, and mysterious as Christian Grey. Fans of this book attempt to redeem the story by explaining “it’s all okay” because he changes in the end.

Right. Tell that to the 4,000 women who are murdered by their partners every year. Their partners didn’t “change” despite every effort to make that happen, I’m sure. “I can change him” is the biggest lie ever told in the history of human relationships, and statistics continue to prove this with body counts. “I can change him” is one of the biggest reasons (not THE biggest, but one of them) that women stay.

Which brings me to my own 55-thousand-word response to Fifty Shades of Grey, its fans, and its producers: Shades of Doubt’s title refers to the varying degrees of disbelief that rape victims face when they share a story that defies the atypical media portrayal of a one-dimensional rapist hiding in the bushes, waiting for the chance to grab a Spandex-clad jogger. Shades of Doubt exposes the degrees of damage that “nice guys” like Christian Grey (though not nearly as rich and not always as good-looking) can inflict on their partners when consent is ignored. When the “nice guys” refuse to consider that there is anything wrong with their behavior.

How would readers feel about Fifty Shades if Christian didn’t “change” at the end? If the broken girl stayed broken?

Tell me when two enthusiastic, consenting adults engaging in sex started to lose its appeal.

See also: This is not a ‘love’ scene

Add Shades of Doubt on Goodreads.


32 thoughts on “‘Fifty Shades’ and pornified rape victims

  1. Pingback: Top ten most popular posts in 2015 | Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. Pingback: ‘Fifty Shades’ and pornified rape victims | Michaelphelps1's Blog

  3. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS. I’m a highschool girl who is a childhood rape victim and a few select friends know this but they are also those friends who ask me if I’d like to see the movie with them. When I explain why Im absolutely never going to be seeing this movie (nor do I ever want to hear about it again) they don’t get it. They understand the whole I’m extremely Christian bit, but when I try to explain “it’s glorifying rape and abuse” they say “no, she agrees to it all.” Next time they ask me, I totally plan on showing them this to the point article you’ve written. It really helps. And the word about this movie and what it’s really doing should be a bigger topic. More people need to know. People are so blind to the world without directors and cameras.


  4. Awesome piece. I so totally agree with you. I read the sample of 50 Shades and wasn’t hooked by the writing. After careful thought I decided against purchasing or loaning any copies. In South Africa we are experiencing almost an epidemic of rape and domestic abuse. So many women in South Africa lose their lives at the hands of their lovers – we’ve just had two high profile court cases highlighting it. I felt I couldn’t read a book that almost glorifies rough sex; aggression and domination. How can I? How can I condemn the rapist who tied my friend up before raping her and condone what Christian does just because he “changes” in the end? Its the same thing! Feeling unsafe in a relationship is abuse no matter what anyone says – just ask Reeva Steenkamp or Anni Dewani…………………………


  5. What an interesting piece. I read a sample of 50 Shades and it didn’t grab me, but listening to friends who did read it I realised I missed nothing. In South Africa where rape and domestic abuse is rife I just didn’t see the need to read a book that “glorifies” rough sex; danger and abuse. You can’t enjoy a book like that and then condem someone who abuses their partner and then says “Oh I’m so sorry it’ll never happen again.” Living in a country where violence is so predominant, I prefer to read feel-good literature. So pleased I have discovered your blog. Blessings from South Africa.


  6. Hi, could you tell me where he ignores her safe word? Maybe on what page or in what chapter it happens?
    I really don’t want to read the whole book because it upsets me. But that scene I’d like to be able to point out.

    And thank you very much for the links to shelters and such.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great piece. There is this idea that the only real rapists are waiting for women in dark alleyways or stalking them in the park. But the issue is complex, and easily entangled in relationships, domestic abuse, and trauma. Perhaps if the Fifty Shades novel seemed aware of the way the narrative dealt with rape and abuse it would be more acceptable? However, if the novel were self-aware in that way I doubt readers would think it “sexy” enough to garner as much attention.

    I also recently wrote a piece dealing with some of the issues you’ve highlighted here, just in a different context. Please take a look if you’d like! And thanks again for this, I hope to read Shades of Doubt when it comes out.



  8. I tried to read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and, for the first time I left a book unfinished. That ‘he changes in the end’ has glorified the whole thing to many readers. After all, it’s glorifying the myth that ‘love’ and ‘endurance’ (especially on part of women) can do wonders. Kudos to you for raising your voice and coming up with “Shades of Doubt”. Would love to read your book once it is published. Wish you all success. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great read, as always. You know I cannot stand this book. And it makes me so uncomfortable that so many girls and women are going to read this and think it’s the norm. They’ll meet a guy just like Christian and think “he’s only acting like this cause he loves me. He’d never actually hurt me.” Like you mentioned, most women who find their own Christian Grey wind up murdered not living happily ever after with their husband and two kids.

    Unlike you, I do hold E.L. James and her publishers partially responsible for all this. (I’m going to ignore the fact that this was Twilight fanfiction so it never should have been published in the first place.) She wrote a novel about BDSM without doing any research at all. I personally am not familiar with the protocols of a BDSM relationship but just by doing a little bit of reading on the topic and this book, she does not show what accurate BDSM relationship is like. That seems completely irresponsible. And it’s just poor writing.


  10. I do agree. I don’t know what it is but every thing that is out of the ordinary, good or bad, seems to hit it with people. As if it’s the cool new thing.

    I am not a rape victim but I can understand a bit about how a rape victim would feel when reading or watching people’s reaction, a good one to novels like Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s bizzare really.

    Good luck with the new book!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for this great post. It IS brave to be so honest and open. I’m sorry you had to experience such trauma, but I’m sure your words will help other women going through something similar. I just hope your book finds its way into their hands! All the best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t understand one thing. Dark fantasy authors constantly get attacked by feminazis for writing rape scenes (not condoning or glorifying rape, but showing the brutality of life in the story context) yet 50 shades is the epitomy of glorifying abusive relationships and rape (the situations you described on your blog post are rape by all definitions and legal code) and no one is making as much noise about it. I think it’s very disturbing. I think the whole ‘but he changes in the end so it’s ok’ mentality is wrong. It doesn’t take away the abuse.


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