In 2011, while working in an office with an abundant number of college students, I observed that on every other female co-worker’s desk sat a copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” A burgeoning writer myself, I’m always intrigued about what makes the New York Times Best Seller List, and why. Apparently this book with an image of a man’s dress tie dramatically situated on the front cover made women want to jump in line at B&N like I did in 2001 for Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire. Except Fifty Shades is far from possessing the literary flair that J.K. Rowling displays in her Potter books. After downloading a sample of Fifty Shades, I realized even five pages was too much to bear. The book is written in language so simplistic that I could have gotten through it as a third grader, however, its content, is another story entirely. Unfortunately I never made it to the sordid scenes that made women pine for the subsequent books in the trilogy. I just could not get past how contrived and disturbingly linear the characters were. I am not in the habit of reading completely flat literature—and Fifty Shades is NOT literature. For the reaction the series and even more so the movie have elicited, it may very well end up on English Lit professors’ syllabi. If only the negative reaction pertained to the poor quality storytelling, rather than a distorted interpretation of its sexual content.
Since I did not make it past page five in the book, I decided to take a stab at the Fifty Shades movie. Not because I thought the script would lift the story to new sophisticated heights, oh no, but because it came out on Valentine’s Day, and I figured why not engage in some good old fashioned cliché fun? Well I did, and it was FUN. The ridiculousness of the lines, taken straight from the book, delighted my cynical sensibilities. In terms of the BDSM sex scenes, they were a bit vanilla in my opinion, and obviously brief as American audiences are not trained to handle prolonged sex scenes or even extended nudity.
The still existing prudishness is what likely has spurred actions like #50dollarsnot50shades—a movement that came about with the goal of steering potential movie goers away from Fifty Shades and instead to a woman’s shelter to make a donation. They contend that the books and movie perpetuate abusive relationships, and the sex scenes are actually rape scenes, only thinly veiled by poorly romanticized BDSM. I could not disagree more, and this comes not from a person who is a fan of the book, but someone who is tired of patronizing and misguided movements that only attempt to galvanize their causes with misinformation.
#50dollarsnot50shades was created by the international organization Stop Porn Culture, an organization that touts feminist roots and contends porn is “misogynistic both in its production and consumption.” I could easily go on several sidebar rants here that include links to the various female pornographers I’ve learned about over the years (and all of the happy porn actresses out there), however that’s for another article, another time. What’s particularly problematic about the #50dollarsnot50shades is the fact that SPC already comes onto the scene with preconceived notions about BDSM, so they are already quick to make sweeping generalizations about the BDSM seen in Fifty Shades of Grey (and anywhere else for that matter). The various tidbits found on SPC’s website railing against the “subordination” seen in porn, and its subsequent “commodification,” make their opinions on outward displays of sexuality apparent. There is subordination, obviously, in BDSM—hence the roles of the submissive and the dominant. And many enjoy this lifestyle, and do so regularly and safely. In “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the character of Anastasia Steele willingly submits to her dominant Christian Grey. To construe their sub/dom relationship as being correlated to domestic violence is just wrong insofar as their relationship dynamics are discussed prior to the admission into this type of relationship. At least, this is what is conveyed on screen. To be fair, there are apparently lines in the book that imply unhealthy relationship dynamics not seen it the movie version. If SPC is truly concerned about the Fifty Shades trilogy making light of DV issues, then why not boycott book sales? Well, because to SPC the Fifty Shades movie is akin to porn—soft core anyway—so, why not initiate a cause that correlates more closely to their anti-porn mission?
SPC and its #50dollarsnot50shades movement are not helpful for women, and certainly not women who have been physically harmed by their partners. SPC is dictatorial, patronizing, and to be frank, quite antiquated. SPC takes women by the wrists and tells them what to do—what to shield themselves from, like we’re back in 1955. This only propagates the idea that women are helpless victims incapable of making their own decisions. Almost resonant of an unhealthy relationship. I may not like “Fifty Shades of Grey” on a literary or even cinematic level, but I like the conversations it generates, and I’m happy that many of these conversations surround women’s healthy relationships with porn and BDSM. Believe it or not, there is a world outside of the binary of good and bad. There’s, well, hate to say it—often fifty shades of grey.