The following blog originally appeared on account co-runner Emma’s personal blog (www.theramblingcurl.blogspot.com), whilst our website was down, due to a problem with webs.com. Now that the problem has been recitified, we’re reproducing it here, in its proper home:
Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of something we’re passionate about, we can get carried away and lose sight of the fact that not everyone is on board with us. We can dig in our heels and refuse to listen to outside opinion.
That is something we DO NOT want to do with this campaign.
To that end, we do enter into conversation with our critics. We do listen to opposing views. After all, nothing changes if two sides don’t listen to one another. So we make it our business to engage with some of the less-abusive Fifty Shades fans who contact us, in an effort to explain who we are and what we’re about. Sometimes we change minds. Sometimes we at least encourage someone to consider a different viewpoint. And sometimes, with regret, we pull away from the conversation. There’s no use in shouting words into a vacuum, after all.
With only a month to go until the release of the first Fifty Shades movie, we’re receiving a lot more attention – both positive and negative – than usual. And as always, we’re responding to some of that negative attention, in an effort to explain why we feel the way we do and what we’re trying to achieve through this campaign. Or, to put it another way, to dispel some of the myths that surround Fifty Shades Is Abuse.
With that in mind, we decided that now would be a good time to dispel those myths here, providing our supporters (and ourselves!) with a handy link to send to those who insist on perpetuating them. We’re also going to use this blog to focus on some of the abuse myths put forward both in EL James’ trilogy and by fans of it. But first, let’s settle some of the untruths regarding this campaign…
“You’re prudish – you’re equating BDSM with abuse because you don’t know anything of the lifestyle!”
We get this one a lot. Fans of the books know that the BDSM aspect is the part of the trilogy that has provoked the most interest and, in some parts, controversy, so it’s almost understandable that they make the leap from the campaign title – “Fifty Shades Is Abuse” – to the idea that we’re anti-BDSM. That could not be further from the truth.
We are in no way, shape or form against consensual BDSM. Indeed, we have all kinds of people from within the lifestyle who follow and support our campaign. Dom(me)s, subs, switches… You’ll find plenty on our follower list. The reason? They believe, as we do, that the lifestyle has been offensively and dangerously misrepresented by EL James’ trilogy. From the tired old trope of the man only into BDSM because of some tragic, painful past (and who needs to be “fixed”;), to the “Dom” using alcohol and manipulation to coerce a completely naive young woman into agreeing to become his sub; the story throws the BDSM community under the bus.
Fans make a huge mountain out of the importance of consent to Christian, but the fact is, they’re reading what they want to see. Yes, Christian hands Ana a contract and talks about the importance of consent, but when it comes down to it, there is precious little – something which many from the lifestyle itself have highlighted as extremely dangerous. Case in point? Whilst discussing hard limits, Christian deliberately gets Ana drunk. She can’t give full, informed consent in that state and were he a reliable Dom (or just a non-abusive person in general), he would know as much. She also asks him not to control every aspect of her life and he ignores her and continues to monitor her whereabouts and even tries to buy her workplace so he can keep an eye on her there. She tells him “no” during sex in chapter 12 of book 1 and he continues. In book 2, when she tells him she wants to talk, rather than have sex, he tells her “don’t over-think this” and carries on. In book 3, she tells him she’s too tired for sex. He tells her he wants it, so they’ll have it. Ignoring her lack of full consent in this manner has nothing to do with BDSM and it’s an insult when fans insist that it does. Ana never signed the contract; he is not her Master. And even if he were, a lack of consent would never be ignored in a healthy BDSM relationship.
You need only read “Meet Fifty Shades,” which EL James wrote from Christian’s viewpoint, to see that his first reaction when Ana falls into his office is to want to hit her out of anger, not arousal. Indeed, in book 2 of the Fifty Shades trilogy, he even tells Ana that if she doesn’t eat, he’ll hit her in public “and it’ll have nothing to do with my sexual gratification.” In other words, he doesn’t want to give her a consensual spanking. He just wants to hit her because she’s annoying him.
That’s not BDSM. It’s abuse. And we haven’t even talked about how the majority of Grey’s most abusive behaviour takes place in a non-sexual scenario. Much of his abuse is emotional and psychological. The fact that it crosses into sexual and physical abuse at times is just an extension of Christian’s already-abusive tendencies. Our pointing it out is in no way a damning indictment against BDSM as a whole.
We’re not remotely anti-BDSM. But we are against it being misrepresented and used as a cover for abusive behaviour, as it is in Fifty Shades.
We would recommend that anyone wanting to know more about the lifestyle speaks to someone involved in it, reads books on the subject, visits a club and finds out the facts. Because unfortunately, it would appear that EL James didn’t.
“You’re just projecting your own experiences onto Fifty Shades and that’s not fair!”
Sometimes, we reference our own experiences of abuse, as part of highlighting the dangers of real-life Christian Greys. This has led to some fans telling us that we’re “too obsessed” with what happened to us to be able to “understand the love story” that EL James has written. Others have told us that we’re projecting our own experiences onto Ana and Christian’s “healthy” relationship and coming up with a “sick, twisted opinion” on it as a result.
Casting aside how utterly offensive these comments are, they are also completely wrong. The simple fact is that we don’t have any need to project anything onto Fifty Shades. The abuse is there in black and white; not because we’ve imagined it, but because EL James wrote it there.
I don’t have to have personally been stalked in order to recognise that following a woman thousands of miles away when she’s asked for space is invasive and wrong. I don’t have to have been stalked to know that a man already knowing not only your address, but your bank details, medical files and the addresses of your family members is morally reprehensible, not “hot.”
I don’t have to have personal experience of someone I loved and trusted manipulating me with “I can’t help the way I behave; I don’t know any better…” to know it’s a massive, steaming pile of bull, being used to convince a person to stick around and feel responsible for “curing” their abuser. As it happens, I do have experience of that and I mention it only to explain the truth of the situation, not to make the campaign about me, or to justify seeing abuse in Fifty Shades when it’s not actually there.
We’ve written many times about the different types of abuse in Fifty Shades and the dangers of romanticising them, so I’m not going to list examples here, too. You can find them on our website, should you wish to look. But you can rest assured that the examples of abuse are taken directly from the books. Not made up to suit an “agenda” (a recent accusation by a fan), or exaggerated because we’re so over-sensitive because of our pasts, but direct quotes from the books that reference abusive behaviour – be it stalking, manipulation, coercion, threats, isolation or unwanted control – that EL James actually wrote in black and white. We don’t project our own experiences onto the books. The author did that for us.
“You’re telling people what they can and can’t read! That’s against free speech! You’re advocating censorship!”
Wrong. We’ve never called for a ban on the books. We’ve never insisted that all copies should be burned. We’ve never said that nobody should be allowed to read them, or that nobody should see the film.
What we have said is that romanticising abusive behaviour in fiction is highly dangerous and leads to abuse being normalised or missed in reality (emotional and psychological abuse in particular is so insidious that many who experience it don’t even realise they’ve been abused until much later).
What we have said is that romanticising abusive behaviour in fiction can, and from our experience has led to an even greater problem with people believing myths about abuse (more of which later), which in turn causes people to be blind to the very red flags they should be looking out for.
What we have said is that Fifty Shades could be used as a starting point for a public discussion on abuse – what it is, how to recognise it and where to get help – seeing as it depicts an abusive relationship with frightening clarity, yet millions of fans see it as “true love.” Something which is indicative of the fact that we have a long way to go when it comes to abuse-awareness…
As a writer, feminist and human, I am passionately pro free speech. Always have been, always will be. I even believe in the right of other people to ridicule my beliefs. And I believe in my right to speak out against something popular, however much fans of Fifty Shades might dislike me for doing so.
We’re not calling for book-burning. We’re not calling for bans. We’re not telling anyone what they can or can’t read or watch. We’re trying to raise awareness and start a discussion on a subject that very much needs to be brought to the fore.
“But aren’t you insulting readers’ intelligence? They can separate fact from fiction!”
We’ve never said that having read these books, we believe women are going to rush out into relationships with abusive men or anything similar. The last thing we want to do is insult anyone’s intelligence, as we are not about criticising fans of the books. However, as we’ve said above, abuse is insidious. Many don’t recognise emotional and psychological abuse even when they’re going through it (I didn’t). There is no shame in admitting to this – it’s merely evidence that greater awareness is needed. We very much hope that most readers of Fifty Shades would absolutely recognise that stalking, coercion, manipulation and threats are, in reality, deeply abusive behaviours, which are inexcusable. When we say that these behaviours are being normalised by the books, however, we refer to the fact that emotional abuse often goes below the radar and it could become less easy to spot in reality, if society is conditioned to believe it’s romantic in fiction.
We don’t for a second believe that women who read and enjoy Fifty Shades are somehow less intelligent than those who do see the abuse in the books. We simply want to reach out and start a discourse – only through discussion and awareness raising do we get any kind of change in societal attitudes, after all.
“What about other books?! You can’t criticise Fifty Shades and not anything else!”
This is an interesting one. Taste is subjective; I might find something offensive, but someone else might not. There are, certainly, several books and films littered throughout history (and on modern shelves, too), whose themes are deeply questionable and could easily be deemed to glorify abuse.
To be clear, we stand against romanticised abuse in fiction full stop. Romanticising abusive behaviour in fiction normalises it in reality and can blind us to the signs.
However, Fifty Shades went past being “just a book” like so many others a long time ago. It went past being “just a book,” when the “find your own Christian Grey” dating sites appeared and when almost every women’s magazine refused to hear a word of criticism against it and began promoting Grey as “the perfect man.”
The trilogy has sunk deeper into public consciousness than almost anything that preceded it. When fans are sending us messages every week, defending Grey and in many cases abusing us personally for speaking against the series, it’s indicative of just how seriously this particular piece of Twilight fan-fiction has been taken. And when something with the potential to be dangerous is taken that seriously and becomes such a deep part of the public consciousness, then it makes sense for an abuse-awareness campaign to focus on it.
We’re not saying that any other book or film that romanticises abusive behaviour is okay. We’re saying that this campaign was set up around Fifty Shades because the trilogy encapsulates so much abuse, it was impossible to ignore. We’re saying that whilst Fifty Shades is so universal, it makes much more logical sense to use it as a starting point for a discussion on abuse than any other book that came before or after it.
“You’re just jealous of EL James!”
There are so many English errors in the entire Fifty Shades trilogy that I genuinely wouldn’t even know where to begin if I tried listing them all. The writing is appalling. Honestly, completely appalling. I say that as a writer myself. I would be embarrassed to put out a trilogy that was so hideously – and vainly – unedited. So if you’re talking about writing ability, I am not jealous and having read some brilliant pieces by the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign-founder, Natalie, I am certain that she isn’t either.
We’re not jealous of EL James’ wealth. Neither of us are that shallow. Nor are we envious of her fame.
Let’s also not forget that EL James is the writer who deliberately set out to make it look as though there was no criticism of her books coming from genuine abuse-survivors, when she told an interviewer: “People who see abuse in my books are doing a huge disservice to women who really experience it.”
Here’s the thing, EL. I experienced it. Natalie experienced it. Hundreds of our followers experienced it. We have several abuse charities following us who deal with those who experience it and they see abuse in your books, too. Where’s your answer for us?
So no, we’re not jealous of EL James. To suggest that we’d create a whole campaign centred around a subject as personal and important as domestic abuse, simply because we’re suffering from petty jealousy is ludicrous and offensive.
“EL James didn’t deliberately write about abuse. You’re demonising her!!”
Wrong again. Unless she’s a deeply sick individual, I highly doubt that EL James sat down to write a novel that would romanticise an abusive relationship. After all, Twilight has some of the same abusive patterns as Fifty Shades of Grey does and we know that EL’s story started life as fan-fiction. She was probably just taking some of the behaviours from Twilight and, unfortunately, bringing them further into the spotlight.
That said, it’s not as though she hasn’t been made aware of the abuse in her books. Abuse survivors have contacted her. Abuse charities have contacted her. Her response is to block them on Twitter, so that they can’t burst her precious bubble. That’s not the reaction of a mature writer who listens to valid concern. It’s the reaction of a rather vain person, so deeply in love with her own creation that she’s willing to ignore, criticise and minimise those who have anything negative to say about her work.
People from the BDSM community have also spoken out, trying to explain to EL James that she has misrepresented their lifestyle. And she has blocked and ignored them, too.
Let’s also remember that for all her cries of “it’s just my fantasy!”, EL James is happy to sell Grey as the perfect man to anyone who’ll listen. She’s been more than content to put her name – and that of the Fifty Shades brand – on endless pieces of merchandise, including BDSM-related sex toys, which doesn’t exactly do much to dispel the idea that she’s selling her “fantasy” as some kind of poorly-researched how-to guide.
I’m a writer. I understand being precious over your work. But I can’t – and won’t – understand anyone calling themselves a writer, who is prepared to utterly ignore and in some cases publicly insult those who come to her with very real concerns. When you put anything into the public domain, you have to take ownership of it and that involves admitting when you’ve made mistakes and presented something which could be seen as dangerous or offensive.
EL James is not prepared to take ownership of her work, unless it’s to accept praise. We aren’t demonising her. But we do seriously question her judgement in this area.
All of which leads me on to the abuse myths that Fifty Shades has itself managed to perpetuate. Abuse is a subject that many people know little about. In some ways, this is understandable. It’s not a pleasant topic and when faced with something so unpalatable, it’s fairly common to develop an “it’ll never happen to me” attitude.
Except it could. And blinding ourselves to the signs is potentially dangerous. On our Twitter page, we often talk about the “abuse myths” or “abuse tropes” in Fifty Shades and why they’re so unhelpful. So here, we’ve chosen to tackle a few of them. And yes, every single myth you’re about to read has been sent to us at some point by a Fifty shades fan, in defence of the series…
“He doesn’t know any better!! You can’t blame him for his behaviour, because he had a terrible childhood. He needs help, not judgement.”
We are in 100% agreement that Christian needs help, just as all abusers do. But an abuser will not change unless he or she recognises that they have a problem and needs to change. Christian sees nothing wrong with his behaviour, in spite of claiming “I’m fifty shades of f*cked up,” as an excuse for it.
And guess what? It’s not an excuse. There is never an excuse for abusing another person. The events that took place in a person’s life prior to their decision to stalk, manipulate, threaten, coerce, isolate, harm or forcibly control someone else, do not negate the abusive effect of these behaviours. My ex told me that he couldn’t help his behaviour towards me, because he’d been abused as a child. I believed him. I stuck around, trying to help him. Only when I realised that actually, he was an adult, with a circle of friends (including couples in healthy relationships), a job in which he had responsibility and several remaining family members, did I come to the horrible conclusion that he knew how he ought to treat me. He simply chose to be abusive instead and used his past as a convenient excuse.
Christian – and men like him – may be troubled and need some help and support. But it does not ever excuse their decision to behave abusively towards their partners. Christian’s sad childhood is no more an excuse for stalking or controlling Ana against her will than my ex’s was for abusing me. An abusive, or tragic past might go some of the way towards explaining a possible propensity to abuse as an adult, but it doesn’t excuse it. EVER.
Think about it logically: If a guy butchered his own children and it turned out that he’d been beaten by his parents as a kid, would you spare him a prison sentence, because of his sad past? If a man raped a woman, would you let him off if his mum had died when he was little? Abuse is a crime. No amount of tragedy in an abuser’s past excuses it. It’s a common myth that we can explain away certain abusive behaviours if we find something in the abuser to be sympathetic about. EL James has perpetuated that myth and as a result, we have fans contacting us every week, telling us we’re being unfair, because poor ickle Christian – who owns a billion-dollar company, which he supposedly runs single-handedly – just doesn’t know how to be a big boy. Rubbish.
Manipulation is a key part of abuse. Getting your partner to think that you’re some poor, troubled person who simply can’t help their actions because they’ve never been shown any different, is a hugely common tactic. Why? Because it works.
This is the point at which fans point to Doctor Flynn and insist that Christian is trying to get better. Nope. EL James did about as much research into the kind of therapy Christian would need as she did BDSM. As a result, Flynn is highly unrealistic; a doctor who breaks his oath in order to tell Ana that she’s “doing wonders” for his patient (subtly putting responsibility for fixing Christian on her shoulders rather than his own – more of that later) and who never questions Christian’s behaviour, but enables it.
Frighteningly, whilst the doctor’s character and behaviour is unrealistic, the situation isn’t. Lundy Bancroft – author of “Why Does He Do That?” a book about men who abuse – explains that many abusive people will use their therapy sessions to justify their own behaviour, or to look for sympathy and a reason to blame others, rather than examine their own actions. My ex did the exact same thing, even going as far as to tell me that he used his therapy sessions to explain that he couldn’t help his behaviour; it was everyone else in his life that was wrong, not him. Consequently, I believe my ex is almost certainly still abusive. And so is Christian.
“But her love cures him in the end. They both have to learn, compromise and make sacrifices and that’s what a relationship is about.”
Sure, relationships are about compromise. But tell me: What does Christian sacrifice? His need to control? No, he still dictates to Ana as to when she can see her friends, whether she takes his name when they marry and he attempts to control a whole lot more besides. Does he sacrifice his need for BDSM when Ana expresses a dislike for some aspects? No, because he coerces Ana into going back on pretty much all of her hard limits. The only person who really makes an effort at compromise is Ana.
All of which is beside the point, because this is yet another dangerous – and offensive – abuse myth. The thought of the myth that love can “cure” an abuser being readily accepted by EL James’ fans is genuinely frightening, because this is a manipulative trap that so many people who experience abuse in real life fall into. I did.
When you love a person who has been treating you badly, you want to believe their promises that they’re going to change. When they tell you they can’t help their behaviour, you want to believe that and try to support them in “getting better.” Abusers fixate on that and will encourage their partners to believe that they – and only they – can help them to become a better person. This manipulation causes many people to stay in abusive relationships, thinking that if they just love their abuser the right way, they can get things back to how they were at the start of the relationship, before it all went wrong. Of course, an abuser will always move the goalposts so that there is no “right” way, but the abused person – already manipulated by this point – doesn’t know that and will often keep trying, to the detriment of their own mental and emotional well-being.
Ana – partly because of Christian’s manipulation and partly because of the poorly researched Doctor Flynn – believes that it’s her responsibility to “fix” Christian. It’s not. It’s his. In a healthy relationship, there’s nothing wrong with supporting a partner whilst they work on their issues. But this is not a healthy relationship and Ana is taking all of the responsibility, leaving Christian with none. Her love alone can’t “cure” Christian’s abusive tendencies anymore than love can cure abuse in reality.
By perpetuating the “love cures abuse!” myth, EL James is not only setting her readers up for a potentially dangerous fall, but offending the many women who found the strength to walk away from their abusers, having realised that they couldn’t change them and that staying put them at emotional or physical risk. Perhaps our love just wasn’t good enough, eh EL?
“Ana stays, so the abuse from Christian can’t be that bad. I mean, women who keep going back to an abusive man are pretty much complicit in the abuse, really. If it was that bad, they’d leave.”
From a Fifty Shades standpoint, let’s remind ourselves that within the trilogy, Christian tells Ana (book 1, I believe) that no matter where she ran, he would find her. He even chillingly jokes: “I can track your phone, remember?” All of which negates his promise to let her go when, in book 3, he thinks she’s leaving him. He’s already threatened to stalk her to the ends of the Earth if necessary, so why should we believe that he’s suddenly changed his tune?!
It’s a grotesquely common myth that people who go back to their abusive partners are somehow to blame for the abuse they suffer as a result. The blame for abuse lies squarely on the shoulders of one person: The abuser.
The myth takes no consideration of the level of manipulation and fear being used on the abused person. The abuser may threaten to kill the abused if they leave. They may threaten to kill themselves. They could manipulate family and friends into thinking the abused person is going crazy and needs to stay with them for their own protection. They could restrict the abused person’s access to their bank account or their car, thus making escape much harder. The abused person may be terrified that leaving could make things a hundred times worse.
Or the abuser could try a different tactic. They could make a hundred promises, swearing on their life –or even their children’s lives – that things will change. And with enough “evidence” (through charming behaviour, attention, gifts etc) that the abuser means what he/she says, the abused person may believe them.
The fact that people sometimes stay in – or go back to – abusive relationships does not make it their fault when they are abused. Ana’s decision to stay with a man whose temper she openly admits to being afraid of (chapter 6, book 3) does not mean that there is no abuse in her relationship, or that she is responsible for it.
The level of victim-blaming thrown by Fifty Shades’ supposed fans at our campaign has been atrocious.
“Well, she stayed, so if he shouts at her and hits her, it’s not like she didn’t know she had it coming.”
“If she didn’t want marks all over her chest, she shouldn’t have taken her bikini top off on honeymoon. She knew what he was like.”
“He warned her to run. She chose to stay. After that, whatever he does to her, she only has herself to blame.”
Victim-blaming is one of the most common, yet most damaging problems society has when it comes to dealing with abuse. And fans sending statements like that are only making it worse.
“It’s a fantasy – Grey is rich, gorgeous and sexy. Real-life abusers aren’t.”
Yes, that’s true. All real-life abusers have to go around in their “I’m An Abuser” t-shirts, with the pit stains on display. They’re usually hideously ugly, stone broke and terrible in bed. Of course no Fifty Shades fan is going to fall for an abuser – they’re incredibly easy to spot!
Except no. That attitude (which came from a fan) actually harms the Fifty Shades fandom by insulting their fellow fans’ intelligence. Most fans are aware that men (and women) who abuse can come from all walks of life and don’t necessary look like an abuser. Whatever that even means…
Abusers look like ordinary people. They could be rich and powerful. They could be the best sex you’ve ever had in your life. They could be the best-looking people you’ve ever laid eyes on. But they’re still abusers.
The myth that all abusive people are somehow recognisable is as ludicrous as it is dangerous. We already had Fifty Shades to “thank” for the legions of adoring readers willing to overlook hideous behaviour if it’s displayed by a fictional character who’s rich and sexy. Now, we have those same fans contacting us to tell us that abuse is super-easy to spot in real-life and that you’d never find a man like Christian Grey who was actually abusive.
Except… My ex was the hottest guy I’d ever seen in real-life at the time I met him (an opinion that has since been thoroughly revised). I thought he was gorgeous. I had friends who thought the same. And at first, the sex was definitely the best I’d ever had. Neither fact made him less of an abuser, but they did help to blind me to his abuse. Just like fans are blinded to Christian Grey’s abuse by his good looks and ridiculous wealth. Are we all really shallow?! No. We just have this stupid idea – perpetuated by books like Fifty Shades – that attractive, rich people are the good guys. An abuser must be really easy to spot, because he or she will undoubtedly be physically repugnant, grubby and nasty.
The reality is that abusers are skilled in the area of charm. They will put across a version of themselves that they know you’ll fall for. What would be the point of revealing themselves to be abusive right away? Nobody would want to be with them!
It’s time we got away from this utterly foolish societal belief that abusers… Well, look and act like abusers. More often than not, they don’t. That’s the whole point.
Fifty Shades of Grey has perpetuated these myths and more. That’s why we need to speak out. Not because we’re hysterically calling for books to be burned, or because we have any desire to police what people read, but because myths about something as already misunderstood as abuse are dangerous. We need facts. What we don’t need is a man who stalks, coerces, threatens, intimidates, controls and manipulates being presented as some kind of romantic hero. Because he isn’t.
He’s an abuser.