Is Fifty Shades of Grey glamorizing abuse?

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The steamy novel, which has become a worldwide bestseller, was released to great anticipation this Valentine’s Day. As expected, it was a huge hit at the box office, raking in £21 million during the opening weekend alone. But the great anticipation for this film has been accompanied by a growing amount of negativity from the public.

Isabelle Kerr, from Rape Crisis Glasgow, summarizes the general feeling of animosity towards the franchise, labelling it ‘potentially dangerous’ and ‘unbelievable’. The story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is being praised as the romance of the year but, as Kerr argues, there is a troubling undertone to their relationship.

The film follows Ana as she pursues a relationship with Christian, even though he makes it clear he is incapable of love and ‘doesn’t do romance’. He presents her with a contract outlining what she can and can’t do, including what she’s allowed to eat or wear. He stops her from drinking alcohol because he doesn’t approve, breaks into her house when she playfully rejects his advances, and undresses her while she is unconscious. The reason he gives for not taking advantage of her passed out form is because he ‘doesn’t like unconscious girls’, not because it would be a crime to do so.

All of this is presented as romantic and acceptable because of his abusive childhood. Ana feels sorry for him, and wants to help him to love. Christian is a tortured soul she is trying to rescue. So when he does show some kindness towards her, we are meant to think he has made an impressive gesture. Asking for consent and being intimate should be normal in a healthy relationship, but these scraps of affection are made out to be extra special.

Defendants of Fifty Shades have relied heavily on the BDSM aspect of the film. They say that critics are ‘frigid’ or don’t understand that this is what BDSM entails. However, many dominants and submissives from the BDSM community have come forward to protest that this is definitely not an accurate representation of what they privately enjoy. The most important thing in a BDSM relationship is the notion of consent; it’s integral that both parties are enjoying the experience and don’t feel pressured into anything. The idea of after care is also equally important. In the film, this seems pretty absent, and considering he has just introduced BDSM to someone who has never tried it before, it seems ridiculous that Ana’s wellbeing is never really given a second thought.

In fact, for much of the movie Ana’s only purpose seems to be to serve Christian. When in one scene she directly asks him what she will get out of such an arrangement, he simply replies ‘me’. The idea that she is going to benefit sexually or emotionally from being with him is somewhat sceptical.

What’s worse is that women across the world are hailing this narcissistic, selfish character as a romantic hero, when he actually seems to care little about the woman he is supposedly tangled up in a love story with. He has almost no regard for her wellbeing and certainly doesn’t take his role as a dominant seriously. After being thoroughly disgusted by the way Christian treats Ana, I decided to do some research into the BDSM world. It’s often stipulated that those in a dominant position are supposed to care for their submissive both emotionally and physically, which entails realising that things have gone too far. The very end of the film sees Christian repeatedly hit Ana with a belt while she is leant over a table. Although she is crying in pain, he does not stop until he has completed her ‘punishment’. It’s fair to say that this is one of the harder scenes to endure.

All in all, Fifty Shades of Grey is a film that seems to normalise abusive and unhealthy relationships. The Valentine’s Day release date is laughable, as this is anything but a romance. Instead of spending your money on the glamorization of a violent and controlling man, I would suggest donating to a charity that might help women in similar situations. This film is not an erotic romance; it’s worrying.

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