He was perfect and he wanted me.
He was debonair and handsome. He knew all the right things to say and do. He made me feel beautiful, something I rarely felt. He drove a really nice car and had an impeccable appearance. He was smart, my God, was he brilliant. He was a 21-year-old naval officer, training to be a pilot. He was king and I was his queen at the proverbial masquerade ball; it was a fast and furious romance. And though I wasn’t Anastasia Steele, the main character in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” he was my Christian Grey.
And he was the reason why, five months later, I spent the night in a domestic violence shelter in Corpus Christi with a broken eardrum and dried blood still caked in the creases of my nose.
The film “Fifty Shades of Grey,” based on the novel series by E.L. James, comes out on Valentine’s Day, and I am afraid. I am very afraid of the violent chaos the impact of this film is all but guaranteed to cause in our culture. The main characters in “Fifty Shades” fit all the criteria of a very abusive relationship, but the story ends well. In real life, relationships that follow that same pattern usually end with several people in therapy trying to rebuild their spirits, if they’re not yet in the ground.
I am afraid that women all over the world and especially young, adolescent women have come to view Mr. Grey as Mr. Right and are seeking him, while at the same time risking their lives.
The predator’s game
Dating and domestic violence is one person in a relationship using control and manipulation to dominate the other person. It is a degrading pattern of abusive behavior that isolates someone and objectifies them by denying them their personal dignity and freedom.
The truth is, when you’re young and have little experience in romance, you’re developing your own ideas of what relationships are supposed to be like. This makes one vulnerable and impressionable. So reading books and consuming media such as “Fifty Shades” can have serious repercussions on people in romantic relationships.
Some of the major warning signs of DV are: isolation, intimidation, excessive jealousy and possessiveness, stalking, your partner having a bad/unpredictable temper, feeling emotionally helpless, nervousness, your partner controlling what you do, where you go, what you wear, who you interact with. The list goes on.
Within the first four chapters of “Fifty Shades,” we see Grey stalk Ana twice — once showing up at her workplace, despite her never having told him where she works, and another time showing up at a bar where she is with her friends. We later learn that Grey is tracking Ana via her cellphone. He also attempts to coerce her into signing a contract that prohibits her from talking about him or their relationship to anyone. He becomes insanely jealous after he sees her talking to one of her male friends, then leaves her without any explanation, essentially punishing her. So you have excessive jealousy, stalking, bad temper and isolation on a silver platter in those examples, and there are more-severe examples later on in the story.
The character of Christian Grey perfectly exhibits predator behavior. He preys on Ana, interpreting right off the bat because of the way she carries herself that she has low self-esteem, is shy and inexperienced, yet smart. He makes a game of pushing her limits and, throughout the series, enjoys watching both sides of her conscience play tug o’ war with whether or not she will succumb to his dominance.
A tricky position
There seems to be some confusion regarding the abusive relationship in “Fifty Shades” and BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism). The abusive behaviors in the relationship and BDSM are not mutually inclusive. BDSM is a subculture of intimacy that explores kinky sexual techniques but has very strict rules regarding consent and communication. Both parties have very, very clear communication rules as to what their limits are, and those limits are fiercely respected. Trust and clear communication are the foundation stones in any intimate relationship, handcuffs or no handcuffs.
BDSM experts have spoken out since “Fifty Shades” hit the shelves, about the abysmal portrayal of BDSM in the story. Grey has antagonized and intimidated Ana to the point that she is afraid to openly communicate with him, and his instillation of fear in her is one of the things that makes that relationship so abusive. She can’t communicate whether or not she consents to the nature of their intimacy. Emma Green, assistant managing editor of The Atlantic, wrote in her article, “Consent isn’t Enough: the Troubling Sex in Fifty Shades,” that “Bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadism are ‘varsity-level’ sex activities, as the sex columnist Dan Savage might say, and they require a great deal of self-knowledge, communication skill, and education. ‘Fifty Shades’ eroticizes sexual violence, but without any of the emotional maturity and communication required to make it safe.”
Furthermore, to excuse Grey’s behavior because we learn later he was abused as a child is dangerous. While it gives insight into his behaviors, it does not make them acceptable. He should have gotten more intensive therapy about his abuse years before the book even started. Though statistically their chances are higher, it is dangerous to suggest that all victims of child abuse grow up to be abusers or the abused. We do not let a child-raper off the hook because he or she was molested as a child, therefore we should not sweep Grey’s behaviors under the rug, either.
A happier ending
The first thing an abuser does is completely charm and seduce you. The second phase is to isolate you, and the final phase is to introduce violence into the relationship to see how you react. This cycle is seamlessly followed in “Fifty Shades,” and what’s worse is that it has a happy ending. They ride off into the sunset at the end, happily married with a baby and all is well. This says to the emotionally vulnerable reader that with enough patience, love and understanding, we can change broken, abusive partners. Nothing is further from the truth. The best thing you can do to change an abusive relationship is to get out of it. The best thing an abuser can do to change his or her behavior is to realize they have a problem and seek help for it.
My Christian Grey isolated me. He moved me from Georgia to Florida and then Texas to ensure I had no support system. He slowly introduced abuse into our relationship, calculatedly increased its severity, until I woke up one morning having fainted from blood loss to find myself locked in a house, being closely monitored to prevent my leaving. I managed to escape three days later, got to a domestic violence shelter, and eventually got home and started putting my life back together again. I am afraid for the Anas out there, the current ones and the future ones who think “Fifty Shades” is an exciting method to spice up their love lives. Because I highly doubt E.L. James will write a fourth book in the series, depicting Ana trying to flee her relationship while trying to protect her baby from the abuse.
But that’s a story that happens every day.
Lauren Jones is the outreach advocate at the Hospitality House for Women Inc. and a freelance writer. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.