Lauren Gross thinks the relationship in 50 Shades of Grey is unhealthy – not because they use whips, belts, rope and blindfolds during sex, but because Christian is abusive.
With the rate of domestic violence in Australia at an all time high, it was incredibly difficult to watch a man hit a woman while she cried in humiliation and pain during a film that has been advertised as a sexy and romantic blockbuster.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a consensual BDSM relationship. If two people both enjoy being tied up and hit during sex than that is 100 per cent okay. It is not okay, however, if one person is being hit and clearly does not enjoy it. It is not okay if she is being emotionally blackmailed by a narcissistic, billionaire control freak who spends more time stalking than working.
Throughout the majority of 50 Shades of Grey the sex appears to be consensual. Ana verbally agrees to being tied up and hit (lightly) and it is inferred that she enjoys it. However, one of the final scenes in the film is disturbing. After an argument, Ana asks Christian to show her how bad a BDSM relationship can get, so Christian proceeds to hit her with a belt six times and asks Ana to count the hits. Christian strips her naked, bends her over a table and hits her bottom with a belt, hard. After hit three or four Ana begins to cry and Christian keeps hitting her. I cringed as I watched Ana, naked and vulnerable, sobbing as a man continued to hit her. Afterwards, Ana retreats in fear from Christian. In a country where domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury in women under 45, with more than one woman being murdered by her current or former partner every week, this scene was incredibly hard to watch.
While this is the only scene that seems to depict physical abuse, emotional abuse occurs throughout the entire film. Christian is possessive, controlling and manipulative to the extreme. He tries to control every aspect of Ana’s life, including what she can eat, what doctor she can receive the contraceptive pill from and how much alcohol she can drink. He took her car and sold it without consulting her, got extremely jealous of any male presence in Ana’s life, and continued to say that Ana “belonged” to him – as if she was his pet dog. Watching the film it appears the only reason Ana agreed to any of Christian’s demands was because she was in love with him and wanted to please him so that he would love her too. When Ana asks Christian what she will get out of Christian dominating every aspect of her life, he literally says “me”, like it’s some big jackpot prize. Ana sacrifices her personal comfort and meets all of Christian’s sexual needs while he refuses to meet any of her emotional needs.
In Mia Freedman’s post on the film she says people who have read the book and seen the film have a completely different view to those who have only seen the film. She said those who had read the book knew what Ana was thinking as the book is written from her point of view. Therefore, book readers know that it is all consensual on Ana’s part. I have not read the book so I do not know what Ana was thinking during that pivotal scene. However, a film adaptation of a book needs to stand alone in a visual medium and be understood by an audience completely independent from the book. If this was consensual in the book, the filmmakers have failed because the film led myself and many others to perceive the relationship as abusive. Mia also said the film is a work of fiction that depicts an abusive relationship. I disagree, because in all of the promotional material that has accompanied the film, their relationship is not described as abusive or unhealthy. It’s described as sexy and romantic and fun. For domestic violence to be depicted in film but not accurately described as such glamourises this behaviour.
When Ana’s relationship with Christian was good, it was really good. There were some genuine moments of affection throughout the film, like when they danced together, when they made each other laugh, and sometimes during sex. However, when it was bad, it was horrible. The physical and emotional abuse she suffered as a result of their relationship cannot possibly be made up by the extravagant gift of a new car or a genuine happy moment together. I feel like this would have resonated with a lot of domestic violence sufferers. A lot of these women say they loved their partner and didn’t want to leave them because apart from the actual abuse, the relationship was amazing. This scarily parallels to a moment in the film where after being physically abused Ana tearfully tells Christian she loves him. I have no doubt Ana has fallen in love with Christian because when he is good, he is so good. But this cannot make up for the fact he enjoys hurting her. He has a tragic backstory about his mother being a crack addict and is still haunted by memories of her. The entire story was not explained but I got the impression that to some degree he hates women because he hates his mother, and he enjoys punishing women because he wants to punish his mother for what she put him through. It’s disgusting that the film expects us to feel sorry for him because of his sob story. I’m sure a lot of real life domestic abusers had a rough start in life too, but no matter what happened in the past, it does not give you the right to hurt someone else.
I can understand the worldwide appeal of 50 Shades of Grey. Confidence is sexy. A woman who is Mr Grey’s sexual partner can surrender control completely to him because he knows how to make her orgasm. For any woman who has ever had bad sex, or is sick of having to give detailed instructions to men in order to get to an orgasm, the thought of being able to surrender entirely to someone who knows what they’re doing is universally appealing. But no matter how great the sex was, Christian emotionally and physically abused Ana and we were supposed to support their relationship because people can change and ‘love conquers all’. The film glamourises domestic violence and perpetuates the fantasy that women can ‘change’ a disturbed, domineering man. Earlier this year the Chief Executive of Domestic Violence NSW, Tracy Howe, said domestic violence had reached epidemic proportions and urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to declare a national emergency on the issue. Domestic violence is horrific and very real, and it’s disgusting to see that 50 Shades of Grey wanted us to swoon over an abuser.
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