A Feminist’s Defence of Fifty Shades Darker

Now, as an avowed feminist and Christian I know I may be an odd choice to be writing a blog defending Fifty Shades and I genuinely didn’t think I’d be bothered enough but then, of course, the articles denouncing it as abuse, and encouraging people to boycott it did the rounds and I got pissed off, again. So here I am.

I have read all the books (including the one from Grey’s perspective which, being less whiny, is my fave) but I wasn’t sure about seeing the films for some of the same reasons people have given in their condemnatory articles: unhealthy example of a relationship, perpetuating the hyper-sexualisation already dominating our culture (pun intended), maybe negatively influencing my own sexual ideas and, maybe most importantly, the crappy dialogue.  But I caved. Because I love dramatic love stories with happy endings (no pun intended-actually, I’ll stop saying when puns are/aren’t intended because practically anything could be a pun given how sexually creative they are!!).  And just as with Twilight, the simplistic writing, bad relationship example, and pathetic heroine still grabbed me because I was hooked on the love story (I’m ridiculous, I know!).

So here’re my thoughts re Fifty Shades. Firstly, it is NOT ABUSE. It is NOT un-consensual. For starters, he gives her a bloomin contract with a buffet-list of sexual proclivities from which she chooses what she’s up for and what are her definite no nos.  Furthermore, it’s her who chooses what’s she’s up for and what’s off the table and whenever she uses her safe words or says no it’s a NO.  That’s gotta be the most consensual, communicative start to a sexual relationship ever.  In fact, one the only time she gets hurt is when she, ironically, tried to use BDSM with which she’s not comfortable in a stupid attempt to emotionally manipulate him (instead of using the mouth God gave her to say ‘Hey, if we can’t cuddle & fall asleep together I can’t keep seeing you.’) Yes, he IS demanding, controlling and domineering -he tells her this in their sex-contract-meeting so it’s not a surprise.  And yet, in book/film two they only go into the playroom or do any kind of BDSM when she initiates it; we see her saying No, arguing, and drawing boundaries.  Yes, hers are looser than mine would be but she’s hardly the first pathetic female lead…she’d be in good company drinking and whining with Carrie from Sex and the City, Bridget Jones or, of course, Bella from Twilight-on whom she’s based.

So sexually there’s no abuse.  In fact, I commend the latest film for the two scenes of cunnilingus-seeing a woman’s pleasure prioritised in a film is so rare and to show this strong man doing it can surely only have a good effect on dismantling the idea that it’s unmanly so well done Fifty!

fifty-shades-darker                                        Image: Happy Naila Edits

As for their emotional relationship, my goodness is it unhealthy but, to me…that is as someone who sadly knows women who have been abused in varying ways…it is not abusive.  Yes, he’s an over-protective control freak and she’s insipid.  This film, Fifty Shades Darker, actually goes a long way to improve things.  In the books, they’re both in need of serious therapy (which he’s getting) but this film makes Ana’s character more assertive, likeable and generally less pathetic and wet (ok, that pun was unintended but it’s funny so hey, it stays).  When Ana wants to say No or challenge him (cue the movie hairdresser scene), she does.  And in the film her times of compromise are clearly through conversation and negotiation; even though I, as a strong-willed woman would have definitely not caved where she does (cut to NY trip convo), she isn’t emotionally manipulated or dominated but rather weighs up the options and makes a choice that suits her best.  Sounds rather feminist to me.  Of course, the reasons she makes the choices she does are because a) she’s in love for the first time and we are all a little pathetic when those hormones are flying. b) she has lowwww self-esteem but again, I know real life women-and plenty of fictional ones-who seek their affirmation from a man and to give Christian Grey his credit, he’s always encouraging her that’s he’s capable, intelligent, beautiful and worthy of his affections when she asks stupid, doe-eyed questions like ‘why would you want me?’

So no, Anastasia Steele is not up for the best Feminist Icon in Fiction award, nor is Christian Grey Mr ‘I Love to Compromise’. But the film is far better than the book re showing her as a more assertive, confident, independent young woman growing in her career and love life and skin. So watch it or don’t. But let’s not condemn it when we don’t decry the same pathetic characters in other movies, and let’s definitely not decry ‘abuse’ when there are so many real women (& men) who are being abused.

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