Is Fifty Shades Of Grey A Bad Thing?

Warning: I am unqualified to write this blog post. I have to admit before I go ANY further, to not having finished reading the first book of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy - let alone the second two. I have absolutely no idea how the story ends, let alone what happens in the middle. I love books, I celebrate books, and often when I don't enjoy a book, for whatever reason, I can think of someone that I know who will enjoy it, so I pass it on. I do the same when I love a book. Fifty Shades of Grey was the first and only book that I have ever, ever, ever put in the bin (the bin on Platform 2 of Broadstairs train station). 

So, first things first, let me explain why I binned it. As someone who believes that BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) roleplay can play a great part in any sexual relationship between consenting adults, I don't reject the notion that it should be featured in erotic fiction. Hell, I even think that where appropriate, it has a place in mainstream fiction, it is, after all, a perfectly healthy, normal, common way to play out one's sexual fantasies and personal turn-ons with a partner (or a few partners, whatever your bag). If you're in to whips and chains, good for you, if your partner is happy to indulge your quirks - then the party is all yours. 

I also recognise that sometimes, what looks like BDSM, is actual real life - i.e while some people might like to be tied up and smacked by their boyfriend in a sexual roleplay scenario, some people are being beaten by their boyfriends despite not feeling happy about it. This scenario doesn't represent a BDSM roleplay, it represents abuse. 

The section of the first Fifty Shades of Grey book that I read did not introduce BDSM in a roleplay format, it introduced a real life discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism scenario - nobody was "playing", nobody was "pretending", the characters were put forward as adopting these roles within their own lives. That doesn't represent the BDSM that I consider appealing - but was put forward in such a way that I was expected to find it so.

If you are in a relationship with a man who makes you feel that you would not be in a relationship with him unless you performed in a certain way, sexually, you're in an abusive relationship. If you're having casual sex with a man who you believe would not want to have casual sex with you unless it is the sort of sex that pleases him, but that makes you sad, you are being abused. If a man demands that you do anything with or to your own body that you wouldn't otherwise do (I'm talking about the removal of body hair but you can apply this to absolutely anything) then you are being abused. The same goes for a man telling you to grow body hair that you would otherwise want to remove, incidentally. Your partner may express a preference, it may turn him on if you shave this or pluck that - but the choice is ultimately yours, unless of course, you're in an abusive relationship and you feel that choice has been taken away from you. 

So, the female character in the Fifty Shades books does ask to be introduced to the male character's weird and wonderful world. Some might suggest that this represents consent within the confines of the book. Just to be clear, if someone says to me "I do some really strange things sometimes" and I say "oh? Show me one of them" and that person proceeds to punch me in the throat - I didn't at any point ask to be punched in the throat.

The female character in the book also continues to "go back for more" throughout an entire three book series, when arguably, she could leave, and some might suggest that this represents consent within the confines of the book. Whilst I don't believe that the book's author, E.L James, actually set out wanting to write the story of a woman being sexually, physically and psychologically abused, the fact that the female character chooses not to leave, despite being mistreated, is not uncommon to abusive relationships. The idea that the fact that the female character allows herself to be abused in fact wipes any theme of abuse from the books is insulting to domestic violence victims across the world. 

I do not object to erotic fiction. I do not object to BDSM. I do object to people being dominated/violated/controlled within their actual lives, which happens to the female character in these books (her phone is tracked, for example, and she is told that she can not escape her abuser). I do object to people being made to carry out sexual acts that make them unhappy, which happens to the female character in these books. I do object to anyone using wealth and power as a means to control vulnerable people, such as, I don't know, young virgins - which the male character in this book does. What I really, really object to, is any of these things that I object to being portrayed as desirable, sexy, or taking place in the name of "kinky stuff".

So now, the film is coming out, on Valentine's Day of all days, which does suggest that the film is to be considered in a romantic or at least sexy manner. That it is in some way related to love or passionate affairs of the heart. What's true of course is that there does exist love within abusive relationships. It isn't necessarily true to say that abusive partners do not love their victims, on the contrary they quite often do; it's what happens when that love comes head to head with their insecurities and/or mental illness that things get ugly - as appears to be the general gist of Fifty Shade's underlying story.

I got involved in a conversation with another blogger on Twitter today which raised some interesting points on both sides of the argument. 

It's always interesting to get well and truly in to the perspective of someone who's attitudes and outlook towards a subject differ vastly from your own - I try never to completely shut anyone down for their opinion, even if I find it impossible to grasp. This lady has received some horrible abuse for stating that she enjoyed reading all three books in the Grey series and is looking forward to seeing the movie with friends on February 14th. The purpose of this blog post is not, by any means, to call her, or anyone else, a rapist sympathiser. 

As this lady rightly raised, Christian Grey, the main male character with whom I take such issue, is stated in the book to be suffering from a mental illness for which he seeks treatment from a therapist. In short, the character's past experiences, particularly in childhood, have left him entirely unable to form what most people would recognise as a proper loving relationship. This isn't an inaccurate portrayal of a trauma victim, in fact, suffering childhood trauma significantly increases one's likelihood of going on to commit abusive acts, and is possibly the most logical explanation for why the character acts in the way that he does. So does this remedy the problem? For me, no. The author had a superb opportunity to tackle this - to shed a little light on the possible effects of abuse, and explore the story behind an abusive individual - but that wasn't what she set out to do, and I suspect that this was thrown in simply to avoid creating a complete and utter monster in Christian Grey - because female readers needed something endearing, some form of vulnerability, in order to truly believe that he would be attractive. This isn't an interesting and insightful book in to how abuse victims can turn in to abusive adults. Christian Grey is still portrayed as a sex symbol - his mental illness, if anything, serves to make him sexier, which to me, is a little unreasonable.

It is also very true that one can not condemn a book that touches upon or features graphic scenes of rape, simply because it contains upsetting content. I totally agree. I can list some fantastic books, books which I would recommend to friends, books which I would give to friends, which contain horrific scenes of rape, murder, paedophilia, incest, domestic violence, and a whole heap of nastiness in between. The difference here is that in all of these books, the rapist, the murderer, the paedophile, the incestuous father, the violent partner - is the "bad guy". I'm talking predominantly about graphic crime thrillers, but rape and murder spill out in to many genres and I've included both in my own writing in the past. What the books that I champion do not do is suggest to a reader that any of these things are sexually arousing. they are entertaining in the same way that a horror film is "entertaining", there's a strange part of the human mind that wants to be disgusted and horrified - but 50 Shades is not written to disgust or horrify it's readers - if it were, there would not be an associated lingerie line. 

I do agree that the claim that Fifty Shades of Grey could lay rise to an increased rate of copycat behaviour is silly, as the lady I discussed this with suggested. If someone is going to become a violent rapist, they'll become a violence rapist, no book is going to force their hand. However, I have to point out that there was one slight contradiction in this argument. The lady made one statement which I completely, 100% get behind - "Men need to be thoroughly educated on rape to protect women" - and that this is the best way to prevent any man from reading a book and then thinking that rape is OK. I totally agree, the best way for us to prevent men from reading about rape and then becoming rapists, is to make sure that all men understand that rape is wrong. However - this book is available to male children. There is nothing preventing a boy of 12 years old, buying and reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and nowhere in this book does it make it absolutely clear that rape is a hideous, illegal act which ruins lives... so.... the film is obviously less readily available to young people and I don't know how violent scenes will be handled on the screen, but simply from the books point of view, either young people need to be protected from damaging content, or author's need to be aware that their work is available to young people. By all means write about sex, rape, murder etc. but keep it in context guys; at the moment laws do not exist to protect children from explicit literature, so responsibility does lay with the writer I'm afraid.

I'm going with yes  FiftyShades of Grey is a bad thing. Very few people who've been supportive of the books and are planning to see the movie will have been victims of an abusive relationship. I can say this confidently (although there will be exceptions) because you only have to get a few chapters in to the first book to hit heaps of "triggers" that will negatively impact upon those with direct experience of the themes of the story. Please remember that you don't have to have experienced abuse to be compassionate towards abuse victims. Very few of the women going to see the film would wish sexual, physical, or psychological abuse on anyone, and I'd urge these women to say "you know what - whilst it doesn't necessarily upset me, this film is horribly insensitive to women who've suffered experiences I couldn't even imagine, because it takes those horrific and life altering experiences and makes them a desirable, sexy thing. It mocks them by coming out on Valentine's Day, a day synonymous with love and affection and passion, and suggests that these are the most prevalent themes of their experience. That's wrong - and I don't want to be a part of that."

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