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Fifty Shades of Grey - Myths of Abuse

22 August 2012 — Mandy Marshall — Blog

Fifty Shades of Grey - Blog 2 of 2 

Last week we looked at the story of Fifty Shades of Grey with the principle characters of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. We looked at the different types of abuse of power contained with the book. You can read the blog here which gives a brief overview of the story along with an analysis of the power used/abused. 

In this blog we look at the myths about abuse that are subtly perpetuated throughout the story. These are dangerous as they feed into the misunderstanding of abuse. This could prevent someone from either realising they are being abused, and, if they do recognise the signs, possibly prevent them from accessing the relevant help and support that they need. This is often out of fear of not being believed or the violence becoming worse.

The Myths and Excuses

Throughout the book there is a perpetuation of myths and excuses about abuse. Here are some of them.

  • Christian’s Childhood

The author refers back to Christian’s past in a way that looks to excuse his behaviour and choices today. We discover Christian was abused as a 15 year old child by an older woman. Something he himself does not consider abuse (denial). The author does not appear to recognise that it is a choice to abuse, but rather portrays a sense of inevitability about abuse. 

  • Choice

One of the myths of abuse is that a woman being abused knows what is happening to her and that she can do something about it. Ana, in reality, is confused and whilst technically there is a choice, in reality there is no choice but to obey Christian’s commands. She is fearful of the repercussions if she steps out of line. She is focussed on keeping him happy for fear of what he might do if she doesn’t. This removes the freedom to choose as the acts are motivated to appease the oppressor.

  • Assumed rather than explicit consent

There is assumed consent to some of the sex acts, when in reality Ana is confused about what is going on. She also does not quite believe, at the start, that Christian will outwork his threats. When he does for the first time it leaves Ana shocked, as well as physically abused and confused. A man who supposedly likes her, has had sex with her, has now violently hit her so hard she is tentative about sitting down. She didn’t ‘call the cops’ because, like many other survivors of abuse, what would she say? Would they believe her? Ana was unable to give her full free consent as she did not fully understand to what she was consenting.

  • She didn’t scream

She didn’t cry out or ask to stop. Ana was dazed and confused at the reality of the violence. People deal with shock and confusion in many different ways. Because Ana didn’t scream then consent is assumed. Some victims lose their voice in the instance of an attack and are rendered incapable of shouting out.

  • She made me do it

In an interchange between Ana and Christian we see a classic deflection of responsibility for the abuse inflicted. Christian hits Ana and then tells her that she made him do it by not obeying the rules. If you hadn’t done x then I wouldn’t have done y. Christian never takes responsibility for the abuse he inflicts on Ana. We are told that’s just the way he is rather than seeing it as an express choice of Christian to inflict abuse on Ana.

  • It wasn’t that bad

After inflicting physical abuse on Ana, Christian immediately tries to minimise the abuse afterwards. He  starts to imply it wasn’t that harsh, it could have been a lot worse and that he went ‘easy’ on her. Minimising abuse is a classic tactic of a person who chooses to abuse so that the victim does not report or speak about the abuse in case they are dismissed out of hand or not believed.

  • She liked it

After abusing Ana, Christian has sex with her, and she is aroused. This confuses Ana. By hitting Ana and then having the intimate sex with her, swinging between extreme emotions and acts, he makes her  feel confused by the conflicting acts.  Ana is then told by Christian that she really must have liked it as she was aroused by it. Ana is left upset and demeaned by the whole experience. It is again a deflection of responsibility alongside psychological mind games aimed at ensuring Ana does not talk about her experiences to anyone else. In addition, the contract and non-disclosure agreement she has already signed renders her unable to tell anyone about her abuse.

  • Nothing to do with anyone else

At one point Christian tells Ana that what goes on behind closed doors between two consenting adults is nobody else’s business. Wrong! When abuse is involved it is everyone’s business. At the hard-nosed economic end, tax payers pay for the services and programmes for survivors of violence. Families and friends pay for it in terms of strained or broken relationships that may take years to recover, if they ever do. In the book we see Ana’s relationship with her best friend Katherine come under strain due to her relationship with Christian.

  • She chooses to obey him so it’s her own fault

In reality Ana has no real choice offered to her in the relationship. It is obey or nothing. No compromise, no real negotiations. Christian demands obedience in all things. Even if she did chose to obey him, that does not give him free licence to abuse. In the Bible wives are asked to submit (not obey as incorrectly stated in the book) their husbands; however that is always in the context of self-sacrificing love. This appears completely absent in Christian Grey, who uses and abuses his power to meet his own selfish needs.

  • He is protecting her

Christian tells Ana she is not safe outside of Christian’s protection. The fact that she seems to have managed perfectly well until meeting him is skated over. Even a rescuer situation is conjured up to place Christian in the rescuing hero scenario. All the gifts, including a car, cell phone and laptop, are given for her safety and protection. In reality, it’s Christian controlling her every move and stalking her. Ana even uses the words herself in the book.

  • False separation of physical and emotional aspects of self

The book conveniently separates out the sexual act as some sort of orgasmic performance art devoid of emotional connection. It tries to separate the two as if they are in no way connected. It is a false dichotomy. This is abuse to self and, if forced on others, abuse to the other person. Ana is unable to show her true emotions in the red room, unable to express her true desires. She is controlled and cajoled in all that she does. This separation of emotions from the physical act of sex is deeply internally damaging.

Summary

The myths perpetuated throughout the book are sometimes so subtle that readers may not pick up on them unless they are educated and aware of the whole issue of domestic abuse. Others are more straight forward and obvious. One of the main issues is the lack of freedom and love that the whole context of the book is set in. It focuses on a needy self sexual gratification rather than the loving and giving aspects of a healthy relationship.

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey?