A friend of mine posted a note on Facebook, comparing the 50 Shades trilogy to another book that seemed equally disturbing in its abusive content. Her question was had anyone else noticed this, and while there had been plenty of dialogue about boycotting the 50 Shades of Grey movie, there had been nothing about this book (which I have also never read, and had never even heard of).
The snarky response to her post from someone I don’t know was this:
Boycotting only makes some people want to read the books and see the movie even more. I did read the books. I choose not to see the movies. But I don't condemn anyone who wants to. I'll save my boycotting for something more important.
As I went to respond, I realized I had way too many things to say about the topic to keep it to a Facebook thread. And blowing up aforementioned friend’s FB wall was likely inappropriate and maybe triggering.
And then I had the thought that many other people may be wondering about this same topic. At least maybe two or three others? Maybe I have an inflated sense of ego, but just in case I’m right, I am posting it here instead.
First of all, I am not going to reargue the point about whether or not 50 Shades of Grey is abusive. Roxanne Gay did a brilliant job of discussing this in her book of essays, Bad Feminist. For a self-proclaimed bad feminist, she does a far better job of deconstructing what is wrong with the trilogy far better than I could. So I would suggest reading her book if you have not already done so.
Or for a nice compilation of different moments of abuse in the series, you can also read this piece. 50 abuse scenes, one for each shade of metaphoric grey. Real grown-up researchers with doctoral degrees agree, by the way. And I promise to write more about BDSM, abuse, trauma, and consent in another piece. It’s in progress, I swear. But that comment, probably fired off with little thought and no ill intent ruffled me to the point of angry blogging, like its 2002 or something.
So let’s put aside the “is it or is it not abuse” argument aside and consider it a de facto truth for the purposes of a bit of angry blogging. Like all the discussions and analysis cited above, as a therapist who works with intimacy issues, I strongly agree that the series sets a precedence for unhealthy relationships. More on that in a minute.
Let’s first discuss the rest of this statement in context.
Boycotting will only act as an encourager for some people.
Well, ok. If grown-ass people want to touch the hot stove because I warned them they might get burned, and they are just that damn curious anyway, then they are well within their rights to navigate the world that way.
A boycott is a condemnation.
No, a boycott is a boycott.
Boycott is defined as “a withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest.” To condemn someone? That is defined as either “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure” or “sentence (someone) to a particular punishment, especially death.”
I choose to boycott the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, both the books, the current movie, and future movies. Also the 50 shades OPI nail polish collection, and that kills me because I loves me some OPI.
I choose to boycott them because I am a conscious consumer. I think about how I want to spend my time and money. Supporting forms of media entertainment that glorify abuse and lack of consent are not on that list.
I am not going to picket the theatre, I am not going to scream and rail at anyone who watches the movies or read the books. I am not going to force my opinion on anyone about them. But I will facilitate discussions (such as this one, as passive as it may be) when asked to do so. And I have been.
· I have discussed consent with my kids. My daughter and her friends (all adults) read the books and we discussed all of their questions regarding the books. What they liked, what they didn’t, what to consider, and what might be a better representation of BDSM. My son is a minor and has not read the books (nor has any interest in doing so, but if he did I likely wouldn’t let him read them, but I’d consider it.), but we discussed what BDSM is and how vitally important consent is to the process.
· I have discussed BDSM with my board interns. I host a monthly movie and learning night for my interns and anyone else who is interested. We get an interesting mix of people there based on the topic. BDSM night was a big hit. We watched Secretary and discussed its depiction of BDSM in contrast to 50 Shades of Grey. We discussed what mental health practioners need to know about kink and BDSM in order to support their clients. This month we are watching Private Violence and discussing domestic violence safety plans. More on that in a minute, too.
· I have discussed 50 Shades of Grey with clients. I have had people tell me that the series has been amazing for them, that it has opened up new conversations and they are enjoying new activities and are thrilled. And I tell them how great that is. Plenty of people have been able to take it for the fantasy it is, parse out what is relevant to their lives, and dismiss the rest. But I have also had clients tell me they have played with 50 Shades type BDSM and the sub partner found themselves uncomfortable and struggling to articulate why. So we talk about control and what that feels like in intimacy; what that can trigger; and other ways an intent for closeness can be demonstrated. No condemnation. Exploration. Discussion. Offering alternatives. If things don’t feel good, figuring out why and then figuring out what may work instead.
Lastly. This is not an important issue.
This kind of takes my breath away. Ok, not just kind of. It actually did, for a moment. The air in my lungs wouldn’t move when I read that. And thought about abuse survivors reading it. Chances are many will. Because chances are, many of the women you know are abuse survivors.
Rebecca Solnit reported the following facts in her 2013 essay, The Longest War. The original version of the essay can be found here, though I am referencing the version in her book “Men Explain Things To Me.” When you go buy Bad Feminist, buy that one, too.
· There is a reported rape in the United States every 6.2 minutes, and 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime.
· The estimated total (because we know many rapes go unreported) is likely 5 times as high.
· There were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in the U.S. Military in 2010 alone.
· There are over 1000 murders by men of their romantic partners are former partners each day.
· A woman is beaten every 9 seconds in this country; it is the number one cause of injury to women.
· Of the two million women who sustain injury from domestic violence, half a million require medical attention and approximately 145,000 require overnight hospitalization.
· Worldwide, women ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be killed or maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war, and traffic accidents combined.
· There is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country.
· In 31 states, rapists are allowed parental rights of the children who are borne as a result of their impregnation of the victim.
This is so clearly an important issue. Violence against women is the largest epidemic of our time. The engenderment of violence and our culture of rape has made movies like 50 Shades of Grey not just permissible, but enticing. Unconsented dominance is billed as titillating and sexy.
It is so very not any of those things. Many people can take the fun part away from the series, and explore BDSM in a fun, safe way. And that’s OK. I mean that, and I believe that. But many people really, really can’t. For every person who has told me they found it a turn on, there is one more who said that the books upset them terribly. Many people live the power dynamic of 50 Shades of Grey every day. Minus the cars, and the money, and the perfect, glossy bodies. And they can tell you it is not romantic, nor is it BDSM. But we are marketing it as sexy, because rape culture more pervasive and insidious than you likely even imagine. Did you know if you define rape without using the word, 1 out of 3 men on college campuses would rape someone if they could get away with doing so? We have created a culture not of domination, really, but of authoritarianism. Or as Rebecca Solnit states: “It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.”
In her book “We Should All Be Feminists”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (and yes, I think you should read her book, too) writes: “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.” We have normalized the right to control the bodies of women.
I reject normal. I choose to boycott 50 Shades of Grey because it is so exhaustingly, heart-achingly fucking NORMAL, this glamorized, gendered violence. It’s so normal it is the largest public health crisis of modern time.
I will continue to explain my reasoning for boycotting to anyone who is interested in hearing about it. I will donate to campaigns that support the victims of domestic abuse. I will read books like the ones mentioned above, whether glossy best sellers by Roxanne Gay or small photocopied zines that speak beautifully on empowerment, consent and healing (Microcosm Press, The La La Theory, and Doris Press are great examples). I will not condemn. I will use my time and energy to create and support different relationships, safe spaces, and a culture of consent.
I think I’ll go see Selma on the day 50 Shades of Grey opens. I know which theatre will be more crowded, by far. But maybe you will join me?