Financial abuse is perhaps an overlooked form of abuse for many people. It can incorporate:
• Obtaining funds or property without consent.
• Obtaining bank details without consent.
• Use of money for purposes other than those intended by the person being abused.
• Persuading or tricking a person out of money.
• Unduly pressuring someone to sell property or possessions.
• Pressuring someone to sign a legal document they do not fully understand.
• Forcing someone to change their marital status or legal name.
• Denying a person access to joint funds.
At first glance, it may seem as though this is the one form of abuse that Christian Grey does not subject Ana Steele to in the Fifty Shades trilogy. However, the truth is – if you excuse the pun – not so black and white.
Although Christian Grey is portrayed as being an extremely generous partner to Ana, constantly bombarding her with gifts, it could be argued that doing so is his way of “buying” her agreement to his demands. Ana is a student at the start of the first book and she is bowled over by Christian’s wealth. He uses this to his advantage.
Before Ana can begin a BDSM relationship with Christian, he insists that she signs a contract. Whilst he does eventually admit that this contract is not legally binding (although not until halfway through the first book), Christian applies almost constant pressure to Ana, in the hope of persuading her to sign. He tells her to “hurry up” and sign the contract, even though it’s very clear that Ana is confused by what he wants from her and isn’t certain about whether she’s ready for that kind of relationship. For several chapters, Ana does not know that the contract isn’t enforceable by law, meaning that Christian is unfairly “pressuring someone to sign a legal document they do not fully understand,” as in Ana’s eyes, the contract is, at first at least, legally binding.
However, Christian’s financial abuse of Ana really begins when he starts insisting that she sells her old VW Beetle, because he doesn’t approve of it. In spite of Ana telling him over and over that she loves her car and doesn’t want a new one, Christian constantly refuses to listen. He allows his wealth to grant him power over her and in chapter 15, he presents her with a new car and makes it horribly obvious that it’s not the sweet gesture of a boyfriend who cares, but a sign that he can and will overrule her decisions and “buy” her as when he sees fit:
“You are mine and if I want to buy you a fucking car, I’ll buy you a fucking car.”
Not only does Christian override Ana’s wishes, insisting that she sells her own possession, but he organises the sale rather than allowing her to do it herself. This is a totally unacceptable way to treat your partner and Christian only gets away with it, because he knows that he can use his wealth against Ana. He deposits the money from the sale into Ana’s account, but Ana has never given him her bank details; this is just another example of Christian’s lack of respect for boundaries and a gross invasion of Ana’s privacy and financial security.
Much later, in book 3, Christian ticks off another symptom of financial abuse from our checklist, when he applies pressure on Ana, forcing her to agree to take his name. He is furious when Ana suggests that she’d like to keep “Steele,” insisting that she instead change her surname to “Grey.” He even goes so far as to refer to her as an “asset” that “needs rebranding.” He admits that the reason he wants her to take his name is because he wants “everyone to know that you’re mine.” This isn’t about unity, it’s about possession. When Ana caves in to his pressure, he even gloats: “Mission accomplished.”
Even when they are married – and although he claims to be doing everything for her benefit – Christian often keeps Ana out of financial decisions. When he arranges for their architect to come over to discuss the plans for their new home, he does so without Ana’s knowledge, leading her to wonder “why does he make these decisions without telling me?” They have a massively unequal partnership, because Christian is completely in control of their finances and can still use his wealth to keep a hold on Ana. Ana has no free agency, because Christian is always pulling the strings where money is concerned; she wants to keep her car, but he forces her to accept a new one. She doesn’t want him involved in her financial affairs, but he accesses her bank details without consent and deposits a large sum in there anyway. This is a violation of her rights and wishes, however “nice” the gesture is portrayed to be. It’s just another example of an abusive man who wields his power over his victim in order to ensure he always gets his way.
Christian’s use of his financial power to control others does not only extend to his wife. In chapter 8 of the final book in the trilogy, we also learn that he is paying for the education of Taylor’s daughter (Taylor being one of Christian’s security guys, for those of you lucky enough never to have read this rubbish). But Christian isn’t doing this for reasons of loyalty or concern that his employee’s child should have the best start in life. He tells Ana that by paying for Taylor’s daughter’s schooling, “it means he won’t quit.” He also enrols Leila – the former sub who wanted to kill Ana – at art school and pays for her medical treatment, rather than inform the police about what she did. None of this is done for Ana’s protection, but for Christian’s own benefit and is just another example of him using his financial power to control everyone around him.
When, in the latter stages of book 3, there is a frankly ludicrous plot in which Ana has to withdraw five million dollars from the bank, we discover that Christian has five check books, but “only one is the names of C Grey and Mrs A Grey.” Ana tells the reader that she has roughly $54,000 in her account. Her husband, however has billions. The difference here is staggering; why is Christian telling Ana that everything that is his is also hers, when clearly that’s not true? If it was, they’d surely have some form of joint account and Ana would have access to his wealth, rather than having to rely on the times when he wants to buy her a gift, or deposit a small (in comparison) sum into her account; usually to make up for having abused her. Ana also reveals that she has no idea how much money is in any of Christian’s accounts and that although he has a safe in his office, the combination is kept in a locked filing cabinet, to which she doesn’t have a key. Why, when Christian insists that what’s his is hers and that he wants Ana to get used to the finer things in life, is he keeping the vast majority of his fortune from her? Because, as we’ve reiterated in this blog, his financial power is just another tool he uses to keep Ana under his control and to prevent her from truly living her own life.
Christian’s wealth is seen as something admirable in Fifty Shades of Grey. However, in actuality, the way he uses it to control others and buy their forgiveness or acceptance of his demands is not admirable in the slightest. It’s abusive.