“Fifty Shades of Grey” glamorizes abuse


By Kaanan Raja

This past Sunday, I tuned into the Grammys along with millions of other Americans and was heartened to see such a rally against sexual abuse. The public figures who took on this matter ranged from President Barack Obama to activist and domestic-violence survivor Brooke Axtell, finally ending with a solemn performance of the song “By The Grace of God” by Katy Perry. 

While I was comforted to see such support from the 2015 Grammys, my positive thoughts were juxtaposed by a commercial for “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The movie, based upon the best-selling trilogy by E.L. James, focuses on the erotic relationship between millionaire Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

While the book and soon-to-be released movie are becoming a worldwide sensation, a new study released in the Journal of Women’s Health has shown that the idealized fictional character media and readers have glamorized is not as glamorous as people might think.

In fact, the study has actually found behaviors in Christian that are comparable to behaviors of actual domestic violence abusers. After conducting a systematic analysis of the novel, the researchers found patterns consistent with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definitions of interpersonal violence and reactions in abused women. 

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In the article, examples are given of what the researchers consider abuse by Christian, like using intimidating verbal and nonverbal behaviors, demanding Anastasia to eat and threatening to punish her, limiting her social contacts, tracking her whereabouts, etc.

While Anastasia consents to many of these situations, the bigger problem is that there are explicit times when Ana is upset with her agreement with Christian but seems too shy and uncomfortable with voicing them. Ana even states at one point, “From somewhere deep inside, I want to beg him to stop. But I don’t.” 

Some of these behaviors extend out of the bedroom, refuting many reader’s arguments that the couple is simply engaging in heightening sexual experiences of bondage, discipline, sadism or masochism. BDSM is a consensual sexual experience that can include force or violence, yet has concrete rules of communication that themes of this book violate.

However, while people are picking up the novel or buying tickets to what they deem a fictional story with racy elements, the terrible reality is that there are many other women who have to actually deal with the terrors of living with a man like Christian.

The problem here is not necessarily that Christian is doing something that Anastasia doesn’t want, but rather, he is displaying behaviors comparable to abusers.  

Despite the apparent love story between Christian and Ana, as the content is becoming increasingly mainstream, the story could be perceived as glamorizing and even legitimizing domestic and sexual abuse. While Anastasia ends the book with being able to casually leave Christian and go to her best friend’s house, many real-life women in these situations are not able to simply leave like this. 

Despite the grey picture E. L. James has painted, statistics remain black and white about the real-life consequences that result from leaving abusers that portray similar behaviors as Christian.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence has found that 38 percent of women who have been victims of intimate partner violence end up homeless. Even more, when a victim leaves an abusive relationship, they are at a 75 percent greater risk of being killed by their partner.

This is the true reality of victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Therefore, as well-educated and aware students, it is our duty to not support media that legitimizes abuse that many people may endure.

As 53 percent of domestic violence victims in college were abused by their partner, the topic of abuse is definitely a familiar topic for our age group. 

The London Abused Women Centre has gained traction for this cause by boycotting the movie itself and getting the hashtag “#50dollarsnot50shades” trending on Twitter.

Since then, other organizations such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation have also supported the cause urging potential movie-goers to donate $50 to women’s shelters instead of buying tickets for the film as the hashtag implies. 

While many fans will continue to romanticize Christian’s abusive tendencies because of his glossy suits, handsome looks and powerful position, it is important that we recognize such behaviors. Then, not only will we be able to help recognize these patterns when we see them happening to someone we know, but we will also not devalue the pain that many victims of abuse have grappled with.

So this Valentine’s day, I urge you all to follow what’s trending around the world and take the money that you could have spent on a ticket, popcorn and drinks and instead donate it to your nearest women’s shelter.

After all, if we should learn anything from this franchise, it’s that abuse comes in many shades of grey, and we have a duty to stand up for victims of every shade.

Kaanan is a freshman in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].