Many Fifty Shades fans argue that it is just a book/film, a work of fiction, and as such the eroticized representations of violence against women have no power to influence thinking, attitudes or beliefs.
However, an analysis of the novel found sexual violence and emotional abuse were pervasive and the popular book series had the power to influence attitudes and beliefs surrounding intimate partner violence. The authors argued that “individuals regularly alter their real world beliefs and attitudes in response to fictional communication” and “stories are especially influential when readers become drawn into them and cognitive resources, emotions, and mental imagery faculties are engaged.”
The authors noted in their conclusion "our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture."
As Melbourne based mental health professional Geoff Ahern says, “It’s fiction that glorifies fear, intimidation, stalking and violence against women. When I read extracts from the book I hear my clients telling the same stories and that is most certainly not fiction.”
Those who argue Fifty Shades has no impact on their attitudes often in the same breath describe the impact it has had on their sex life, inspiring enthusiasm and sparking their interest in new sex acts they had not engaged in or shown interest in prior to reading the books. Sex shops around the world testify to the popularity of BDSM themed sex toys, such as whips, restraints and handcuffs in the wake of the popularity of the book and film.
Fifty Shades is part of a wider culture where women are taught their greatest power comes from being an object of male desire, that men act and women are acted upon, that male dominance and female submission is normal and appropriate.
Sociologist Gail Dines writes, ‘Only by contextualizing Fifty Shades in the larger pop-porn culture can we begin to understand its popularity and impact on our culture at large. From Robin Thicke’s bestselling song “Blurred Lines” which tells women “I know you want it” over and over again, to the raping and killing of prostituted women in the Grand Theft Auto video game series, pop culture is awash in images that normalize violence against women.
'Research by media sociologists has shown that the more consistent and coherent the messages across a range of media genres, the more power they have to construct the worldview of media consumers.’
Academic and researcher Kristin Diemer wrote, “Community attitudes on violence against women are an important barometer on gender relations. They illustrate the way people respond when they witness violence, whether victims feel confident to seek help, and whether perpetrators are likely to be excused or held to account for their actions. Changing attitudes is crucial to preventing crises in the longer term…Community attitudes shape the way we respond to domestic violence.”
The notion that media and our environment does not play a role in our values and attitudes is contrary to the actions of multi-million dollar corporations that produce advertising designed to change the way we think and behave.
As marketing expert Nigel Hollis noted - companies expect a return on their investment and they wouldn't invest billions of dollars every year on something they thought didn't work.