Something happened on Twitter last night. I (Emma) tweeted from my personal account that I had noticed that Christian Grey was trending and I lamented over women falling for such a manipulative, stalking, threatening character. I had two responses from fans.
The first suggested that it’s just “human nature” to find a man like Christian Grey attractive. When I responded that actually, my survival instict is to naturally avoid someone who threatens to hurt me or control me against my will, they told me I was getting needlessly angry and they couldn’t work out why, when it was just a book (a common response from fans who don’t understand why romanticising abusive behaviour in literature is wrong). I explained that I had been in an abusive relationship with a man much like Grey. They then said:
“So you were in a relationship with someone like that – you’ve just contradicted everything you’ve said. You must have wanted a man like Christian at some point.”
You are intelligent enough to not need me to explain why that was a massively offensive thing to say, but assuming a Fifty Shades fan stumbles upon this blog and agrees with the sentiment, let me say: I did not ever want an abusive man in my life. I didn’t actively seek someone who would manipulate me, treat me as though I was a worthless object, or place responsibility for “curing” him of his abusive ways on my shoulders. I fell in love with someone and that’s what I ended up with. It’s entirely different to going out and saying “I want a man who’ll do those things.” Yet, in the eyes of this Fifty Shades defender, I must have known exactly what I was getting into when I met my ex and I must have somehow consented.
I blocked the sender of the tweet. And then a second fan got in touch and it got a whole lot worse.
The second fan – who called herself “greysessed” (as an aside, if words were objects, I’d stamp on that one until it broke into a zillion pieces and then hurl it off a cliff) – told me it was “obvious” that I hadn’t read the books. Presumably because I was finding fault with them and straying from the “Christian Grey is the perfect man” mantra that fans have adopted. When I responded that I actually had read them, they persisted in suggesting I didn’t know what I was talking about. I explained – for the second time that evening – that I had been in an abusive relationship and recognised abuse in the books. The fan replied with:
“Sorry, but comments like that are just an insult to people who experience abuse.”
So… I’m insulting myself? This person clearly had no consideration for what they were saying and hadn’t taken the time to think – even for a second – that when a person says they’ve been abused and they recognise the signs, that perhaps responding sensitively might be a good idea. Instead, this fan completely denied my experince by claiming that I was insulting abused people (therefore not counting me as one of those people) and attempted to give herself the moral highground by making it look as though she was concerned for those who experience abuse. of course, that moral highground shattered the instant I pointed out the vileness of what she had just done (intentionally or not) and she responded by denying her words and patronising me (as well as another Twitter user who also highlighted that she had just horribly gaslighted a survivor of abuse), saying: “I don’t think that’s what I said, do you? Why not click that little block button?”
The reason I’m speaking about this today isn’t because I’m angry or upset, although I was and am. It’s because when I had stopped shaking and feeling completely diminished by such horrible reactions from the books’ supporters, I had a sudden realisation: Who first suggested that seeing abuse in the books does a disservice to abuse victims? The author.
Yes, EL James was quoted as saying that those who see abuse in the books are demonising people who enjoy BDSM and doing a disservice to women who experience abuse. And she said that after she had blocked plenty of people who’d contacted her to say that they’d been reminded of their own abusive relationships after reading the books – I know, because I was one of those people – so she was well aware that actually, it was the very people she was claiming to care about that were speaking out, but she utterly minimised them by suggesting that their genuine concerns were somehow doing a disservice to those who live through abuse. Now her fans are doing the very same thing.
My question is this: Why are fans so wrapped up in the fantasy world that James has created, that they cannot break rank and listen to an opposite opinion? Why are they trotting out the same, deeply offensive responses when told by abuse survivors that they can recognise the red flags throughout the Fifty Shades trilogy? I can almost – and it only almost – understand EL James doing the equivalent of sticking her fingers in her ears and going “la la la.” She has made millions from this story and it’s still massively hyped. Although the ability to look objectively at your work is, in my eyes, a must for any writer, she has done okay out of refusing point blank to do so, so why should she stop now, eh? Common decency? Pah. But her fans have nothing to gain from repeating her “seeing abuse in my books is doing a disservice to abuse victims” bullshit (excuse my language, but I’m angry). So why are they bleating it out, like well trained sheep?
I’m a fan of many things – bands,TV shows etc. But if someone criticises one of the things I love, I will usually consider why they’re saying it, even if I leap to defend it. If someone gave me actual evidence that say, a song by a band I love might actually romanticise abuse, I would look at it objectively and want to at the very least show that I was taking the person’s concern seriously. If the person told me they had been abused and they found the song triggering, I’d want to show respect and empathy for that person, rather than blindly defend the lyrical content.
So why are Fifty Shades fans unable – or unwilling – to do this? Answers on a postcard…