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Fifty Shades of Grey - Adoration or Abuse?

17 August 2012 — Mandy Marshall — Blog

Blog 1 of 2 *Warning may contain triggers or sexual references*

How I came to read the book

If I’m honest, I had no real desire to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I’d heard conflicting accounts on it but mostly that it was an erotic page turner; I’d also heard that somewhere bondage was involved but wasn’t clear on how or the context. It was only once people started asking what Restored’s opinion on the book was, and some members of my hockey team asked what I thought, that I took the plunge. I downloaded it onto my IPhone and listened to it to and from my Olympic Games Maker shifts.

The Story

The Story of Fifty Shades involves two principle characters. Christian Grey is a stunningly attractive, billionaire business man with the toys to go with it. He is in his late twenties & sexually experienced. Anastasia Steele is in her final months of university, with a part time job and is about to graduate . She seems to have low self esteem and we discover she is a virgin. She meets Christian when she interviews him for the student newspaper & he asks her for a coffee.

From the very start of the book Mr Grey warns Ana to stay away from him. He very quickly introduces her to his BDSM* tendencies via his Red Room (the place where instruments are used for sexual pleasure or pain). He is direct and tells Ana that he wants to discipline her and train her to please him & in that she will find joy, he as the Dominant, and her as the Submissive.

The setting for Abuse not Adoration

Immediately I am drawn to the language used, ‘Dominant’ and ‘Submissive’. This is normal terminology used in the BDSM community. I am concerned however that this could be used to create an enabling environment for abuse to occur.  ‘Living with the Dominator’ is a book by the Freedom Programme which links directly to the Duluth model on domestic abuse. A dominator uses different forms of abuse to gain power and control over an individual in order to achieve their aims.

Christian Grey does exactly this to Ana, even outlining this in a contract which he insists Ana must sign. It outlines the role she must take as a ‘sub’ in order to please Christian. This includes telling her what to wear, eat, how much sleep and exercise she will have (not normally a part of a contract of this sort), what she is to call him, and that she is to obey his instructions without question and with expediency. He informs Ana that the contract is negotiable, but as he is a powerful businessman with ample negotiating experience and lawyers on his side and Ana has none, it’s hardly a balanced place to start.

The Abuse

Throughout the book there are multiple and continuous examples of abuse alongside the perpetuating of myths about abuse. Ana describes Christian as “a stalker”, “control freak” and as “wanting to inflict pain”. I found it excruciating to read in places, and not only due to the awful writing.

There is emotional abuse, coercion, sexual and physical abuse, psychological abuse all thrown together and often justified in terms of the choices that Ana supposedly makes. At one point Christian goads Ana that she ‘didn’t call the cops’ when he hit her, therefore suggesting she must have liked it. This completely plays into the myth that someone who is experiencing abuse, a. knows what is happening to them and, b. is capable of doing something about it.

Ana admits to often being confused and not knowing what mood Christian will be in. This is a tactic of an abusive man, to constantly keep a person on tenterhooks (never has there been a more appropriate analogy) to keep them under control.

Uses of Power

Christian uses his different types of power throughout the book to abuse Ana and keep her under his control.

  • Structural Power – Christian uses his position of CEO to get what he wants. Using his helicopter, glider and fast cars not only to impress Ana but also to make her aware of how powerful he is.
  • Financial power – He showers Ana with gifts, which at first looks like generosity but quickly turn sour when Ana discovers they are to ensure he knows where she is.  (social abuse, stalking)
  • Physical Strength – he uses his physical strength to abuse Ana and to restrict her from being able to escape him.
  • Sexual power – he uses his knowledge to demean Ana (her virginity is an issue that needs to be dealt with) and to coerce her into sex. He does not honour Ana’s sexuality but sees it as something to conquer and be dealt with. He minimises the sexual act to some sort of performance art rather than an intimate act of love making between two people.
  • Emotional Power – Christian uses his emotions (dark and mysterious or passionate lover is how it is displayed in the book) to get what he wants. Ana rarely knows what state Christian will be in and he also flip-flops very quickly from being happy to being angry. These are direct tactics of an abuser to keep control in a relationship.
  • Psychological Power – demeans Ana in the red room and outside it by calling her ‘good girl’ and treating her like a child. He buys her clothes and tells her what she should eat and when she should sleep.  He keeps track on Ana’s movements by tracking her mobile phone, even before they begin a relationship.

My concern, after reading this book, is that so many women seem to like it. I remain unconvinced that they all do and wonder how many are simply jumping on the band wagon in fear of being called a prude if they don’t. This book does not open up doors into a sexual coming of age, it flings the doors wide open for abuse and domination to become mainstream. The book feeds into a patriarchal worldview of man in control and woman obeying the man.  Fifty Shades is fiction, but a dark, dangerous fiction, that could lead to coercion and abuse. It’s like Pride and Prejudice on heroin – breaks social norms yet quickly life controlling, abusive and ultimately life destroying.

*Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism