50 Shades and Abusive RelationshipsPosted: May 11, 2012
Kel over at Coffee and Prozac sent me some very interesting .pdfs. These documents put a fine point on everything that bothers me about the popularity of 50 Shades (okay, not everything… they don’t cover the blatant plagiarism everyone seems to be giving a pass). They were hand outs that would help a person determine if they are in a relationship with an abuser, or if someone has the potential to be an abuser.
Now, when the publicity first started snowballing out of control for this book, Dr. Drew took a lot of heat by saying that 50 Shades was “actual violence against women.” He then went on to state that people who are abused as kids are into BDSM, which sent any validity in that first statement straight down the toilet. One thing he did have right was 50 Shades of Grey‘s glorification of abusive relationships. Unfortunately, because of the size of the ass he showed to Romancelandia, you can barely bring up the abuse components of Ana and Christian’s relationship without someone shouting over you that BDSM is not abuse, and you’re a small-minded person if you conflate the two. Hardly anyone will enter into a discussion of the abusive relationship in this book without the focus shifting to the characters’ sex lives. So, you know, thanks, Dr. Drew. You just made this discussion a fucking minefield.
BDSM is not abuse. I have never, nor would I ever, claim that safe, consensual BDSM is abuse. But these handouts Kel sent me really help pinpoint what is so wrong with the relationship that is the plot of 50 Shades, without confusing spankings with beating. Let’s go through one of them, point by point, shall we?
The following “red flags” are from a hand out entitled “Universal Red Flags” taken from a book called How To Spot A Dangerous Man. The instructions read: “Check all the following that apply even if only remotely”. Let me share the ones I checked on Ana’s behalf:
You feel uncomfortable about something he has said or done, and the feeling remains. I don’t think we need to cite any one particular incident where Ana has been made uncomfortable by Christian Grey. This is prevalent throughout the book.
You wish he would go away, you want to cry, and you want to run away from him. Ana often thinks about how she can “escape” Christian, how she needs to find an exit, how she can’t handle being around him because she can’t trust herself to think clearly. In just the portion of the book we’ve reviewed so far, Ana has ended three of her encounters with Christian as a sobbing mess.
You have the urge to “love him into emotional wellness,” if that were possible. Again, based on the chapters we’ve reviewed here so far, Ana does seem to believe that she can change him, or that he has psychological wounds that need to be healed.
You feel bad about yourself when you are around him. One of the clearest indicators, to me, anyway, that there is a power imbalance in their relationship is the fact that Ana constantly compares herself – how she looks, how she acts, how she’s dressed – to Christian and his very wealthy lifestyle, and she always finds herself lacking. She often wonders why he’s interested in her.
You only feel good about yourself when you are with him. Conversely, Ana doesn’t have a nice word to say about herself unless it is confirmed by Christian. When her roommate tells her that she’s pretty, Ana interprets it as a patronizing compliment Kate can’t possibly mean, but when Christian Grey calls Ana beautiful, she suddenly believes that she is. In fact, the only time she believes anything good about herself is when it’s Christian pointing it out.
You feel that he wants too much from you. I think this one requires very little explanation. Not only does he want more than she wishes to give, he constantly pressures her to give him what he wants.
You are emotionally tired from him; you feel he “sucks the life out of you.“ Now, Ana never says, “he sucks the life out of me.” But again, even if we just look at the first half of this book, she’s doing a lot of crying herself to sleep, needing to get away from him because he’s too intense, etc.
Your value system and his are very different, and it’s problematic. I have this phrase I trot out from time to time with my friends who are dating: If you have to “work on” the relationship within the first month, it’s not going to work out. Sometimes, people are simply incompatible. Ana and Christian have spent most of their relationship with Ana trying to find ways around giving Christian what he wants, and Christian refusing to bend on his expectations. This is not going to clear up in a few more dates.
Your past and his are very different, and the two of you have conflicts over it. Spoiler alert, Christian is obsessive and controlling about food because he went hungry as a child. I know we haven’t gotten to that part of the book in the review yet, but it fits in here. And that’s just one of the ways their pasts differ in problematic ways. While Ana sees his earlier relationship with a much older woman as statutory rape, Christian believes that it was appropriate and has a continuing friendship with the woman, which makes Ana uncomfortable. Ana doesn’t even want the type of relationship Christian is after, they both are aware of this fact, and he continues to pursue her.
You tell your friends you are “unsure about the relationship” Ana has already had this conversation with Kate in the part we’ve reviewed.
You feel isolated from other relationships with friends and family. Ana doesn’t just feel isolated, she is isolated, by the nondisclosure agreement Christian asked her to sign. She finds herself living a double life in order to please Christian and still maintain her relationships with her loved ones.
You feel in the wrong because he is always right and goes to great lengths to show you he is right. This was most obviously displayed in chapter fourteen, where Christian responds to all of Ana’s concerns and questions with long explanations that dance around actual answers.
You are uncomfortable because he continually says he knows what is best for you. He isn’t pressuring her into signing a contract that allows him to act out his sexual fantasies on her for him. It’s all about her, and her happiness. He just wants what’s best for her, just like when he showed up at the bar when she asked him not to, and his concerns about her car.
You notice he needs you too frequently, too much, or too intensely. Christian goes so far as to say that he wants her too much, or that he can’t control himself in her presence because of the intensity of his passion for her.
You notice he quickly discloses information about his past or present or his emotional pain. After they go out for coffee, their first encounter that is not tied to the interview, he warns her off from him with cryptic, tortured statements like, “I’m not the man for you.”
You sense he is pushing too quickly for an emotional connection with you. Okay, this one, Ana wouldn’t check off, but I would. From an outside observer standpoint, Christian is running a very good game of “pull her in, push her away,” which is forcing an emotional connection with Ana. After having coffee with the guy once, she’s on the floor of a parking garage sobbing. This isn’t just Ana being emotionally immature, it’s Ana being emotionally manipulated by Christian.
You find yourself accepting him “for now” even though you have plenty of red flags that would help you to terminate the relationship if you paid attention to them. Ana is already aware that what she wants from the relationship and what Christian wants are two vastly different, completely incompatible things, but she commits to the relationship despite knowing it has no hope of a future.
These weren’t all the entries on the list, but some of the questions regarding previous children or substance abuse obviously don’t apply to Mr. Grey. Looking over what we have here, is this a healthy relationship? Can we even consider this to be a romance novel, with all of these elements in place?
However, we’ve seen ample evidence of women saying they would prefer their husbands to behave more like Christian Grey. Others say that obviously, they wouldn’t want Christian Grey in real life, but it’s the fantasy they’re enjoying. What fantasy? I fully support fantasizing about a man who takes control in the bedroom. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how it would be enjoyable to fantasize about a man who takes control in all aspects of your life. And remember, I’m not talking about just a BDSM lifestyle here. I’m talking about the measures Christian takes to control Ana’s life before they even enter into a relationship together.
The more I think about it, the more I am depressed by the message of this book, a message that so many women have embraced as a romantic ideal. While in the end, Ana does not stay with Christian (spoiler alert), there are two more books in the series. I do not have enough faith that those books will rectify the glorification of emotional-abuse-as-love in the first book enough to read them. The more I delve into this book, the more disturbing I find it, and its popularity.
You may have noticed that the recaps have become fewer in the past two weeks. This is not because I am bowing to pressure or discontinuing them. I just need to maintain a balance between talking about 50 Shades and talking about other things. This is, after all, my author blog and not a blog about 50 Shades of Grey exclusively. The recaps will still go up, just not the five a week that I started with. That way, I will have time to concentrate on what I really want to blog about. INTERPRETIVE MOVEMENT!