“50 Shades of Grey” has become a phenomena in popular culture, with controversy being hurled at it from all angles. There have even been journal articles written by people with doctrates who believe that the erotica in the novel and film promotes sexism and domestic violence.
After reading the book and reading about the movie, I have come to believe that “50 Shades of Grey” is nothing but a demeaning novel that idolizes domestic violence and abuse. Furthermore, it is not a proper representation of what a healthy Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) relationship looks like.
“The difference between BDSM and abuse is the focus on consent in the BDSM subculture,” said Dr. C. Lynn Carr, department chair of sociology, anthropology, and social work. “In most BDSM communities that I’ve heard and read about, participants in bondage, dominance and submission negotiate the kinds of activities they are willing to perform and endure, what they like and their limits.”
According to Dr. Carr, the negotiations in a BDSM relationship are very specific, because their reputation in the community depends on honoring these negotiations.
“In many cases, the submissive partner will have a ‘safe word’ that triggers the ‘play’ to cease whenever the word is uttered,” she added.
In the novel, there are scenes where the main character Anastasia utters the safe word, only for it to be ignored by her dominant counterpart, Christian Grey. The scenes that follow therefore represent rape, as they explore non-consensual sex.
“I do not think that ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is an accurate portrayal of BDSM relationships because the actions are not always consensual,” said Brittany Kowalski, a senior double major with sociology and Catholic studies and a minor in women and gender studies. “There is a clear power differential that gives him the upper hand in all situations (whether in the bedroom or out to dinner) and he uses that power and force against her in everyday life as well as in the bedroom. BDSM is about control to an extent but that control is limited to the bedroom and to actions that both partners agree upon.”
So, why is this an issue? It seems that mainstream media and popular culture continue to idolize sexist behaviors, almost brainwashing society of what it is actually doing. Fans of the erotica novel believe that it is a steamy love story, not an abusive relationship.
“When I think of representations of domestic violence in the news media, it’s either to report on yet another legislative attempt to silence survivors or to report on domestic violence as a form of titillation,” said Karen Gevirtz, co-director of the women and gender studies program.
In the “50 Shades” book, Anastasia said this about Christian: “Stalker. Abusive. Manipulative. Abusive. Ignores safe words. Ignores consent. Controlling. Jealous. Threatening.”
I think these thoughts are not only unhealthy in a proper BDSM relationship, but unhealthy in any relationship.
“The gender stereotypes in relation to domestic violence and BDSM encourage men to take on the aggressive and dominating roles and encourage women to be submissive and take what’s coming to them,” said Kowalski. “While this is not the case in all BDSM relationships, outsiders tend to only think of men as the dominators and women and the submissive because of the way that the media portrays the genders in regards to sex and power.”
Kowalski went on to say that these type of stereotypes are very harmful because it may make women feel like they need to consent to something that they don’t want to and make men feel like they need to be aggressive in order to conform to these sexual ideas.
According to Dr. Priti Shah, a psychologist and assistant director of outreach at the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), one in five women are or will be sexually assaulted. Shah went on to say that sexual assault and dating violence occurs on college campuses and among student relationships.
CAPS works to educate the campus on what is considered healthy in a relationship and to recognize signs of dating violence through programs such as SAVE (Sexual Assault Violence Education).
“Science established decades ago what many cultures already recognize, overtly or covertly: healthy human relationships involve a lot of different consensual sexual practices,” said Gevirtz. “Violence that is not consensual, that is designed to subjugate and disempower, is something else. Teaching people to enjoy the victimization of others or themselves, to take pleasure in it, to consider such violence as part of the composition of a positive gender identity- that’s not healthy.”
Rebecca White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.