12 February 2015

Why I Will Not Be Watching '50 Shades of Grey' This Valentines Day

UPDATE: In lieu of buying a ticket to see the 50 Shades of Grey movie this valentines day, I've donated the cost of a ticket to @RapeCrisisEandW. I would encourage you to do the same (or donate to your country's equivalent). 

You can donate here: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/donations1.php

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TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ABUSE, ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS

Before I begin, let’s get a couple of things straightened out.

First of all, no one is forcing you to read this. If you love 50 Shades of Grey with such passion that you cannot bear to hear a negative opinion on it, you can stop reading right now. I hope you won't. I like to think that people are capable of viewing both sides of things, and deciding for themselves. You may disagree with me, and that’s okay. I wish you didn't, but that’s not how opinions work and I get that.

Second of all, I’m not going to touch on the surface-level issues I have with this book; writing, characterisation, poorly-veiled Twilight fanfiction-ness… because those are things I can overlook. They annoy me, but I can get over them. I’m only going to talk about the things that not only make me crazy-angry, but also absolutely terrified.

So.

Let’s talk about how 50 Shades of Grey is an abuse narrative turned sexual fantasy.



When the book first came out, I was intrigued. An erotic novel for women in the mainstream was a positive thing, right? A step forward for female sexuality. Awesome! I picked it up and started to read.

Ana and Christian hadn’t even had sex (“vanilla” or otherwise) before I put the book down, feeling so uncomfortable I wanted to cry. I couldn’t understand it. Why did so many people want a Christian Grey in their lives?

Once upon a time on Facebook, someone on my feed posted about a sexual assault advertisement that was going around, highlighting that “sex with someone who doesn’t want it is rape.” They made a joke, saying something along the lines of ‘thanks for that because otherwise I wouldn’t know what rape was’.

There’s a reason they made that advert. It’s because an alarming number of people don’t know what rape is. And millions of people falling in love with Christian Grey and his actions in 50 Shades only highlights that.


Here are some things that are not okay about rape and sexual assault.

It is not okay if they love you.

It is not okay if you love them.

It is not okay if you’re in a relationship.

It’s not okay if you don’t say yes, even if you didn’t say no.

It’s not okay if you say yes because you felt pressured, or intimidated, or manipulated physically or mentally.

It’s not okay if you don’t fully understand the extent of what you are agreeing to.

It is not even okay if you’ve signed a document saying they can pretty much do what they like with you.

It is just straight up not okay, okay?


There is a scene in the book where Ana has been asked to ‘research’ the sort of S&M Christian Grey is into, and decide if she wants to partake. She spends about five minutes on Wikipedia (where you’re bound to find accurate in-depth descriptions of the physical and emotional effects S&M can have on you), then sends a joking email stating “Okay I’ve seen enough, it was nice knowing you.”

This email tells Christian, ‘no’. So naturally, he turns up at her house, ties her to the bed and has sex with her. He even says (sorry, “growls”) in exact words, “I thought you were saying no, no discussion at all.” He is angry with her. For saying no to sex. The sex he just had with her, whilst under the impression she didn’t want to.

Why does this not scare more people?!

It doesn’t matter that she didn’t really mean it, because Christian Grey did not know this. Christian Grey is not inside Ana Steele’s mind and did not know she is joking. Pro tip, do not look for hidden meanings behind the word ‘no’. Take is as a straight up negative. If the other party really meant yes, they will definitely tell you so.

After Christian has left Ana, she begins thinking things that make me want to cry and throw things. She thinks, I wanted this so I shouldn’t feel so empty and bad about it. She thinks, I’m lucky he chose me out of any other women he could have had. She thinks, I should be grateful for what just happened.  

ANA. SEEK HELP. SEEK HELP NOW.

Reading this book made me so uncomfortable, not because Ana’s thought process is textbook abuse victim, but because it’s being portrayed as the right thing to think. You are positioned as the reader to identify and agree with the protagonist, who’s experience as a victim is dressed up and made to look like that of a lucky lucky girl who captured the attention of the beautiful Christian Grey. Readers in their hoards are lusting for a Christian Grey of their own because of this portrayal. I guarantee the exact same story written by a different author would make your stomach churn with disgust. Ana is a victim. Christian Grey is an abuser and a rapist. Who loves who does not come into it.


On the subject of the ‘love’ in this narrative, actress Dakota Johnson has recently come out against the abuse claims towards the film, stating “it’s a love story.” Of course it’s a love story. Every domestic violence story is a love story. Person A loves Person B. Person B loves power and violence. Maybe they also love Person A, but not as much as power and violence or they wouldn’t be abusing Person A in the first place.

A sick 'love' story for St Valentines Day

I’m not saying people aren’t capable of change, if they fall in love with someone who makes them want to be a better person. That can happen (though entering into a relationship hoping this will happen is a dangerous path). I’m saying it’s not okay for people to rape other people, whatever the context.
Whatever you think about 50 Shades of Grey, I sincerely hope you can agree with me on that.

There are those that are indifferent to the 50 Shades phenomenon. Those who don’t understand why I hate it so deeply, why I can’t just dismiss it as something I don’t like and move on. It’s because of the messages this book is sending, the message that this kind of relationship is not only okay, but to be desired. I feel genuinely worried for the author E L James if this is the kind of thing she believes to be a stormy-but-healthy relationship, and not an abuse story. I don’t for one second thing people read books or watch films and immediately rush out to copy them. Far from it. But those thoughts of Ana’s, those positioned as correct ways of viewing an abusive relationship, those are the things that reinforce rape culture and settle in the minds of the audience. If every single person who read this book/watches this film goes on to have healthy and happy relationships with people who respect them, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And for some people, Ana’s experience is a reality (likely without the helicopter and sex dungeon). And beaten-down thoughts like Ana’s are not things that should be excusing the acts of abusers.

Some people have asked me if I’m not even just curious about seeing the film adaptation, even if I didn’t like the book. I am not. If the book made my skin crawl, the film would likely send me into a fit of hysterics.



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