By Cora Morris
“It is an incredible time to be alive.”:
A phrase that seems to flash across my brain all the more frequently at the moment, in quiet moments of humbled acknowledgement. Indeed I see it elsewhere too. It’s chucked around incessantly at rocket launch after rocket launch, called out when another medical breakthrough hits the headlines. With each and every flashy new gadget, we are reminded of the wonders of human achievement, and it is brilliant. I am as glad of these things as the next person, they delight me. But, in all truthfulness? (more…)
By Jess Hayden
Before I start on why exactly it is that Fifty Shades of Grey is a sexualisation of an abusive relationship, I need to clarify something: I shouldn’t have to. The examples of abuse are abundantly clear, and I am continually dismayed by the sheer amount of people who see the trilogy, or the film, as sexy. I also find it offensive that the film was premiered on Valentine’s Day. This film has nothing to do with love, or healthy sex. It’s about a manipulative control freak who stalks a woman, then makes her sign a contract which gives him complete control over her life. I genuinely fear for the people who have missed all these signs, because it demonstrates how easy it is to miss obvious signs of an abusive relationship.
The story begins with Christian stalking Ana, travelling three hours from where he lives, to see her at work. He admits to having stalked her to find out where she works (sorry for the spoiler, it’s in the second book), then asks her out. When on their first date, Christian informs Ana that she can only call him “Mr. Grey” or “Sir” whereas he can call her “Ana”. Alarm bells should be ringing. Firstly, that’s an incredibly creepy thing to do on a first date, and secondly, he’s clearly trying to intimidate her and ensure he holds power over their relationship. He proceeds to tell her Ana that she “should find him intimidating”. This guy is not sexy, he’s creepy.
Sometime after this first date, Ana is out celebrating finishing college with her friends, something she is completely entitled to do. She pocket dials Christian by accident, and in classic Christian Grey style, he demands to know where she is and what she is doing. This is alarming, bearing in mind they had only been on one date at this point. Illegally, he traces her phone calls to find out where she is and goes to collect her. This is not romantic. She specifically told him not to, and hung up the phone because he was pestering her. Instead of taking her back to somewhere she would feel safe such as her house or a friend’s house, he takes her back to his hotel room, after she’s only met him twice. This relationship is not necessarily abusive yet, but the controlling behaviour of Christian forebodes the control he will force Ana later in the story.
The next morning, she awakes confused and asks if they slept together, having no recollection of how she got there. Christian tells her they didn’t sleep together, but also says “If you were mine, you wouldn’t have been able to sit down for weeks after the stunt you pulled last night”. By “stunt”Christian is referring to Ana going out with her friends and celebrating her success. I for one did not realise that drunken pocket dialling people was illegal or deserved punishment. What is illegal though is tracing someone’s calls and stalking them. It should also be clarified that at this point in the book, no mention of BDSM has been made, so this dialogue cannot be interpreted as anything but an open threat. By now, alarm bells should definitely be ringing.
Christian demands an unhealthy level of control over Ana. In chapter 10, Ana’s friend Jose calls, which Christian interprets as Ana cheating on him, telling her he “doesn’t like to share”. She’s not a possession, nor does she belong to anyone. Ana just so happened to be talking to a human who just so happened to have a penis. No person in a healthy relationship should demand that control. It’s all downhill from here.
Subsequently, Christian asks Ana to sign a contract to “stop all this”. When Ana asks what Christians means to stop by this contract, he replies “you defying me”. Forget his money or his looks for a moment and see what is actually happening here: A man is asking a woman to sign a contract which restricts all her freedom and makes her completely submissive to him. If you need any proof of this, in the contract, Ana is referred to as “the Submissive” and Christian, “the Dominant”. No loving, healthy relationship has one partner asking the other to sign a contract giving away complete control to the other. Nor is this BDSM. BDSM refers to control or dominant/submissive power roles exclusively in the bedroom and does not go further than their sex lives. This is not about BDSM, this is about control and abuse. One of the clauses in the contract which particularly infuriates me is Clause 9:
“…the Submissive is to serve and obey the Dominant in all things. Subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above she shall without query or hesitation offer the Dominant such pleasure as he may require and she shall accept without query or hesitation his training, guidance and discipline in whatever form it may take.”
Ana is being asked to sign a contract to establish herself as subservient to Christian, having to endure all sorts of abuse from him. Yes, she signs the contract having read it, but I think this is coerced consent. She says herself “He’s dangerous to my health, because I know I’m going to say yes. And a part of me doesn’t want to”. Fair enough, at this point she hasn’t said no to him directly. But also remember the controlling, intimidating tactics he’s used on her so far and consider whether she really had a choice. Later in the story, when Ana threatens to leave and go to Alaska, Christian tells her “Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone – remember?”. I don’t believe that Ana has any freedom to say no, and this unfortunately leads to Christian taking ultimate control of her body and raping her.
Christian turns up at Ana’s house unannounced and aggressively tries to seduce Ana. Ana clearly tells him that she doesn’t want sex, “’No, I protest, kicking him off”. However, Christian, having no respect for Ana’s wishes, replies “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.” He then continues to have sex with her despite Ana clearly saying “no”. Despite the contractual agreement of consent, Ana says no, and Christian proceeding to have sex with her is indisputably rape. However, as Ana enjoys the sex, the reader and audience is supposed to ignore the fact that it is rape. E.L James seems to think that portraying a woman experience sexual gratification whilst playing a subservient role to a man is some kind of feminist empowering message.
All of this having been understood, I appreciate that this is a fictional story and I am not necessarily condemning the author or the production team for producing such a disgusting story line. However, I am appalled by the ridiculous response to it. Perhaps it’s a consequence of such a pornified and shallow culture, that we see a man abusing a woman, but are too distracted by his abdominal muscles to realise this is happening. Without the sex scenes which draw so many readers in, this is a story of an abusive man controlling and dominating a virginal, vulnerable woman.
By Christiana Paradis
In light of the recent outbreak of racial tensions in the United States—I say outbreak with a grain of salt because I firmly believe these tensions have always existed in the history of the US, but have just been pushed aside the last several years—I questioned how best to support the African American community in the United States. As a white American it outrages me that, “While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses” – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, and that, The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that “in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/fourteen-examples-of-raci_b_658947.html) or that, “Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35” (http://time.com/3313343/ray-rice-black-women-domestic-violence/). Yet I know that these facts can only anger and outrage me a quarter of the amount that they enrage people in the African American community, because despite being able to spit these statistics, I do not live this experience. I do not know what it means to be an African American woman living in the United States and I’m not going to pretend to, but I do believe that I need to do whatever I can to support them and anyone else that is living in a community that is not experiencing equal treatment in the US.
Growing up in a town that is 91.7% made up of Caucasian citizens (US Census Bureau, 2010), I was never surrounded by a shortage of white people and though I was always taught to respect people of different cultures than my own. The opportunity to experience some of these cultures was minimum and the opportunities to check my privilege were even less. Therefore, it came as a huge surprise that one of the first situations I encountered that shattered my white lenses came while watching a Christmas movie, Love Actually, in 2004.
One of the main plotlines in the movie is that Daniel, played by Liam Neeson, has a stepson, Sam, who falls in love with a classmate, Joanna, and in an attempt to win her heart learns to play the drums for their school Christmas Show. The entire movie with intertwining plot lines leaves in you in suspense of meeting Joanna until the very end of the movie. Throughout the movie you must make conjectures about who Joanna is, what she looks like, and of course whether she actually likes Sam. In one of the last few scenes in the movie we are introduced to Joanna while she performs “All I Want for Christmas” at the Christmas Show, while Sam plays drums.
I remember watching the movie in anticipation for the first time to see Joanna and remembered being floored when Joanna was a different race than Sam. Though I didn’t have a problem with it, she was just different than I expected. Then I remember thinking, why is she different than I was expecting? Because she wasn’t white? Why did I think that? That is not okay! I’ve had a few moments like this throughout my life, where I’ve had an immediate judgment, had to backtrack and then question where that thought came from or what was encouraging this stereotype/bias/judgment. In the years since I’ve realized we all make judgments about others, it is what we do with those judgments that determines who we are as a person. Do we make these judgments, let them fester and then act upon them or do we question where they came from and challenge them? Our actions in these moments determine whether we check our privileges or enhance them.
Being an aspiring ally to any community that is different than you takes work. It is an ongoing process. You can’t just take a webinar and – poof! – consider yourself an ally to that community. You must be constantly working to improve the lives of others around you. You must make advocacy a daily routine. You must challenge micro aggressions that you hear. It is a process and quite frankly sometimes an exhausting one, but one that needs to be done. Recognizing your privilege is important, using your privilege for good and to help the lives of others is even better. This video is a stunning example of the ways in which we can use our privilege to enhance the lives of others and act as an aspiring ally
I encourage everyone in a place of privilege to question it and the judgments we make every day. Use it to improve the lives of others and above all speak up! Please don’t just sit by while millions of people fight for their rights. #BlackLivesMatter #Everywhere.