Listen, I don't really know how to use the word "ironic." I feel like every time I employ it, someone much wiser than me explains that what I am describing is really just coincidental, curious, or paradoxical.
So I'm not going to say I thought it was ironic when I saw the same FB friends that screamed outrage over Fifty Shades of Grey freak out with excitement about the new Beauty and The Beast. But I am going to say I thought it was... odd.
The curtain opens. A mysterious man with a dark secret. Something in his past has left him damaged, dark, angry. A young girl imbued with innocence. The man uses abuse, coercion, and fear to maintain control. The girl goes back for more. Ultimately, the mysterious man is redeemed by his association with the young girl. He is transformed from isolated monster to mainstream "man of the house" by the end of the tale. Ah, romance.
And that's just Beauty and The Beast. I don't really have to write a Fifty Shades of Grey synopsis, because it would read exactly the same way. They are the same story. (Sure Christian had an abusive childhood and the Beast is a meanie that had a run in with a sorceress, but, in this case, the devil is not in the details.)
I think through all the talk of sexualization and "DID DAKOTA JOHNSON SHOW, YOU KNOW, IT?" we've lost the real terror in this year's blockbuster tale. Forget the Red Room. Fifty Shades of Grey is truly upsetting because one of its longest running story lines is the heroine's unwillingness to speak up, not just about what she wants, but what she fears. She stays silent because she doesn't want to lose a man. A man that hurts her to the point of tears. With a belt. Against her will. (The Atlantic has an excellent article on the concept of consent within the trilogy. Guess what? That thing Grey and Steele have? It's not a mutual understanding.)
Many people continue to talk about Anastasia's spectacular loss of virginity, I'd like to hear more talk about her spectacular loss of self.
If we rail against Fifty Shades of Grey, but then take our daughters to see the Disney's new Beauty and The Beast, we are sending them a horrific message.
We are telling them that good girls change bad men. That it is their job to change bad men. That it is, in fact, the stuff of fairy tales to change bad men. We are telling them that they are redeemers not partners. We are telling them man's natural state is brutish and woman's natural state is meekness. We are telling them that abuse is something a relationship can get over... if the girl is just patient enough. We are telling them that love is a dark and winding path instead of a light that illuminates. We are telling them that a sacrifice of self is a sacrament of love. We are telling them that this is all just fine as long as what we perceive to be illicit sex is not involved. And by doing so, we are telling our girls that what we call their virtue is more important than, you know, themselves.
That is a message I'll never serve to my girls with a side of popcorn.
They deserve better.
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