Today, I decided that I was going to write a feminist literary critique of the insidious 50 Shades of Grey. As a feminist and someone who spent four years being trained in literary criticism, this seemed like an ostensibly easy task. I would read said piece of “literature” and apply various lenses to it. I told myself that we all must suffer for our crafts. I told myself that you must truly know your enemy. I was committed to getting on the level of this book.
I got through a handful of chapters, having fully realized that it was written in the style of a 12 year old’s diary, which is not a literary style I have dabbled in much since about 2001, and at that point I had firmly received my confirmation that the character of Christian Grey is a violent, controlling stalker. Because, you know, he shows up at the workplace of a young woman who he has only met once in a business setting, and that’s not something that is terrifying and completely unacceptable or anything. And he makes her sign a contract that strips her of her free will. Normal stuff. Totally healthy.
So at this point in the game, I feel perfectly justified in transitioning my literary critique to a social critique because I have better things to do with my life than subject myself to actually reading this book. You’ll have to forgive that I have interpreted some plot points from secondary sources.
Please don’t go see 50 Shades of Grey. Really. Please just don’t.
I get why people (10 million people) are obsessed with the books. Well, I mean, I think that the writing is complete rubbish, so I’m still really struggling with that part, but I understand that women are sexually oppressed, and being able to buy soft core porn at Barnes & Noble has really changed things. I’m not telling you to boycott 50 Shades because I’m a prude who doesn’t want you to get your jollies. I’m very sex-positive. I think that the world would be much better off if we didn’t act like sex was some big old secret and if we could actually have open, positive, productive conversations with partners and others about the topic.
But I think it’s insane to act like 50 Shades is a vehicle for sexual empowerment and enlightenment. These books are about an extremely abusive relationship. A relationship in which one person endeavors to do everything he can to control all aspects of the other person’s life. In which he guilts and shames the other person into believing that she has to save or fix him. A relationship in which a man stalks a woman. In which he controls her appearance, socialization, and other relationships. In which he isolates her from friends and family. In which consent is swapped for coercion. In which he pressures her into getting an abortion. This is what we call abuse. This is what we call sexual violence. This is what we call rape.
50 Shades has filled an apparent void of sexual empowerment for millions of women. This void is a result of the continuous shaming and devaluation of women’s bodies and experiences in our society. It is harmful and pervasive. What is even more harmful and pervasive is to continue to spread abuse-positive, violence-positive, and rape-positive messages related to sexual and romantic relationships. These messages are part of the very reasons that women are sexually oppressed in the first place.
If any person I cared about were ever in a relationship like the one depicted between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, I would do everything I could to get her to one of the many thousands of organizations that support, empower, and protect women and children who are victims and survivors of violent, controlling, damaging domestic relationships every day.
Before you go see this film, realize the incredible influence that the media plays on our lives. Realize that watching this movie and reading these books causes us to internalize messages that abusive and controlling romantic relationships are desirable, exotic, and exciting. Realize the message that this sends to our children: that the only way women can achieve sexual satisfaction is to completely demean ourselves at the hands of men and sacrifice our own free will for their pleasure and control.
And perhaps, instead of spending your money on that movie ticket, you will think twice and donate those funds to one of the numerous agencies that work tirelessly to truly empower women and free them from the deadly constraints of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Love (real love, not the kind of love in which you control someone else),
If you would like to donate, you can find a shelter or agency near you. Here are some suggestions that serve the communities I call home:
Spruce Run Womancare Alliance (Maine)
Center for Family Justice (Connecticut)
RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence (Rhode Island)