I’ve been trying to hold off on this for so long. I suspect I’m going to get seriously shot down in flames for it. But hey, it makes life exciting, right? 50 Shades of Grey, the film, is out soon. Guarenteed to make you swoon. At the very least. I’ve got to be honest though. I’m not sure I see Christian Grey’s charms. Actually, I think the whole xseries is pretty bloody dangerous.
First, some disclaimers. I make no secret of the fact I’m a Christian, and I fear some people may read that as po faced and repressed. So here’s what I’m not concerned by. I’m not concerned by BDSM. Not my bag, but having researched into it, I know it works for a lot of people. Neither am I judging the books without having read them. In a grand moment I call “researching the book” and others would call “frank curiosity”, I’ve read the first one and a fair bit of two and three. Yes, I realise that’s not all, no, frankly, after the drivel that was book one, I don’t want to read the others properly. Sadly, I have a rule about leaving books midway – it’s Bad and Wrong – but the temptation was pretty damned close on this one. Actually, to add for the Christians that might read this in horror I’ve read the book – nope. God and I have sorted that one out. No need to comment. Moving right along now…
So, you can read what Refuge class as an abusive relationship here.
It’s a pretty comprehensive guide. I would argue that several of these signs are present in the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy, and in particular in Book 1. I’ll touch on book 2 and 3 later.
1. Are you afraid of your partner?
Ana is afraid of Christian on multiple levels. From the first meeting, when she describes him as “scary and intimidating”, to the first sex scenes when we hear “this is not a man to cross”, to an appalling scene in a boathouse where she is pleading with him not to hit her, this is a scared woman. Ana does also exhibit arousal. Bodies are made to do that. It’s important though to realise that arousal never equals consent, and not only does Ana never consent to many of the practices in this book (she never signs the contract!) , she’s scared of them, and scared of Christian Grey.
2. Do you feel isolated? Does he cut you off from family and friends?
Yes, he does. He limits what she can speak to her best friend about, and isolates her from other loved ones. Her contact with them is under his control, and God Forbid she make any male friends. This has the effect of making Ana emotionally dependent on Christian – making it harder for her to leave.
3.Is he jealous and possessive?
Only all the time. Ana only has to exchange common courtesies with a man to make Christian angry. He also continually refers to Ana as his property – something which Ana, for all her dopiness, even notices. Bear in mind Ana has never agreed to this, and continually shows fear or disgust over certain BDSM practices, including being ordered around by Christian.
4. Does he humiliate or insult you?
Ana finds spanking humiliating. He does it anyway, despite her telling him she doesn’t like it. That’s not BDSM (again, people, consensual!), that’s abuse. He steals her underwear before a meeting with his parents, threatens to have sex with her in a lift knowing that Ana would find that humiliating, and rides rough-shod over her needs and desires. Again, the fact that she later finds part of this arousing does not make a difference – he is still humiliating her without her consent.
5. Does he physically hurt you? Does he shove, slap, punch or kick you?
Ana tells Christian repeatedly that she doesn’t like spanking or being hit. In a discussion of their limits in the relationship, he pays no attention to what she does or doesn’t want – he simply tells her she’ll get used to it. Later he will beat her – without her consent. He even forbids her using her safewords at one point. Consensual this is not.
6. Is he charming one minute and abusive the next? Like Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde?
Hell yes – this guy can’t keep in one mood for about three seconds. And it’s classic abusive behaviour – switching from charm to get what he wants, to anger when his wishes are denied. Thos behaviour keeps Ana off-kilter rhroughout the book – exactly where Christian wants her.
7. Do you change your behaviour to avoid triggering an attack?
Ana does this quite a lot. She uses sex as a bargaining chip for more information, or even just to make him nicer. She also learns to fear what makes Christian angry, and to change her behaviour accordingly.
8. Does he tell you what to wear or how to do your hair?
Yes. All the time.
There are other aspects too – Christian’s obsessive need to know where Ana is at any given moment, his bestowing of expensive and innappropriate gifts,the continual excusal of his tragic childhood to excuse his abuse, his railroading an immature woman into things she doesn’t want to do, his constant making her feel “special” – and Ana gets sucked into it. She fears being away from him, and wants to hang around to change him. Tragically, it’s a classic abusive relationship.
I’ve heard the argument that it’s ok, because books 2 and 3 get better. Well, yes and no. They get marginally less abusive, but that sets up its own problem. The inference given is that it’s Ana who has changed him, Ana who has “brought him into the light”. Which would be great in a fairy tale, but it’s crap. It doesn’t happen, and it sets up a painfully false expectation.
Why does this matter? Have you read the sales figures for 50 Shades? And with the film coming out soon, even more people will be exposed to this damaging message. 50 shades is not a bit of fun. It’s certainly not an accurate portrayal of BDSM (consent consent consent!). What it does do is to glorify abusive relationships and make them glamourous. And with one in three women worldwide being a victim of gender based violence, the last thing it needs is being made glamouous. Instead of reading 50 Shades, maybe we need books and films about the darker side of abuse.
WOnder why that’s not going to sell though? And yet, when we give into this glamorisation, I can’t help but think of the untold legion of abuse survivors watching us. We send the message that their abuse doesn’t matter, that it’s not serious, that it’s just a bit of fun. This is the time to bear witness to the fact it isn’t. And when we stand up to this crap, when we refuse to give in, we add our drops. And if we all add enough drops, maybe, one day, it’ll turn into an ocean.
Bring on the waves!