As someone who no doubt goes on social media, and apparently reads blogs, you’ve likely at least heard of the controversy that 50 Shades of Grey has caused. For those of you who somehow have completely missed it, congrats! You are blessed. I am about to ruin that blessing for you.
A quick rundown; 50 Shades of Grey started life out as Twilight Fan Fiction. If you’re not familiar with this word, it’s basically when fans take the characters and/or universe of a book/movie/tv series/what have you and write about these characters in a non-canon setting. So 50 Shade’s characters Christian and Anestassia began life as Edward and Bella. No, I’m not kidding. You used to be able to read the original fanfic online, but it’s recently been taken down for copyright reasons. The plot hinges around our young, naive female lead falling for a rich, powerful man. He has her sign a contract, outlining all the things he is going to do to her and her body, and all the things he expects in return. The fanfic was so popular that the author was picked up by a publisher; the names were changed, the setting was changed, and BAM, instant novel. Just add water. It got hugely popular, because it was seen as “acceptable erotica” to read in public. Who knows why? Not me. There is now a movie in theaters about this book.
Now, okay, for some people, this sounds exactly like their cup of tea. A lot of women have cited 50 Shades as the beginning of their sexual awakening. Which is great, surface level. But when you start getting into the meat of the story, there’s a lot of issues that need to be talked about. I could go on for ages about how it’s a poor representation of how BDSM should work, or how the book and movie is not about love, but abuse, or how Christian stalked and controlled Anastasia, or how the book is arguably the least sexy piece of literature on this planet or literally anything else about this shit heap, but I’m going to try to focus on one thing at a time.
Let’s talk about consent.
Consent is a necessity in any relationship, even in non-sexual context. If you take your date mate out to dinner at a place they absolutely do not want to go and make them eat food they do not want to eat, you might want to rethink your relationship. That’s a lack of consent. They did not consent to going to this place or to eating this food. Even if you think this is secretly their favorite place to eat in the world, you don’t know for sure. If they say or act like they don’t want to go to this restaurant for dinner, as far as you’re concerned, they don’t want to go. Case closed.
Consent is even more important in the context of a sexual relationship. If you want to do anything in regards to sexytimes, you want to make sure your partner is on board. This could be by saying yes, reciprocating, smiling, whatever. Important note: the absence of a no does not mean yes. If your partner is pushing you away, saying “stop,” crying, passed out, etc., they’re not consenting. If they are drunk or underage, they cannot consent while knowing the full repercussions of their actions.
But okay, let’s say this is a partner who is into fighting back. (As in, they’ve specifically told you this, not “well they’re fighting back but they actually like it.”) What do you do then? The two of you come up with a safe word. This is a word that, no matter what, you or your partner (or partners) say this word, everything stops.
In 50 Shades, Christian blatantly ignores when Anastasia says the safe word. And when she protests that he’s doing something she doesn’t want to do, he threatens to tie her up and gag her. In a very non-sexy, threatening way.
“But it’s about BDSM!” some of the masses cry out. “BDSM is all about pain and control and–” nope. Christian is not a good dominant, and he ignores what most consider to be the three basic rules of BDSM; Safe, Sane, and Consensual. And beyond that, there is no aftercare for Anastasia. Scenes for a submissive can be traumatizing and emotional, and a good dominant will make sure their submissive is okay. Aftercare usually consists of the dominant snuggling the submissive and calming them down. It can take hours. Many BDSM couples watch feel-good movies or partake in similar relaxing activities as part of aftercare.
In 50 Shades, Christian leaves Anastasa after scenes, no matter how upset she is. He leaves her to cope on her own. Which is exactly the opposite of what should be done.
“It’s just a book,” many people online have said. “Were you upset when children died in The Hunger Games?” The answer is yes, I was. Moreover, every death of a child was accompanied with a thought of “wow, this is really fucked up, something needs to change.” There was no such thought in 50 Shades. Arguably, Anastasia realizes that this relationship is toxic and leaves Christian, but there are two more books of her going back and letting Christian abuse her. And since we’re comparing The Hunger Games to 50 Shades, The Hunger Games has been seen referenced throughout protests all over the world; many people have quoted Katnis’s line “if we burn, you burn with us,” or have used the three finger salute as a symbol of protest in the streets. Stories do not exist in a vacuum. They have an effect on people. There are girls out there wondering where their Christian Grey is. There are ads around my town advertising adult shops that contain “more than 50 shades.” If it were “just a book,” this wouldn’t be true.
I’ve seen one argument online that says “Ana knew what she was getting into. She signed a contract.” That contract may have outlined her future sex life, but it did not tell her that Christian would continue after she’d revoked consent. It didn’t tell her that he would be emotionally and sexually abusive, that he’d bug her phone and stalk her, that he’d control her to the point that she wasn’t allowed to leave town to see her mother, that she’d find him in her home without her inviting him or giving him a key.
If you take away anything from the phenomenon that is 50 Shades, let it be a guide on how not to treat people. And please, if you must see for yourself how awful 50 Shades is, do not buy the book from anywhere other than a second hand store. Don’t go see the movie in theaters or buy the DVD/Blu-Ray when it comes out. Do not give any money to people who will give it back to the people who facilitated this steaming heap of shit to come to life.