50 Shades of NOPE
The raging social media debate around 50 Shades of Grey stems from a fundamental misperception. Protesters are picketing screenings, charging the filmmakers with glamorizing domestic violence and women who read and enjoyed the books are feeling insulted and defensive. The two sides are butting heads because they are coming at this from two very different perspectives.
A woman reading about being tied up and whipped is in no danger of physical harm; on the contrary, she’s in complete control of the experience and of course Ana is a fictional character. Fans who feel judged by the critics are saying “no harm, no foul” but if the criticism stings, you might ask yourself why. Denunciations of the franchise are not aimed at women who have the freedom to read or watch what they want and enjoy their own fantasies. I think we all understand that you don’t read romance novels in order to enter into the feminist discourse. The personal experience needs to be separated from the social aspect of this phenomenon.
The valid criticism of the 50 shades franchise comes from thinking critically about the negative impact this franchise will likely have on our society as a whole. The sheer magnitude of the controversy speaks to how many people are thinking about this and connecting it to other important conversations our culture is having about women, sexism, freedom and consent. The problem is that there are lots of people who are too young or inexperienced in relationships to comprehend the significance of this cultural context or protect themselves in a real relationship that crosses the line and becomes abusive. Worse, they may view abusive behaviour is ‘normal’ or acceptable because it is portrayed that way in the media.
Is this just a tempest in a teapot, or has yet another battle been joined in an increasingly loud culture war? I think we’re at a tipping point in the understanding of, and respect for, women’s autonomy and agency. There was a time when white people used the N-word with impunity. An uncomfortable struggle preceded our recognition that people of other races, religions and sexual orientations should not be treated disrespectfully. The incredibly ignorant recent comments from the mouths of Republican lawmakers are a clear indicator that we haven’t yet turned the corner with respect to our cultural recognition of the equality and dignity of women. On the contrary, there is a tiny but loud “mens’ rights movement” hell-bent on resisting any progress towards actual social equality. Sometimes these guys cross the line and engage in threats and hate speech that should be prosecuted. The problem with 50 Shades isn’t that so many women enjoy it, it’s that some men* will use it as a textbook.
*yeah, we know, “not all men”
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