He’s an enormously successful businessman. He exercises control in everything he does; this isn’t a man who likes being told what to do. He’s exacting when it comes to women. If he sees a woman he wants, he expects to get her. He’s not used to the word “no,” after all. Nor is he a big believer in personal boundaries; if you want space from him, you can’t guarantee you’ll get it. This is a man whose behaviour can seem erratic, but he has an excuse for everything.
But who is this man? Because, from just this description, it could be either of the two men pictured above. Yet, one of those men is rightly dismissed by most of us. We call him a sexist, misogynist control freak with a warped sense of morality, because that is exactly what he is. The other? Millions of women swoon over.
In recent weeks, Donald Trump’s behaviour has crossed the line so many times that, to quote Friends, he can’t even see the line, anymore. His now infamous rant about grabbing women by their genitals – which he dismissed as merely “locker room talk” – finally caused the scales to fall from many people’s eyes; this man is not a decent person. He is not fit to be President of the United States.
But those sexist comments were, of course, defended by many of Trump’s supporters. One in question, fomer Republican Congressman Joe Walsh slammed women who were disgusted by Trumps comments, by asking: “if women are so outraged by Trump’s dirty talk, then who the hell bought the 80million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey?” He added the petty retort: “Grow up.”
As I’ve already mentioned, if you take the description at the start of this post, it’s fair to say that you could use it for either men: Trump or Grey. That is an enormous problem and instead of grossly trying to compare the enjoyment of “erotic” literature to boasting about sexual assault, we should be addressing it.
Because, it’s important to state here and now that no matter how much we are opposed to Fifty Shades of Grey in every way possible, we will never accept the suggestion that those who read and enjoyed the books are somehow no longer allowed to express disgust at a hugely powerful man bragging about his ability to intimately touch women without consent, in real life.
It’s also important to note that Fifty Shades cannot be said to have “caused” a climate in which men can say disgusting things about assaulting women, yet we’re supposed to like it. Trump made his deplorable comments in 2005. Fifty Shades burst onto the scene in 2011. Fifty Shades did not create this climate. It’s merely a symptom of it.
We live in a world in which men like Trump can get away with groping women and behaving like a bully. He gets away with it because he has money and power. He has spent decades with the media in his hands, because of his wealth, fame and success. Whilst not all abusers are famous, rich or powerful, in Trump’s case, it has certainly helped, as it has for thousands of others like him over the years. Just look at the way Jimmy Savile was able to encourage people to turn a blind eye to his abuse of young people for decades, until it all finally came out after his death. Money talks. Power talks. Men like Trump know it. He even admitted as much in the recently revealed tapes, saying that he was able to get away with grabbing women by their genitals because he was “a star.” Savile similarly used his wealth and fame to ensure that nobody spoke out. He also manipulated people by reminding them of the charity work he did.
Our current culture is one in which women are routinely harrassed online if they speak out against sexism. Where we are branded liars or sluts if we make accusations of sexual assault. We live in a culture in which a former Congressman can casually describe an admission of sexual assault as merely “dirty talk.”
The media plays a large part in this, as do our attitudes. Despite it being 2016, we still occasionally come across adverts focusing on women’s need to protect themselves from rape, rather than targeting potential rapists and making it clear that they should not make the choice to attack a woman, regardless of where she is, how much she’s had to drink, or what she happens to be wearing. The fact is that no book has come along to “create” rape culture. We created it ourselves and our media perpetuates it. We should be challenging it, screaming at it and forcing change, because we as a society deserve better.
We deserve better than to live in a world in which anyone can hear Donald Trump casually boast about sexual assault and not be outraged.
But Trump was not some hot, brooding sex God, when he made these comments. He didn’t have some tragic backstory to make it all somehow forgiveable. When we look at Donald Trump, we don’t think “Phwoar!” We don’t swoon over wanting to “fix” him.
Yet, throw in a chisled jaw-line, feed us a few lines about a sad childhood meaning he “doesn’t know any better,” and suddenly, you have Christian Grey. The same control-freak businessman. The same “if I want it, I’ll have it” attitude. The same lack of respect for boundaries. The same empty words about respecting women, about the importance of consent… The same lack of any evidence that those bleeding-heart declarations are even remotely true.
EL James may have created Christian Grey, but our culture made him possible. Our media, our societal attitudes and the general ignorance that surrounds abuse is what allows Christian Grey to exist as the supposed “romantic hero” he is all-too-often perceived as. Because, somehow, we are supposed to forgive the unforgiveable if a person is attractive enough, sorry enough or talented enough. We’re meant to accept that men in positions of power can and will do and get whatever they want. We’re supposed to conform to type and expect the female lead in an “erotic” novel to be a drippy virgin with no self-esteem and no sexual urges whatsoever, until she meets a man who awakens both in her.
The rape culture that already existed, the lack of education on abuse and the society that views powerful men as being beyond criticism are responsible for what’s happening with Donald Trump right now. It’s not the fault of a book. It’s not the fault of readers who are spoon-fed rubbish about abusive men being excusable if their childhood is tragic enough and their sexual prowess impressive enough. And we are all allowed to be outraged by it. We all should be.
But if we’re outraged by this happening in reality – the incredibly rich, enormously powerful businessman, treating women like objects to be used any way he sees fit, excusing his behaviour and never taking responsibility for it – then we need to realise that it’s not acceptable to be presented with fiction that expects us to swoon over the exact same thing, just because the packaging is more pleasing to the eye.
We need to tackle our climate of ignorance and victim-blaming. We need to stop fawning over dangerously powerful individuals. We’re making a start now, with so many voices raised against Trump’s disgusting remarks. But we need to go further. We need to remember that no matter how powerful a person is, no matter how wealthy they are, they have no right to abuse. They have no excuse.
EL James herself hit back against Joe Walsh’s comments, by highlighting that her book is fictional (and, laughably, by pointing out that she never uses the word “pussy” in them). But if she – and her army of fans – really want to make a difference to the culture that allows men like Trump to do and say such revolting things, then she needs to start by analysing her own “hero.” She needs to recognise that her own work, whilst not being responsible for Trump’s “dirty talk” or the culture that allows him to get away with it, is a symptom of the need for change.
Just imagine those 80million voices all raised against abuse. Imagine how powerful that could be.
Let’s aim to live in a world in which men like Trump are rightly called out as what they are. And let’s stop accepting fiction in which authors are giving those men a younger, prettier face, a tortured past and the title of “hero.”
I never did tell you which of those men – Trump or Grey – I was describing at the start of this post. I’ll let you decide for yourselves.