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The Fifty Shades Fantasy Vs. Abusive Reality

Jesus condemns sexual perversion and abuse, and “consent” under duress is a lie either in fantasy or reality.
| Oct 13, 2016 | 28 comments |

Maybe you’ve seen a meme that started going around Facebook after various celebrities and public figures (especially one) began having their sexual abuses exposed.

The “meme’s” message is this: people in a culture are outraged at this behavior from a public figure, yet this culture also bought millions of copies of the book Fifty Shades of Grey.

I re-posted the meme, along with my thoughts on the matter. I said the public figure’s actions are without excuse. But why then do we as women swoon over and idolize characters like Christian Grey? We reinforce exactly what that person said about being “allowed” to do whatever you want to women if you’re rich and famous. We quietly enable the notion that a woman’s only purpose is to be beautiful and sexy and give pleasure to men. We allow men to get away with being predators because we perpetuate the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale idea, that somewhere inside is a really good man who only needs our love in order to be not an abusive jerk.

From The Passion of the Christ (2004).

From The Passion of the Christ (2004).

Thus, instead of having good women bringing out the best in these men, we end up with public figures who use their power and position. They coerce and even force women into bed, but they get away with it because they are rich and famous.

My comments were met with significant backlash. Some said the comparison was stupid. They  made snide comments such as:

  • I couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fiction.
  • What a person chooses to read and indulge in as a fantasy is not the same as perpetuating this behavior in real life.
  • In the book it was all “consensual,” so this makes it okay.
  • This isn’t like how it happens in real life.
  • If I suggest otherwise, I’m victim-blaming and victim-shaming.

This attitude troubles me greatly.

My point is not to victim-shame women who have been abused. I have seen the devastation that happens when women fall into this trap. This is precisely why I need to address the problem.

For the record, I do know Christian Grey is not a real person. I am well aware that Fifty Shades is just a story about made-up people in made-up situations. I also know plenty of people do enjoy dominant/submissive relationships. Some enjoy kinky, even violent (consensual) sex.

So the problem I have with Fifty Shades is not the sex. To each his own—I’m not trying to get in anyone else’s bedroom.

Instead, I’m talking about how media shapes culture, and vice versa, and how we as a culture have perpetuated an environment in which abuse is not only tolerated but glorified.

Fifty Shades and faux ‘consent’

In Fifty Shades, Christian Grey seduces young Anastasia. He ultimately convinces her to sign a contract that allows him henceforth to do whatever he wants to her sexually.

Thus, she technically “consents” by signing the contract.

But what about the manipulation and control that Christian Grey exerts? What about the way he uses his status and position to coerce her? What about the way he stalks her and rapes her, but convinces her it’s romantic and that he does it because he just loves her so much? And anyway, she “consented” when she signed the contract, so everything he does is acceptable, right?

I write fiction. I have no problem with a strong, powerful alpha male hero.

That’s not what Christian Grey is. He is an abuser. He draws her in and makes her feel special, then abuses her, getting worse as the relationship progresses.

Here’s the heart of the problem: This is what actual abusers do. They systematically prey on their victims’ insecurities, build them up and draw them in, cut them off from those around them who would provide wise counsel and healthy balance, and then they escalate.

From ‘Fifty Shades’ to reality

Fifty Shades perpetuates the lie that this behavior is “consensual” love.

For many people, this doesn’t stay in the confines of a fantasy—a guilty pleasure between the pages of a book.

A real woman who reads Fifty Shades and gets turned on by Christian Grey’s dominance, then meets a man who is strong and powerful and flatters her with attention, can conclude it’s romantic because he’s an alpha male, just like Christian Grey. He makes her feel beautiful and selected out of a million others. Special. Loved. And when the power and control begins (which is inevitable, because that’s what abusers are looking for), she believes the lie that it is because he loves her.

And then it escalates.

Because that’s how abusers work.

And little by little, the lie changes from “he just loves me too much” to “he didn’t mean to do it, he can’t help it,” to “I shouldn’t have have done this or that to provoke him,” to “I deserve it.” This can lead to, “If only I were skinnier/prettier/sexier, he wouldn’t look at other women/porn/whatever,” and “If only I were a better cook/more receptive in the bedroom/more attentive to his needs/didn’t do whatever it is that makes him mad, then he wouldn’t do those things.”

The victim believes these lies and tries harder, but the harder she tries, the more control the abuser gets, and thus the more the abuse escalates. The victim believes she deserves what she gets, and that the problem is with her if he abuses her or cheats on her or anything else.

She gives in to assault, because he “just wants to be close to her,” or, worse, she’s afraid of the consequences if she doesn’t.

The reality is that consent under duress is not consent.

If a real-life man drugs a woman’s drink, or tells her she’ll be fired if she doesn’t consent (or the opposite, that her chances of a promotion will increase), or in any other way influences a woman to engage in sexual acts that she otherwise wouldn’t consent to, it is assault.

This is exactly what happens in Fifty Shades. Christian Grey is a textbook abuser. That Anastasia is portrayed as enjoying it only muddies the waters more.1 This portrayal of enjoying rape makes women who are ashamed later feel as though there’s something wrong with them for not appreciating the strong, forceful way their man wants them. And even if the woman does enjoy the sex, the fact that it was forced upon her still makes it rape.

The real-life men who use their power and influence to coerce women into bed are enabled by books like Fifty Shades. They feel as though they are entitled to using a woman’s body however it pleases them. They have gotten away with abusive behaviors in the past, so they genuinely believe every woman in their paths wants to sleep with them, and that it’s okay—even expected—for them to assault women because of who they are.

It’s a cultural sickness, pervading many aspects of our mindsets. It is why rape culture exists.

Jesus’s solution for sexual abuse

Yes, men should be taught what consent means. Yes, we are doing our boys a disservice if we do not teach them to respect women.

Men using their influence to gain sexual favors from the women around them is, on every level, unacceptable. Men who do this are responsible for their own actions, and should be called to account for them.

However, that does not absolve women from helping to perpetuate the double standard.

We cannot glorify this behavior in our fictional heroes like Christian Grey (and the countless others that have spawned from the popularity of Fifty Shades) and at the same time expect that real men will know that it’s not actually what is acceptable in real life. We cannot glorify the “fantasy” and expect that men will not be confused into believing that is actually what we want.

This expectation that men are slaves to their lust, that women are expected to enjoy being dominated, that “that’s just how men are,” is a lie that causes untold heartache, both inside and outside of a relationship.

Again, I’m not trying to impose any strictures on a consensual relationship. Other than well-known passages against fornication and certain types of sinful behaviors, the Bible doesn’t give clear boundaries on what types of sex are okay or not okay. But the Song of Solomon makes it clear that sex is meant to be enjoyed by both parties. What a husband and wife choose to engage in is between them.

It’s a lie to suggest a man’s needs supersede a woman’s, or that a woman is inferior to a man, or that her position is one of subservience. People often point out that the patriarchs were polygamous and women in ancient cultures, even God’s chosen people, were viewed as property. They fail to recognize that those accounts are historical records, not necessarily endorsements of actions.

The Bible upholds the value of women. This begins with creation, in which God declares that both man and woman were made in His image,2. This continues with God’s establishment of his Law, when he declares that if a man forces himself on a woman, he is to be put to death, and the woman is innocent.3

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself breaks with tradition and cultural norms to affirm women repeatedly. Later, the apostle Paul instructs men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, even to the point of dying for her.4

Sexual assault is the exact opposite of the teachings of Jesus. It is the epitome of selfishness, to violate another person in order to gratify yourself, to put your own desires above the dignity and desires of someone else. Sexual assault is something that Jesus would never condone.

And that is what it all comes back to, in the end. Jesus valued every person, man and woman, no matter their sins or struggles, enough to die on the cross in order that they might be restored. Let us love one another as Jesus loved us, and strive to treat each other with the dignity and self-sacrifice with which he has treated us.

  1. This is not exclusive to Fifty Shades. Even the film Gone with the Wind has the scene where Rhett sweeps Scarlett off her feet and tells her “This is one night you’re not shutting me out!” and the next morning, Scarlett is seen as sated and happy.
  2. Gen. 1:27, Genesis 2.
  3. Deut. 22: 25-27.
  4. Eph. 5:22-23.

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Tamra Wilson
Member
Tamra Wilson

Amen and amen! No, you crazies, “Fifty Shades” NOT like “Beauty and the Beast”! If you go back to the original tale and anything that’s not the Disney version you’ll find that the Beast treats Beauty with the utmost kindness and gentleness, would never lay a hand (paw?) on her, and would gut anybody who did. (Yes, there’s that bit with the rose, but I think that was part of the curse) Unlike this Grey creeper, who likes hurting women for fun. I want to punch people who use that excuse to justify the “Fifty Shades” fandom. The thing started out as a “Twilight” fan fiction… and “Twilight” has it’s own problems!

Pam Halter
Member

Well said, Avily. I wish I had known this from the time I was in 10th grade and made to feel as though it was all part of going steady – as we called it back then. Even if sexual intercourse isn’t part of it, it’s still a form of sexual assault. When you beg him to stop and he doesn’t. “It goes with the ring!” And yeah, you feel as though you’ll lost him if you’re not okay with it. It’s an unhealthy form of “love” that really isn’t love.

That set me up for years of some form of sexual abuse from every boyfriend I had after that, including rape by an ex-husband who was abusive in other ways as well. And you nailed the abuse escalation and how it starts. I hope and pray I’ve taught my children well, both my son and my daughter. And I thank God for the husband I have now, who is a good and godly man. 26 years of marriage and we’ve fought our way through all sorts of potentially marriage wrecking things, but never, ever sexual abuse.

You all realize I’m opening myself up for judgment, right? Never said any of this publicly before. 🙁 But it’s an important topic. Thanks, Avily.

Tamra Wilson
Member
Tamra Wilson

Ma’am, you are not at fault for what your boyfriend/ex-husband did to you. It was their choice to hurt you. You took them at their word and they used your innocence and trust to hurt you. Nobody should judge YOU for what THEY did. In a court of law, they would be the one to face justice, not you.

Avily Jerome
Guest

Thank you for being willing to share this!
Part of the lie is the victim shaming that makes women feel as though they somehow deserved the assault or are supposed to share in the blame, and along with the natural feelings of shame that come with being violated, it makes it that much harder to be open. But this kind of openness is so, so beneficial to others who are struggling with the same things!
If we, as Christians, aren’t willing to talk openly about sex, then the only message the world will hear is the perverted versions the world tells them.

Pam Halter
Member

I agree with you both … unfortunately, not everyone gets that. That’s why we keep our secrets, right? We hurt enough – we don’t need to add to it with the judgement of others. 🙁

notleia
Guest
notleia

“The reality is that consent under duress is not consent.”

HECK YES

Pam Halter
Member

I know, right? But that’s what we do. Me, I did it after my ex raped me to keep from being raped again. At least that’s what I thought. And on the heels of that is guilt around why I didn’t kick him out sooner than I did. That was almost 30 years ago and I *still* have guilt. Human beings are so complex.

Avily Jerome
Guest

It’s especially complicated within a marriage, because there’s that expectation of meeting each others’ physical needs. But consent is still consent.
Someone I know’s ex-husband used to literally keep her up all night, because they “needed to talk and work it out” regarding whatever the fight of the week was, and he would push her for intimacy on the grounds that he “just wanted to be close” so she would give in just to make him stop, despite the fact that she didn’t want to be close to him because of his abuse toward her. So in his mind, she “consented” when what was really happening was she was allowing it to stave off the other abuses.
Still not consent.

Pam Halter
Member

Exactly. I did that, too. But then there were times when I fought like crazy to stop him. And he didn’t stop. 🙁

Lisa
Guest

I honestly do not understand how any woman could enjoy reading about the rape and sexual torture of another woman and excusing it and even enjoying it because she gave “consent”. So what? Rape and torture are still wrong, even if she “consents” to it. For years and years men have been conditioned by pornography to get sexually excited by the abuse of women, and now women are being conditioned to think this is what “love” looks like. Satanic, no? I weep for our children. Just what kind of relationships are they going to have? Already teen girls are being pressured into anal sex because they think it is what is expected of them. So is submission, torture and degradation. It’s so very, very sad and disturbing.

Khai
Guest
Khai

Hey Avily,

I wish some more men would comment on this thread. I wonder what they think?

I’m familiar with the spanking and submission “scene” and to back you up, Christian Grey does not represent a “Top” or “Dominant” man.

He represents an emotionally damaged man who has an abusive childhood that is rearing its ugly head in his adult relationships. They he HIDES his damaged narcissist ego behind the mask of of “I’m just a Dominant man in the bedroom, plus I’m obsessed about you in a determined-to-bring-you-to-orgasm way.” That makes him regressive and dysfunctional as a partner AND bad at sex.

*Mike drop, BAM. You’re DONE Mr. Grey.

Avily Jerome
Guest

Well put. 🙂

I know people who are into dominant/submissive sex, and everyone I have talked to says this is NOT representative of how it actually works.

Audie Thacker
Member

Well, if you’re really wanting a guy’s view of this, then, here I go…

First, getting much into the whole political side of this discussion seems less then wise at the moment.

Second, I haven’t read and have no desire to read the 50 Shades books, or watch the movie. But being myself a fallen and sinful person, I think I can understand to some degree that mindset–the desire to consume rather then give, the desire to control rather then free, the desire to satisfy myself rather then love another, the desire to make everything revolve around what I want rather then esteeming another more highly then I do myself. Selfishness and narcissism are very much a part of me, and though they may look very different from how they look in those books, my ways of falling into them are still very much there.

A lot of what is discussed in the article and comments is beyond my own experience, as I’ve never been married or been sexually active. About all I could do is point out things such as love being more about the good and well-being of the other person then about one’s own appetites. Marriage is about more then the bedroom, but the sharing of a life that is typified in the Bible as being somehow “one flesh”. Or that the biblical restraints on sexual activity are not God being some old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t want us to have fun, but are good and wise limits that He has set that are for our good.

Finally, relations between the sexes went askew long ago, when mankind sinned, and men and women have been manipulating and abusing each other since then, long before 50 Shades. The actions of the world should not surprise us so much, as we know they are only acting by there sinful nature, carried away by their own lusts. But perhaps much more thought needs to given to why such a thing as 50 Shades has an appeal in the church, and why the message of “stay pure until marriage” may not be working so well.

For my two cents worth on it, while sexual purity is a good thing and something to be valued, when it becomes a gospel of sexual purity it becomes something distorted, because it’s taking a law and making it the gospel. But the gospel isn’t law, it isn’t “Do this and God will make your life good”, but it’s a gift, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Sexual purity is good, but the Gospels also record at least two times when Jesus redeemed people who had fallen into sexual sins. It would be better for the church to point more to God’s gift, and then to instruct and encourage and correct based on a willing response to the love God demonstrated towards us in Christ’ death, then to keep hammering at sexual purity as if keeping kids virgins until marriage will somehow solve all their problems.

Paul Lee
Member

First, getting much into the whole political side of this discussion seems less then wise at the moment.

That was literally my first thought, and I’ve been burning to make this joke since I first read the post, but now I just can’t contain myself anymore, I’m sorry — but then again, it’s neither really a joke nor really a political statement, so I won’t feel too trollish.

But Harry Potter is real now. You Know Who. DON’T SAY HIS NAME.

Audie Thacker
Member

Not sure I understand the joke. If you think I’m nervous about mentioning the name Donald Trump or Bill Clinton, that’s not why I’m careful about delving into the political aspect here. You need only look at how things are being discussed, from people on both sides, to see how the discussion here could degrade.

Paul Lee
Member

Sorry, I didn’t mean to implicate making fun of you or Avily, not in the least. I was just observing how we dodge around naming His Name…. like in Harry Potter. I found the observation genuinely funny.

….and I could extend the analogy to the Death Eaters and the dynamic in the wizarding community…. but that’s getting both political and personal so I should shut up. And really, there’s no particular reason to think that it’s a relevant analogy anyways, even though I find it entertaining.

But it puts the characters in Harry Potter who refuse to say “Voldemort” in a new light. They weren’t necessarily being simply cowardly. It was a deeply divisive, awkward, painful political issue for them. As this election cycle is for us.

Paul Lee
Member

I have no idea what it’s like to be female, nor where the expectation of male dominance and aggression comes from except for what everyone’s already said about the Fall and universal sin nature, etc.

That doesn’t explain why a male’s sinfulness might tend to make him more sexually aggressive than women, since all humans have the same inherent sin nature. Biology, theology, patriarchy — I don’t know, ask some grad student writing a dissertation. It only matters that male sexually aggression is universally wrong and despite the fact that men can be and probably reversely discriminated against by widespread acknowledgement of women’s empowerment (at least on a very individual level), there should be no capitulation given to the tendency for male sexual abuse. If that means that men have to suck it up and accept the fact that we’re all stained for things we might not have personally imagined doing, accept that we have to move over and let women have more of a voice because women have suffered more than us even though we don’t personally understand why, then the proper manly thing to do is to shut up and stop complaining. Maybe if we do so, eventually we might be able to talk about the ways in which men also inherently struggle with trials that women can’t directly understand — I don’t say ways in which men may be disadvantaged, because advantage or privilege isn’t the only angle. Women are clearly less advantaged and privileged, but we men probably have our own kinds of unique and terrible suffering that have little to do with advantages or privileges. Part of our suffering is the fact that due to the stark reality of male abuse, we can’t legitimately speak of our own suffering, because we truly don’t deserve to be heard. Maybe some day if we suck up the fact that we don’t deserve to voice our complaints, in some world we will all be able to share our pain and unite in genuine empathy with each other.

I do think I understand some sense of being defeated and submitting because you believe you have no strength and that if you stand up for yourself, you might be wrong and make things worse. Sexuality isn’t quite the only arena where people have willingly submitted to tyrants and to their own dehumanizing destruction.

Khai
Guest
Khai

I’m not a subscriber of the Patriarchy paradigm, Paul but I get what you and Audie are trying to reason out. And I for one, don’t think the females on this thread will attack you for speaking up. I for one, remain “Androgynous” online just so.

About sexual aggression (which is not the same as violence), I do know testosterone contributes to it. And I also think what you do with it is what matters. It’s hard to be a woman. It’s also hard to be a man. We’re born into these different biological internal environments and we have to figure out our moral consciences in the middle of it.

Paul Lee
Member

And I for one, don’t think the females on this thread will attack you for speaking up.

I didn’t expect so, but I know that some wounds run deep and I know that I don’t understand the source and nature of feeling extremely disempowered as I’ve seen some women express it. Paradigms may matter, but I think both patriarchy/complementarianism and feminism can at their best reveal and defend the dignity of the human, which includes the freedom and full autonomous humanity of women. Good traditionalists at least should be horrified and outraged at THIS STUFF, if they are consistent, and I think I’ve seen how some moderated, nuanced, cautious expressions of moral conservative ideology uphold real freedom and dignity for all people — even though other forms of conservative ideology can devolve into THIS STUFF. Likewise, it’s easy for me to imagine how some bad and perverted progressives are siblings to those who hold simplistically to perverted male sexual dominance. I wouldn’t enjoy defending or attacking traditional patriarchy, but I think the conservatives in my life would dismiss me as a feminist and probably all have by now.

And thank you.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Just do me a favor and don’t refer to women/girls as “females.” It makes you sound like a Ferengi.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Amen to that.

This is especially helpful when a real-life Ferengi is running for president.

#YesIWentThere

Pam Halter
Member

Ha! That made me snort, Stephen. I may have been abused years ago, but I still have a good sense of humor.

Khai
Guest
Khai

I think that particular “Ferengi” uses any means necessary to not just defeat- but obliterate his opponent. He HAS to humiliate them. He’s gotta disparage them as women, or as fat or as wimps or whatever he can. It’s not about winning the argument. It’s about destroying them. Because he’s just that insecure. It’s like a tic. I think that trait dominates his personality more than sexism. And it is even more of a problem.

I’m gonna use “Ferengi” as my new election season code at work. Thank you, Steve.

Khai
Guest
Khai

Lol, noted. Thanks.

Kirsty
Guest

“due to the stark reality of male abuse, we can’t legitimately speak of our own suffering, because we truly don’t deserve to be heard. Maybe some day if we suck up the fact that we don’t deserve to voice our complaints,”

All men are not guilty for the wrong actions of some men. I’m concerned that you feel you ‘don’t deserve to be heard’ just because you’re a man.

Paul Lee
Member

Thanks for the concern. Self-expression can be a weakness, and it can be horrible. But of course, my commenting to say so right now is self-expression, so you shouldn’t worry about me.

Autumn Grayson
Guest
Autumn Grayson

I’ve heard some say that people are using Fifty Shades as an excuse for rape, saying that women can’t really fault men for rape when women buy so many Fifty Shades books.  Obviously that’s nonsense.  Regardless of the popularity of Fifty Shades, not early every girl bought a copy.

Furhermore, one reason people probably like Fifty Shades is because they like excitement without pain or consequence.  For some women, Fifty Shades might thrill them or excite them sexually, but they can be disconnected from the reality of what they are reading because they are not feeling or experiencing any pain.  And once they are done with it they can close the book and set it aside, and it doesn’t devastate their life.  

In real life, on the other hand, if they get raped, it’s pain they did not choose, and with a person they did not choose, and the trauma may remain their whole life.  

Maybe, in a way, it’s like wanting the adventure of a fantasy novel, but the reader knowing they never want to have to fight for independence against a hoard of scary monsters that killed their friends.

It is wrong to read stuff like Fifty Shades, but our culture needs to treat the next generation to respect boundaries regardless of other people’s sinful actions or reading material.  

With that meme you mentioned, I would imagine one response people have is that Christian Grey isn’t trying to become our president.  The book also give background on Christian Grey, I’d assume.  That probably makes people sympathize with him in a way people can’t sympathize with Trump.  Fans probably look at whatever sad past Grey has and dismiss him as a sad, traumatized person.  People tend to sympathize or be fascinated by characters and situation in books but hate the ones in real life because the characters in real life are truly capable of encroaching on people’s boundaries.