Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How would we even know 'Fifty Shades' isn't normal?

Image source.
[trigger warning: abuse]

Well. You guys. I watched "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Remember a few months ago, when that movie came out, and there was a whole flurry of blog posts? Good Christians were all like "PLEASE I BEG OF YOU. DO NOT go see 50 Shades. It will RUIN your marriage!" (Seriously. There were actual real blog posts about that.) And about how it was evil because it showed extramarital sex scenes. And all the feminists were like "This movie is awful because it's about an abusive relationship! (Plus that's not even what BDSM is like in real life.)"

(I fall on the feminist side of that- I don't think sex is sinful; I think abusing/hurting people is sinful.)

So yeah, I knew the relationship between Anastasia and Christian wasn't going to be a healthy one we should emulate. But, I thought, I really want to watch this movie, because in purity culture we're TOTALLY not allowed to watch anything like that, and now I have freedom! I can watch whatever I want, just, you know, remember to think critically about the messages in the media. Watching something isn't going to ruin your life. We're stronger than that.

YOU GUYS. That was like, the most horrible 2 hours of my life.

Oh my goodness, this movie. This guy, Christian Grey- creepy as hell. (I'm pretty sure this is the first time in my life I've used the term "creepy as hell." That's how creepy he was.)

Basically, Christian is trying to control Ana's life. He pretends he's giving her a choice, he uses language about "consent" and "you're free to leave at any time", and when she says the word "no" he backs off. But then in the next scene he's buying her some huge expensive gift to manipulate her back into the relationship, or randomly showing up at her apartment (how did he even know where she lives?).

I mean, I guess if you think the dude is hot, this could be some kind of awesome fantasy. I get how it can be really sexy when a guy is confident and knows exactly what he wants, and of course, in your own personal fantasy, what he wants also happens to be exactly what you want and what's best for you. (This is sort of along the same lines as the "your husband should be your spiritual leader" fantasy.)

So your mileage may vary on this. I totally wasn't attracted to this actor, so for me, all of it was creepy.

Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. Meh. Image source.
Maybe if they had cast, say, Jay Chou, things would have been different.

周杰伦 (Jay Chou) Image source.
OKAY BUT ANYWAY. If you enjoyed the movie, while recognizing that it's just fiction and if it happened in real life it would be SO ABUSIVE AND HORRIBLE, I don't have a problem with that.

The real point I would like to make is this: I don't see any way that a woman who grew up in purity culture would be able to protect herself from Christian Grey.

At the beginning of the movie, Ana has never had sex. She has no sexual experience at all. When he finds out, Christian treats this like a horrible problem (oh my goodness what a jerk) and starts taking off her clothes to "rectify the situation" oh gross this guy is so creepy.

So they have sex, and then he presents her with a super-long contract to sign, to enter into a formal BDSM relationship. He tells her to research everything and decide for herself what she's comfortable with, and they can negotiate about it.

And through the whole montage of Ana doing her research online and asking Christian questions and editing the contract, I was struck by how incredibly naive Ana was, and how LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE it was for her, at that point, to even know what she would and wouldn't be comfortable with.

What if you grew up in purity culture, and you've always been taught that the only right answer is "no" and that even having knowledge about sex or your own body is a dangerous temptation? And then you decide you're going to start saying "yes" instead- maybe just "yes" to some small, possibly-not-sinful things like dating and holding hands, or maybe you reject purity culture entirely, or maybe you get married so now suddenly everything has to be "yes" instead of "no." How on earth would you even know what is normal and what's not? How on earth would you know that this relationship is abusive and unhealthy?

What if you meet a guy who's totally hot and wants you to do all these things you're SO NOT READY FOR, but you think you're ready because you read about them on the internet, and you want to be with this guy so much, and you've already had sex with him so there's no going back now...

(Yes, I seriously thought that during the movie. "Well... they already had sex so how can she leave now... wait what the hell? Perfect Number, we don't believe that purity culture bullshit anymore. When people leave an abusive relationship, it's the right decision and things get BETTER." You guys, in purity culture it's unclear whether it's better to stay in a horrible abusive relationship, or leave and try to somehow make something of your permanently broken heart and used/worthless body.)

What Ana really needs is a partner who actually CARES about her and her needs. Who knows that she's still figuring herself out, and that's okay. Who doesn't just say "here's what I want, take it or leave it" and then act like she's making some kind of huge unreasonable request when she says what she wants.

I mean, how would a purity culture graduate even know that's not normal? We were taught men are animals who need sex. We were taught the man is supposed to be the leader. Christian was definitely the leader in their relationship. And he would tell Ana about how he can't control himself because he's so attracted to her- like it's her fault he's stalking her. Creepy as hell. (Also total bullshit.)

Purity culture says we should have no knowledge about sex or how relationships are supposed to work (besides "pray a lot" and "don't have sex/kiss/do anything that crosses some kind of hazily-defined 'line' but we are TOTALLY not being legalistic you guys") and then you're expected to go out and have a healthy marriage. Like, how on earth would that work?

How? Just... how?

Christian Grey is an abusive predator, and purity culture offers literally NOTHING to protect a woman from him- besides more and more warnings to just say "no" (but if you say "yes" one time then it's all your fault and your life is ruined). That's terrifying.


Please go read all of Samantha Field's blog to find out more about the connection between purity culture and abuse.


  1. Yes, what Christian churches and families should include in their instruction to young people is the idea of self-respect, self-stewardship and healthy boundaries. That's why Cloud and Townsend's work is so important and should be more widely promoted. http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Marriage-Henry-Cloud/dp/0310243149/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

  2. I have his "Boundaries in Dating" book. From the title, I thought it would be about the ever-elusive correct well-defined rules of purity culture- don't kiss, don't date, etc. (I remember flipping through it many years ago to see if it had an answer to "how far is too far.")

    I've never read the whole thing- I started reading the beginning last year, and I was blown away by how completely REASONABLE it was. The first chapter is like "so, a lot of times when I go to speak at conferences, people ask me 'is dating okay?' And at first I was like, what kind of question is this, of course dating is okay if you do it in a wise and healthy way. But eventually so many people asked me that question, I realized we have a big problem with people being all scared of dating for no reason."

    It's on my list of books to eventually read. :)