50 Shades of Consent

Christian Grey fans, eagerly awaiting February’s release of the second film in the series, Fifty Shades Darker, are going nuts over the new trailer. Aside from the fact that the books were poorly written and many reviews of the first film have indicated the actors have about as much chemistry as two floor lamps, the story brings up numerous issues pertaining to abuse, sexual assault, and consent. I have no issue with kinky bedroom activities, nor with erotic literature. I take issue not with the content of the story but the response to it. Millions of women see a wealthy, handsome sex god that leaves them a quivering mess. I see a manipulative, coercive, rapist. If a woman enjoys story about control or extreme submission, that’s her business. I’m only disturbed by the fact that so few women notice these elements are even present in the relationship between Christian Grey and Ana Steele. Christian is actually kind of awful. In real life we’d get a restraining order and stay away from him.

I have been told by 50 Shades fans that I’m way off base. Eventually, Ana “breaks” Christian so to speak, of his need to dominate, control, and beat her. You can’t fix a rapist like he’s a puppy that needs potty trained. What happens in book 2 & 3 is irrelevant. In the first he’s a controlling, abusive jerk who preys on a young, naive, sexually inexperienced girl who does not know what it means to consent and apparently can’t identify assault, either. That isn’t the kind of man to be admired. If someone is truly in a BDSM lifestyle, they don’t need to be “fixed” because there is nothing wrong with them in the first place. But BDSM shouldn’t involve confusion, fear, or begging someone not to hit you again (like Ana does). It SHOULD involve mutual trust and communication, where all parties understand what is going to happen, and what is expected of one another. I don’t see that in this story.

It has been argued that Ana does consent because she stays in the relationship and she doesn’t say “no”. Now we’re blaming the victim. Consent goes far beyond “no means no”.  If you are coerced, that is not consent. If you are too afraid to say no, that is not consent. Ana is all of the above. It appears to me than even adults are a little fuzzy on consent. I understand that in fantasy, consent is trivial, but let’s not pretend we can’t see when it’s violated.

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