THE BLOG
08/12/2013 09:15 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Is Fifty Shades Triumphant for Women? Or Further Entrapping Them?

The Fifty Shades trilogy, the Western world's fastest selling paperback series, has been heralded as triumphant for women because of the influence that "plain looking" Anastasia has on the emotions and behaviors of "Greek god-like" Christian Grey.

Triumphant for women?

Our systematic analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first novel in the trilogy, reveals pervasive emotional and sexual violence in Christian and Anastasia's relationship. Our analysis also shows Anastasia suffers significant harm as a result--including constant perceived threat, managing/altering her behaviors to keep peace in the relationship, lost identity and disempowerment and entrapment as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian's abuse.

Christian uses an interlocking pattern of emotional abuse strategies--stalking, intimidation, isolation, and humiliation-- to manipulate and control every aspect of Anastasia's behavior. These strategies are consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definitions of intimate partner violence.

National surveys suggest that 25 percent of women will be the victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Global surveys from the World Health Organization indicate that as many as 71 percent of women will be the victims of partner violence.

Within Fifty Shades, Christian routinely stalks Anastasia by appearing in unusual places, tracking her whereabouts using a cell phone and computer, and delivering expensive gifts--a reminder of his presence and control over her. He intimidates her using verbal and non-verbal behaviors, such as threatening to punish her and commanding her to "eat." He isolates her by limiting her social contact through anger and manipulation. And he chronically humiliates and embarrasses her.

Just a week after meeting, and without any form of communication, Christian "appears" at the independent hardware store where Anastasia works. Christian humiliates Anastasia by asking her to locate various "odd items," such as cable ties, masking tape and rope; he doesn't stop even after Anastasia's body shows physiological signs of embarrassment, including a "recurring blush." Midway through the hardware store encounter, Christian's mood changes suddenly from "friendly" to "cold and distant" when Anastasia says hello to a male colleague. Anastasia worries that she has offended Christian and quickly introduces Christian to the male colleague.

Christian's withdrawal during the hardware store encounter sets the stage for future isolation of Anastasia from friends and family. Later in the novel, after returning home from a night out with her friends, Anastasia finds an email, five missed calls, and a voice message, in which Christian warns that she needs to "learn to manage [his] expectations" and "he is not a patient man." Anastasia panics in response and calls Christian immediately to explain herself, reflecting internally: "Double crap. Will he ever give me a break? He is suffocating me. With a deep dread uncurling in my stomach, I scroll down to his number and press 'call.' He'd probably like to beat seven shades of shit out of me. The thought is depressing."

The sense of "panic" Anastasia feels in response to Christian's withdrawal at the hardware store and similarly upon learning she's missed an email, five missed calls and a voice message is a feeling pervasive in abused women, as outlined in Smith's battering framework.

Anastasia's modifies her behaviors in response to the threat she feels. She withholds information about her whereabouts with friends and family to avoid Christian's anger. Likewise, Anastasia routinely participates in uncomfortable sexual activities to diffuse Christian's anger. For example, she is upset about Christian's graduation gift of an Audi A-3 (retail, $30,000) and is threatened by his angry response.

Christian: "It's taking all my self-control not to fuck you on the hood of this car. If I want to buy you a fucking car, I'll buy you a fucking car. Now let's get you inside and naked."

Anastasia: "You scare me when you're angry."

Yet, Anastasia participates in sex, to diffuse the mounting tension, lamenting internally: "Another mercurial mood swing; it's so hard to keep up."

Over time, Anastasia becomes disempowered and entrapped in the relationship because of the abuse Christian projects onto her.

Anastasia's reactions are exacerbated by Christian's use of sexual violence, including using alcohol and intimidation and threats. After both drink generous amounts of wine at a dinner party, Christian instantly angers upon learning that Anastasia plans to visit her mother in Georgia and that she had drinks with a friend. He intimidates Anastasia, while clenching his jaw and narrowing his eyes: "When were you going to tell me you were leaving ... this conversation is not over ... I am palm-twitchingly mad." Christian further intimidates Anastasia by moving his hand between her legs underneath the dinner table. Anastasia's body "tightens in response" and she worries "not here, not now...I reach for my wine in desperation."

Christian takes Anastasia from the dinner party to his parent's boathouse, where he details his anger and "fucks" her:

"...I'm mad because you never mentioned Georgia to me. I'm mad because you went drinking with that guy [Jose] who tried to seduce you when you were drunk and who left you when you were ill with an almost a complete stranger. What kind of friend does that? And I'm mad and aroused because you closed your legs on me.''

Anastasia resists: ''Please don't hit me. I don't want you to spank me, not here, not now. Please don't."

Triumphant for women?

Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence--one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture--including standards that promote the "entrapment" of women in dangerous, unsatisfying relationships.