What is the Real Problem with 50 Shades of Grey?

The Christian online community is blowing up, and this time it’s about 50 Shades of Grey.  As usual, I have come to the same conclusion (don’t read or watch it), but for very different reasons.  I’m always this close to fitting in.  Most of the concern I see is directed at either 1) the erotica or 2) the BDSM.  With some caveats, I don’t really see these issues as all that significant.  What bothers me about the story is, instead, the abuse.

Full disclosure:  I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey.  This makes me that absolutely annoying person who has an uneducated opinion.  I’m sorry!  I have, however, had many conversations with readers, and I have been devouring any and all information about the series, positive or negative.  If that still doesn’t count as good enough for you, I don’t blame you.  But I encourage you to keep reading, and if I’ve missed something important, please let me know!

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The biggest complaint about 50 Shades of Grey has always been the fact that an erotic book has become hugely popular.  Where’s the shame, women who read 50 Shades on the subway?  Read that filth in the privacy of your own home!  Just kidding.  To be honest, part of me is really excited that the indisputable popularity of the book is forcing people to confront the fact that women are sexual.  For too long purity has equaled sexless, and I am very tired of pretending I am not interested in sex.

Christian culture almost always portrays sex as something dirty, whether explicitly or implicitly.  You shouldn’t think about it, want it, talk about it, or especially do it….unless you’re married.  Unfortunately, this extreme emotional leap from seeing sex as Disgusting to Beautiful is hard to make on one’s wedding night.  The disproportional pressure on women to police men (we are told, after all, that it is our job to keep men from lusting by dressing modestly) means that this transition is especially hard for women.  How are we meant to go from virginal innocent to sexy seductress as soon as “Mrs” is added to our name?

I think the answer is to accept our sexuality and our sexual desires, teaching healthy boundaries rather than trying to turn the whole thing off (which, by the way, doesn’t always work–a sizeable amount of Christian women struggle with pornography in a desperate search to express their sexuality somehow).  50 Shades has made people aware of women as sexual beings, and I hope this awareness leads to a change in how the Church talks about sexuality.

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If it’s not erotica that distresses Christians, then it is definitely BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism).  These sexual practices are just violent enough to make most Christians (and most people, actually) uncomfortable.  I will partly agree.  If someone needs to be humiliated in order to experience orgasm, the counselor in me wonders if there is some kind of past trauma that has linked emotional pain and physical pleasure.  But let’s be totally honest here.  The same nerve endings that send messages of pain can also send messages of pleasure.  There may be no childhood trauma–some people genuinely enjoy pain.

I hesitate to say any sexual practice between two married people is inherently and always wrong, provided that it is done with full understanding and consent between both partners.  This is exactly what the BDSM community teaches, and it is why they have publicly stated that although they appreciate the free press, they do not support 50 Shades of Grey.  Why?

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The sex scenes in 50 Shades are not healthy BDSM.  The relationship between Anastasia and Christian is abusive, and this is my concern with the popularity of this “romance.”  A wealthy, experienced, older man has an impressionable, ignorant young woman sign a contract between Dominant and Submissive.  Although the language of consent is there, in reality that kind of power difference skirts the line of rape.  The fact that he ignores her using their safe word–a BDSM practice that is supposed to instantly shut everything down because it means someone feels unsafe–is despicable.  And the control he has over her, both in the bedroom and in public, aligns very neatly with the practice of abusers.

The fact that they wind up married and “healed” just makes this message all the more horrifying.  If we teach women that love will “cure” their abusive man, then too many women will stay in abusive relationships.  After all, promising to change is also a hallmark of abusers.  Real life is not a novel, and when a woman stays with an abusive man because she hopes love will change him, she is almost always disappointed.  And when you’re disappointed in an abusive relationship, this means you’re suffering an increasing amount of emotional, verbal, sexual and physical abuse that could end in your murder.

So that’s what bothers me, and that is why I urge women and men not to read or watch 50 Shades of Grey.  A story in which abuse is romanticized coaches women to be victims and men not to take “no” seriously.  In a world in which 1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, I think it is very unhealthy to internalize a message that says this is normal, okay, and sexy.

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8 thoughts on “What is the Real Problem with 50 Shades of Grey?

  1. Invisible Mikey February 7, 2015 / 8:59 pm

    I have a problem with this production too. Not that it exists, nor that it’s obviously going to be financially successful. I don’t like censorship, no one is forcing me to read or watch the adaptation, and I don’t accept arts recommendations from my pastor (just like I don’t take religious advice from my congressperson).

    My problem is that I want movies to be either “good” (I get to choose the criteria for that), or so bad they are still fun to watch. This one falls smack in the middle, not good enough, because you can’t manufacture a good movie out of a “bad” book (name one), and not bad enough because it’s pretentious nonsense performed and produced by competent professionals who were highly paid.

    Like

    • Tricia February 7, 2015 / 9:09 pm

      Great points! It’s bizarre that such a mediocre film is getting so much attention (obviously I am part of this problem).

      Like

  2. Writergurlny February 7, 2015 / 9:51 pm

    I agree completely with you. I refuse to read the books and I will not spend one red cent on this movie.

    Like

    • Tricia February 7, 2015 / 10:23 pm

      50 Dollars Not 50 Shades is a fantastic movement that suggests donating the money you might have spent at the theater to a women’s shelter. Avoid romanticizing abuse AND help out women who are currently suffering from an abusive relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Michal Ann Morrison February 8, 2015 / 11:21 am

    Thank you so much for bringing this topic up! I’m so tired of women and our sexuality being viewed as so taboo within the church, so I’m happy to see discussions happening that raise awareness and understanding of women, pleasure, sexual relationships, etc. Having read the first book out of curiosity, and having experienced an abusive relationship, I can confirm what you said as well; how he treats her isn’t normal within the BDSM community, and its shameful to tell women they have to be ok with being treated in a way they find degrading or painful (as he does in the book). Instead of Christians freaking out over a display of sexuality (calm down, we’re all sexual creatures) maybe we should start freaking out more over women who get pushed around by “Christian” men.

    Like

    • Tricia February 8, 2015 / 2:12 pm

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Michal! And you’re absolutely right–it’s scary to think that women are led to think they ought to be okay with being degraded and humiliated. I wish happy and healthy sex lives for all!

      Like

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