If you looked at the advertising, the upcoming movie “50 Shades Of Grey,” based on the book of the same title by E. L. James, is the romantic movie of the year, just in time for Valentine’s Day. With taglines like “Are You Curious” and “Make Plans For Valentines Day,” “50 Shades of Grey” has positioned itself to be a movie to take your significant other to see in a gesture of romance.
For those who have lived through abuse, however, this movie, as is the book it is based upon, is anything but romantic. Instead of showing a healthy, romantic relationship, it puts on display the kind of domestic abuse that women across the nation face every single day. Boundaries ignored, emotions twisted, physical and mental abuse of all sorts are put on display.
And then presented as perfectly normal.
The things presented in “50 Shades of Grey” are not “normal” by any stretch of the imagination. While called “BDSM,” it violates the core tenants of any BDSM relationship – consent. It is not part of any healthy relationship for the words “Don’t hit me” to cross anyone’s lips. For a BDSM relationship, it is common to hear phrases like “please spank me.” That is a key difference, a partner in a BDSM relationship asks for their partner’s consent, using safe words and gestures to communicate when what is happening is not okay. In an abusive relationship, like the one found in “50 Shades of Grey,: no consent is given, no boundaries respected.
The key to any healthy relationship, be it traditional, BDSM, or one of a myriad others found throughout human experience, boils down to mutual respect, consideration, and, most of all, communication. The relationship is to build trust, not to force one’s will onto another. All participants in a healthy relationship are equal partners, and have a vested interest in building upon the foundations of the relationship. None of this can be found in “50 Shades of Grey.”
For those who do wish to witness a cinematic expression of a healthy BDSM relationship this season, instead one can look to a little gem of a film from 2000, “Secretary.” Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, it is a movie showing two people who, through the course of their relationship, strive to build each other up, to help each other. While their relationship is not traditional, the movie shows Spader’s character, named E. Edward Grey, building up the self-esteem of Gyllenhaal’s character, Lee Holloway. He does so while respecting her limits, asking her permission before acting, being simultaneously courteous as well as firm with her. When she says no, it means no, and he respects it, and her, throughout. A stark contrast to “50 Shades of Grey,” where no boundaries are not to break for the central male figure, Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan.
Here is a direct side-by-side showing trailers for both movies, highlighting the dynamics in the relationships found in each:
The cycle of abuse is a difficult one to break, and many of those who find themselves in it will lapse back to it several times before they can finally break free. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation offers a website which details the disturbing trend in entertainment media to legitimize abuse, titled Fifty Shades Is Abuse. The display of abuse as legitimate is part of what is commonly referred to as rape culture, where sexual violence and abuse is considered normal. Movies like “50 Shades of Grey” reinforce this, cultivating the idea that sexual violence, exploitation and abuse are normal, even healthy.
So, this Valentines Day, go and see another movie, a true romantic movie, and not this celebration of domestic abuse and sexual exploitation.