Last summer, Mara Wilson started talking on twitter about being called a.. not so nice name.. by Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James on twitter, after speaking out about the book glorifying abuse. The book, which I had so wonderfully avoided due to it sounding like complete and utter trash, suddenly became a research topic for me. I scoured the internet, and started following a campaign called 50 Shades is Abuse on twitter.
I decided to pick up the book to see whether this was just an anti-fan group, or if it was legit. I’m an OCD reader. Once I pick up a book, regardless of how crappy, I have to finish it (such as Twilight… ugh). I’d never not finished a book, until I started reading 50 Shades of Grey. As I turned, page to page, I highlighted every time I encountered abuse, manipulation, sexual manipulation, and all together psychotic, obsessive, stalkerish behaviour. And then, I did something I’ve never done. I gave up on the book.
I’ve wanted to do a post for a while, but I really don’t feel I’ve put in the level of research qualified. So instead, I reached out to the team at 50 Shades is Abuse, and asked them to put together a guest post for me. They obliged. So, without any further adieu, and with no more babbling on my part, here is the wonderful post written by one half of the 50 Shades of Abuse team, Emma Tofi.
The weather in London on Thursday 12th February is set to be cold, with a chance of rain. But that won’t deter the hundreds of fans expected to gather outside Leicester Square’s famous Odeon Cinema, for the Fifty Shades of Grey UK film premiere.
The Fifty Shades trilogy, written by EL James, has become a cultural phenomenon, selling over 100million copies. The impact on readers is emphasized by a huge range of merchandise, from “Property of Christian Grey” t-shirts, to wine with “YOU.ARE.MINE” emblazoned on the cork. EL James has even personally endorsed a range of Fifty Shades sex toys, helping readers to re-enact their favourite scenes.
But whilst fans count down the days until Christian Grey is brought to life on the big screen, many others have had a very different reaction to the trilogy. Far from being a love story, a growing number of people are suggesting that the relationship depicted is in fact, abusive.
Why? Well, the evidence is in the text:
- Christian stalks Ana, tracking her phone and turning up uninvited throughout the trilogy. He knows her address without Ana giving it to him and accesses her bank account without permission.
- Christian controls what Ana wears, what/when she eats, who she sees and where she goes. This is despite her insistence that she doesn’t want to be a 24/7 submissive and doesn’t wish to be controlled.
- Christian coerces Ana with alcohol in order to gain consent for sexual practises that she doesn’t fully understand. He manipulates her by using his troubled past and encourages her to excuse his worrying behaviour, suggesting that he doesn’t know any better.
- Even after Ana tells Christian that she’s not sure she enjoys the punishment aspect of their fledgling BDSM relationship, he continues to use it as a threat to force her to behave the way he wants her to, even going so far as to admit to wanting to hit her out of anger rather than arousal on several occasions.
- More than once, when Ana says no to or during sex, Christian ignores her wishes and continues. In book 1, when Ana says “no” and kicks him away during foreplay, rather than stopping and asking whether she’s alright, Christian threatens to tie her up and gag her. In book 2, when she’s feeling emotional and confused and tells him she “can’t do this now,” he responds by saying “don’t over-think this” and makes no attempt to stop.
- Christian treats Ana as a possession, rather than a person. He even tells her that he owns her orgasms and that her body is his.
It would be easy to sell Fifty Shades as a thriller about a naive young virgin who falls under the spell of a controlling, abusive man. However, Fifty Shades is not marketed that way.
Instead, we’re told it’s “romance.” A tale of redemption; the love of a good woman curing a damaged man. And that man is being sold to readers as an ideal.
Two dangerous and offensive abuse myths are perpetuated by Fifty Shades:
1) That if a person was abused themselves, then their own abusive behaviour should be excused,
2) That if you love an abusive person the right way, they’ll change and you’ll live happily ever after.
Both myths have appeared elsewhere, but the enormous popularity of Fifty Shades has seen them become commonly accepted by fans of the trilogy. In reality, neither statement is true and to paint them as such is highly irresponsible.
After all, abuse is a choice. Christian was adopted at a young age by loving parents. He singularly manages a global business. He has employees and relatives in healthy relationships. He knows how to behave. He chooses to abuse.
Secondly, the responsibility to change an abusive person’s behaviour belongs to the abusive person and never their partner. Every year, millions of people stay in relationships with abusers, believing that they can “fix” them, or that if they modify their own behaviour, they’ll find a way to bring back the charming person the abuser was at the start of the relationship. In reality, the only way an abuser will change is by acknowledging their own behaviour and taking steps to change it through perpetrator programmes and extensive therapy. Since Christian Grey sees nothing wrong in the way he treats Ana (and as his therapy sessions with Doctor Flynn appear to be nothing more than an excuse to continue blaming anyone but himself for his behaviour), there is little chance that he would be miraculously “cured” by the end of the story. Indeed, when fans rush to highlight how much he changes throughout the course of the trilogy, they seem to be forgetting that in the third book, he bruises his wife’s body in anger on honeymoon, threatens and manipulates her into taking his name, becomes aggressive when she announces her pregnancy and flies home from a business trip in a rage because Ana has gone out with a friend without his permission. Big change…
Of course, much of Christian’s behaviour is not only excused by his traumatic past in the novel, but by his predilection towards BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism). However, members of the real-life community have been quick to highlight that their lifestyle has been entirely misrepresented by the books. Ana is coerced using alcohol and manipulation whilst discussing hard and soft limits – something that real life Dominants and submissives have dismissed as abusive and having no place in their lifestyle. Members of the community have highlighted that Ana never agrees to a TPE (Total Power Exchange) and yet, by controlling all aspects of her life, that is what Christian Grey is trying to impose on her. Finally, Christian’s use of threats to spank Ana (“my palm is twitching”) out of genuine irritation rather than as part of consensual sexual experimentation is highlighted by hundreds of members of the community as being abusive, rather than the actions of a responsible Dominant.
Of course, fans of Fifty Shades (and indeed, the author), dismiss all of the above concerns by sticking to their insistence that the trilogy tells the story of a damaged man, cured by love. Unfortunately, in doing so, they not only perpetuate dangerous myths regarding abuse, but they silence discussion on the dangers of romanticising abusive behaviour in fiction.
We’re not suggesting that all fans of the book will end up in abusive relationships as a result of reading it. We’re not insulting anyone’s intelligence by suggesting that they can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction. However, when those fans are putting the imaginary feelings of a fictional character above the real concerns of abuse survivors and members of the BDSM community, it’s not hard to see how Fifty Shades has contributed to the normalisation of abuse in our society.
Abuse is not normal and it’s certainly not romantic. It’s not something that can be casually excused, or “cured” through love alone.Raising awareness of what constitutes abuse is vital. Dispelling the popular myths that surround the subject is crucial.
Stalking, coercion, manipulation, threats and unwanted control aren’t the cute or sexy personality quirks of an ideal man. They’re signs of an abuser. And in real life, there is very rarely a happy ending.
To find out more, visit www.50shadesisabuse.webs.com.
You can also find us on Twitter (@50shadesabuse) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/50shadesabuse).