I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks ranting about the massive success and cult like following that the 50 Shades of Grey franchise has enjoyed (and yes I realize I may be a little late in the game here but shhh). The movie, which opened in theatres on Valentine’s Day, grossed over $500 million and still holds the title of the highest grossing movie of 2015. That’s a lot of horny housewives squirming in their seats and rushing home to their eager and previously under loved husbands. The movie, and the book that preceded it, have put a lot of ideas about BDSM, sex and “romance” in the heads of the masses out there, and that has me worried for a lot of reasons.
The 50 shades story is one of seduction, sexual experimentation and, ostensibly, of finding love. Heathen with a heart of gold Christian Grey meets virginal wallflower Anastasia Steele and draws her into his world of whips, chains and orgasms. He reminds her constantly that he “doesn’t do romance.” while waving NDAs in her face over romantic dinners, helicopter rides, and even her de-virginizing. As he starts to let down his own guard Grey also begins to isolate Steele from her work, her friends, her entire world, forbidding her from revealing the nature of their relationship to those around her, for fear (and desire?) of punishment.
Are you scared yet? Because I am.
Ask any 50 shades fan out there; it’s a love story, and a sexy one and romantic one at that. Grey is handsome, dashing, a little intense sure, but any woman would be happy to fall into bed with him, after he’s raided his goody closet of BDSM gear of course. But dig a little deeper, if you can stomach the repetitive and horribly executed prose. Our heroine seems scared, a lot. And not that kind of kinky, curious, only kind of scared scared; actually scared. Our hero seems a little forceful, a little unhinged, and definitely violent, but not in the sexy way they’re trying to sell us. As this Vice Magazine article states (as well as multiple psychological studies on the books and film), look even a little critically at Grey’s behavior and you’ll find a textbook definition for abusive behavior.
So why, if it’s so textbook abusive, are women still touting this character as a romantic hero, and pining away to be treated like that by a man as handsome and passionate as him? Therein lies my fear: women are not only accepting this abusive behavior, but are defining it as loving and passionate.
A few years ago, I got into an argument with a guy I’d been seeing casually. The argument quickly escalated into a one-sided screaming match that led to my decision to end things. Upon sharing the story with a few of my girlfriends over the subsequent weeks, I was shocked at how many times I was told that my decision was hasty, and this display of anger was actually an indication of this guy’s affection for me. It was his strong and passionate nature, I was told by multiple female acquaintances, that led to him losing his temper, and I really should give him another chance. My gut, however, told me otherwise, and the warning bells of potential future issues couldn’t be ignored, so I stuck to my guns despite all that “advice.” I’ve long since forgotten that fleeting attempt at a relationship, but the reaction of the women around me has always stuck with me. Why is it that so many educated, intelligent women felt compelled to normalize a man belittling and verbally abusing (however minor) a friend of theirs, all in the hopes that I would finally be cured of my singledom? Why was it perceived that tolerating such a man, rage issues an all, was an improvement over no man at all? And, worst of all in my opinion, why was anger and ill temper romanticized into passion and affection? It’s that kind of attitude that make 50 Shades of Grey not only so very acceptable, but such a successful phenomenon.
And the worst part of it all? For all of its inherently dangerous messaging, these books (and I’m betting the films) aren’t even GOOD. To quote editor Emy Stantcheva, “the written word is taking as much of a beating in this situation as the book’s heroine.” And While we at Addicted are definitely not making light of abuse or non-consensual BDSM acts, you’ve got to admit, she has a point.
Jealousy isn’t romantic. Being stalked isn’t romantic. Becoming isolated from your friends, family and the outside world as a whole isn’t romantic. Not being allowed to talk about your relationship isn’t romantic. All of those things together are most definitely not romantic.
So save yourself the time, money, and mental anguish. Watch some non-exploitative porn (it’s out there!) with your significant other, search the internet for some well written erotica (it’s out there!), engage in some light but FULLY CONSENSUAL BDSM, but don’t, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS ACTUALLY SEXY, go watch or read 50 Shades of Grey.