‘Fifty Shades’ romanticizes abusive relationships


The Appalachian Online

Kelsey Hamm

With the movie release of “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Feb. 13, thousands will line up to watch one of the most mainstream erotic narratives of our time.

Originally a novel trilogy by E.L. James, the story follows protagonist Ana Steele as she navigates her relationship with Christian Grey, a wealthy business man with a “side interest” in BDSM – the erotic fetish and potential lifestyle choice including elements of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism.

Despite the popularity of the novel, it romanticizes abusive relationships and portrays BDSM with dangerous misrepresentations.

Grey’s childhood sex abuse and early introduction to BDSM is revealed in the first novel. While his previous sexual assault is unacceptable, it doesn’t excuse his behavior toward Steele.

Examples of Grey’s abusive behavior include refusing to let Steele use vehicles because of her “unsafe” driving and policing her body and food intake by forcing her to eat, dress and style her hair in a particular fashion.

The Red Flag Campaign defines signs of detecting abusive relationships. These signs include identifying a partner who acts excessively jealous and possessive, controls another’s actions, keeps one from seeing friends or family, does constant check-ups, and limits access to money, the phone or the car.

Despite these similar signs of abuse, the novel trilogy ends with the couple in a married relationship, with tentative implications about Grey’s changed behavior.

According to the National Domestic Violence hotline, victims in abusive relationships often stay with their partner for extended time in hopes of changing their behavior. In reality an abusive person cannot be “changed” with love and to suggest that they can is misleading.

The novel also implies that interest in BDSM is tied to previous abuse. BDSM is not abuse. It’s a safe, sane and consensual activity willingly participated in by all parties – or at least should be.

Steele asks Grey to show how bad BDSM can be, resulting in him whipping her with a belt. This scene is enough to discredit the novel as safe or sane.

No responsible person involved in BDSM would agree to whip someone inexperienced. People active in these intensely painful activities have built up to that level.

In BDSM, it’s required that all parties be emotionally stable – Grey is not. The implications for the BDSM community due to this novel are severe as it remains heavily stigmatized.

If these novels have peaked your interest in BDSM, that’s fine – but please remember that it’s not a safe depiction. It’s highly important to seek correct and accurate information before getting involved, and I suggest taking on intensive research before supporting the movie.

Hamm, a sophomore computer science major from Cary, is an A&E reporter.

STORY: Kelsey Hamm, A&E Reporter