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.