Recently I watched the premier showing of the highly anticipated movie 50 SHADES OF GREY. The book turned blockbuster film is about a relationship between a young college virgin, Anastasia, or Ana, and a wealthy billionaire, Christian Grey, who woos Ana into his sex world of BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism). Grey is no romance, however, and is quite accurately portrayed in a recently published article in The Huffington Post as "less of a movie about BDSM and more like an average stalker-thriller" ('Fifty Shades Of Grey' Isn't A Movie About BDSM, And That's A Problem"). The relationship is based on a mutual business contract that must be signed by Ana, a covenant requiring her to engage in acts of BDSM with Christian in return for living with an urbane hottie in a super-rich lifestyle.
The dramatic array of BDSM implements in Christian's bedroom to secure Ana during floggings, slapping, strangulation, etc., is enough to rival a medieval torture chamber. Even the supposed flirtations Christian whispers to Ana are less romantic and more threatening and degrading, common parlance in the later stages of domestic violence. When Christian makes comments like, "If you were mine you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after that stunt you pulled yesterday," he is not charming Ana. He is emotionally degrading her. Though the movie packages Christian to the public as the "perfect romantic man," he is in fact a malevolent domestic violence abuser.
The dominance that Christian shows Ana in the bedroom is not just limited to their sex life. He tries to control her whole life, too, gradually gaining dominance over her emotionally and economically. In my book, Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A guide to Economic Freedom, I explain there are generally three stages to domestic violence: 1) Prince Charming, 2) Abuse, and 3) Control. The Grey plot follows this pattern perfectly, with Christian gaining the trust and feelings of Ana by providing her with nice clothing, hotel suites, and high-end transportation, the charms of which she partakes freely in return for servile submission to his twisted sexual fantasies, psychological torture, and physical abuse.
At the 57th Annual Grammy Awards President Obama noted the significant influence Hollywood sways over public opinion, and in my view, over much of the public's perceptions of reality. If so, then as a society we may want to reconsider the impact of promoting a movie like 50 Shades of Grey on the younger generation, especially on susceptible college students still trying to figure out what is and what is not a "normal" relationship.
Though some articles posted by feminists and anti-domestic violence supporters have strongly condemned Grey as a domestic abuser, as seen in an articled published by Beth Penny in The Independent (Fifty Shades of Grey: It doesn't take a genius to realize that Christian Grey is a domestic abuser), the consensus among college students is very much unclear. When asked to comment about the movie one University of Michigan student said, "I thought Anastasia (the female protagonist) was actually really good. She was actually funny, and I liked that she was a strong, independent female lead." Another group of young girl students at the same university said they didn't like the movie simply because of the "bad acting" or that it was just "bad porn." A group of girl students at Northwestern University similarly commented the movie "just wasn't worth seeing" because it was bad acting. None directly expressed an aversion to Christian's abusive behavior, perhaps alluding to the alarming thought that increasingly young college students have become overly exposed to, desensitized, and accepting of cross-gender violence at such traumatic levels.
Ending domestic violence requires the help of all segments of society, national policy makers, media, businesses, and in the home. It's a responsibility that requires constant campaigning. It requires the deconstruction of the basic thinking and stigmas surrounding the definition and qualifications of "freedom" for women and children.
The goal of my organization Second Chance Employment Services, the first employment agency in the U.S. for victims of violence, is to equip and empower domestic violence victims with the means through financial independence to break free from an abusive relationship. The movie Grey is extremely contradictory to my life work and the vision I have for young women today, one of independence, individual strength, and thriving in a mutually supporting and respectful relationship. If the entertainment industry continues to send mixed signals to the public -- specifically the easily influenced younger college generations -- this goal naturally becomes harder to achieve.
At the end of the movie, Christian doles out some of his worst punishments, a grand finale of diabolic torture. Ana seems to have an epiphany, questioning why Christian would treat her like that and leaves. The movie ends there. By comparison, the book ends similarly with deciding to leave Christian as she cries in her apartment. Neither of the endings is cheery nor do they change the standard of abuse that both the movie and book establish throughout the entire plot. In fact, by crafting an ending where Ana finally stands up for herself one time, it makes the relationship seem more desirable and almost acceptable as Ana is not being manipulated at all in that she always had the power to leave. As a service provider and advocate for years, I have rarely seen victims of domestic violence just get up and walk away from their abusers, no more than can a dog fitted with an electric collar break free from an invisible fence, a commonly held misconception I debunk in my book.
Victims who have suffered from abuse should not see this film. It could only have adverse effects on recovering victims, like brainwashing them into thinking that their previous abusive relationships may have been acceptable or that maybe they were overreacting to the aggression showed by their partner. Personally, I believe endorsing a film like this is directly linked to promoting domestic violence and all the stigmas associated with it, like victim blaming.