On 50 Shades & Why It’s Take on Sexual Violence Leaves Much to Be Desired

On the surface, this post may seem slightly antiquated at some point in the future, since I’ll be referring to a movie that will soon be released. But the themes and content of the movie, and the books that comprise the source material, are things that will likely stick around until the end of time. Things like anger, violence, trying to fix someone, and broken persons lashing out.

The movie being released is called “50 Shades of Grey”, a dramatic film based on a book. At this point most know the bare plot; naive young woman meets older man who has issues, they begin a sexually charged relationship with some violent sex thrown in. What some don’t know is that the book itself is actually based on a Twilight fan-fic, meaning that the entire plot of 50 Shades could be viewed through the lens of a teenaged romance novel. Ordinarily not quite disturbing, except that this fan-fic with said characters in a story designed for younger readers was highly sexually charged, with overt sexual violence.

There’s been plenty of debate about the books and film, from no less than three vantage points. From one area, you have people who have few qualms with 50 Shades, where they say that what happens in the bedroom should stay there. A second area has people who decry the violent sexual acts described in the books. The third, interestingly enough, is the BDSM community who have actually spoken out *against* the book – saying that it doesn’t portray in an accurate way BDSM practices.

There’s a few things that bother me about the books/movie, which I’ve had time to think of lately as there’s been plenty of conversations on Facebook about this.  One such conversation had someone mention that the main male character was using dark methods to obtain some sort of healing, since at this point of his life it was all he knew. Because we’re discussing something from film/television, we can compare it to another; Bruce Wayne from the DC Animated Universe (DCAU). He is a character who embraces darkness as his way of life; and we see in the DCAU during the time of Batman Beyond that it cost him lovers, friends, family – all he has left at that point is his dog. He’s 80+ years old, crippled with a heart problem, all by himself. It’s a heartbreaking scenario when you consider how attached you get to the character after watching decades worth of material through the DCAU. It isn’t until he lets go of some of that darkness that he begins to repair some of his relationships, and embraces his son.

At this point we then need to consider the merits of even using some of these darker techniques and practices as a means of therapy. I once asked the social worker I used to see if using violence as a means of therapy was acceptable, such as the use of a punching bag. Her response was that it would most likely cause more harm than good, because the odds would be good I would be projecting someone onto that item. She was correct; in hindsight I *had* always projected someone onto those items during times of anger, and when I came across those people I certainly didn’t have any further peace than I did before – it was less so. Christian (doubtless an intentional choosing of that name), instead of seeing actual medical professionals for his problems, turns to violence and sexual conduct – it’s a form of self-medicating. By the time that things “settle down”, he would have had more inner healing by seeking proper help, and Ana would have been spared getting hurt.

So really, in another fascinating parallel to other films, this is basically a more violent version of a romantic comedy, without the comedy. All the same trappings, all of the same fallacies, several of the same tropes. Think about how many times it’s thought “oh, that’s so romantic” in a rom-com, then imagine the same things with a slightly more violent twist.

Someone on Facebook mentioned to me “what do you know? You didn’t even read the books”. Ordinarily this could be used to not listen to someone’s opinion, but I’m not the typical person you would ordinarily speak with who doesn’t like this book, for a couple of reasons. First, on a personal level, my father is a rapist. He raped his wives, he raped others. In the case of his wives, he used some of the exactly same justifications as I’ve seen people justify in this book. In case I haven’t mentioned this before, but he was found guilty and sent to prison for sexual assault (aka rape).

That’s the kind of man I spent weekends with, the kind of person that influenced me as a child. As great as my mom and Grandpa were (and still are), my father was still around for a big chunk of my childhood. I’ve had to claw my way out of the pit that he dug for me. Occasionally there are times that I learn new things, or things I suspected were confirmed. I still remember asking my mother how things were between them, and the response was “there’s some things a son doesn’t need to know” and the conversation got dropped. I’m not stupid though, far from it – it’s not hard to put two and two together. And it’s not hard to see putting things together that my father, obviously a broken psychopath, would have used every tool in the tool shed to get what he wanted, including uninformed consent, violence, and several of the same tactics used in the book(s).

The other reason is another part of my background; long before I was in my current field, I studied journalism/broadcasting. Sometimes one can formulate an opinion based on research via impartial sources and corroboration. In my case, I went to several sites to get a handle on what the series entails. It’s not hard to find on mainstream sites people who practice BDSM deploring the series because it gives their hobby a bad rap.

I mean, did you know that TV Tropes has an article on the series. TV Tropes, for those that don’t know, is a site that is devoted to the tropes, idioms, and conventional things used by different forms of media in the effort to tell a narrative. When it highlights what in the book constitutes as “Disproportionate Retribution”, it’s pretty chilling.

There’s also the artistic license used with BDSM, as that particular community has called out the series for grossly misrepresenting things. Particularly, Grey doesn’t practice trivial things like “informed consent”. In fact, she says “no” repeatedly to both him and his lifestyle on a few occasions – and he presses. That’s not even romance, that’s simply a dysfunctional human lashing out, harming everyone around him.

There’s nothing to celebrate in this series. It gives an inaccurate view of BDSM. It celebrates sexually and emotionally broken relationships. It celebrates self-medicating. It celebrates terrible fan-fics being made and then huge gobs of money are made from it. The writing itself is terrible, the themes are terrible, the lessons it teaches are terrible. And the more this book gets celebrated, the more times that people will think it’s okay to bust into people’s houses without asking and get retroactive consent – where after the fact the woman or man gives consent, but at the time they did not, or where previous consent was withdrawn, and then decidedly after certain actions that “I suppose I consented there” when she clearly did not.

“Retroactive consent”, happens a bunch of times in the book. Think about that term and what it means, and the implications of it.

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