The #50DollarsNot50Shades campaign has a Facebook page with more information for those interested.
The #50DollarsNot50Shades campaign has a Facebook page with more information for those interested.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is being advertised as the big romantic box office hit of the Valentine’s Day weekend. In fact, as I sit writing this, it’s predicted to gross 60 million dollars its first weekend. While I’ll be missing this film due to the fact that I’ll be washing dishes at work for couples enjoying a nice dinner to celebrate the holiday, I recommend that you don’t see it either.

The film’s major problem isn’t the atrociously bad and uncomfortable acting that you can spot from a mile away based on the trailers alone. No, the big issue here is that the film’s content is extremely problematic.

Published in 2011, the novel shot up, seemingly overnight, on multiple bestseller lists largely due to the BDSM content. As an avid reader, I read the first book after I saw some quotes from it online that were so poorly written I couldn’t believe it was published.

In fact, author Salman Rushdie has said, “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made ‘Twilight’ look like ‘War and Peace.’” And, having read the “Twilight” series, I have to agree with Rushdie.

I was amused by the book at first, because the writing wasn’t very good. But my amusement quickly turned into horror, and it wasn’t the BDSM subject matter that did it. No, what really angered me was how the book glorified and romanticized a manipulative, unhealthy and emotionally abusive relationship.

The main male character, Christian Grey, is, to be frank, a controlling stalker. The main female character, Anastasia Steele, repeatedly mentions that he’s controlling, creepy, and “tracks me like a stalker” though she’s attracted to him. He knows her home address without her having given it to him. And, more disturbingly, he tracks her cell phone, turning up unexpectedly where she is.

Alarm bells should go off for the reader when Christian arrives unasked at a bar and, instead of returning a highly intoxicated Anastasia to her friends or calling a cab so she can return home, he takes her to his hotel.

When Anastasia wakes up and realizes where she is and that he’s slept next to her, she goes on to say that she feels safe and protected waking up in his room because he “cares enough to come and rescue me from mistakenly perceived danger.”

As readers, we are supposed to see this as a romantic moment just as she does when she says Christian is “not a dark knight at all, but a white knight in shining, dazzling armor.” I say to this, emphatically: No, no, a million times over, no.

This is romanticizing behavior that is in no way acceptable. Anastasia didn’t consent to going to Christian’s hotel – she was under the impression she was going home, but was too drunk to be aware of everything.

This novel suggests that it’s okay for Christian to stalk her, and that we’re supposed to find this film’s content to be Valentine’s-Day-date-night romantic which is beyond horrifying. In fact, everything about this novel encourages this abusive behavior and makes it seem normal, acceptable and romantic.

There are dozens of blog posts online that examine this issue in detail. One of my favorites is from “I Write About Feminism” entitled, “I Finished 50 Shades of Grey” that’s worth a read for a concise summary of the larger issues at work. Furthermore, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, “‘Double Crap!’ Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey,” found that Anastasia experiences the range of reactions consistent with the CDC’s definition of intimate partner violence.

Christan is clearly emotionally abusive. He tells her she needs to learn to take compliments, something that anyone who has been a victim of verbal sexual harassment will tell you is often said to them; orders her to eat when she doesn’t want to; stares at her in ways that make her uncomfortable; makes up excuses and manipulates situations to get her to stay with him when she wants to leave; asks her invasive, personal questions that she isn’t comfortable answering; and gets angry whenever she talks to male friends.

Anastasia responds to these demands as a victim of abuse would. She even gets to the point where she wonders whether she should ask Christian if she can leave the table, and acknowledges that she shouldn’t, because asking permission might set a dangerous precedent.

Yet she doesn’t do anything she wants to do unless she has permission, and Christian often manipulates her into doing things she doesn’t want to do. This is not consent. That is worth repeating: manipulation is not consent, and manipulating someone into doing something they don’t want to do is emotional abuse.

There is no excuse whatsoever for the abuse in this novel and film. There is no excuse for romanticizing it. There is no excuse for saying this is the film you should want to go see on Valentine’s Day, as though this is the type of relationship you should want.

And that is why I am so strongly against this book series and film. I can’t help but think of all the people who have read the books and plan to see the film who think that the relationship between Christian and Anastasia is, in any way, acceptable.

I am incredibly disturbed by the number of people who say that the relationship is not unhealthy and abusive because Anastasia is not physically abused within an inch of her life. It’s a “defense” a lot of fans seem to be making, and it is disturbing in and of itself. This is such a problematic mindset to hold, because abuse comes in many shapes and forms, and emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse.

If there is any silver lining to this, it’s that a boycott of the film has been gaining traction. In lieu of seeing the film, there are at least two campaigns that urge people to donate money to charities that help victims of domestic and sexual abuse and raise awareness about these serious issues. One campaign, “#50DollarsNot50Shades,” is asking for people to make a 50 dollar donation, the equivalent expenses of a date night to see this film, to a local domestic abuse shelter.

Instead of seeing the film on Valentine’s Day, I would encourage you to make a donation. It will be money better spent.