It’s impossible to avoid the larger-than-life advertising for Fifty Shades Darker, the film version of the second Fifty Shades book by E.L. James, which hits cinemas on Thursday 9 February. But prominent advocate for women and girls Melinda Tankard Reist says it is a toxic series, and is hurting us all, even if we don’t watch it.
“Fifty Shades is part of a wider culture where women are taught their greatest power comes from being an object of male desire,” says Tankard Reist.
“We don’t have to see it, but any depiction of violence as romantic harms us all.
“Sexual violence and emotional abuse – including threats, stalking, and isolation – are represented as sexy and romantic. What is in reality intimate partner violence becomes something women secretly desire. When you dress that up as sexy fun, of course women are at risk.”
Collective Shout, an Australian organisation devoted to ending the objectification and sexualisation of girls and women, has partnered with The London Abused Women’s Centre, Canada; Culture Reframed, USA; and The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), USA to boycott the Fifty Shades movies. The Australian Christian Lobby is also boycotting the movie.
“This is not entertainment. This is not sexy.” – Collective Shout
In a statement they say, “Girls around the world are born into a pornified culture where consent is rendered irrelevant. In real life, men use the same tactics as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades trilogy to gain and maintain power and control over the women in their lives. This includes isolation, threats, physical and sexual assault. This is not entertainment. This is not sexy. This results in serious harm to women and in the worst case scenario, murder.”
The Fifty Shades series revolves around the relationship between a young college student, Anastasia Steele, and a powerful but tormented billionaire businessman, Christian Grey.
About half of the first movie focused on their sexual relationship, which was characterised by unconventional sexual behaviour, including bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (or BDSM).
The normalisation of sexual and intimate partner violence is reflected in Australian statistics, which reveal that almost one women is murdered each week by her current or former partner, and the church is not immune.
A 2016 report from the Sydney Anglican diocese revealed that in the last five years, at least 333 cases of domestic violence have been reported to Anglican ministers in Sydney.
These numbers stand in contrast to data showing that, on average, Australian police deal with 657 domestic violence matters every day – that’s one every two minutes.
“The broader culture effectively grooms women and girls for pornography consumption.” – Melinda Tankard Reist
Tankard Reist says, “When unequal power relations and female submission are presented as not only romantic and desirable but actually liberating and empowering, you’ve got a problem.”
(In this instance, it is worth noting that some conservative Christians may understand the word “submission” in one way, while feminists understand it differently, and the general public differently again.)
Sexually explicit content like Fifty Shades is creeping further into the mainstream, and Tankard Reist says, “The global sex industry is very good at getting its tentacles everywhere. It knows how to embed and normalize porn-themed practices and ideas. The broader culture effectively grooms women and girls for pornography consumption.”
“In porn culture, women are sexual objects for male sexual gratification and pleasure. They are always available and willing, and they never say no. [Women] are encouraged to embrace it and find power in being dominated and brutalised by men.
“Women cannot simply opt out of a culture that exploits or harms them.” – Melinda Tankard Reist
“Fifty Shades is a massively popular cultural phenomenon, perpetuating and reinforcing harmful attitudes about violence against women. Women cannot simply opt out of a culture that exploits or harms them.”
The repercussions are not only for consenting adults, because our children live and breathe in this porn culture.
“One repercussion is that women start to think there is something wrong with them if they don’t like this stuff. And teen girls think this is what ‘romance’ looks like,” says Tankard Reist.
“How will our young people understand what true intimacy and authentic human connection looks like when porn-based messages about sex dominate their formative environments?”
“If you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t see this movie.” – Patricia Weerakoon
Two years ago, when the first film in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, hit Australian cinemas, Eternity talked to Christian sex therapist and doctor Patricia Weerakoon, who warned Christians to stay away.
“If you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t see this movie,” Patricia told Eternity.
She believes Fifty Shades is a dangerous fantasy for couples.
“If you’re going to get your satisfaction thinking about Christian Grey – this dark, brooding man with a six pack who wanders around all the time with his clothes off, then when you go to bed with your 45-year-old husband with his gut slightly hanging over his trousers, it’s not going to be the most sexual thing in the world. It’ll be harder for you to be turned on by something that is much more normal,” she says.
Collective Shout is calling on all Australians to recognise that Fifty Shades glorifies the abuse of women, and to ask themselves if that is something they really want to financially support. They are asking people to put their money towards supporting some frontline services for women.