Amongst the hype, the Lego and the dubious marketing efforts, there’s a growing backlash against 50 Shades of Grey
A campaign #50DollarsNot50Shades has been launched encouraging people to boycott the film and donate to domestic violence charities instead. Pressure groups and websites I usually support have got on board, arranging cinema protest and inspiring numerous newspaper columns.
However I have to say I disagree and, like a knight in shining armour, feel the need to defend Ana and Christian from their critics.
I liked it. There. I’m not proud.
Now I love a bit of intellectual sneering as much as the next person. I will be the first to admit that they are not good. However, this is pornography. And just as you don’t hear many men lamenting that Debbie Does Dallas lacks the cinematography of Citizen Kane, I’m not quite sure you can judge this by the same standards as literature.
It’s a clunky, clichéd ‘colour by numbers’ approach to fiction. She is always inexplicably banging on about her subconscious and really needs to give the whole Inner Goddess thing a rest. There’s a bewildering obsession about his trousers being on his hips (I’m not sure where she thinks other men wear theirs).
I’m also not the target market for this sort of thing. Despite my carefree exterior I am remarkably prudish. My favourite film is Brief Encounter and I’d far rather my heroine’s had soot in their eye than bodily fluids. I’m also embarrassed by any direct mention of intimate body parts and immediately transported into a Victoria Wood sketch and the moment is lost.
That aside, I do think the critics of 50 Shades are missing the point. Their argument is that it romanticises abusive relationships and encourages naïve or vulnerable women into coercive or controlling relationships.
50 Shades is a sexual fantasy. More than that, it is a fantasy written by a woman, directed by a woman, for women. It is possibly the first example of mass market mainstream pornography aimed solely at women. It is unlikely to be the fantasy of anyone who has survived an abusive relationship or been assaulted and I accept that it can trigger a lot of painful issues for many people. I am not someone who believes that everything a woman does must, by nature, be feminist and should be supported.
However I do feel incredibly uncomfortable that groups of women are taking the internet to tell another group of women that whatever fantasies they may have or enjoy are wrong.
For crying out loud it’s been a long journey of sexual liberation to get to this point and women are already carrying enough guilt around with them without making them feel that they are responsible for the domestic abuse and rape of other women.
Fantasy is by its very nature an indulgence in what we don’t have. These stories have always existed. Growing up, my romantic ideals were a bizarre combination of Heathcliff, Sean Bean in Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Father Ralph with a few Lost Boys thrown in. Christian Grey is not really my type (too weasely) but I must confess that my feelings towards Oliver Reed’s Bill Sykes are so against my feminist principles that I can no longer watch.
It’s also a ludicrously unrealistic portrayal of abuse. Christian Grey practically wears an ‘I’m an abuser’ T shirt with flashing lights, bears physical scars of his own troubled past and makes her sign a contract fairly early on to essentially agree to be abused.
Real life abuse is, in stark contrast, marked by its mundanity. They don’t start out abusive. They begin as doting, charming, loving with the gentle erosion of self-confidence and self-esteem. Often the victim doesn’t even realise what’s happening and when she does, by then it’s too confusing or frightening to leave. The painfully slow storyline between Helen Archer and Rob Titchener is a far more realistic portrayal.
Men rape women, men abuse women and men control women. It’s a message that groups such as Everyday Victim Blaming constantly reinforce. I find it hard that the focus is then on women for being complicit in the culture of abuse rather than the perpetrators.
Far better to concentrate on male culture. I am partial to the odd thriller but even I have grown increasingly uncomfortable at the level of casual, sadistic violence against women. Tombstone, Liam Neeson’s latest outing, follows the standard ‘anonymous pretty girl in peril’ format with mutilation and torture scenes that are shocking simply due to their normality. I would argue that this has a far greater influence over its largely male audience and their likelihood for contempt towards women.
All this gives the film more importance that it needs.
In reality, 50 Shades of Grey is really just a film about washing. I was greatly alarmed and amused to see Surf’s Limited Edition 50 Shades washing powder, complete with handcuffs, but actually it makes perfect sense.
It has become such a massive phenomenon because most of us are just knackered. It would never have been successful 30 years ago. I read a Jackie Collins as a teenager, and from what I remember there were a lot of power suits, high flying dominatrix kind of women wearing stockings and no knickers. However these days most women have tried that (maybe not the no knickers bit) and realised it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
What 50 Shades represents is not a consensual BDSM relationship but a total lack of decision.
I am married with 2 children trying to run my own business and remain vaguely interesting. My days are made up of endless decisions, logistics, and calculations that leave me exhausted by the end of the day. It’s not the manual toil, but the mental processes that are overwhelming.
A story where the central character has no autonomy and is required to make no decisions whatsoever is remarkably appealing.
I read 50 Shades a couple of years ago but the bits that stayed with me were not the sex. They were
- That scene where she wakes up in VERY expensive sheets to find that the clothes that she’d left on the floor in passionate abandon had been washed, ironed and put away for her and there were some new ones that had miraculously appeared.
- There was always food in the fridge, ready prepared just needing to be taken out and eaten.
- He buys her a car. She did not consult a single Which report on safety or fuel economy.
- She wasn’t even expected to park the bloody thing.
- There’s a whole section on her being really tired from all the sex and then having a really long sleep.
Now I have been with my husband for 20 years. I genuinely have no need for a handsome multi-millionaire with a sex dungeon and a large chopper (snarf snarf). However, we often get to 6 o’clock and realize there is nothing to eat. It took a long time to decide what colour to paint the hall. The nights when I’m exhausted from a night of non-stop sex (kinky or otherwise) are arguably less frequent but last week I was awoken at 3am to discover my 5 year old got into my bed and weed all over me.
So actually if you want to spend 30 minutes in the bath reading about total subjugation knock yourself out …. before you get out, realise there are no clean towels and go downstairs to help your husband look for his keys.
I would love to hear your views and this is in no way an attempt to take away from the incredible work that charities such as Women’s Aid do. Therefore I have and would encourage everyone who does decide to see the film to still make a donation.