Once your eyes are opened to the patriarchy – the idea that much of society is about men controlling women’s lives, their sexuality and their fertility for their own ends – then you begin to see it everywhere. If a woman’s role is to bear a mans children for him and bring them up and keep his house then it makes sense to bring women up to see their future role as being to look for a good provider. For some women helping to ‘heal’ a damaged man to make him whole so that they can function as a partnership may seem like a good option – the issue is that it is an unequal relationship which often ends in abuse.
S&M is a private thing in which individuals ‘play’ or experiment with the proprieties and power balances of their relationship – it doesn’t seem to me that this is what Fifty Shades is about. I worry that it is telling women that having a romantic relationship with a damaged, controlling man is a good thing when in fact it is often a gateway to an unequal relationship which has a high probability of ending in abuse…
Why You Should Talk To Your Kids About ’50 Shades Of Grey’ – The book and movie perpetuate the idea that the abuse and sexual control of women is sexy By Soraya Chemaly February 11, 2015
One of the great virtues of insomnia, otherwise a deplorable problem, is the found time to do silly things for no good reason. During two sleepless weeks in 2013, I stayed up every night and read the Twilight books and then, for good measure, their fan fiction follow up, the Fifty Shades trilogy. As I read, I vacillated between giggling at some execrable, entertaining writing and amazement that anyone could think these books were transgressive.
It was like eating too much sweet, pink, and airy cotton candy. Then eating some more. Then feeling kind of sick and wishing you hadn’t because of the empty calories. Then being glad you did, because you probably wouldn’t touch the stuff again.
The disturbing thing about these stories, however, was that young teenagers voraciously consumed Twilight and many of them will see Fifty Shades of Grey. A few years ago, many people thought the Twilight books and movies were just fine for early teens because Twilight had “no sex.” Those children, only a few years older, are a prime target market for the film Fifty Shades of Grey and millions have, no doubt, also read the books. Both franchises normalize coercive sexuality and abuse.
If you put them on a spectrum, however, you’d have to start with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Consider the immediate narrative similarities:
Innocent, younger, virginal girl/woman
Damaged, older, more experienced boy/man
Female characters are relatively poor
Male characters are relatively wealthy and their lives filled with luxury
Male characters engage in controlling access to food, clothes
Male characters practice controlling/stalking behaviors such as following, eavesdropping, spying and this is considered a sign of love
Female characters are systematically isolated from their friends and family
Male characters are violent and physically overwhelming
Female character’s love, or the quest for that love, “change” the male character and make him less “monstrous”
Female characters learn to anticipate and “manage” male anger to reduce stress, risk.
There are many ways to interpret all three as portraying strong women, in control of their destinies. Regardless, however, these similarities remain valid, and both subtle and not-so-subtle abuse fills these stories. (Practitioners of BDSM disavow the books’ portrayals, arguing that the depictions do not reflect safe/consensual practices, but are about indefensible sexual and emotional violence.)
In the case of Fifty Shades, a recent analysis of the books revealed that “Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction.” Researchers make a compelling case, and provide backup for it, that stalking, intimidation, and sexual violence (including using alcohol to compromise consent) are pervasive. Anastasia, the protagonist, is described many times as feeling constant threat and described experiencing physical symptoms associated with it (“my stomach churns from his threats”); her identity changes and she becomes quick to “manage” Christian’s anger so that there is no violence.