Does ‘Fifty Shades’ depict an abusive relationship?

Let’s talk about “50 Shades of Grey.”

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, firstly: Where have you been? Secondly, it’s a trilogy about a rich megalomaniac named Christian Grey who likes BDSM. His submissive-turned-girlfriend, Anastasia Steele, narrates the story and is basically a literary vessel into which readers can insert themselves.

When there was first buzz about the book’s movie counterpart, I thought, “What’s the big deal? So some suburban housewives are taking their Twilight obsession to the next level. Fine.”

Then I started seeing criticism on Tumblr—scathing reviews, saying that Christian is an abuser and that the story is popularizing rape culture and male domination.

Now, I understand that that particular website has pretty serious hive-mind issues. But since I primarily follow art and social justice blogs, I feel relatively secure about what I see, and I do fact-check.

But since the only exposure I’d had to the whole franchise was reading the book’s more laughable passages and the aforementioned Tumblr beatdown, I figured I’d better see the movie before writing about it.

So I did. And let me tell you, it is awful.

Not only is it a genuinely terrible movie (think “Magic Mike” bad), it is absolutely depicting emotional abuse as both OK and desirable: Christian seeks to control everything Ana does—e.g., requiring that she shave or wax every part of her body, not allowing her to eat between meals so she doesn’t get fat and basically stalking her to her mother’s home in Georgia, just to name a few instances of creepiness—all while hounding her to sign a contract that would basically make her his sex slave.

Furthermore, so much of Grey’s sexual attention (read: harassment) is given under dubious consent: One particularly memorable scene depicts Christian and Ana as he tries, once again, to make her sign his contract. She makes a move to leave, and he says, “You’re saying that you want to leave, but your body tells me otherwise.” Seriously? If somebody tells you no, they mean no.

I’m not saying that I’m against people getting sexy here. That’s their business, and if BDSM is what they’re into, great. But the basis of any healthy relationship—sexual or otherwise—is trust. I did not see that in this movie.

I saw a sexually literate male character taking advantage of the naïveté of an admittedly exasperating female character. Is that really what we should be romanticizing?

In conclusion, do not support this entity with your money. Honestly, you have so many better things to do, like seeing “Paddington” or going to the beach or giving yourself a makeover. My inner goddess is, frankly, much more interested in any one of those activities than seeing that sorry excuse for cinema again.
-Elizabeth Harrison