Also please like and share the below Facebook Page created by allies speaking out against the harms of "Fifty Shades of Grey." Thanks! They are promoting a campaign to get people to BOYCOTT the "Fifty Shades" film and to donate to a domestic violence shelter instead. Visit the page for more info!
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is on the latest "Dirty Dozen" List created by the National Centerfor Sexual Exploitation. Check out their full page of helpful resources about this important issue!
While much of the sex in Fifty Shades is as cruel and sadistic as in mainstream porn, it is expertly packaged for women who want a “fairy tale” ending. In male-targeted porn, the woman is interesting only for as long as the sex lasts. Once done with her, the man is onto the next, and the next, and the next.… She is disposable, interchangeable, and easily replaced. No happy ending here for women.
In Fifty Shades, however, the naïve, immature, bland Anastasia is, for some unfathomable reason, the most compelling woman our rich, sadistic, narcissistic hero has ever met, and he not only kisses her during sex (something you rarely see in Internet hardcore porn) but he doesn’t move on to the next conquest once he has had his wicked way with her. In fact, he actually marries her and confesses undying love. As one of the female fans I interviewed said, this is like Pretty Woman all over again.
Indeed, Fifty Shades is about as realistic as Pretty Woman. How many prostitutes do you know who end up living in marital bliss with a former john? I would guess about the same number of women who live happily ever after with a man who dictates, in a written contract, what to eat and wear, and when to exercise, wax, and sleep. In my work, I meet many women who started out like our heroine, only to end up, a few years later, not in luxury homes, but running for their lives to a battered women’s shelter with a couple of equally terrified kids in tow. No happy ending here, either.
In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Mr. Grey is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.
And yet women of all ages are swooning over this guy and misreading his obsessive, cruel behavior as evidence of love and romance. Part of the reason for this is that his wealth acts as a kind of up-market cleansing cream for his abuse, and his pathological attachment to Anastasia is reframed as devotion, since he showers luxury items on her. This is a very retrograde and dangerous world for our daughters to buy into, and speaks to the appalling lack of any public consciousness as to the reality of violence against women.
Fifty Shades also reveals just how pornographic our culture has become over the last decade or so. While the old Harlequin romance novels had narcissistic heroes who toyed, sexually and psychologically, with their much younger prey, however remote and emotionally challenged he was, the hero did not have a torture chamber tucked away in his basement. Fifty Shades of Grey is Harlequin on steroids, a kind of romance novel for the porn age in which overt sexual sadism masquerades as adoration and love. New as this is, the ending remains depressingly the same for real women who end up falling for the Mr. Greys of the world.
GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press). She a founding member of Stop Porn Culture (stoppornculture.org).
The above are just a few of the lies that patriarchal culture has served up for women in the best selling BDSM novel 50 Shades of Grey.
First-time female novelist E L James began the piece as short fan fiction based off of the Twilight series whose main relationship between a 104 year old vampire and a teenage girl meets all the criteria for domestic violence.
Given its source material, it’s not surprising that 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels tells the story of a billionaire who convinces a young woman to agree to be his full time sex slave. [...]
There is nothing transgressive or feminist about BDSM erotica or sexual practices. The popularity of this new novel, as well as the Twilight series, show the way in which women cope with male violence and oppression by eroticizing male dominance.
50 Shades of Grey portrays a virginal college grad falling for a stunningly wealthy, controlling, powerful and troubled man who insists on totally owning her and getting off while hurting her with riding whips, chains, paddles and violently degrading sex. Despite her tears, deep isolation and confusion she comes to find this fulfilling and enjoyable.
Millions of copies of this book have been sold and everyone has been buzzing about what it means that women are attracted to this fantasy.
In reality, the attraction to this "fantasy" is not shocking. It's only different by a matter of degree from the common romance novel or fairy tail that women have been indoctrinated with their whole lives: a young, virginal and insecure woman somehow attracts a man who she "doesn't deserve." He is powerful, jealous, moody and controlling. She is frightened, but the more she submits the more she sees abuse is just how he shows his love. Finally, she is made "worthy" because he wants to possess her.
The only thing new this time is that she has to sign a contract that refers to her as "The Submissive" and he buys her platinum and diamond jewelry to cover her bruises.
This is harmful!
It is bad for women - at a time when, under the guise of "post-feminism" women are once again being pushed to embrace the role of "breeder" or "sex object," this book reinforces and makes appealing the idea that women should be owned and controlled by men.
It's bad for sex - at a time when more space needs to be opened up for people to imagine and experience the full richness of what sex can be between mutually respectful and equal partners, this book pushes people to get over their discomfort and wallow in sex as degradation and enslavement.
"Why women would pick this up as any sort of substitute for intimacy or any sort of model for a reasonable relationship, I find just sort of disturbing," says Dr. Drew Pinksy, a relationship expert, about E. L. James' "50 Shades of Grey."
"Maybe I have no business commenting on how women massage their fantasy life. Indeed I don't. But as I look at this as a clinician, the idea that women look at this relationship as anything other than absolute, categorical, profound pathology is more than I can imagine."
The novel has topped the New York Times Best Sellers list for nearly three months. It's created a buzz due to its erotic nature, and some libraries have kept it off shelves.
The story involves a recent female college graduate who signs a contract allowing a male billionaire complete control over her life. Over the course of the novel, she becomes versed in his tastes for sadomasochistic sex.
The lead male character is an abuse victim and a sex addict who Pinsky says systematically abuses the lead female character throughout the novel.
"I can't emphasize enough the disturbing quality of this," Pinsky says. "This is a woman who is naïve to these issues, and then is manipulated and exploited by a man who has a severe personality disorder and a sex addiction who is violent with her, it is just too much to be understood."
Pinsky acknowledges that the book plays to a "swept away fantasy," and says erotic fiction is replete with the genre. But, "anyone who has a familiarity with that literature would say there are lot better options out there than this to satisfy that particular fantasy."
Some have countered criticism against the book by arguing the story is a backlash against feminism, and is a mere fantasy that allows women to forget about their daily responsibilities.
Pinsky disagrees with this argument.
"I would say that is a Stockholm Syndrome effect. The fantasy that you are in control when you are being manipulated and overpowered by someone, that you actually adopt their point of view and believe you are participating and controlling them ... It's a complete fulfillment of a pathological fantasy."
Is the triumphant cry of the next generation of literate women really going to be “Anastasia didn’t sign the sexual contract!” Is that what a hundred years of the women’s movement has prepared as the rallying cry of the educated 21st century female?
“He was vulnerable and hid his own distress under his compulsion to offer pain!”
As we say in Brooklyn, pull the other one. But unlike Anastasia, we are not saying it literally. You pull something on us, and we’ll smack you.
50 Shades perpetuates absurd, outdated, and impossible psychosexual rituals making an already culturally mangled set of hideously distorted sexual power plays even more difficult.
Of course, that might just be my girlish way of looking at things.
But the thought of a guy watching you do things in various outfits only after you ask his permission and regarding that as an act of “love” is not something helping us embrace earned trust, shared experiences, and happy, equally-balanced romantic partnerships.
(I suppose I should ask first: Can you read freely? Or is your master watching? Is he smelling your various undergarments while you glance at the screen? Would you mind telling him to stop and perhaps do something more useful with his resources – his free time and billionaire bank account – such as preventing world hunger or clearing the garage?)
Shouldn’t “submission” be considered not simply a naughty word, but a corrosive one?
Besides, what are men to think? That by feeding upon willing and poor virgins who agree to be submissives, they’ll find true love? If Christian weren’t rich, he wouldn’t be wooing Ana; he’d be stalking her. She’d have him followed by the police. If this man were filling her gas tank instead of buying her cars, she would have him arrested for kidnapping, handcuffs or no.
50 Shades did not help to set a new high sexual standard for either women or men and it does not make for happy-funny-relaxed times in bed.
Not unless you’re really into terrible prose as punishment.
- Dr. Gina Barreca is a Professor of English and Feminist Theory University at the University of Connecticut and author of "It’s Not That I’m Bitter, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines And Conquered The World"
In one scene, to demonstrate her ‘love’ for Christian, Ana allows him to hit her as hard as he wants.
“I close my eyes bracing myself for the blow. It comes hard, snapping across my backside and the bite of the belt is everything I feared.”
This is the sort of action that has suburban mums gossiping at the school gates? Which part of a man controlling, hurting and manipulating a young woman is sexy exactly?
After the beatings Christian brings Ana painkillers and rubs cream on the wounds he inflicted. This is even creepier than the beatings. This damaged billionaire can only express tenderness after he’s purged his need to inflict pain. Therapy anyone?
The couple’s relationship also seriously blurs the lines between the roles of father and lover. Christian washes Ana’s hair, nags her to eat properly, buys her a new, safer, car, sends her for a check up, rebukes her for running on a slippery floor and threatens corporal punishment if she breaks his rules – punishment that combines sex and pain.
Interestingly Christian himself doesn’t like to be hurt, he simply likes to hurt women. Nice.
Some readers describe the book as escapist fun and a romantic romp. A woman being degraded, hit, controlled and coerced into meeting the needs of a seriously screwed-up chap who sounds like he needs a good decade on the couch doesn’t sound much fun to me.
I understand that proponents of BDSM are not mentally unwell, but Christian’s need to hit to get off is more than a sexual choice, it is presented as the symptom of an abusive past.
The contemporary proliferation and normalising of porn largely due to online media, has already taught young women that surgically ‘improving’ their labia, bleaching their bottoms and ripping hair from their hoo hoo, is ‘expected’ sexual hygiene. This book seems to suggest that if they’d now bend over for a good walloping they’d really brighten up the bedroom.
“I do it for you,” Ana says of the beatings. “Because you need it.”
I look at the success of this book and wonder what happened to feminism? There are so many choices of clever, insightful, escapist, sexy and funny books available, why would women settle for a sordid story that reduces us all?
Michelle Hamer is the bestselling author of seven books, including Gucci Mamas. She is a former editor at The Age newspaper and is now a prolific freelancer published widely in newspapers and magazines across the country. She blogs here and you can follow her on Twitter here.
NOTE: We disagree with the one statement made above that proponentsof BDSM are "not mentally unhealthy." Being sexually aroused by sadism or masochism (hurting others or being hurt) is NOT mentally healthy. See our page on sadomasochism harms for more info.
Now I'll be totally honest, the biggest issue I have with Fifty Shades of Shit is neither the sex nor the horrible writing. It's the plot. Thin as it is, it's still there, its core message being that, given enough time, you can change someone. While I don't have any problem with this if all you're trying to do is help them to lose weight or quit smoking, when you're talking about an emotionally and (dangerously close to) physically abusive relationship, sending that kind of message is ridiculous and irresponsible. Christian is controlling, possessive, condescending, and cruel. He doesn't allow Ana to behave as she normally would, and Ana just puts up with it, insistent that if she can give him what he wants, when he wants, as often as he wants, she can eventually begin to pull his strings. Will it work? In the books, probably. In real life? No. Almost never. How many idiotic, weak women are going to waste their lives on some emotionally retarded prick because they've read shit like this and think this kind of fucked-up fairytale will come true for them? I've known women with this mentality. "Oh, he's so dark and dangerous and threatening, but he's got a sad, lonely side, and if I could just figure out what's wrong, I could change him!" [...]
Potential rape is downplayed. Ana's friend, Jake Jose, starts pushing himself on her rather vehemently when they're both drunk. Ana repeatedly says no, but Jose just keeps trying to go in for the kill. Admiral Chaps busts on up with his riding crop, however, and saves her. Ana (understandably) avoids Jose for a while after that, and when her other friend asks her why, all Ana says is, "He made a pass at me." Later on, she and Jose are friends again, the "attempted kiss" forgotten. *Sigh*
Rapists appear to be a theme. Christian tells Ana that he gets off on having complete and total control over another person. This is not just in the bedroom, but in Ana's overall life. On several occasions, he fails to yield when Ana says no, plunging on regardless, assured she'll like whatever he does, anyway, so why bother stopping?
And there are women out there who think this is romantic.[...]
This is a book about one sick, abusive man and his obsession with a young, naive invertebrate. It's a book about a girl who has absolutely no sense of self, who sacrifices any pretense of individuality in order to hold onto a man who doesn't even show her the faintest glimmer of respect. It's about two attention-starved individuals with the emotional maturity of toilet paper convincing themselves that their relationship is 'like, the best thing ever, OMG'. It's trite, insulting, and dangerous. I fear for any impressionable young women who read this and think that this is how an ideal relationship should operate. If nothing else, it should be issued as a guidebook to mothers around the world to show their daughters the kind of man to avoid at all costs. This book does good men (and indeed, all of humanity) a disservice.
In mid-November Fifty Shades of Grey was listed for the Britain’s National Book Award in the popular fiction category. It was selected by ’50 book experts, made up of booksellers and trade journalists’ (Morris 2012). It has now sold 60 million copies worldwide, 3 million of those in Australia.
This book is paraded as a great read because 60 million people can’t be wrong. In fact, 60 million can be wrong. That the book has done so well is in part due to curiosity, to massive promotion in the media and at the front of bookstores, to controversy, but most importantly to the pornification of society that we have seen in recent years. If you have read Anne Summers’ (2012) talk about Julia Gillard that preceded Gillard’s (2012) misogyny speech, you will be aware of the level of vilification and violence directed against women. When a prime minister can be depicted with a dildo (just to give an example of one of the horrid misogynist attacks on Julia Gillard) then a book like Fifty Shades of Grey finds an easy position as a bestseller.
Anastasia Steele is the main character in the book, alongside billionaire Christian Grey. Anastasia expresses her confusion in a series of emails with Christian Grey that follows him spanking her to the point where she cannot sit comfortably. Anastasia writes that she feels ‘demeaned, debased, and abused’ (James 2011: 292). She receives the following email from Christian:
If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try to embrace these feelings, deal with them for me? That’s what a submissive would do.
I am grateful for your inexperience. I value it, and I’m only beginning to understand what it means. Simply put … it means that you are mine in every way (James 2011: 293).
What Christian Grey demands is total control. There is the pretense at consent and one of the very disturbing parts of this book is the so-called ‘contract’, which specifies what can and cannot be done. But Grey puts it all down to ‘It’s the way I’m made’ (James 2011: 287). That is, he avoids responsibility. Susanne Kappeler in her 1995 book, The Will to Violence analyses the way in which irresponsibility is coded into dominance. She writes:
Self-pathologizing and its attendant claim to incapability are thus the last resort of the relatively powerful in trying to outbid those with less power in terms of victim status (Kappeler 1995: 75).
Radical feminists have critiqued practices of BDSM for many years. In 1979, Kathleen Barry published Female Sexual Slavery in which she identifies the process of ‘sex colonization’.
Sex colonization is insidious. Not only are women dominated as a group–socially, politically, economically–but unlike any other colonized group, they must share the homes and beds of the colonizer (Barry 1979: 195).
Kathleen Barry goes on to identify prostitution, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and pornographic snuff films as instances of sex colonization. Furthermore, that when a woman is raped, gagged, deflowered, brutalized, she will ‘be even happier, having forgotten that she was raped’ (Barry 1979: 208).
Fifty Shades of Grey and the subsequent volumes have been bought by seven percent of the Australian population by (apparently) middle class, middle-aged women (these are the rumours about who has bought the book). So what is it that makes both EL James (Erika Leonard), the writer, and the women who read Fifty Shades of Grey not be offended by it?
It is an easy mistake for women to make, women whose culture trains them long and carefully to respond to masochism. An education in masochism is generally part of the conditioning of any group who experience being despised; their response of identifying with what degrades and humiliates them is illogical only on the surface: in fact, it has been carefully cultivated in them (Millett 1994: 160).
Fifty Shades of Grey is defended on the basis that it is simply fantasy and no one is harmed by just reading a book. But what is fantasy? I have never heard the word used in sexual contexts except as a way of defending a practice that has some kind of social opprobrium. And in the far majority of cases, it is used:
• to defend men’s use of women as objects of rape or violence;
• in a reversal, it is used by women to escape the terror of rape by turning rape into a fantasy;
• it is used by practitioners of S/M or BDSM to justify their actions;
• it is used by paedophiles to explain away thousands of images of child pornography on personal computers;
• it is used by the pornography industry, SEXPO and makers of pornography who claim that they are just satisfying the fantasies of their customers.
The other aspect of Fifty Shades of Grey is the portrayal of wealth and power. There is nothing new about this trope. It appears in de Sade’s writings, in The Story of O (Reage 1981) and other books paraded as literature because they portray the powerful. Christian Grey is a man of great wealth, He runs a profitable company, owns a helicopter, can buy Anastasia an Audi, lives in a large apartment where he has his Red Room and various staff, and he is highly mobile. He comes from a family of wealth who are part of the establishment (later the reader discovers his birth origins). Against this, Anastasia is a virgin, she has few assets other than an old Beetle, is just finishing her university course, she works in a hardware store and was raised by a single mother.
What is carried out in these places of wealth is then copied in the houses of ordinary men who see their homes as their castles, but instead of it being the luxury of pornography, it becomes what that pornography really is: domestic violence, abuse of women.
Or as Clare Philipson, Director of Women in Need who has worked with victims of domestic violence for thirty years says about Fifty Shades of Grey:
It really is about a domestic violence perpetrator, taking someone who is less powerful, inexperienced, not entirely confident about the area of life she is being led into, and then spinning her a yarn. Then he starts doing absolutely horrific sexual things to her … He gradually moves her boundaries, normalising the violence against her. It's the whole mythology that women want to be hurt (cited in Flood 2012).
The representation of women in porn fiction promotes the extinction of women (Barry 1979: 252) and a free for all for men's dominance.
The most disturbing part of this book is chapter 11 where a contract is presented by Christian Grey to Anastasia Steel. This contract outlines precisely how she should behave. She has to be totally available to him at call. This is a male fantasy of a fuck on legs: wherever whenever, whatever. To quote the contract, ‘… in any manner he deems fit, sexually or otherwise’ (James 2011: 165). The Submissive, on the other hand
• shall accept without question
• remember her status and role in regard to the Dominant
• shall not pleasure herself sexually without permission
• shall submit to any sexual activity… without hesitation or argument
• shall not look directly into the eyes of the Dominant
• shall keep her eyes cast down
• shall address him only as Sir, Mr Grey or other title as the Dominant may direct
• will not touch the Dominant without his express permission (James 2011: 170).
Contracts of consent are made by the powerful when they have to deal with the powerless who might later bring a case against them. While in theory a contract is meant to be an agreement, in reality it is primarily entered into to protect the powerful. Consent under such conditions is no such thing. It is fake consent.
In this situation, however, there is another layer of complexity. It seems likely to me that for women in relationships that do not come up to scratch and who are subjected to some of the violations in this novel, it is possible that an agreement with soft and hard limits might well seem like a better option. Combined with socialization, to perennial fear, to confusion, normalization and colonization along with the attractiveness of wealth and power, the popularity of this book is not inexplicable. It is in fact an indication of just how successful all the social forces against women are.
BDSM has become mainstream. And there are many defenders of BDSM. This is not surprising. You can attend classes in BDSM, you can make your career in queer studies, as Margot Weiss (2011) in the US has done by writing about these classes, presenting them as healing the tortured soul, by turning violence into a sexy career move. Or you can do what Pat Califia has done, join the men and become Patrick. Her Lesbian SM Safety Manual contains the following piece of advice:
By reviving the notion that sex is dirty, naughty, and disgusting, you can profoundly thrill some lucky, jaded lesbian by transforming her into a public toilet or bitch in heat (Califia, 1988: 52).
As Kathleen Barry said in 1979:
To live in a society where blueprints for female enslavement and gynocide abound is intolerable (Barry 1979: 252).
So what can we radical feminists do?
• we need to keep talking
• we need to read and re-read the works of radical feminists
• we need to boycott books like this except for the purposes of critique
• we need to be talking with students, friends, sisters, mothers about the way women’s lives are destroyed through pornography, anything-goes sexual practices, patriarchal fantasies and violence
• we need to keep going, being creative, resisting the forces which would have us give up in exhaustion
• we need to generate not a gender revolution, but a feminist revolution
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"Pornography is a marketing device for sex trafficking: It normalizes degradation and violence as acceptable and even inevitable parts of sex, and uses the bodies of real women and children as objects. The difference between pornography and erotica is clear in the roots of the words themselves -- porne means females slaves, eros means love -- so pornography, like rape, is about violence and domination, not sex. Millions of lives depend on our ability to separate pornography from erotica, and to disentangle violence from sexuality."
Gloria Steinem, 2006
For information about Gloria Steinem's important work of fighting against the harms of pornography, sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, including videos and an audio interview, please see our page on Gloria Steinem. Click here.
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Thank you for whatever you are able to give or do to help create a better world for everyone, especially for women, children and future generations.
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THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT! IT'S VERY MUCH APPRECIATED AND REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE!
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