Out of morbid curiosity, I found myself watching Fifty Shades of Grey the other night. Prior to this viewing, I had been pretty detached from the mass hysteria attached to the project. In fact, I tried to avoid it as much as possible. My best friend had jokingly claimed me for a Valentine’s Day cinema date without accounting for the fact she’d actually wind up with a date whilst I flaked out somewhere, exercising relatively recently recognised glory as a singleton… Nevertheless, the movie was shelved.
I wasn’t oblivious, though. I’d heard snippets of discussions involving a very handsome Mr Grey, casting difficulties, butt plugs and the ‘Red Room’. Admittedly, I even had a brief flick through a friend’s copy to satiate my curiosity. My impression of the novel was far from promising: when a book makes you cringe up to four times reading just one page, it’s clearly apparent that it’s not the book for you.
I had looked on in embarrassment as family members and friends buzzed about the books, thinking back to my misplaced intense obsession with the Twilight books a few years ago. The years spent waiting for some Edward Cullen-like Adonis to enter my life. Sadly, I ended up with my maths partner and realised that in reality, Edward Cullen-like Adonis’ don’t glow in the sun and are as controlling and insecure as their novel counterparts. Needless to say, that chapter of my life is over.
The film, however, surprised me simply because it explicitly portrays what is essentially an abusive relationship. And no, I don’t mean in terms of the bedroom antics. A sexual awakening of sorts, this book, for all it’s outrage has brought into circulation a range of practices otherwise considered to be heavily taboo within our society. Perhaps for this purpose, it’s actually liberating for women and men in that openly experimenting with sexuality and sexual practice is celebrated in the mainstream blockbuster arena, now. But the general conduct of the relationship is the concern: it occurred to me that the franchise is raking in millions worldwide for heavily glamorising this. How can we turn a blind eye?
The success of the movie is derived predominantly from the mysterious allure of Mr Grey, a stubborn and self-centred sadist who happens to be embodied by real-life model Jamie Dornan. Whilst I understand the appeal as a woman with like, ovaries and stuff, the concerning matter is that which Mr Grey, beyond the realms of his dashing handsomeness, represents. The basis of the relationship is dominance and submissiveness, an idealogy which transcends the scenes in the bedroom. Essentially, the dynamic of the relationship allows for Christian to want something and exploit Ana until she satisfies his needs, manipulating her by using her feelings for him as a weapon against her. A key scene that springs to mind is the moment Ana is challenged for arranging to visit her mother, a trip which Christian later intrudes upon, considering it to be a threat. ‘You’re mine’ he says, as though that’s some sort of justification. Erm, no. To say someone is ‘yours’ is clearly to imply possession, something that perhaps for some is seen as a romantic acknowledgement of exclusiveness. However, within Fifty Shades, this is used more as a threat. To suggest that it’s wrong to spend time with your family because your partner doesn’t want you to do so is sign number one of controlling behaviour.
Sign number two is an unwillingness to compromise, here is a brief summary of Christian’s attitude towards Ana and life, generally as stated in his contract: ‘Here’s a contract detailing how I will control your eating/drinking habits, appearance and identity. You belong to me and you will do my bidding. Even though you’re a romantic and you want conventional dating and cute gestures like, I don’t know, sharing a bed, it’s not going to happen. So do things my way or I’m out of your life.”. If people are led by example and this character, blown up on billboards and ads everywhere is an example, then what will become of the people who follow?
We shouldn’t be encouraging women to simply accept submissive roles in relationships or deny potentially dangerous emotional vulnerability in partners. Whilst trust problems and insecurities are embedded by ghosts of the past, dealing with the consequences in the forms of violence or having to change vital aspects of your identity should not be options. Some will argue that a contract was involved and thus, with consent, there’s no rape involved in the book and Ana was perfectly well informed of her involvement and the expectations before her. Whilst this is true, her wants were repressed through persistent harassment from a man who, for the sake of sexual desire, pursued a naïve University graduate. I mean, realistically, if Ana were to want Christian to back off after his persistent badgering for her to sign his contract, would he understand the concept of ‘no’?
I read an article recently about a young boy sent home from school because he dressed up as Christian Grey for World Book Day. That was funny but the idea of malleable minds growing up and believing the example that is Christian Grey to be a successful way to treat women is not. I understand that this whole story was concocted as a little pastime online, that the characters are based on other characters and that it’s all just a bit of fun that’s happened to make a big impact in the media. ‘Pippa, chill out, you’re such a feminist.’ is probably what half of the estimated three readers of this blog will have to say to me, but for once I fully defend my stance on this matter. Physical or mental manipulation shouldn’t be accoladed as admirable traits in our most consumed romances. We owe it to ourselves to challenge such portrayals and to eradicate the archaic notion that women are born to occupy submissive roles in relationships, particularly when violence is concerned.
In a world where equality is yet to be achieved in terms of gender, sexuality or ethnicity, is this really the kind of message we should be advocating by ignoring the implications?
Thanks for reading.