Over the last few weeks, the campaign calling on supporters to boycott Fifty Shades of Grey and donate to a domestic violence shelter has escalated - and so too has the backlash from fans of the book series arguing that it was all just a bit of harmless, sexy fun.
We've prepared responses to some of the most common arguments we heard in support of the book series and film.
"It's just fiction!"
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." Read more
"It's so popular!"
Fifty Shades of Grey is popular in large part because of the misleading way the the trilogy has been promoted. It has been marketed as "romance" and "porn for women" and defended as "playful fantasy encouraging women to become more daring in their sexuality." If the story was promoted for what it is - a powerful sadistic man grooming a naive young woman for sexual violence and abuse - we doubt it would achieve the same success.
The popularity of Fifty Shades’ means it has even greater potential to perpetuate and reinforce damaging attitudes about abusive relationships.
Throughout history many there are many examples of oppression, violence and injustice that were popular or socially accepted in their time, but are now strongly rejected. Read more
"But he loves her so much!"
To accept this argument would be to believe that stalking, possessiveness, manipulation, jealousy, control and other elements of intimate partner violence are based in love - that abusive men hurt their female partners because they ‘love them so much’.
Perpetrators themselves like to say they acted out of love. This is false. Read more
"It's not domestic violence- he never hits her!"
There are incidents where Christian does hit Ana, such as when he slaps her during sex, when he puts her over his knee and spanks her backside as punishment for perceived acts of defiance (such as rolling her eyes.) When violence is sexualized it is made to be invisible, and we are supposed to accept it without question.
It is a myth that domestic violence is limited to hitting and punching. Abusive behaviours include making threats, manipulation, intimidation, uncontrollable anger, possessiveness, controlling, withholding money, isolation, humiliation, stalking and sexual violence. Grey’s treatment of Anastasia outside of the bedroom is just as much a cause for concern.
"But it's not an abusive relationship!"
Some fans of the book continue to suggest those critical of the themes and messages throughout need to ‘get their facts straight’. The assertion that domestic violence workers and psychologists analysing the novel ‘just don’t understand’ defies logic.
Unfortunately, a significant number of women are victims of domestic violence or sexual violence. Many women have come forward, distressed that the abuse they endured could be framed as erotic or as a love story. Some individuals cannot recognize domestic violence in Fifty Shades which should not surprise us considering many people do not recognise the nature or prevalence of domestic violence in our culture.
It would appear filmmakers took deliberate steps to portray the relationship as more consensual and less abusive, adding in romantic scenes that did not appear in the book, and leaving out some of the more extreme scenes from the books.
"If she didn't like it she could just leave"
This is a common myth in domestic violence situations- that if a battered woman does not leave her violent male partner, it is assumed she consents to abuse and violence or that she secretly likes it.
Many abused women experience confusion and may not recognize what has been done to them as abuse. Often they still love their partner or believe he will change. Others believe they must have contributed to the abuse or that it is their fault. Many others want to leave but live in fear of their abuser, believing he will kill them if they do, and tragically, many domestic violence murders occur after the woman has already left and the man has lost control of her.
The notion that it is women who are victimized who should change rather than the men who terrorise and abuse them is misguided and an example of victim blaming.
There are occasions in the books and at the end of the film, where Ana does not like Christian’s treatment of her, and she expresses this.
"But he was abused himself"
Many abusers have histories of being victims themselves. This does not justify perpetuating violence or abuse against another person. There are many more survivors of abuse that never harm another person.
"But the violence is consensual"
Psychologists and researchers have dismissed such claims, arguing that behaviours exhibited by Grey are consistent with those present in intimate partner violence. Even the BDSM community rejects the notion that Fifty Shades depicts consensual BDSM, with many citing a lack of consent and condemning it as an abusive relationship.
"Anastasia has one reason only to want to sign this: It’s because she wants Christian, and hopes that this is the way to have him…Indeed, Anastasia makes clear on countless occasions that she wants to have a “normal” relationship where they go on dates and sleep in the same bed, something he refuses to do; and Christian repeatedly tells her that the only way to be with him is to sign the contract agreeing to things she doesn’t want to do.” -Salon article “50 Shades” of coercive sex: The movie is even worse than the book.
There is certainly enough coercion, intimidation, threats and stalking in the book/film to cause alarm, even without a debate on BDSM as a sexual practice.
"Some women just like violent sex"
The idea that Anastasia simply enjoys violent sex, or that she is embracing her sexuality, is based on the false assertion that she is calling the shots, or that she is anything other than a naïve, virginal young woman complying with Christian’s demands. As Gail Dines argues, "Missing from this hype, of course, is a detailed discussion of how the books eroticise violence against women and render invisible the predatory tactics the “hero” uses to groom, seduce and abuse a much younger woman.”
Kourtney Mitchell, author of There Are No Grey Areas In Ending Violence Against Women, writes, "We have to ask ourselves the obvious question: what does it mean to inundate the dominant culture with the elements of violence, sell it to us as desirable under the capitalist paradigm, and still claim to be contributing to the empowerment of women?”
"But he changes in the end"
This is perhaps one of the most dangerous and misleading messages from the book series- that if victims of violence and abuse stick around, they can ‘heal’ the abuser if they love them enough. This notion is not based in fact, as in reality the violence tends to escalate over time. As sociologist Gail Dines said, “Battered women's shelters and graveyards are full of women who had the misfortune to meet a Christian Grey.”
"You're judging other people's sex lives"
This intention of this campaign is critiquing the dominant message in the books and film that violence is sexy and desirable, that stalking, emotional abuse and sexual violence are representative of love and romance rather than intimate partner abuse.
"You are just prudes who hate sex"
This is what defenders of 50 Shades of Grey have said to those who object to the series and its message. It is the same thing we have heard over and over from men defending pornography.
To modify a phrase from anti porn campaigner One Angry Girl - "comparing porn and 50 Shades of Grey to sex is like hitting someone in the head with a frying pan and calling it cooking."
Sexual exploitation, pornography, violence and abuse are not the same as sex.
"If you don't like it don't watch it!"
Women don’t have to actively participate in media that romanticises and normalises violence against women, but it is increasingly difficult to avoid the film or its message.
The film has been aggressively marketed via a number of advertising mediums, including outdoor advertising and billions have been poured into merchandising the brand. Charity organisations including a preschool and anti violence organisation were set to use the film as a fundraiser before cancelling at the last minute. It has also been reported that a middle school in the US is investigating how their school students were given a 50 Shades 'find a word' puzzle featuring explicit sexual terms from the story.
Fifty Shades is a massively popular cultural phenomenon, perpetuating and reinforcing harmful attitudes about violence against women. Women cannot simply opt out of a culture that exploits or harms them.
The argument ‘if you don’t like the film don’t watch it’ makes as much sense as arguing "if you don't like air pollution don't breathe."
"This is censorship!"
Raising awareness of the film and domestic violence is not censorship, nor is calling for a boycott.
It is important to expose the harmful messages and intimate partner violence themes in Fifty Shades of Grey, particularly in a culture where one woman is murdered every week by her current or former partner.
We are calling on the community to see Fifty Shades for what it is, a film glorifying abuse of women, and asking them to consider whether this is something they want to financially support.
There Are No Grey Areas in Ending Violence Against Women- Veterans For Peace
"Double Crap!" Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey- Journal of Women's Health
Sadistic abuse is not romantic- Melinda Tankard Reist
Don't let Fifty Shades of Grey ruin your Valentines weekend- Gail Dines
Australians still trivialise and excuse violence against women- The Conversation
Don't be fooled by Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian Grey is no heartthrob- The Guardian
One Angry Girl Anti-Porn Resource Centre
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Even those that don’t choose to watch the film are impacted when a society sees stalking and obsessive behaviour as normal?
Fifty shades does NOT show a consensual relationship. But it’s not supposed to. It’s BDSM erotica, and its entire purpose is to help submissive women achieve orgasm, as literally and bluntly as that is. As such, it doesn’t depict ‘real life’ BDSM. It depicts a BDSM fantasy. It’s basically porn. You know that whole ‘porn isn’t realistic, there’s an epidemic of men who try to apply porn stereotypes to real life and it fails miserably.’ Just because a significant amount of women fantasise about being dominated and sexually abused in some way, doesn’t mean they actually want it in real life. Subs know that this is just a kinky fantasy and in real life they would NOT find rape sexy. But they do get off on erotic movies and books which glamorise it. The REAL problem with this movie is it’s not entirely clear, particularly because this is one of the first times bdsm has really been made the whole theme of a movie, and people don’t know how to take it. I really don’t think this movie should have been made for the general public because it doesn’t serve the needs of the general public and it desperately requires viewers be educated first that this is just erotic fantasy. Otherwise this^^ sort of shit happens. It’s like if a porno became published as a movie, and feminists started critiquing how ‘its not realistic that women will fuck the pizza guy when he delivers her ’extra sausage’ pizza’. Duh. It’s not meant to be. This whole thing is ridiculous in so many ways.
On the other hand, for those who are not fans of the Grey guy, Ms. James is refusing to make the next movie unless she has control, total control – how very Grey of her. The problem with that is she wants more explicit – in fact all the explicit sexual scenes acted out on screen. The original director has said that she toned the sex scenes down in order to secure an R rating, otherwise it would have been X and classified as porn. This is on record. If someone does not believe me, go look it up. So even the Hollywood folks know they are walking a very blurred line here. I don’t think it will come to being made. James actually wants Dornan and Johnson having sex and oral sex on the screen – the two actors. That constitutes pornography. Since Dornan’s wife absolutely refused to see the first movie, I somehow think that will be a point of disagreement there. Also Johnson’s mother does not want to see “that” as she put it on the red carpet in front of millions of people.
Still, this is what the fans came for and didn’t get the first time round, hence a lot of angry, frustrated women. Those reviews are on-line too. James is concerned she will lose her fans if next time round she does not get the “total package” as it were to the theaters. Universal says they are in discussions but so far there is a stalemate, especially since the director and screen writers have walked. By most lights in the authentic artistic world, James cannot write her way out of a paper bag. So who will do the screenwriting. James thinks she can. The UK and Europe are not about to relax their standards either. But she can still make a porn film that will be available on-line and in adult book stores, for those who just cannot get enough Grey in their lives.
Again, I am praying that Melissa is right. This is just a movie with minimal impact. I personally believe it is for folks who can only define themselves or live for their next orgasm and will overlook anything, lie to themselves and take on those who oppose them in search of a few seconds of what the French call, “the mini-death.” But history has shown that the arts a culture supports tend to reflect its values. That is the worrisome part for many, many, many women and men in this country right now.
Many of my friends have asked me why I follow this so closely. I tell them that I also try very hard to keep up on the latest developments in the cure for cancer. In my opinion, this impacts us all. As I say, some cannot see past their next titillation and sexual satisfaction. But millions are concerned that we find a cure for whatever it is that makes Grey such a phenomenon to begin with. There my friends may lie the problem.
There are hundreds of comments on that page, we have deleted many abusive comments and blocked many users making these comments, but it has been virtually impossible to keep up with all of them. There are limitations to how much time we can devote to this. We could spend hours moderating the page only to come back and find new users posting abusive comments. As time allows we do go through and remove those that persist with this behaviour. Individual users also have the option of reporting abusive comments, which assists us in identifying the problem.
We have addressed the issue you’ve raised once again in the article above. Having been abused as a child does not excuse intimate partner violence. The belief that women can ‘heal’ men is a myth. Anyone perpetrating violence needs to take responsibility for their own behaviour and seek help for any underlying issues that may cause it.
It is not surprising to us that men are using 50 Shades of Grey as a defence for abuse. This is an example of media perpetuating attitudes about violence against women in our culture. The men who committed abuse and used fsog as a defence did this because of the messages perpetuated by fsog and likely other forms of pornography. I doubt these men have read our website, if they had their harmful views about women would have been challenged, not reinforced.
I also have relied on the reviews by other, more prominent, artistic critics as well as making up my mind not to see the movie by seeing the trailers. I don’t drive every car on the lot before deciding on a purchase. I read Consumer Report, and rely on the opinions, good and bad assessments, of other drivers. I don’t personally know or even remotely know everything about every political candidate on the ballot when I vote. That does not make me an invalid voter. It just means I do the best I can to make my choices based on information available to me. People forget we are in America and have a right to voice our opinions, pro or con, to theirs and to popular opinions of the day.
One final point and then I really must dash as I am under deadline for my own artistic endeavors. For those who try to put people down as being feminists, I would like to remind them that there are good and bad things about this political posture. There are good and bad cops, priests, teachers and artists. The feminist movement, which began long before most of the people on this post were even on this planet, has done a lot of good. There also have been extremists, as with everything, who have hurt the cause.
But ladies, please take a moment to realize that without the feminist movement 50-60 years ago, many of you would not be enjoying the liberties you have today. It is like the kids who refuse to stand and salute the flag until they see a soldier in a wheelchair who paid a price for their freedom to disrespect the flag. They are clueless until they see the battle scars. My generation paid a high price so women no longer have to trade on their backs. Our cries are against a movie/book that makes personal worth once again based on the sexual objectification of both genders. Grey is a sexual object here as well girls. I seriously doubt women are fantasizing over his jet or penthouse.
Our cries are our battle scars too. And when people categorically criticize the feminist movement, they put down many (men and women) who fought a war so we have the choices we have today. Make your choices by all means – but please do not slap those in the face who authored the right to make those choices. I mean no disrespect. I am just hoping that we can return to sane dialogue and not personal insults based on age, sexual preferences, or political postures. We will see who agrees with me or not.
Laura L. Padgett,
Author/Speaker and Dancer
No worries about multiple comments, I can delete the second one if you like and leave the first and third one. Good observations about the fan reactions to rumours about actors. The fan reactions online have been very intense.
The online hostility is exhausting. I enjoy discussion and debate and its been great when people share their thoughts respectfully. It leads to more clarity, sometimes one or both people change their views (or maybe their wording – sometimes disagreements come down to misunderstanding) or sometimes both parties stick with their views but can move on.
A boycott is voluntary by definition, you are welcome to boycott whatever you like, including this website. You are under no obligation to participate in the #50dollarsnot50shades campaign. We have shared information about the impact of media on our culture and how a film like 50 Shades of Grey (FSOG) has the potential to reinforce harmful attitudes about violence against women. It is up to each individual what they do with this information – they may choose to boycott the film, or not.
I am one of the page moderators for Collective Shout’s Facebook page and I want to address your claim that you were “part of Collective Shout’s site” and that you were blocked from the page for writing comments that “didn’t agree with what collective shout wrote.”
You had little to no knowledge of Collective Shout before posting dozens of comments about FSOG. You stated that you went back through our posts to 2010 to conclude that you “think this site is a feminist site” and we can “stick with womens rights and boring sex.” You were not banned from writing comments that didn’t agree with Collective Shout’s position, you were blocked from the page for comments like this – repetitive, hostile comments, which included calling people ‘stupid’ and making inappropriate comments about other people’s sex lives. Others who appeared to be your family members joined you in this activity and were blocked from the page for similar behaviour.
This behaviour is not going to continue here. You have made your opposition to this campaign and our organisation known. Continuing to discuss this with you – or moderate discussions you may have with others – is not the best use of my time or yours. The article above states our position clearly and thoroughly. If you have any other questions please feel free to re-read the article.
“But he was abused himself”
And this section:
“It’s just fiction”.