The Fifty Shades of Grey film premieres on Valentine’s Day. Although the only people I know who seemed to be remotely interested in E.L. James’ novels are bored, near middle-aged married women who think a “sexy” trilogy will help them spice up their love lives, it is still a part of our popular culture. The film is currently being advertised everywhere, from erotic workout classes to sex toys being sold at Target next to children’s toothbrushes.
While many people are against the film simply because they believe it is absolutely ridiculous, the major aspect of why Fifty Shades of Grey is problematic is ignored. Fifty Shades of Grey glorifies abusive relationships and normalizes them. It uses BDSM—which is an abbreviation for bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism— as a form of disguising the highly disturbing themes of abuse. While I may not have experience with BDSM, I know that in order to participate, full consent and communication are needed between sexual partners. It is supposed to be enjoyable for all parties involved and they must respect what their partner likes and dislikes. Christian Grey, the “protagonist” of the film and novels, participates in stalking, intimidation, and possessive tendencies that are not part of a healthy BSDM relationship.
E.L. James—who is a woman— sells this character as being charming and alluring, causing women who read the books to think that this is the type of man who can provide them a positive sexual experience. However, while I may not have experienced being in a sexual relationship that involves BDSM, I have experienced being in two emotionally abusive relationships. The men I was in a relationship with behaved in a manner that is similar to Grey’s and it was certainly not enjoyable in any shape or form. In fact, it involves years of therapy and PTSD.
I had previously discussed my first abusive relationship in the article We Deserve Better. Although I also discussed the second relationship, I didn’t go into much detail. However, this is my story. The second guy I was in an abusive relationship with fit the criteria of what E.L. James tries to sell as a fantasy: he was a teenaged Christian Grey. I met him when I was sixteen through a friend of a friend. He was rich, charming, and decent looking. I was constantly bullied in school and felt like nobody was ever going to be romantically interested in me, so I was surprised he was even interested in me.
We went on our first date a few days before Valentine’s Day, which consisted on going to a house party of one of his friends (because that’s what qualifies as a “date” in high school). He told me he didn’t want a relationship because it would overcomplicate things, and I was absolutely fine with that. He then said that I had to be as detached as possible and not be clingy, which is fine because I like my space—especially after dealing with a psychotic ex.
Although he gave me instructions on not to call or text him, he would text me every following morning to wish me a good morning and tell me how much he liked me. I thought “Okay, this is sweet. This is what girls want from guys, right?” I wasn’t allowed to do that to him because he’d complain, yet he was allowed to constantly contact me. I thought this was strange but I let it slide.
Then, as we continued dating, I noticed he would get more aggressive and manipulative. I always had to do what he wanted and go where he wanted me to go or else he’d throw a fit and complain about me and my overprotective parents. He would do simple yet alarming things such as reprimanding me for not smoking a cigarette the way he wanted me to or lying about his past relationships and personal information. He also made patronizing comments constantly. However, I still felt like there wasn’t a reason good enough to not date him until the relationship grew more serious.
As I explained in the previous article, he crossed the line when he tried to push me into his bed with extreme force, when I had clearly stated that I wanted to leave and did not want to have sex with him. Luckily, I was able to push him off of me and stood up and tried to leave. He wouldn’t let me leave and chased after me, pulling my arm roughly and begging me to stay. Before that experience, I hadn’t seen that side of him. He had not been physically aggressive before. It was scary and alarming. After I texted him and told him how I felt about it, he told me he just couldn’t help himself because he loved me so much. While I was apprehensive about it, I took his word for it. He asked me to make the relationship official and he became my boyfriend.
After that, his aggression and manipulation grew worse. One of our mutual friends invited me to a party that I knew he was going to. He once again told me to not be clingy and not spend as much time with him, which I was more than fine with, considering many of my friends were going to be there. When he saw that I felt comfortable being with my friends instead of being with him, he decided to stay by my side throughout the night. He started touching me sexually in front of his friends, which I was definitely not okay with. When it was time for me to leave, he begged me to go to his car and have sex with him. I said no. He once again pulled my arm with force and told me to stay. He said I had to stay. This time, it was in front of my friends. None of them seemed to notice that his behavior was not healthy, nor okay.
My friends, who were not aware of what was truly happening in the relationship, would comment on how cute we were together and how they also wished they had a boyfriend like him. I played along with it, due to my desire of not being seen as a failure. Girls in my school had toned the bullying down since the relationship started and I knew I couldn’t afford to lose that—even if it meant being in an unhappy relationship. A few weeks later, after dealing with more lies and manipulation, I decided that I wanted to stop dating him. I then heard from a friend of a friend that he told everyone in his school that he enjoyed controlling me and that I was a whore. I lost friends because of him, due to them not wanting to be associated with me nor his actions. After I lost my friends and stopped talking to him, I thought I was at least free from him. However, he decided to weasel himself back into my life.
He would send texts saying that he hated me, then vied for my attention by trying to charm me into getting back with him. He’d send me sexually inappropriate messages, claiming that there was nothing I wanted more than his dick. He would comment on my things on Facebook and insult me for wanting to study away from home. He’d pretend to be a changed man and friendly, then go back to saying demeaning things. He’d flaunt the abusive behavior he participated in with his new girlfriends, bragging about how he wouldn’t allow his new girlfriend use birth control. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable, and rightly so.
It took me years to break away from him. At first, I didn’t understand why it was so difficult for me to simply cut contact from him. I could just block his number and Facebook and move on with my life— yet the fear of him forcing himself back into my life lingered. I think it took time to recognize how damaging my relationship with him was because I thought abusive relationships only involved domestic violence. I thought my experienced paled in comparison. However, I now recognize that even if he wasn’t as harmful as other men who have beaten women and put their lives at risk, this still qualifies as an abusive relationship.
It’s disturbing to know that someone could romanticize such a relationship—especially a female writer. I find it insulting that E.L. James decided to sell a manipulative, abusive man as some sort of ultimate sexual fantasy for women. Christian Grey is not my fantasy, he is my nightmare, and there’s no reason why he should be considered as anything positive.