The wildly popular trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey opened a new dialogue about sex and in some cases even reinvigorated stale sex lives. But it isn’t simply a sexy love story. This series and its subsequent movies have led to a slippery slope, where we’re hitting an even lower low of normalizing sexual violence toward women. What’s worse, we’re ignoring the violence in order to market it as “romance”.
In our culture, sexual violence has become pervasive. In our recent Presidential election, we recently reached a new low where both sides of the political aisle had sexual assault charges, further normalizing sexual violence toward women. Because we seem to hear about sex scandals and acts of sexual violence every day, we’ve become numb to how books and movies contribute to the confusion of what even constitutes sexual violence. Something like Fifty Shades becomes just another drop in the bucket of accepting these acts as routine, every-day events that don’t merit a closer look.
Even though women have become more powerful in some ways, many of these problems for women just keeping getting worse. For decades, we’ve minimized the damage being done to our society by our obsession with sex and the pressure on women to be sexy and sexual. Now 90% of women are unhappy with their appearance. Women are told that being sexy and sexual are the keys to our happiness, with no concern for what actually works best for them in their love lives. Now, the popularity of Fifty Shades adds another pressure to believe there’s something wrong with us if violence isn’t a turn on.
There’s nothing wrong with kinky or adventurous sex. Fifty Shades may give some women permission to express their sexual fantasies. Those couples with open and honest communication who want to introduce various sex acts to their relationship aren’t the problem. The problem comes from us as a society denying the damage caused by sexual violence, especially when it’s deemed “normal” and even “romantic” as it is in Fifty Shades.
In the books and movie, Christian Grey’s violent sexual desires are the focus. Through manipulation and controlling acts, he coerces a naïve Anastasia Steele to bend to his will. He frequently ignores the need for clearly spoken consent, notably in one scene where he carries a barely-conscious and drunk Anastasia through a hotel lobby to his room for sex. Many have interpreted these scenes as an example of acquaintance rape. Ideally in a relationship, the generally accepted rules of consent are that a spoken “yes” signals a green light for further sexual activity. Anything less than this is a yellow if not a glaring red “stop”. The books not only cross this line, they race over it.
And these books and movies are marketed as “harmless and sexy fun.”
We have the opportunity to deprogram our cultural brainwashing with regards to what media claims is harmless to women, but I ask, will we? Sisters, it’s time to band together again and put our foot down when it comes to violence toward women, rather than pretend that movies normalizing sexual violence are harmless. If we continue to minimize and ignore it, we’re silently allowing more sexual violence toward women in our culture.
The more commonplace rape and sexual assault become, the less likely women will report them as rape and sexual assault. A study by the Journal of Women’s Health strongly suggests a correlation between Fifty Shades and the normalization of sexual violence. The CDC, in a study on sexual violence, concluded that women who experience it before age 18 are vulnerable to experiencing it again and again. This means repeated exposure to sexual violence makes it seem okay. By making sexual violence commonplace through movies and other forms of media, the less likely women are to know it’s happened, let alone speak out about assault.
It’s time to decide if we want to show support for our sisters and ourselves. If so, we can start making conscious decisions about what we buy, what websites we visit, what books, TV, and movies we consume. We often don’t realize how much we’re part of the problem when we don’t stop to ask ourselves if they promote harm. It can be difficult to see how influential books and movies like Fifty Shades can be, how they change women’s lives when we simply assume they are harmless fun.
Let’s ask ourselves if we’re willing to face how buying into negative media messages sabotage women’s best interests. A few ad campaigns and magazines have already taken a stand against unrealistic and harmful messages about our bodies, and that’s an excellent start. We all come in different shapes, sizes, and skin tones, and we’re each beautiful in our own way. We have different sexual needs, as well. We don’t need pressure to conform to unrealistic sexual standards; these pressures have done enough damage. Passively allowing sexual violence to become normalized is far more devastating to our society.
Women have gained a great deal of power in many areas in the last 60 years. However, in many ways we’re losing ground. Real power comes from knowing what works best for each of us as individuals, and from having the courage to stand up for ourselves, putting a stop to sexual violence in the media we consume. When we support one another, we make it easier to gain this kind of power. If nobody bought Fifty Shades of Grey, producers wouldn’t make the movies. We don’t see the power we have over the media. Will we as a collective stand up for what’s best for women?
It’s time to start a new sexual revolution, one that has women’s desires and our best interests at its forefront.