Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

’Fifty Shades’ of confusing erotica with abuse

After watching the first film in the series, Mayim shares her thoughts on the questionable themes
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 08/09/2015 at 1:00 PM EDT
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Universal Pictures

First the books, now a film series—people can’t stop talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. Some said that the books garnered a lot of attention in the media because they are about a sexual relationship involving bondage; others focused on the fact that the series had begun as fan-fiction for another popular series, Twilight. I heard people say that the books were very graphic and were introducing women in particular to a sort of erotica (in the form of what can be referred to as pornographic literature) previously not experienced by most women, unless they were, of course, seeking that sort of thing out.

I resisted the urge to read the books for a variety of reasons, but not because I have a problem with pornographic literature in general. My general feeling is that no matter your sexual proclivity, it’s important for women to be acknowledged as an audience of a sexual nature deserving of whatever kind of stimulation they want: books, movies, whatever. If some women are interested in BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) as a way to be aroused in the context of a sexual and intimate relationship, if both parties consent and communication is clear, it’s not my place to judge what turns people on. I don’t have a problem with it.

I rented the movie out of curiosity as a writer. I know that if I say that I rented this movie in order to write it up, it’s kind of like guys saying they read Playboy for the articles, right? Well, true story: My intention was to write up my reactions to it, and I was prepared to discuss BDSM as the crux of the piece.

Well, much to my surprise, the movie was not about sex or about the culture of BDSM. Sure, there was sex in it and indeed there was there use of blindfolds and handcuffs and whips and such, but mostly this movie is about a man who is an abusive stalker. I was stunned and disturbed to learn that the film—and one can assume, its source material—is actually about domestic violence.

Don’t agree? Well, would you date a man who…

  1. Comes to your house, plies you with alcohol as a tool for manipulating you to do what he wants and yells at you for trying to break up with him?
  2. Forces you to stay in his house, even when you are scared of him and trying to leave?
  3. Uses his power and influence to become the speaker at your graduation ceremony after you have decided not to see him or interact with him, surprising you on stage and then trying to force you to sign a contract?
  4. Threatens you if you do something he finds annoying?
  5. Threatens you when you tell him you are not comfortable with something he wants to do in bed, and coerces you to do it anyway, even when you are crying while he does it?
  6. Bribes you with things to make you have sex with him, even when you aren’t ready?
  7. Reacts to your unapproved plans to visit your mother with anger, threatens you, is violent with you; follows you on your trip, spies on you and shows up in the places you are to humiliate you and take you away from your plans and your trip?

These are not signs of romance, or even BDSM. These are what we call warning signs. These are things you call the police for and keep a paper trail documenting. This is a movie about the guy you would tell your teenage daughter not to date. He has all of the markings of an abusive boyfriend and sociopath to boot.

To add insult to injury, the movie score is mostly cheesy romantic violin music as if this is a love story, and the plot points played up are those which I am told the book highlights as well: a broken man who was himself abused (because, apparently, all people who like BDSM have been abused?) starts to have big boy feelings for a young virgin and she is “The One”—read “Messiah”—who, with a bat of her virgin eyelashes, will make him question his bad boy bondage ways.

The sex scenes are titillating because we are watching a virgin woman have sex for the first time. There are a lot of shots of him kissing her toned belly and such while romantic violin music plays. It is presented as a teenage romance fantasy of a virgin ingenue stealing the heart of an abused man obsessed with bondage who ultimately can change his bad boy ways because of her pure love. If this were any other movie with a different musical score, it would be about a sociopathic stalker.

And now the hysteria continues. A series of books is coming out from Christian Grey’s point of view. I’m pretty sure I know his point of view, honestly. He’s a sick man, but not because he likes bondage. He’s a sick man because he believes that women are objects to be threatened, stalked and hit. That’s not what BDSM is about. That’s what domestic violence is about.

There are many literary sites and resources for women who are interested in erotica. There are even erotic pornography sites aimed at heterosexual women that are gaining popularity (I am told). There is a whole world of an audience in women who want to learn more about sex and be recognized as an audience for material that explores women’s sexuality, no matter what it looks like. This movie and these books are not tapping into a world of healthy exploration. Rather, they are feeding into the notion—long perpetuated across multiple media—that bad, abusive men can be changed if we just love them hard enough.

Thanks, Fifty Shades of Grey, for confusing the public about women’s sexuality even more.

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