Fredrickson: “Fifty Shades” series glorifies abuse, promotes rape culture

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

It’s Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect day for rom coms, chocolate, and a celebration of what love is.

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Of course, any celebration of what love is necessitates a conversation about what love isn’t. Love is not “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The final movie in this awful franchise came out over the weekend, and the only good thing about it is that this finally means it’s over.

Major franchises are promoting sexual violence, misogyny, and abuse, contributing to a deeply problematic rape culture. Stories like this influence what we think of as normal. Thirty percent of women will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and so will 10 percent of men, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“Fifty Shades” and its source material “Twilight” are marketed to separate demographics or women, but they promote the same message: That stalking, violence, and abuse are equivalent to love. This is not true, and it is not something society should tolerate.

Local domestic violence resources
Alternatives to Violence: 970-669-5150
Crossroads Safehouse: 970-482-3502

I read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the two sequels when they first came out. At first, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. What I read horrified me. The only reason I finished the series was because I can’t really criticize something I haven’t read.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” tries to market itself as a BDSM book, which could not be farther from the truth. BDSM is about two people getting their mutual rocks off in the bedroom via pain and pleasure, dominance and submission. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this lifestyle. But “Fifty Shades” is not about BDSM. It’s about domestic violence.

Most of the beatings in the book happen outside a sexual context, usually because the woman, Ana, has broken an arbitrary life rule set by Christian Grey. In one instance, Ana uses the safe word, something that is used in real BDSM relationships to make sure the environment is always comfortable for both participants. But in “Fifty Shades,” Grey berates her for ‘safe-wording’ him until she apologizes for using it.

Grey stalks her on vacation, tracks her cell phone, tells her no one will hear her scream when she says she doesn’t want to have sex with him, sends bodyguards with her everywhere to prevent her from breaking his rules, and separates her from her friends and family, only allowing her to see them when he is present.

These are hallmarks of an abusive relationship, but the series would have the readers believe it’s romantic. If your partner treats you this way, please know that this is not romance. It is abuse.

Many battered women’s shelters have taken up arms against the series, with one notably even turning its pages into toilet paper. One outstanding blog goes through the entire series one chapter at a time and points out its troubling themes. 

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“The “Fifty Shades of Grey” book series and film franchise cultivates and normalizes rape myths, psychological grooming for abuse, and sexual violence. In the age of #MeToo, the messages of “Fifty Shades” are not only in poor taste, they are socially irresponsible,” reads the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s web page on the problematic series.

“Fifty Shades” originally started out as a “Twilight” fanfiction, and that series isn’t much better. Edward, who many people consider a romantic hero, stalks, manipulates, and controls Bella; he doesn’t allow her to see her friends (at one point even breaking her car to stop her), he has someone kidnap her whenever he can’t personally oversee her every move, and he constantly belittles her and refuses to allow her to make her own choices. This is abuse.

Fiction like this is culturally problematic because it teaches women what to expect in a relationship, and it teaches men how to behave romantically. I’ve had a stalker – in fact, approximately 325,000 Coloradoans have had a stalker in their lifetimes – and it’s not romantic at all. It’s terrifying.

Major franchises are promoting sexual violence, misogyny, and abuse, contributing to a deeply problematic rape culture. Stories like these influence what we think of as normal.

Stalking, beating outside a mutually agreed-upon sexual context, manipulation, obsessive control, and cutting a person off from family and friends is not romance. But series like “The Twilight Saga” and “Fifty Shades” sell it as romantic.

Fiction matters. Research has long established that the stories we see in TV, books and movies influence how we live our lives, make decisions, and relate to others. Stories have immense power. Good stories like “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” have influenced generations, having noticeable effects on how people live.

Bad stories like “Fifty Shades” and “Twilight” are no less powerful, but instead of teaching people to be kind to others, fight for good, and have hope, they teach women to expect abuse and men to conflate controlling and abusive behavior with romance.

I have known women who were in a clearly abusive relationship and tried so hard to write their partner’s behavior off as romantic or endearing or just how he shows love. This is a huge cultural problem and series like these ones only make it worse.

“Fifty Shades” is not a romantic series. It’s a horrifying story of domestic abuse. If your friends like this series, encourage them to really think deeply about why.

Instead of going to the theaters to see it this Valentine’s Day, take that money and donate it to a local domestic violence shelter like the Crossroads Safehouse. Make a difference this Valentine’s Day, and don’t contribute to a culture of domestic violence.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42