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
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