AMMENDMENT: Having been contacted on Twitter by the author of the original argument against there being abuse in Fifty Shades, we would like to offer an apology for suggesting that the author was discussing abuse in the books, when in fact, she was apparently discussing whether there was abuse in the films. We were not initially aware of this and for clarification, would like to make readers aware that we are addressing the issues in the book. However, we also fail to see how stalking, threats, coercion, manipulation and unwanted control are different depending on which medium they are presented in. We hope that this clarification clears up any misunderstanding and would again like to apologise to the original author for any offence caused in mis-wording this post. As always, we would also like to thank our followers on Twitter and Facebook for their continued encouragement and support. Our original rebuttal continues below.
Recently, a fan page called Laters Baby came up with a post in which they claimed to tackle several arguments for abuse in Fifty Shades. The link to the post is here, although we warn you that the writer claims in the opening to the piece that those who see abuse may be “making things up” and for very obvious reasons, we suggest you avoid reading the comments.
The trouble with this rebuttal of the arguments for abuse in the text (and we should stress that the original image that led to this piece being written was not created by us), is that it falls back on very common defences for abusive behaviour and is written by someone who has already convinced themselves that Christian Grey is not an abuser. Whilst you could argue that we are writing this response from the viewpoint of someone convinced that he is, it should be remembered that the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign was set up by people who did not go looking for abuse in the series, but instead, were shocked to read the books and find it there in black and white. So we’re not writing this on the defensive, in the manner that the original piece was. We’re simply writing facts.
From this point, all text in italics, unless otherwise specified, are quotes from the original piece, arguing against there being abuse in the trilogy. Here is the original image that led to the piece being written:
The first sign on the list is:
- Monitors what you do all the time.
The piece refuting abuse in Fifty Shades has this to say:
“First, I’m not sure that 4 times over several weeks qualifies as “all the time.”
Okay. Let’s remember that Fifty Shades is a story that takes place in a very short space of time. There are barely more than six weeks from the start of the story to the end of the first book. So actually, four times in around a month? Is creepy at best, abusive at worst. Imagine you’d met a new guy. You’ve only known him for a month, but he has already stalked you hundreds of miles away, turned up at your house uninvited, appeared at your workplace out of the blue and tracked your phone in order to show up whilst you’re on a night out with friends. That’s not romantic behaviour, nor is it behaviour to be dismissed, simply because it’s not “all the time.” It’s worth noting that abused people often console themselves with the thought that their abuser is not abusive “all the time.” If abusers never showed another side to themselves, their partners would be less inclined to stay, after all. So this argument of “but it doesn’t happen very often,” which the writer uses as a defence in this piece, is actually evidence of the lack of knowledge many people have about abuse. It doesn’t have to be happening “all the time” for it to be abuse. And one instance is too many. The original image goes on to mention Christian tracking Ana to a bar as the first instance of abuse (stalking). Here’s what the fan defence is:
“Yes, he does track her to the bar when he becomes concerned about her safety because she is extremely drunk. While they were more like acquaintances at this point, I hope my friends would do the same for me if they thought I was in danger. As for removing her, she was fine with leaving with him once Kate knew. And she was passed out, was he supposed to leave her on the floor?”
He tracks her to the bar because he’s angry that she’s drunk, not because he’s deeply concerned for her safety. His wording the next day (“if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled last night”) clarifies this. “I do it to protect you” is a really common excuse used by abusers and to see it being accepted and used by fans in this way is incredibly frightening, not to mention further evidence that education on what constitutes abuse is massively required.
Christian is also told “no” by Ana and turns up anyway. Ana expressly tells him that she DOES NOT WANT HIM TO COME to “rescue” her, but he ignores her, tracks her phone and and turns up anyway. That’s abusive.
And no, he shouldn’t have left Ana on the floor. But as the fan actually admits, Ana was passed out. She could not give consent to going back to Christian’s at that point and she certainly could not give consent to being undressed and put to bed with him. He should have taken her home, especially seeing as he’d already found out where she lived.
The next point raised is that Christian Stalks Ana to Georgia. Here’s the fan defence:
“He went to Georgia after Ana said she missed him and wished he was there.”
She also told him she needed space from him in order to clear her head. She didn’t – at any point – say “please come to Georgia” outright. She simply tells him in an email that she misses him. If Christian had emailed back and said “do you want me to come to see you?” There would be no problem. But instead, he finds out personal information (her mother’s address, the hotel they’re at etc), turns up out of the blue and watches her in a bar before creepily texting her to ask how much alcohol she intends to drink. That’s not romantic. It’s called stalking. And again, these defences are weak at best.
The next point under this first heading is that he tracks Ana at her workplace. The fan defence says:
“Tracks is a strong word. He was curious about her and went to where she worked to create an opening to see her again. This is like walking by a cute boy or girl’s house, desk, locker etc and hoping you can generate a conversation. He could have easily found out where she works from Kate’s father, whom he has done business with. Where she worked wasn’t hard information to come by.”
“Tracks” is not a “strong” word. It’s an accurate word. Ana does not work anywhere near to where Grey lives or works and so it is literally nothing like walking past a cute person’s house (although this does make me wonder if the writer of this piece is a teenager, because that kind of behaviour should no longer be defensible by the time you’re out of your teens…). Christian discovers Ana’s workplace by ordering a background check on her, within minutes of meeting her. In Grey, when we see this scene from Christian’s perspective, the writing makes it absolutely clear that he has travelled out of his way to stalk Ana. He even uses the word “stalking” and wonders what his therapist would make of it. He goes in there intending to intimidate her and immediately starts putting pressure on her and warning off men like Paul and Jose. This is not some cute, uncertain man timidly turning up on the off-chance of seeing a girl he likes. It’s a very calculated move and the novel from his own POV proves this.
The final point under the first heading in the image is that Christian uses the phrase: “I’m incapable of leaving you alone.” The fan argues:
“He’s explaining his need to explore a relationship with her, not an actual attempt to track her every move.”
Which doesn’t explain why he does go on to attempt to track her every move, really, does it? The word “incapable” also conveniently absolves him of any blame for his own behaviour. It’s another way of saying “I can’t help it.” Another common tactic used by abusers.
Moving on to the next heading in the original image:
- Prevents/discourages you from seeing friends/family: Tells Ana not to see Jose or Paul.
The fan has this to say:
“He never says anything about Paul. It’s Ana who doesn’t want to see Paul. As for Jose, he did discourage her from seeing Jose. Jose is the man that Christian witnessed trying to kiss Ana when Ana was very drunk and telling him no. I was in a similar situation once and I would have been mad if my friends thought it wasn’t a big deal and the person was ok to hang out with. And a boyfriend or romantic interest and the only thing they know about the guy is that he tried to force you to kiss them and then left you with an acquaintance when you were throwing up? Frankly I’m shocked that anyone discussing abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey would use this as an example as it’s counter to their own arguments.”
Except it isn’t. Because whilst we agree that Jose’s actions were revolting and that Ana has every right to not want to see him again, she actually decides that she does want to remain friends. She describes at length the “warm feeling” his voice gives her when they speak on the phone. We might not agree with her choice, but it is hers to make. And let’s not paint Christian as some romantic saviour, here. He “rescues” Ana from Jose and then his own behaviour is just as bad; taking her to his hotel and undressing her when she was unconscious and could not consent. He is no better than Jose – they are both abusive. His later treatment of Jose is less about his protective feelings towards Ana and much more about his obsession with her belonging to him alone. If Ana makes the choice to see Jose, that is hers to make and Christian plays on the “you are mine” line much more than the “he tried to kiss you” line. Christian is not the “good guy” in all of this. He’s just another bad one.
On to the next point…
- Controls your use of needed medications: Oral contraceptives are part of the contract.
The defence says:
“I’m not sure this qualifies as “needed” medication. But, birth control is the responsibility of both parties. This was listed in the contract and was negotiable like the rest of the contract. Ana negotiated several parts of the contract, but never brought this one up. Furthermore, if Christian was trying to control Ana, it’s more likely he would have wanted her pregnant, so he could have a tie to her.”
It’s hard to read that with a straight face, isn’t it? Christian wanting Ana pregnant? Has this person read book three, when he becomes violently angry about her having a baby?!
Anyway, no Ana does not negotiate birth control. She’s a virgin and incredibly naive. She is also not given a choice. Christian arranges her gynecological appointment without asking her about it first. The writer is correct that birth control is the responsibility of both parties, which is why in a healthy relationship, it is DISCUSSED. That simply doesn’t happen here; it’s Christian’s choice and Ana has to go along with it. When he changes her method of contraception to the injection, again, Ana isn’t consulted. Christian simply decides what’s best for her. Contraception might have been in their contract – which she NEVER SIGNS – but when putting any kind of medication into another person’s body, that person, unless they’re in a coma or otherwise medically unable to, should have a say in what form that medication takes. Christian denies Ana this. He tells her that he knows her body and it belongs to him and she – ludicrously – tells him that he knows it better than she does. An example of a massively manipulated woman if ever there was one. Nobody knows your own body better than you and EL James should be ashamed for writing such crap about women.
- Decides things for you that you should be able to decide.
There are five instances of this, according to the image used, so we’ll take them one by one.
1. Limits alcohol intake.
The fan says:
“This is in the contract and only says she can’t drink to excess. This is in line with the recommendations of the government and is in general good advice.”
That would be the contract that she NEVER SIGNS, would it?! Ana never signs and therefore we cannot assume her agreement to every clause. And good advice or not, her alcohol intake is hers to decide, seeing as she has not agreed to Christian controlling every aspect of her life. In fact, she actively asks him not to control every aspect of her life and he still tries to. There’s a word for that and, funnily enough, that word is “abuse.”
2. Sets lists of prescribed foods.
The fan says:
“This was mentioned in the contract, but never enforced. The discussion of this was cut from the book to the movie.”
Christian may not enforce a list of foods on Ana, but he does force her to eat when she isn’t hungry. Book two: “if you don’t eat, I’ll take you over my knee right here in this restaurant and it’ll have nothing to do with my sexual gratification.” i.e. I want you to eat and I will hit you in a non-sexual, non-consensual capacity if you don’t. Nobody can argue that that line is not abusive, because it 100% is.
3. Sells car without consent.
The fan actually agrees with us on this one, so we’ll move on…
4. Withholds money.
The fan defence:
“This never happened. If anything, he offers her stuff to decrease her financial burden. When she asks for money for the car, he says he’ll send her a check.”
This isn’t an area we’ve focused on, however we will highlight that Grey uses his money to financially abuse Ana, by introducing her to a world she could never afford on her own and using his wealth to flatter and intimidate her. His expensive gifts – the Blackberry and laptop etc – are usually tools with which to keep an eye on her and to ensure she is constantly in touch, therefore not free to live her life without him at any time. If anything, the reverse of this accusation is actually true.
4. Forcefully removes Ana from a nightclub:
The fan argues:
“When he got there, she was so drunk, she was throwing up. I’ve been that drunk. when you’re that drunk, you’re not really able to make good decisions. Then she passed out. You can’t make decisions when you’re passed out. Christian made a good call on that to take her home. Kate already knew that he was taking her home.”
Except he DID NOT TAKE HER TO HER OWN HOME. This argument is so flawed I can’t even… The fan hits the nail on the head; Ana wasn’t able to make a decision. Therefore, she wasn’t able to consent to being taken to a strange place, by a man she barely knew, who then stripped her and slept with her. She had to ask him if they’d had sex the next day! A non-abusive man would have told Kate: “She needs to go home; does she have her keys on her, so I can take her back to your place, or can you take her there?” He would not have taken her miles away without consent. All of this also conveniently ignores that she told him NOT to turn up at the nightclub in the first place!
The next point is…
- Humiliates you in front of others.
The first instance of this listed is:
1. Removes Ana from a nightclub
And the fan insists:
“When she’s so drunk she passed out, and after telling her friend. He didn’t drag her or force her to leave with him so I don’t know that this qualifies as humiliation.”
Well, she was passed out, so she didn’t exactly consent to leaving and going to his place. This isn’t so much humiliation as is his behaviour after the event, when he constantly berates her for being drunk on a night out. That is humiliation. He’s putting her down and criticising her in order to make her feel bad about herself and to create a dependency on him.
2. Follows Ana to Georgia.
The fan argues:
“She said she missed him and wished he was there. How is this humiliating her? The only person who knew was his mother, who seemed impressed that he came.”
Again, she never actually asked him to come. She asked him for space to clear her head. And his creepy text message (“how many of those are you going to drink?”) was intended to humiliate her, as she became aware that he was watching her, when she thought she was free to do as she pleased. She then felt compelled to alter her natural behaviour as a result of his presence.
On to the next point:
This is where we get into BDSM territory, so let’s see how the fans “defend” (consensual BDSM does not require a defence) a lifestyle their beloved author has completely thrown to the wolves, shall we?!
“I’ll address three of these as one (the crop, the spanking and flogger) – they were all done consensually and are regular parts of sexual and BDSM relationships. Furthermore, she enjoyed the flogger and the crop. The only scene that is actually worth listing is the scene with the 6 lashes of the belt. Ana made a bad choice in asking for the belt and did not communicate her feelings to Christian. However, she specifically asked for that, Christian did not force or even initiate that.”
Beautiful job of victim blaming, there…
Ana was entirely naive as to how painful being hit with a belt would be. She asked for Christian to show him “the worst” there was. At this point, Christian should have been a responsible Dom and spoken to her about this in more detail. He should have reminded her of her safeword, told her that he would stop at any time if she needed him to and asked whether she was absolutely certain she wanted him to do anything. Once the scene began, Ana was quickly in tears. Christian should have been aware of what she was experiencing and, seeing as she was entirely new to actual physical pain being inflicted on her at such a level, he should have checked to see if she was coping even without her having to use her safe word. Some members of the BDSM community have placed some blame on Ana for asking to be given the worst, but many more blame Christian for following through on it, when Ana had no idea of the pain she might experience, whereas he did. This all points to EL James lack of actual research into BDSM.
- Threatens/uses weapons against you. 5 lashes with a crop. 6 lashes with a belt. 3 lashes with a flogger.
The fan responds:
“Again all three were used in a consensual manner and insinuating that there (sic) use was abuse is calling anyone who participates in the use of these an abuser.”
Wrong. Our campaign is supported by many members of the BDSM community. Whilst we don’t believe that consensual use of crops, floggers, belts or anything else constitutes abuse, we also don’t believe that Christian Grey is a responsible Dominant, who practises safe, sane, consensual BDSM. We aren’t calling anyone who practises BDSM consensually an abuser and it’s a massive insult to suggest otherwise. Ana agrees to much of the BDSM element of her relationship with Christian as a result of manipulation or coercion through alcohol. Neither makes the outcome truly consensual – consent should be informed. Ana is not truly informed as to what BDSM will entail. She also negotiates her limits whilst under the influence of alcohol, which Christian openly admits to giving her deliberately, saying it makes her “honest.” As the fan herself actually acknowledges, you cannot make a clear, informed decision when under the influence of alcohol. Christian, as a supposed Dom of many years’ experience, should know this and should never be plying a potential sub with alcohol during a conversation which requires concentration and real honesty (without alcohol clouding judgement). He would also not continually manipulate Ana (“I need this” and “this is the only kind of relationship I’m interested in”) if she showed any kind of resistance to the form of sexual relationship he was proposing, as that also negates consent.
So to reiterate yet again: We are not saying and never will say that safe, consensual BDSM between informed partners equates to abuse. We are saying that Christian Grey is an abuser using BDSM as an excuse for his many different forms of abusive behaviour.
- Controls your birth control or insists you get pregnant.
The fan says:
“Oral contraception are (sic) part of the contract. I addressed this above, but I will reiterate that the decision to have children is the choice of both people, so yes, a man has the right to express his opinion on contraceptives. If Ana could not or did not want an oral contraceptive, she could have refused this as she did several other things in the contract.”
Again, we’re referencing the contract that ANA NEVER SIGNS. And let’s look at the situation: She refused anal sex. Christian told her that they’d build up to it, because he wanted to “claim (your) ass.” So she said no to something and he ignored her. There are other examples of this, so it’s not quite so simple to claim that she could have said no to this and actually been listened to. Let’s not forget that Ana’s request for some space to think things through led to Christian stalking her to Georgia. It’s not like Christian Grey is a man well-known for listening to and respecting the decisions of others. In his own words, he exercises “control in all things.”
And let’s remember that crucially, Ana does not get a say in the contraception she has to have. She hasn’t signed the contract (and never does), so we can’t use that as a defence. Christian merely organises it without Ana having a say. Something as personal as a woman’s contraception should be her choice. Christian denies Ana that choice by inflicting his decision on her. Saying “Ana could have said no” is victim-blaming. It is also ignoring the fact that Ana has been thoroughly manipulated by Christian and is therefore highly likely to agree to his demands (and it should be noted that she has already shown signs of altering her behaviour out of fear of his temper, too).
The fan goes on to remind readers of the piece that Fifty Shades is not real; it’s just fiction, or as she puts it: “A fun fantasy to escape to.”
But for thousands of women, there was no “fun fantasy” within the pages of this trilogy. For thousands of women, there was merely a deeply triggering account of an abusive relationship, portrayed as abuse. And sadly, many of these “defences” rely on abuse stereotypes:
- “She could have said no. She could have walked away. She let him…”
- “He only does it a few times…”
- “He didn’t drag her or force her…”
- “He’s worried about her safety and that’s why he behaved the way he did…”
All of these are common excuses made for abuse. So it’s worth reiterating:
- A person can only say “no” if they feel it’s safe to do so. In Fifty Shades, Christian tells Ana that he’ll find her no matter where she runs. To suggest that she could just leave is merely apportioning blame onto Ana’s shoulders, which is not where it belongs.
- ONE instance of abusive behaviour is too many.
- Abuse is not merely physical or sexual. It also incorporates manipulation (which is prevalent throughout Fifty Shades; each time Christian uses his tragic past s an excuse, he is manipulating Ana into not questioning his behaviour), threats (Christian threatens Ana many times; one example is given above in book 2, when he threatens to hit her for not eating), coercion and control. ALL feature in this “LOVE story.”
- Many abusers suggest that their behaviour is only a result of wanting to keep the abused person “safe,” or borne out of a love they can’t control. These are not excuses for abuse.
Whilst we appreciate that the fan defence features a request that there is to be no name-calling or nastiness in the comments section and that they hope to have a respectful discussion (and we applaud that), we find it very difficult that so many fans have sent us abusive messages since our campaign began. We’ve even had rape/assault threats. And of course, the worst offender is the book’s author, who does not want a respectful discussion and instead blocks and ignores the legitimate concerns of abuse survivors, advocates and charities.
Lastly, we are aware that Fifty Shades is fiction. But it is fiction that has become all-encompassing. It has led to fans using common myths to defend the behaviour of a fictional character to real-life survivors of abuse triggered by the series. It has led to women and girls claiming that Christian Grey is the perfect man. It has led to “Future Mrs Christian Grey” t-shirts, key-rings and a whole host of other items of merchandise. It has led to an enormous amount of anguish when those abuse survivors have tried to speak out, only to be silenced by the author and her fans.
Fiction has the power to influence societal views and vice versa. That’s why we must speak out when fiction romanticises abuse in the manner that Fifty Shades has. And this is not a matter of opinion: Stalking, threats, coercion, manipulation and unwanted control all feature in Fifty Shades. And all of those things are abuse.
Fifty Shades is abuse.