A Letter to My Children About Fifty Shades of Grey
My Precious Children,
Tonight, I succumbed to peer pressure (exactly what I caution you NEVER to do) and went with a bunch of girlfriends to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I ignored the little voice in my head that implored me to just say “no!” because, after all, it’s just a silly movie, right? Well, I wish I had done as I always tell you to do and given that voice credit because it was right. The thing is, I’m also kind of glad I didn’t because now I have these words for you.
One day, in the not very distant future, I’m going to blink and gasp as I realise you’re suddenly old enough to see movies like Fifty Shades of Grey, yourselves. Of course, you or your friends may even decide that curiosity wins and risk sneaking a peek even earlier than that. Either way, I have to accept the hard fact that your innocent eyes and your uncorrupted minds are going to see this drivel sooner or later.
I am writing this so that when that day comes, you’ll recognise Fifty Shades of Grey for what it is, rather than what it pretends to be.
Let me begin by telling you what Fifty Shades of Grey is not.
It is not a love story.
It does a pretty convincing job of masquerading as one, for sure, but please believe me when I say that love doesn’t even have a cameo role in this plot.
It is also not a romantic fairy tale with a harmless bit of naughtiness sprinkled on top.
Romance is glaringly absent, in fact. As for harmless S&M, please understand that this screenplay’s message is the polar opposite of harmless. In this ‘harmless’ piece of fluff movie, a rich, handsome, experienced man uses his power to seduce and manipulate a young, innocent student into doing a lot of things she is extremely uncomfortable doing.
They are not equals. They are not partners. There is, in fact, no ‘they’ to speak of at all.
Rather, it’s a movie about a narcissistic man’s controlling and violent sexual desires and his sense of entitlement to use and abuse a vulnerable young woman’s body and mind as tools for his own gratification. It’s all about his needs, coupled with the arrogant expectation that she should comply, regardless of her discomfort, to please him.
I sat in the theatre and looked around me at hundreds of women, buying into this so-called ‘sexy love story’ and I felt sick. If an entire theatre of women three times your age couldn’t see how damaging this plot line is, how on earth are teenage girls and boys supposed to?
Please, my daughters, don’t allow this romanticizing of sexual domestic abuse fool you into believing that you should ever allow yourself to be treated like Anastasia Steele. Please, my son, don’t watch this one day and believe that it’s ever okay to intimidate, manipulate or disrespect a woman like the ‘hero,’ Christian Grey. Nobody, male or female, wants or deserves to be disrespected, manipulated or violated against his or her wishes.
I hope, when the day comes that you’re grown up enough to be in a relationship, that you’ll understand that what goes on behind bedroom doors should always be pleasurable for both of you, regardless of your tastes. I hope you’ll understand that consent given under duress isn’t consent at all. I hope you’ll demand respect and that you’ll give respect in return.
Tonight, I walked out of the cinema feeling terrified and a little sad for your generation. If this is the movie that you base your ideals of love and romance on, then I need to make some things very clear and I hope you’re listening.
If someone wants to be with you, turning up at your part-time job unannounced when you haven’t ever even discussed that you have one and acting possessive when a co-worker talks to you is not romantic. It’s creepy.
If you say you’re a virgin and he responds by violently deflowering you, that’s not love. That’s assault.
If he tracks your whereabouts when you’re out clubbing and takes you to his hotel when you’re too drunk to make a rational decision, then undresses you and puts you in his bed for the night, that’s not protective. It’s stalking. In fact, stalking is the least of what it is.
If he turns up inside your apartment uninvited, it’s not romantic. It’s breaking and entering.
If you tell him you’re not interested and you ask him to leave and he responds by tying you to your bed and having violent sex with you after you repeatedly say “no,” all the while threatening to do worse if you make a noise, it’s not passion. It’s rape.
If he sells your car and buys you a new one without your permission “to surprise you,” it’s not romantic. It’s theft and manipulation.
If he monitors your phone calls and threatens you with physical harm because another man calls you, he’s not in love with you. He’s abusing and controlling you.
If beating you with a leather strap until you cry is what gives him pleasure and he asks you to do it despite your distress because it turns him on and then plays the victim to explain it all away, there is no soundtrack in the world that should quiet the voice in your head that yells out that love and romance were never in the picture and they never will be.
My children, this film was deeply disturbing to me, and I have life experience on my side. I shudder to think that you are going to grow up with stories like this to model relationships on and that you or the people you date will mistake this for ‘normal.’
Please, my precious children, know this: Love is gentle. Love never takes. Love does not demand. Love waits for consent. Love doesn’t need helicopter rides and expensive gifts. Love is enough.
When there’s love, the voice in your head doesn’t yell. It simply doesn’t have to.
My children, listen to me on this, if nothing else.
And, if you choose not to listen to me, then listen to the voice in your head.