Finding Mr Grey.

February 15, 2015

A while back, I had a chin wag with students about the fine line that is present in many a discussion about females – in that case, their dress. A recent example has been the great deal of to-ing and fro-ing over the release (on Valentines’ Day, no less) of the film, Fifty Shades of Grey. The argument surrounding this narrative has been bugging me in a similar way the aforementioned discussion with my students did. 

My understanding of this issue can be put into two simple points: 1. The books sold like wildfire and seemed to have predominantly titillated the ‘housewives of suburbia’ who saw a love story with consenting adults and 2. It brought to the fore, many psychologists, feminists and survivors of abuse, who have presented an alternate and more dangerous perspective; one that looks at a male grooming and trying to utilise complete control of a naïve female; a demonstration of psychological and physical domestic abuse.

I have not read the books and even wrote post at the end of 2012, asking those who had read 50 Shades to write their thoughts, without judgement from me; because I support women and fight for their complete agency to choose and participate in this world with freedom and safety. This novel is simply a great example of where – if anywhere – the line gets drawn between ‘sexy’ and ‘sadistic and sociopathic’. The issue of choice and consent is also smudged for me when grooming is involved as that’s what grooming does – trick people (and children) into thinking something’s OK, when it’s not.

The prevailing argument in its favour is that it’s just a fictional story and is just a fantasy. I completely understand this perspective and think, each to their own. If the sexual escapades of this novel pushed the saucy buttons of women worldwide, then I say, whatever floats your boat. The pro-50 Shaders seem to be more about the steamy, naughty, forbidden [insert own adjective] sex, not so much about the screwed up male (due to his prostitute [of course] mother) ‘discovering’ himself emotionally and physically through Ana.
But the two issues are married together – the psychologically disturbed man, comes with the sex.

So having heard all the arguments in various articles about this relationship and its representation of varying abuse, I simply want to ask:

Question #222: Why him?

Maybe there are women who want to escape their predictable sex lives and find this story does in fact help them do just that. But what about the man himself; not just his skill with a whip?

Maybe there’s also a secret want to have a rich and ‘powerful’ male be a dominant figure, in his expensive suits and play/torture dungeon.
Maybe women like the idea of ‘fixing’ a damaged male – that love will 
conquer all. That if she stays, he’ll get better – even if it means enduring a controlled and abusive existence .

Is that it?

What if Christian were, let’s say, a newsagent, would there be as much sexual excitement in finding one’s own Mr Grey?
In terms of the story, the sexual awakening would be the same for Ana, wouldn’t it?

What I’ve heard, from friends who have already gone to see the film, is that the sex wasn’t as ‘good’ as in the novel but found other differences. This is from a friend of mine in her 20s:

‘I found it uncomfortable to watch but didn’t find it uncomfortable to read. I’m not easily phased but it was unpleasant. Personally I enjoyed the development throughout the series. It was an interesting read. But seeing it in film was sort of next level. It was basically porn. The sex scenes were not overly graphic but the violence was too much. It made me feel sad.’

Isn’t the following image from the film, eerily similar to the very real Julian Blanc many found to be abhorrent in his behaviour towards women. The thought of being grabbed by the neck chills me. That’s because I have been grabbed like that. But it’s still not the reason all this bothers me.

fifty-shades-sex

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On one hand, Rosie Waterline wrote the following review for Mamamia, where she was shaken by what she saw and left the cinema nearly in tears, through to Mia Freedman’s review with her opposing take. One quote stood out in Mia’s piece, that came from a friend of hers:

‘If some women view Christian as a catch – that’s disturbing but it’s their call. The value of the books and the film is the accompanying conversation about what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. A healthy relationship doesn’t involve your partner dictating what you wear or eat. But the author isn’t writing about a healthy relationship! It’s the story of a messed up relationship!’

The first line encapsulates the problem for me – Christian Grey is being touted as a catch and someone to be dreamed of, despite being in a ‘messed up relationship’.
One example (of many) is this bus stop advertisement, of which I got a photo:

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This poster grooms – just like Christian Grey – for selfish reasons.
And that’s what bothers me at the core. How this narrative is being sold.
I think it’s dangerous for those – especially our youth, without the experience to know differently – to believe this is a relationship to aspire to – because it has sex in it that supposedly pushes the boundaries of pleasure?

There are adults who enjoy this story; those who enjoy BDSM (even though many are saying it does not accurately portray BDSM correctly); and that’s fine.

But ultimately there’s one thing that seems to be agreed upon:
It’s not a healthy relationship.

Question #223: So why is it being romanticised?

That’s grooming.

 

8 Responses to “Finding Mr Grey.”

  1. Yeah. I disagree. Women are smart, Paula. Women can differentiate between fantasy and reality. It is normal for women to fantasize about rape, for example, but not believe in rape or wish ever to be raped in reality. It is normal for women to fantasize about a damaged, hot control freak who dominates them without ever wishing to have that relationship in reality. This movie is feeding a fantasy.
    And a poster can’t groom anyone, anymore than a poster of a zombie apocalypse can bring in zombies. It’s just a fantasy.

    • I don’t think I’ve written the post properly. I can feel your passion in your answer and want to say that I truly get the fantasy part and why some of Christian is appealing but the most important part is being ignored. He’s a predator in his core but the general conversation is not discussing him, we’re talking about women.

      Your argument is for the defence of women’s choices whereas I’m not questioning that. I’m looking at *him* – not her the character, nor the other ‘hers’ of the world. The main discussion keeps talking about the sex but not the relationship. You just wrote it yourself, women want to be dominated but not have the relationship – but in this movie (and I say movie because the young girls who haven’t read it, will now have a compact visual representation – the imagining is done for them) – you can’t sell one without the other.
      So the sex is fine. Go for it! But surely to sell that character, a man none of us would actually want to be with, is something we should question. Well, that’s what I’m questioning.

      I understand and accept women have their fantasies – I wrote in the post that I think that’s great (because I know the way *I* like it and understand) but what about our developing girls?
      How it’s been sold is the other thing that is of deep concern to me – him and that. They’re my two questions, not women.
      In the comments of this post on my FB blog page, one reader wrote the following:

      A teen girl on my cousins page said that she needed a Mr Grey I her life after seeing the movie on Friday night. I found that really upsetting. But what I find distressing is that they are 16/17 year old girls. Even more sad is that now there is a comment saying he is a god! Scary stuff. How heavily impacted the children are. And what effects is this having on them and their esteem and sexuality and for how long? I’m so shocked.

      So, it’s being normalised. This may be women’s fantasies but our young have no benchmark to go by – so they’ll more likely than not (true, unless guided through it) see it as normal and reality. The sexuality of this male character is being sold (fantastic) but we have attached a man who not only dominates in the bedroom (what everyone is hot and heavy about) but in all areas of your life (HELL no!) – yet that’s the man young girls are drooling for. May as well call him McDreamy.
      I disagree with you about the poster – being an ad, to groom is practically their sole objective in this paradigm. Also, men like that are sadly a reality and don’t compare to zombies.

      I hope all that made sense – You know when you know what you mean but can’t quite articulate it in the clearest way? Yep. How I’m feeling right now.
      Thanks so much for your comment, Kerri – so good to have a conversation. 🙂 x

  2. Dee said

    Kerri, I have to disagree with you.
    Women who are smart still get trapped in toxic relationships that are far from the fantasy you talk about.
    It is not “normal for women” to fantasise about rape! I was raped; it was not something I had or have ever fantasised about!
    It is not “normal for women to fantasise” about damaged, hot control freaks who dominate them.
    People who are smart can still be groomed.
    This movie and these books are dangerous, to say the least.

    • I’m not going to argue about fantasies. But rape (being taken against your will) is a very common fantasy. I understand how confronting that is to anyone who has actually been raped but it’s the truth. Speak to any sex therapist if you don’t take my word for it. That doesn’t mean the woman WANTS to be raped. It’s a fantasy. Saying ‘I have never fantasised about being raped therefore no-one has’ is as good an argument as saying ‘I’ve never suffered discrimination so there is none’. It’s the truth.
      As for it not being normal for women to fantasize about damaged control freaks – MILLIONS did when they read the book. MILLIONS. Doesn’t matter that you don’t think they ‘should’. They did and do. And you can’t shame women for fantasies that don’t speak to you.

      • Hey again,
        I just wanted to point out that in my post, when I wrote that a guy had grabbed me around the neck and that it’s chilling for me – that is not to say some women wouldn’t like that done to them. I followed that account with a statement saying that that is not what’s bugging me about it all.
        Just wanted to show you that I’m not dissing the fantasy – just the man.
        x

  3. jodiethalegend said

    Yeah, I get what you mean. The whole notion that the abusive man, the abusive relationship, is fun and cool because he is sexy. There is a lot of that being sold to women, especially young women, to train them to be what the patriarchy wants them to be. Submissive, obedient, unquestioning. To me Christian Grey is what every misogynist wants to be. A man who gets all the girls simply by being wealthy and attractive, and who also gets to abuse them and treat them like lesser human beings without consequence. Because in his world all women care about is how rich and attractive men are, and if you are rich and attractive enough you can treat women however you like. The slightly overweight newsagent has no chance, unless perhaps he has a 9-inch penis and a Porsche.

    But if the books were all about the sex, why not frame the sex in a different way? Why not make the male lead a hot newsagent with a 9-inch dong? The sex could still be kinky, but he doesn’t have to be a controlling, abusive jerk. It could have been framed in so many other ways, yet the MRA wet dream was the go-to scenario. I think 50 Shades pretty much feeds on the trope that normal, decent guys can’t be hot sex machines and that women should forgive a man for making them feel like crap most of the time as long as he is pretty and the sex is hot. Mr Grey is the type of abuser we get called idiots for staying in relationships with!

    Using the ‘it’s just a fantasy’ cop-out doesn’t sit with me, that’s like saying porn is ‘just a fantasy’, meanwhile we all know that women are damaged in the making of it, it affects the way that boys learn about sex and damages the ability of men to relate to women.

    If young women were responding to Christian Grey by saying things like ‘he’s nice to look at, but you’d definitely hump him and dump him’ rather than ‘I need to find a man just like him and have a relationship with him’ then you could say that they are seeing the character for what he is. But we owe it to our young people to point out that this is not the type of relationship any person, male of female, should aspire to.

  4. jodiethalegend said

    Reblogged this on Where The Wild Words Are.

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