This piece was originally published on Many Kind Regards. It is being reprinted here with the permission of the site owner, as well as the author.

Is 50 Shades of Grey Perfect Fiction?

by | Feb 19, 2015 | All Blog Feed, Domestic Violence, Healthy Relationships, Sexual Assault | 0 comments

I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.
I promised myself that when this movie came out, I would just let it slip by…

I promised myself I wouldn’t write about it or acknowledge it any further than absolutely necessary.

The academic in me is remembering a quip from the late Robin Williams – something about, “I was violating my own standards faster than I could lower them…”

The advocate in me is saying, “You have their attention – leverage it.”

Lucky for me [she said with a heaping pile of sarcasm] I’m more of an advocate than an academic.

So when I read the words, “There isn’t a Christian Grey out there because he’s portrayed as the ‘perfect man’” in an article on Many Kind Regards, I absolutely had to respond.

Now, please note that I am writing as someone who has read all three books, and watched the movie. It’s probably worth pointing out that when I went to the movie, I had a pen and notebook in hand. And yes, friends – I was indeed wearing my feminist hater-pants and black lipstick. No really, I was – see?


Why you ask? Because some people go to see popular movies to partake in the entertainment. And some of us go to see what messages are being broadcast and passively consumed.

Because survivors of domestic or relationship violence are no more stupid or less observant than the rest of us.

Perfect Fiction

The author’s assertion of Christian Grey as both the perfect man and fiction brought back images of the scene unfolding in the movie theater- not on the screen, but rather in the seats around me:

Women giggling like schoolgirls and their collective breaths hitched in sync for the first three-fourths of the film. The audience turned orchestra responded with perfect timing to scenes that teemed with charismatic platitudes, giant areola (I swear one shot was so close her boob was like 8 feet across) and a hazy silhouette of a character entirely devoted to gifting himself to the girl who captivated his interests.

Before I present what I feel is perhaps one of the few truly valuable takeaways from this experience, I want to draw attention to what I feel are the two “camps” with respect to the whole 50 Shades thing.


The Two Camps of 50 Shades

First, you have the folks who are like, “Christian/50 Shades is a evil.” Here, you’ll find your arguments for how it’s porn, it’s immoral, it’s abuse, it’s violence.

On the other side of the aisle you have your, “Christian/50 Shades is awesome!” and the predictably, “it’s hot, relax—it’s fiction, it’s about healing through love” dialogues.

Spoiler Alert:  I believe it’s entirely the latter. From the character’s own dialogue we are told that he is very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them.” [1]

Over the years, I’ve learned to take people at their word.

In the movie we also see Christian zero-in on Ana’s low self-esteem – grooming her with lofty praises, like “Men must throw themselves at you.” Something that we, he and she all know is not true. He is charming, caring (at times), considerate with just enough hint at a “white knight” to keep the women in theater around me hooked.

And therein lies the issue. If you focus on the story entirely from Ana’s perspective, we see a girl being romanced and pursued by someone who is insanely handsome, rich, successful and persistent.

I doubt there’s a woman in that theater, as I look around, who wouldn’t be on board…

And then I think to clients and survivors of domestic violence, of dating violence and sexual abuse with whom I’ve worked.

I think about how often they come in with the same questions falling from their lips, “How could I’ve been so stupid to believe him?!  How could I not see how controlling he was?”

I remember sitting in the theater wishing I had a giant remote control to pause the movie so I could jump up and say “THIS IS HOW!!!”

Because survivors of domestic or relationship violence are no more stupid or less observant than the rest of us.

“Oh no.  Please no handsome, successful men for me! Go away! I like my men ugly, working minimum wage, living in their parents’ basement and beating me on the first date, thanks!”

Seriously, who says that?

From what I can tell, one of the main differences between people in the two camps is the how they answer the following question:

“Is Christian a puppet master?”

In other words, outside the “playroom” is Christian 50 steps ahead of Anastasia and manipulating things behind the scenes to get what he wants, or are they both on the ride of this budding relationship together?

The Pen Has Permanence

In the book it’s much easier to see. Christian’s patterns and behaviors are penned into permanence.  And what’s more, at the end of the third book – more spoiler alert – we find out about some of the behind the scenes string pulling and background checking Christian does to fabricate chance meetings – which even he characterizes as stalking.  Reading through with this knowledge in mind, shifts much of the story.

The problem is that in real life, we don’t get to read the epilogue penned from another person’s point of view.  In real life, we are confined – damned, even – to our own very limited perspective.

I truly do believe that the book and the movie illustrate the trappings of an unhealthy, controlling, abusive relationship. I think it’s worth noting here, albeit in passing, that these signs/symptoms of an abusive relationship are also highlighted as “Abuse” on – a BDSM website.

For the sake of time, in the first book/movie we see examples of:

•   Jealousy
•   The need to possess without knowing much of the other person
•   Controlling behaviors
•   The theme of freedom being at odds with safety
•   Showing up unannounced and/or tracking whereabouts
•   Attempting to dictate eating and grooming habits
•   Creating or encouraging isolation

And perhaps the most honest and realistic of the unhealthy cognitive patterns, is the permeating belief that Ana can change him:

“This is a man in need. His fear is naked and obvious, but he’s.. lost somewhere in his darkness. His eyes wide and bleak and tortured. I can soothe him. Join him briefly in the darkness and bring him into the light… If I do this for him, maybe he will let me touch him.” [2]

These traits – behaviors and thought patterns – are in many ways realistic relational depictions. They just so happen to be those realistic traits that characterize many abusive relationships, controlling and manipulative relationships.

50 Shades may be sold as erotic fantasy, but these patterns are true to life – just not true to a life that survivors of such would characterize as glamorous, sexy or perfect. The outcome in real life varies greatly from E.L. James’ version. In the real life versions, many of these women end up in shelters, emergency departments of hospitals and sometimes – dead. And if you are of the belief that rehabilitation for violent controlling men is possible – I am sure it’s not done simply through the obedience and submission of their partners.

Cirque de — Whatever…

So there you have it. I could care less if you are shackled to a four poster or swinging from treetops in your bedroom.  If your bedroom habits are more effective than Ambien, or if they rival a Vegas acrobat show.

I don’t particularly care if you own porn, watch porn or star in it either.

I don’t care if you’d rather read the Kama Sutra or Thomas Hardy; or if your toes curl to the point of giving you calf cramps when you hear the name Christian Grey.

What I do care about is that we take a careful close look at what we deem “perfect” and “fiction” and make sure we’re not applying the terms too loosely.  And I’m happy to take the opportunity to help others better understand how seemingly normal, well-meaning, smart people can find themselves trapped deep in unhealthy relationships that seemingly have no exit.

If you, or someone you love is in an unsafe relationship, please seek help.

Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

You can also contact the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Original Image: Pixabay

References & Links:

[1] James, E.L. (2011). 50 Shades of Grey. pp.11[2] James, E.L. (2011). 50 Shades of Grey. pp.349