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Thursday 21 March 2019

Rape, violence, emotional and physical abuse – why we should boycott 50 Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades Of Grey has has a record breaking opening weekend
Fifty Shades Of Grey has has a record breaking opening weekend
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the film Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal Studios/PA)

Clare Cullen

Fifty Shades of Grey is not a novel about kinky sex and wild fantasies - it's a diary of an emotional, sexual and physical abuser.

I've been reading a lot of material around the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' phenomenon in advance of the film release and I have decided to boycott the film.

Like any Entertainment writer, I get excited about watching new films. I am dying to see Fifty Shades - if only so I can talk to everyone else about it, compare it to the book and laugh about how bad it is. Like it or not, it's a cultural phenomenon and I feel that if I don't watch it, I'll be missing out - but I cannot marry my morals with the glamorising of domestic violence.

I read an interesting article which noted that the reason Grey's character is allowed to act the way he does without repercussion is simply due to class - he has money, and so could not be an abuser. He's kinky, not violent, because his money allows him to shower the object of affection with gifts and a lifestyle they couldn't otherwise afford.

The phraseology contributes to the misinterpretation of Grey's intentions. He is 'controlled' when he is angry, he makes threats 'calmly'. The lack of violent language to accompany his actions is an attempt to disguise it as a 'quirk' of a bad childhood and excuse behaviour that is symptomatic of an abuser.

This great blog lists 50 examples in which Christian Grey abuses Anna - including rape.

In one scene from the book, Anna does not give consent to Christian but he proceeds to have (rough) sex with her anyway - telling her if she makes a noise, he'll gag her. The writer has portrayed this scene as somehow romantic, that Christian 'takes charge' and Anna ends up enjoying the sex she didn't want.

In another scene, Grey "rips" a tampon from Anna in order to have sex with her. The violent language in this book is only prevalent in sex scenes and is used in attempt to make Grey sound exciting sexually. For deciding she wanted to meet her mother without clearing it with him first - and subsequently not allowing him to place his fingers inside her at the dinner table with her parents - he "punishes" her by bringing her to the brink of climax repeatedly and then pulling back in a technique which is supposed to be used to pleasure, not cause pain. He only stops when Anna begins sobbing, calling out their 'worst' safety word - the one never supposed to be uttered. He then apologises, crying 'I can't believe I ruined this'. (Orgasm-denial is part of a delayed gratification sex play and is not intended for use as a punishment - both parties have to agree to the use of this technique in a safe and trusting BDSM relationship).

Emotional abuse is used to justify and normalise the physical abuse. In one scene, Anna speaks up, saying she felt 'abused' following her first spanking by Grey, to which he replies "do you think you can deal with those feelings? For me?" At no point are her concerns about his conduct taken on board by Grey.

Throughout the series, Grey uses physical violence against Anna for the most minor of misdemeanours - if she doesn't do 'what she is told' she gets spanked by the billionaire. This is not depicted, again, as an attempt at pleasure - Anna's eyes water with the pain. Grey gets Anna thinking in terms like 'deserve' and 'punish' instead of normal couple communication. She even describes herself as "an empty vessel, to be filled at his whim" - becoming completely subservient.

Christian stalks Anna, warns her if she leaves him he'll track her phone, turns up uninvited, won't take no for an answer, pushes her past her comfort zone without a second thought. He cannot deal with Anna speaking to other men, punishing her for not only having male friends but telling her "next time you'll be in the cargo hold, bound and gagged in a crate" when she mentions getting a neck massage from a male masseuse while flying first class.

At parts in the book, Anna attempts to conduct meetings with Grey 'out in the open' as she fears him. To this, he answers "do you think that would stop me?"

At several points Grey shows up where Anna is without her having told him where she was going to be or what she was doing. He tracks her phone, researches her family, follows her across the United States by helicopter.

At no point in this book is there an honest depiction of a genuine BDSM relationship. The contract is merely literary ploy - boundaries are not agreed, nor are any respected. Anna is expected to "satisfy" Grey and she is punished if she does not. There is no trust between the parties, there is no discussion. The "Dom" never fulfills his role of taking care of his sub in any way other than financially. It is a Dom's responsibility to ensure his sub is safe and within their agreed boundaries. Anna never decides to be a sub, she is told to be. Being a virgin, she is thrust into a world she is unfamiliar with, with a dangerous man who misuses a genre of sexual fantasy to hide his violent, manipulative tendencies.

Not only that but those who enjoy true BDSM are painted in a negative light - Grey attributes his love of the genre to being 'molested' as a young man. This paints him as someone who needs Anna to help him, as someone who 'can't help' his violent, abusive tendencies and exonerates him from all wrongdoing in Anna's eyes. As has been said in a million blogs across the net - BDSM is not a perversion, borne of trauma. There are many perfectly 'normal' people in these communities who simply have different tastes than others.

This is all only the tip of the iceberg, and having considered all of the above I cannot go to see Fifty Shades in good conscience. No matter how watered-down the film may be, the source material is irreconcilably problematic and if I could go back in time, I wouldn't have read the books either.

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