Yeah, at it’s core, Fifty Shades of Gray has a very strong vein of pure abuse running right through it. And I’ve been trying really hard to ignore that.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it, but finding this image on a Facebook group called “The Reality of Domestic Violence” gives me a perfect launching pad.
I know, I know; a while back, I wrote about all the good things in the Fifty Shades series as far as kink is concerned in a post called Fifty Shades of Consent. Most of what I wrote does apply, but the part where I talked about Christian being in control of himself and a model of eliciting consent? Eh, not so much.
In fact, I found myself thinking, “Who the hell do you think you’re kidding?” not long after I wrote it upon rereading it. Heck, I was thinking that even as I wrote the post, and kept telling myself to shut up and look at the positives.
The fact of the matter is that Christian is one controlling mofo, exactly as detailed in the image above that lists the hallmark signs of an abusive partner. The fact that things turn out OK in the end really doesn’t excuse any of this.
He’s also a stalker, which the image leaves out. I mean, honestly, following Anna around, showing up at her workplace in another town, following her out on the town at night with her friends, etc.? Running a formal background check on her down to what she’s got in her checking account before even doing that? Scary shit…
I was looking for the good parts, and trying to minimize the bad.
Then it hit me – this is just like we so often do when we find ourselves in abusive relationships.
Exactly what I did as I fell down the rabbit hole with his Ex-ness. I knew it was a bad idea to get back together when he begged me, and I even told him why, which he blew off – and then I bought his own reasons, which I even knew made no sense. I knew that he wasn’t seeing it clearly and that I ought to be the one to walk away. But, man, I had so many good reasons to move ahead despite knowing I shouldn’t, so many reasons I so wanted it to work and to be shown that my instincts were wrong, so very many reasons to believe that maybe I was entirely wrong, and not wanting to miss out on all the good stuff I knew was there also… I was hope, hope, hoping…
And I wrote an entire post that exactly mirrors this process that we who end up in abusive relationships go through of seeing what we need to see and then pushing it aside, out of sight, out of mind. A post that is full of denial and ignoring the bad parts in our desperate reach for the good, our strong desire that people actually be good and interested in our best interests, just as our heads in the clouds and our eyes blinded when we are in the throes of new romances. A post that reflected the thought process of denying our own instincts in the glow of attraction, flattering attention – and super hot sex.
So often we see the red flags clearly but we ignore them, or something niggles that we can’t quite identify and so we push it out of our consciousness.
Like Anna, we find it flattering that this hot guy (or gal) finds us appealing, and our pink parts get all tingly, so we ignore the real danger signals that we see coming at us like how annoying it is to have this guy just show up on our doorstep without asking and interfere in our plans. We don’t want to be alone, or we maybe we don’t even know how to be on our own to start with. Our self esteem isn’t at its peak for any number of possible reasons, so we’re especially vulnerable even if we aren’t as young and innocent as Anna was.
So often we see the train wreck coming and watch in helpless, frozen fascination as it careens down the track right at us and derails in our front rooms in a screaming, smoking, twisted heap of shorn and molten metal, running over everything and everyone in its path, leaving a trail of bloody bodies and broken hearts, destroying us as well in the process, not having the sense to get off the damn tracks while there’s still time to avoid the disaster, or knowing we should, but then engaging in magical thinking that somehow we will be saved at the last minute even if we stay firmly rooted to the spot directly in front of the oncoming locomotive and its load.
Christian does indeed do all the right things as far as the BDSM is concerned – requiring consent, not violating limits, etc. His play actions are well within the bounds of consensuality, and are criticized in the kink world as “BDSM lite”, so because this is a kink-related site, I’m not going to get into healthy-BDSM-as-sexual-violence, although of course we know that it can be used in an abusive, nonconsensually violent manner.
But then in the rest of their every day life, he keeps stalking Anna, ignores her pleas to do as she wishes vs what he mandates. He dictates her wardrobe, brings in a doctor to insert the type of birth control that he wants her to be on without so much as consulting her, and even goes so far as to purchase the company she works for so he can fire her even more predatorial boss ostensibly in order to protect her – but also clearly to keep an eye on her every move. He is mercurial, spinning from high spirits to rage in an instant. All kinds of fancy gifts follow on his less than stellar moments – the apology and honeymoon phase of a classic abusive cycle.
Oh, he’s got good reasons for wanting to protect her, it eventually turns out, but he does it with a very heavy hand, without fully informing her of his reasoning, and utterly denying her a say in the matter. Which fortunately turns out OK in the end – but then again, this is fiction, not real life, and the whole series takes place over a matter of just a few months, so we never see how Anna ends up feeling as she gets older and undoubtedly eventually grows tired of all this controlling behavior and begins to see it for the sickness it really is. And to find out that all the love in the world isn’t going to change it, because the sickness is in his core.
As the series progresses, Christian does tone some of this down as they both kind of grow up together – but in real life, these kinds of negative behaviors usually do not go away so easily, even if the person wants to change.
So what’s the lesson for people facing abusive partners, or potentially getting involved with someone who is showing signs of being an abuser?
At the core, it’s about trusting your instincts – and acting on them even if it brings short term pain of loss.
If you don’t like some of the things your date or play partner is doing early on, like Anna didn’t like being followed and made to give up her friends, etc., pay attention.
Don’t try to minimize the lies you find out about or the evidence of broken agreements with past partners. Don’t let the bad behavior slide. Don’t ignore and try to pacify the early hissy fits, thinking they’ll subside, because they won’t. Don’t try to make excuses for why he did this or that, even with previous partners.
Remember that what you see at the outset of a relationship is the very best things will ever be because they are on their best behavior trying to win you; it’s all downhill from there.
In a good relationship with a reasonably healthy partner, everyone will have their ups and downs, and certainly everyone relaxes as they get to know their partner and lets out their less stellar traits, but on balance, you’ll still be dealing with the same basically kind, decent human being you started out with.
Not so with an abuser; that good stuff is an illusion, or a veneer over the real core, the public side, not the private one. They can’t keep up the facade for long, which is why you’ll catch them in early lies, find yourself feeling uncomfortable in the pit of your stomach (one writer said this is what the “butterflies” in the stomach we feel are really about), etc. It’s like trying to keep all the steam inside a pressure cooker once you’ve started to loosen the lid. Hints will sneak out until the whole top finally blows.
And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the dominant is good about consent and limits when playing if he’s still an abusive asshole in enough other ways in the rest of day-to-day life. Not only does the one not make up for the absence of the other, in the end, a dominant (or indeed any other person) who will violate your consent in one arena in life and be abusive will end up violating it and being abusive in others as well. Yes, there are occasional exceptions – but it is deluding ourselves to believe that we might be the ones lucky enough to find them. The odds just don’t favor it.
The danger of this story is it romanticizes these abusive aspects – and then shows things working out fine in the end, which perpetuates the myths that abusers (or kinky people in general) just need the right partner to set them straight, and then somehow they will live happily ever after. It feeds the fear we all have at the beginning when the doubts begin to surface of what we might lose out on if we pay attention to those instincts and run instead of shoving the concerns down and staying.
If you do read Fifty Shades, by all means enjoy the escapism fantasy and hot (if repetitive) sex scenes, but for heaven’s sake, don’t base a real relationship – or your own persona – on this trainwreck of a man’s portrayal.