It’s the classic story of the romantic bookworm falling in love with the handsome bad boy. Well, maybe not so classic. Throw in some whips and cable ties and you have “50 Shades of Grey.” However, the first film in a line of future sequels, based on E.L. James’ bestselling book series, is not just a racy film that middle-aged women stereotypically flock to. The underlying theme in the movie promotes a disturbing social issue disguised as a harmless “naughty” flick.
James may be reaping the financial benefits of exploiting the sexual fantasies of her readers, but her books and the film also glamorize the control and power dynamics of domestic violence. How can domestic violence be glamorous? Well, in reality, it never is. But in fiction, it can. Take for instance, the doe-eyed, virginal, lead character Anastasia Steele. After her initial meeting with Christian Grey, a successful, handsome, and mysterious business man, a whirlwind attraction and relationship quickly develops. Here is where the romanticizing of abuse begins.
In exchange for agreeing to become Mr. Grey’s “Submissive” aka his sex slave, Steele is rewarded with extravagant material gifts (like a brand new car and first edition prints of her favorite books), her own room in his fancy apartment, trips in his helicopter, and best of all as said from Grey himself, “me.”
The gifts and luxurious lifestyle persuade Steele, and disturbingly the public, to be more accepting of the abuser’s classic red flags of abuse. Grey’s first red flag, control, is rather apparent to anyone paying attention during the film. During one of their early dates, Grey proposes a sex contract to Steele in which she would essentially consent to being sexually tortured and abused. Because a creepy contract makes it ok, right?
Another clause within the contract was even more disturbing, and pushed the length of Grey’s abusive control to disturbing heights. “The Submissive” as Steele was referred to, was to eat from a diet designed by Grey, and be seen by a gynecologist approved by Grey among other ridiculous rules. But there were also things she was not allowed to do, naturally. She was forbidden from drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or doing illegal drugs. The submissive was also bound to stay monogamous to Grey, “The Dominant,” although the same was not required of him.
The second red flag is when Grey attempts to control and isolate Steele from visiting her family in another state. During one scene, Grey grabs Steele, spanks her, and says “You are all mine!” Which delivers us to the third red flag: stalking. After Steele has the audacity to visit her mother despite Grey’s wishes, he flies halfway across the country and randomly pops up at a restaurant where Steele was having drinks with her mother. “Another Cosmopolitan?” reads a text from Grey spying on Steel. Remember, the grown woman (sex slave) is not allowed to have an alcoholic drink, or have personal relationships with anyone other than Grey. “Don’t worry, I will let it slide this time,” Grey said.
The cycle of domestic abuse is clear in “50 Shades of Grey.” This includes the belief by a lot of victims that they can “fix” their abuser. Throughout the movie, Steele’s goal (besides deciding whether to sign the sex slave contract and submit to abuse in Grey’s “playroom”) is to learn more about Grey’s mysterious upbringing and why he has issues with intimacy and touch. When Grey continuously denies her prodding, Steele decides she’s had enough and leaves him. However, considering there are more sequels coming up, Grey must redeem himself somehow. Which also speaks to the cycle of abuse many victims of domestic violence experience: returning to the abuser.
Overall, the film dangerously depicts abuse in exchange for material wealth, acceptance, and the possibility of “fixing” the abuser and shaping him into the love of your life. This is an unhealthy message because although it might happen in fiction, real life does not reflect the idealized fantasies in “50 Shades of Grey.”
Examples of abusive tendencies
Source: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- “Controlling who the victim sees, where they go, or what they do.”
- “Stalking the victim or monitoring the victim’s every move (in person or via the Internet and/or other devices such as GPS tracking on the victim’s phone).”
- “Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.”
- “Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don’t want to or to do things sexually they are not comfortable with.”
Domestic Violence Resources
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233)
Family Life Line Crisis Hotline (National): 1 (800) 352-0528
Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence: (602) 279-2900 or 1 (800) 782-6400
Center Against Family Violence: (480) 644-4075
Center Against Sexual Assault: (602) 254-9000
DV Legal Advocacy Program c/o Autumn House: (480) 461-4204