|Posted by Emma and Natalie on November 1, 2013 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
I’m going to begin this blog with a personal note. All too often, when people hear about the @50shadesabuse Twitter campaign, they suggest that we just don’t understand BDSM and that we’re equating “kink” with abuse. That’s not the case and never has been.
When I (Emma) first read 50 Shades of Grey – because yes, contrary to the other common accusation we receive, I have read the book – I found it massively triggering. Not because of the BDSM. Christian Grey reminded me of my own abusive ex. It wasn’t the physical aspects of the story that immediately jumped out at me, but the way that Christian emotionally abuses Ana. I recognised it because I have experienced it. Nobody can tell me that there is not emotional abuse present in this book, because to do so is to deny my experience. I know what emotional abuse feels like. I know how to recognise it. And it IS an almost constant presence within this so-called “romance” novel.
Emotional abuse is difficult to define. Something so subtle, yet so capable of utterly destroying a person is hard to put into words. However, most experts will agree that emotional abuse can involve:
• Name-calling, accusing, threatening or blaming.
• Emotional manipulation
• Adopting a deliberately patronising, judgemental “I know best” attitude, which belittles the person being abused and is designed to make them question themselves.
• Being overly critical or controlling.
• Invalidating the abused person’s experiences, by denying what really happened (e.g. the abuser may say “I never said that; you’re lying” when confronted about a hurtful comment), thus leaving the abused person feeling confused and frustrated.
• Withholding – this can refer to withholding affection, sex, praise or even verbal communication (“the silent treatment”).
• Making unrealistic or unfair demands on the abused person.
• Denying or refusing to listen to a viewpoint other than the abuser’s own.
• Minimizing the abused person’s feelings. This may take the form of telling the abused person “you’re just oversensitive,” or “you’re exaggerating.” This is, again, designed to make the person being abused question themselves.
• Trivialising the abused person’s feelings or experiences.
• Spurning or rejecting the abused person.
• Isolating the abused person from their friends or family.
• Relying on the abused person to fulfil the emotional needs of the abuser, whilst not offering them any emotional fulfilment themselves in return.
• Eroding a person’s sense of self to the point where they only see themselves as having worth because of their relationship with their abuser.
• Flying into a rage over trivial things and causing fear.
Emotional abuse is so complex, that this is really only a small list of some of the many, many traits it can encompass. So how does this fit into Fifty Shades?
Christian Grey displays signs of being an emotional abuser from very early on in the story. His behaviour when Ana interviews him is cold and patronising. He is aware from the outset that he is in a much more powerful position than the naive Ana and he uses this to make her feel uncomfortable.
By chapter 3, he is managing to engineer situations in order to isolate Ana from her friends. He suggests a date with her and when Ana hesitates, he arranges one of his entourage to take everyone home, bar Ana, leaving her little choice but to stay and agree to have coffee with him. This action might seem trivial and innocent in isolation, but it’s important to remember that emotional abuse is, like all forms of abuse, about control. In this instance, Grey is controlling the situation entirely – something that he will continue to do throughout the series, regardless of whether Ana likes it or not.
By the time they go on their date, Christian is behaving in a troubling way. He makes comments such as “you should find me intimidating” and tells her that she blushes a lot – a remark which he knows will make Ana question herself. It’s all done to keep himself in control and it’s not romantic behaviour. He explains that he doesn’t want her to use his first name. This immediately puts Ana on a lower footing than him. From their very first date, Christian is ensuring that the balance of power between them is unequal and tipped in his favour. This sets a dangerous tone for their entire relationship. Equality is an important aspect of any healthy relationship. There is no equality between Ana and Christian.
Shortly after their date, when Ana narrowly avoids being knocked over by a bike, Christian looks into her eyes and tells her that he’s “bad” for her and that she should stay away from him. This kind of warning is calculated to ensure that she does no such thing and is supposed to make her question herself, as well as to provide a convenient later excuse for his abusive behaviour and her decision to stay. It’s a classic case of “well, he told me he was trouble and I stuck around anyway, so I’m to blame...” There’s nothing sexy or passionate about these “warnings,” given by abusers. They’re nothing short of emotional manipulation.
Ana also clearly suffers from low self-esteem. Christian can see this (it’s obvious to the reader, so there’s no reason to assume it’s not obvious to Christian) and he uses it to manipulate Ana’s emotions throughout the trilogy, telling her how wonderful she is one minute and making subtle comments that make her question herself the next (such as pointing out her habit of blushing).
I’m going to add another personal note at this point. A lot of Fifty Shades fans have told me that I can’t judge Christian on how he behaves in a relationship, because he had an abusive childhood and doesn’t know how to show love, or to receive it. Excuse my language, here. BULLSHIT. My own abusive ex used the same excuse and it is NOT acceptable. You can experience the most tragic upbringing in the history of the world and still know how to treat other people with care and respect. To abuse another person is a choice. To be manipulative, unfeeling and obsessed with control is a CHOICE. Yes, it might be a choice that comes from your personal experience, born out of a need for self-preservation, but it is a choice. And if you make that choice to be abusive, controlling and manipulative, you lose the right to “blame” anything but yourself. End of rant.
In chapter 4, Ana gets drunk at a nightclub and Christian tracks her mobile phone in order to turn up unannounced and “rescue” her, taking her back to his hotel when Ana is no fit state to consent. We’ve discussed how utterly wrong this is in an earlier blog, so I want to focus on Ana’s reaction to these events. When realising that he stalked her in order to turn up and “rescue” her, she thinks to herself: “How is that possible? Is it legal? ...Somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.”
It’s those words - “because it’s HIM” - that worry me. When you’re in a position where you can rationalise that someone’s behaviour is abusive (or at least worrying), there is nobody in the world so amazing that you should stay with them anyway. Please, if you’re reading this and you recognise that line of thought, speak out and find someone to help you.
In chapter 5, Christian reiterates his warning that Ana should “steer clear” of him. This time, he adds that he’s finding it impossible to keep away from her, subtly toying with her emotions once again and ensuring that Ana remains both flattered and intrigued enough to keep coming back for more.
Even Christian’s ridiculous “non-disclosure agreement” could be seen as potentially abusive, given Ana’s complete lack of experience. By originally insisting that she tells nobody about her sexual encounter with him, Christian is isolating Ana from friends or family members who may have been able to give her advice. We later see that this leads to Ana feeling confused and alone; hardly the most romantic of emotions. Christian also insists that a sexual, BDSM relationship is the only kind of relationship they’ll have. This is a way of pushing Ana away and given that she is a character whose heart is worn on her sleeve, meaning that Christian is well-aware that she wants more than just a sexual relationship, this is also evidence that by pursuing his own desires, Christian is totally ignoring Ana’s own emotional needs. His angry reaction to the news that Ana is a virgin is just further evidence of this. He is minimising her needs and invalidating her feelings in favour of his own and they’re not even in a relationship yet. A warning sign that worse is to come, if ever there was one.
In chapter 9, we begin to see examples of Christian’s drastic mood swings. Ana thinks to herself: “I want to call after him, but his sudden aloofness has left me paralyzed. What happened to the generous, relaxed, smiling man who was making love to me not half an hour ago?”
These changes of mood are often a symptom of abusive relationships and again, there’s frequently an underlying issue of control. In this situation, Christian thinks Ana is going to call one of her male friends and he is furious because he views her as his possession and is not willing to “share.” In fact, Ana wants to call a female friend, but rather than wait to find this out, Christian storms out and gives Ana the silent treatment because he feels he’s not in control anymore. He withholds any further emotional intimacy as “punishment” for what he views as Ana’s wrongdoing. This leaves Ana confused and frustrated. It’s a cold, manipulative way to behave. I’ve tried so hard to see why women find Christian Grey sexy or lovable, but when you’ve been with a man who does this stuff to you and makes you swing violently from being overjoyed to feeling totally dejected (as Ana does so often in this series), you know that the reality isn’t in the slightest bit exciting or romantic. It’s horrendous. And so is this book. End of second rant.
Ana’s emotional needs are further pushed aside in the wording of Christian’s ludicrous, non-legal “sex contract.” A clause states that he can “dismiss” her from “service at any time and for any reason.” However, should Ana wish to leave, the contract states that whilst she may “request her release,” it’s up to Christian as to whether he grants it. No. Just no. Nobody gets to dictate whether you can leave a relationship, regardless of what terms and conditions you’ve put on it. The second Ana wants to leave, that’s her right and she can go – Christian should have no say in the matter. Again, he’s paying absolutely no heed to her emotional wellbeing and he’s even saying as much in writing.
By chapter 13, Christian and Ana are finally discussing their “contract” in detail. However, when Ana asks questions (important questions, given her inexperience), Christian refers to her as having “issues.” This is trivialising her emotional response and also minimising – by suggesting that Ana has “issues” about the whole idea of BDSM, he is again putting himself in the position of power. He knows about that world and has plenty of experience. By brushing aside Ana’s genuine concerns, he is – not for the first time – showing a total lack of concern for her emotional wellbeing and proving himself to be manipulative and abusive.
Later in that same chapter, Ana shows the reader that she is not ready for a BDSM relationship and that she is already keenly aware that being with Christian is unlikely to satisfy her emotionally.
“What if...in three months’ time, he says no, he’s had enough of trying to mould me into something I’m not? How will I feel? I’ll have emotionally invested three months, doing things that I’m not sure I want to do. And if he says no, agreement over, how could I cope with that level of rejection?”
Ana can already tell that Christian could potentially damage her emotionally, yet she doesn’t allow her own instincts to stop her from pursuing him. This is entirely down to the way that Christian has manipulated her up until this point. From engineering an unequal balance of power, to withholding affection and even communication in order to get his way, Christian hasn’t wooed Ana into wanting to be with him. He has coerced her. This isn’t romantic. It’s a startlingly accurate depiction of how abusers often get their victims to fall for them. The push-pull tactic of being lovely one minute and leaving the person wondering what the heck they did wrong the next, combined with sexual manipulation for added measure has led to Ana completely ignoring her own needs. Why? Because Christian doesn’t want her to consider them; he sure as hell doesn’t consider them, after all.
And just for added evidence of Christian being an abusive scum-bucket, Ana has the above thought whilst on the way home from a dinner date with him, after which she has asked him for some space to think. Does Christian respect this request? Of course not. When Ana reaches her apartment after a short drive home, Christian has already sent her a manipulative email, pressuring her to agree to his demands. Way to pile on the emotional abuse, Christian...
One of Christians “limits” is that he doesn’t want to be touched. Whenever Ana tries to stroke his arms, or nuzzle into his chest, he tells her to stop. We later find out that this is due to the abuse he suffered as a child. In a healthy relationship, Christian might have waited for things to develop between he and Ana, before opening up to her about this and explaining why he might sometimes flinch at physical contact. However, as we’ve established (several times over), this relationship is about as healthy as a long-dead corpse. The fact that Christian refuses to explain his dislike of being touched only serves to hurt and frustrate Ana. His insistence that she doesn’t make any attempt at contact therefore comes across as withholding physical affection without reason. When Christian finally begins to open up about his past, he does so in a manner that still keeps Ana guessing on some levels. He also begins to play upon his abusive childhood, using it as an excuse for his behaviour (“I’m fifty shades of fucked up”), knowing full-well that Ana will therefore do the same. It’s worth reiterating the whole THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR ABUSE thing at this point, because it’s fifty shades of rubbish to suggest that there can be.
Of course, because EL James wants us to believe that this relationship is the most wonderful, passionate love that has ever existed, Ana does exactly what Christian wants. She begins to excuse his behaviour on the basis of his past and starts telling herself that she can “fix” him if she only tries hard enough. At this point in an abusive relationship, the abuser can pretty much consider himself to have carte blanche when it comes to how he behaves, because his victim will blame herself if she dislikes the way he treats her. Ana follows this pattern to the letter. Whenever she feels that Christian has let her down, or that she can’t deal with his behaviour, she becomes angry with herself for not being able to cope better. Poor Christian can’t help it, after all. Except he can and I apologise if I sound incredibly angry in this particular blog, but as I mentioned at the start, the emotional abuse and constant manipulation was the aspect that really triggered me when I read this excuse for a novel, because by this point in the story, EL James is pretty much writing the worst experience of my life as a love story. And then she went on record as saying that people who see abuse in the books are “doing a disservice” to abuse victims. Oh hi, EL. Don’t mind me, whilst I point out the hideous emotional manipulation in your love story. I just really enjoy doing a disservice to myself.
Anyway, in chapter 16 Ana tries to explain to Christian that she doesn’t really want him to hit her. Her first experience of spanking has left her confused, ashamed and deeply upset. Christian responds by completely and utterly ignoring her feelings and tells her: “I enjoy punishing you.” Again, he’s overriding her emotional needs in order to satisfy his desires. This is the man that women all over the world think is some kind of romantic ideal. Which kind of makes me want to leap from something high. Because he has come round to stay the night with her, Ana is manipulated into thinking that he cares and rather than this confrontation being the end of this imbalanced, damaging relationship, it’s sadly just a continuation of it. Once again, Christian has managed to mess with Ana’s head so that she ignores her gut instinct.
In the following chapter, however, Ana decides to email Christian to explain her confused views on BDSM. She refers to him spanking her as having been “assaulted” and says she felt ashamed by her own arousal. She is trying to have a serious discussion with him. Christian, however, responds by being patronising: “So you felt demeaned, abused and assaulted – how very Tess Durbeyfield of you.” This attitude shows no concern for what Ana is saying whatsoever. He goes on to suggest that because Ana suggested the spanking in the first place (having wanted to see what she was getting herself into), the way she feels is entirely her own fault. He tells her to “deal with” the negative emotions that she’s feeling, because “that’s what a submissive would do.” He’s making unrealistic demands of a woman clearly not prepared for his lifestyle and he’s also trivialising her feelings once again, because his sexual needs are the only thing that matter to him. SWOON.
By chapter 20, Ana is displaying further signs that Christian’s protracted emotional abuse has truly taken effect. When Kate tells Ana that she deliberately riled Christian, so that Ana could see what he’s really like, Ana internally screams: “I KNOW WHAT HE’S REALLY LIKE – YOU DON’T!” It’s a very common trait in abusive relationships for the abused person to believe that they and only they really know the abuser. Often, the abuser tells them that that is the case. Making the abused person feel this way is a manipulative tool, designed to keep the person in the relationship. It makes them feel as though they must be pretty special to have gotten closer to the abuser than anyone else in the world. It falsely encourages them to believe that the abuser must really care and makes them feel protective of the abuser, so that they actively defend the negative behaviour, rather than run as a result of it. Again, I know this from experience. I don’t take Ana’s insistence that only she can ever understand or love Christian as evidence of their beautiful relationship. I see it as a woman whose sense of self has been eroded to the point that she sees her only worth as being reflected through her relationship with the abusive man she has fallen for. And that is exactly what Christian wants.
In the same chapter, Ana decides to voice her feelings for the man she loves. When Christian asks if she wants him to fuck her, she replies “No – I want you to make love to me.” Christian, being the emotionally abusive control freak that he is, shuns her because she hasn’t wanted the same kind of sex as he likes. He throws a t-shirt at her and tells her to go to bed. He’s withholding sex/affection because she has admitted that she wants something tender from him. And Ana, having been manipulated so thoroughly by this “wonderful” man, blames herself entirely for his rejection, cursing herself for trying to rush him into intimacy he’s not yet ready for. It’s NOT Ana’s fault and she is well within her rights to want some affection from the man she has literally bent over backwards to please so far, but Christian’s systematic abuse of her means that she will never blame him for the way he makes her feel. Of course, they do end up having sex, but it is, as always, on Christian’s terms.
In chapter 22, Ana and Christian have an email conversation in which Christian subtly blames Ana for any emotional distress she has been feeling (she has had to go to see her mother, as she needs space from Christian). He tells her that she’s not communicative enough, she doesn’t speak honestly enough to him etc... At no point does he take any responsibility for his own behaviour, or acknowledge that he might have contributed to her need to get away for a while. The next day, having promised her that he’ll give her the distance she needs, Christian turns up at the bar in which Ana is enjoying drinks with her mother. He has stalked her across hundreds of miles when Ana has asked him to give her some space. This is a calculated move on Christian’s part; he’s not there because he cares. He’s there because he needs to be in control of Ana at all times. Ana reacts by wondering if he’s there because he’s angry with her. HE has tracked down her mother’s home, booked a room in the hotel above the bar at which he knows they drink and arrived unannounced in spite of being asked to give Ana some space, yet SHE is concerned that she might have done something wrong. If this isn’t a perfect example of how an abused person is manipulated into a constant state of self-blame, I don’t know what is.
As they argue over “Mrs Robinson” (the woman who committed statutory rape against Christian when he was 15), Ana points out that Christian gets insanely jealous over her friendship with Jose (whom she has never had a sexual relationship with), but becomes angry if she questions his friendship with the woman who introduced him to BDSM. Christian tells her “I do as I wish, Anastasia,” thus neatly trivialising Ana’s feelings for the ninety millionth time. Because hey, he can do as he pleases. And Ana can do as he pleases, too. That sounds like a healthy, balanced relationship to me!
After they return to Christian’s hotel room, Ana tells him “we should talk.” Christian simply says “later” and proceeds to have sex with her. Again, ignoring her emotional needs in favour of his own desires. Someone please tell me what women see in this pitiful excuse for a man, because I can’t even pretend to know what it is.
Ana then manages to finally get Christian to open up a little more about his childhood and they begin to talk about their own relationship. Ana confesses that she’s unhappy with the BDSM aspect and tells him that it’s making her feel as though she’s tied up in knots. To which Christian laughs and says “I like you tied up in knots.” I’m getting so tired of pointing out the ways in which Christian trivialises Ana’s feelings over and over again, but this is the best-selling book of all time and people seem to be so wrapped up in how wonderful and sexy the story is (it’s not) that they’re not seeing what is utterly blatant. Christian manipulates Ana. He blames her for feeling confused or depressed about their relationship, when she only feels that way because he constantly overlooks her feelings, coerces her into doing things she doesn’t want to do and withholds affection at will. He is so emotionally abusive that it’s not as though we even have to dig to look for it. It’s just there, laid bare on every page. Each time Christian does something that seems genuinely nice, there’s a total change in his personality and he undoes it all by being horrible again – usually because Ana has done something terrible, like exercise free choice. Either that, or it quickly becomes obvious that he only did a nice thing in order to manipulate Ana into staying with him, or doing something that she might otherwise refuse. Why aren’t more people seeing this as abuse? I don’t believe that I can only see it because I’ve been with a man that treated me as appallingly as Christian treats Ana. It’s glaringly obvious. I can only assume that the hype around this book and the peer pressure that comes from knowing that so many people think it’s amazing is either genuinely blinding people to what’s there in black and white, or encouraging them to pretend they can’t see it, rather than accept an uncomfortable truth.
Christian Grey is an abuser. Over the course of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we have shown evidence from the text that proves as much. He systematically erodes Ana’s sense of self from the moment he meets her. He confuses her and manipulates her. He does not respect her personal boundaries and he overrides her emotional needs in favour of his own sexual desires. He does not take “no” for an answer. He controls and stalks Ana, then blames her for any negative emotion that she might be feeling as a result. He cannot control his own temper and uses BDSM as a cover to inflict genuine pain and punishment on her, which he has not gained permission for. He bruises her. He has mood swings that actively scare her. And the best bit? The message in this unhealthy trilogy is that not only can Christian not help his behaviour due to his tragic childhood, but that the love of the right woman can “fix” an abusive man. Neither of these appalling messages are true. Both are incredibly dangerous.
As I said earlier; abuse is a choice. There is no excuse for abusive behaviour, regardless of what happened in a person’s past. And as for the right woman magically “fixing” abuse through love? That’s what keeps people in abusive relationships. That’s what leads to women dying. Because they believe that the man they love will change if they can only try harder to make it work. The fact is, you can never fix an abuser. They have to recognise their own behaviour and want to change. Instances in which that happens are, sadly, incredibly rare. You can try and try to meet the expectations of your abusive partner, but you will never get it right. They will always move the goalposts. There is no “perfect way to love” that will make everything better again. It terrifies me that this message is being given to women and girls all over the world, when the truth is so horribly different.
Christian Grey is nothing to aspire to. He is cold, manipulative, controlling and self-centred.
This is the man that we’re being sold as a romantic ideal. There’s nothing romantic about abuse. Fifty Shades is not a love story. And in real life, relationships like Ana’s and Christian’s do not have happy endings.
|Posted by Emma and Natalie on October 23, 2013 at 1:50 PM||comments (0)|
Financial abuse is perhaps an overlooked form of abuse for many people. It can incorporate:
• Obtaining funds or property without consent.
• Obtaining bank details without consent.
• Use of money for purposes other than those intended by the person being abused.
• Persuading or tricking a person out of money.
• Unduly pressuring someone to sell property or possessions.
• Pressuring someone to sign a legal document they do not fully understand.
• Forcing someone to change their marital status or legal name.
• Denying a person access to joint funds.
At first glance, it may seem as though this is the one form of abuse that Christian Grey does not subject Ana Steele to in the Fifty Shades trilogy. However, the truth is - if you excuse the pun - not so black and white.
Although Christian Grey is portrayed as being an extremely generous partner to Ana, constantly bombarding her with gifts, it could be argued that doing so is his way of “buying” her agreement to his demands. Ana is a student at the start of the first book and she is bowled over by Christian’s wealth. He uses this to his advantage.
Before Ana can begin a BDSM relationship with Christian, he insists that she signs a contract. Whilst he does eventually admit that this contract is not legally binding (although not until halfway through the first book), Christian applies almost constant pressure to Ana, in the hope of persuading her to sign. He tells her to “hurry up” and sign the contract, even though it’s very clear that Ana is confused by what he wants from her and isn’t certain about whether she’s ready for that kind of relationship. For several chapters, Ana does not know that the contract isn’t enforceable by law, meaning that Christian is unfairly “pressuring someone to sign a legal document they do not fully understand,” as in Ana’s eyes, the contract is, at first at least, legally binding.
However, Christian’s financial abuse of Ana really begins when he starts insisting that she sells her old VW Beetle, because he doesn’t approve of it. In spite of Ana telling him over and over that she loves her car and doesn’t want a new one, Christian constantly refuses to listen. He allows his wealth to grant him power over her and in chapter 15, he presents her with a new car and makes it horribly obvious that it’s not the sweet gesture of a boyfriend who cares, but a sign that he can and will overrule her decisions and “buy” her as when he sees fit:
“You are mine and if I want to buy you a fucking car, I’ll buy you a fucking car.”
Not only does Christian override Ana’s wishes, insisting that she sells her own possession, but he organises the sale rather than allowing her to do it herself. This is a totally unacceptable way to treat your partner and Christian only gets away with it, because he knows that he can use his wealth against Ana. He deposits the money from the sale into Ana’s account, but Ana has never given him her bank details; this is just another example of Christian’s lack of respect for boundaries and a gross invasion of Ana’s privacy and financial security.
Much later, in book 3, Christian ticks off another symptom of financial abuse from our checklist, when he applies pressure on Ana, forcing her to agree to take his name. He is furious when Ana suggests that she’d like to keep “Steele,” insisting that she instead change her surname to “Grey.” He even goes so far as to refer to her as an “asset” that “needs rebranding.” He admits that the reason he wants her to take his name is because he wants “everyone to know that you’re mine.” This isn’t about unity, it’s about possession. When Ana caves in to his pressure, he even gloats: “Mission accomplished.”
Even when they are married – and although he claims to be doing everything for her benefit – Christian often keeps Ana out of financial decisions. When he arranges for their architect to come over to discuss the plans for their new home, he does so without Ana’s knowledge, leading her to wonder “why does he make these decisions without telling me?” They have a massively unequal partnership, because Christian is completely in control of their finances and can still use his wealth to keep a hold on Ana. Ana has no free agency, because Christian is always pulling the strings where money is concerned; she wants to keep her car, but he forces her to accept a new one. She doesn’t want him involved in her financial affairs, but he accesses her bank details without consent and deposits a large sum in there anyway. This is a violation of her rights and wishes, however “nice” the gesture is portrayed to be. It’s just another example of an abusive man who wields his power over his victim in order to ensure he always gets his way.
Christian’s use of his financial power to control others does not only extend to his wife. In chapter 8 of the final book in the trilogy, we also learn that he is paying for the education of Taylor’s daughter (Taylor being one of Christian’s security guys, for those of you lucky enough never to have read this rubbish). But Christian isn’t doing this for reasons of loyalty or concern that his employee’s child should have the best start in life. He tells Ana that by paying for Taylor’s daughter’s schooling, “it means he won’t quit.” He also enrols Leila - the former sub who wanted to kill Ana - at art school and pays for her medical treatment, rather than inform the police about what she did. None of this is done for Ana’s protection, but for Christian’s own benefit and is just another example of him using his financial power to control everyone around him.
When, in the latter stages of book 3, there is a frankly ludicrous plot in which Ana has to withdraw five million dollars from the bank, we discover that Christian has five check books, but “only one is the names of C Grey and Mrs A Grey.” Ana tells the reader that she has roughly $54,000 in her account. Her husband, however has billions. The difference here is staggering; why is Christian telling Ana that everything that is his is also hers, when clearly that’s not true? If it was, they’d surely have some form of joint account and Ana would have access to his wealth, rather than having to rely on the times when he wants to buy her a gift, or deposit a small (in comparison) sum into her account; usually to make up for having abused her. Ana also reveals that she has no idea how much money is in any of Christian’s accounts and that although he has a safe in his office, the combination is kept in a locked filing cabinet, to which she doesn’t have a key. Why, when Christian insists that what’s his is hers and that he wants Ana to get used to the finer things in life, is he keeping the vast majority of his fortune from her? Because, as we’ve reiterated in this blog, his financial power is just another tool he uses to keep Ana under his control and to prevent her from truly living her own life.
Christian’s wealth is seen as something admirable in Fifty Shades of Grey. However, in actuality, the way he uses it to control others and buy their forgiveness or acceptance of his demands is not admirable in the slightest. It’s abusive.
|Posted by Emma and Natalie on October 16, 2013 at 2:55 PM||comments (0)|
So far during Domestic Violence Awareness month, we’ve looked at the evidence of psychological and physical abuse in the popular trilogy, 50 Shades of Grey. Today, we’re going to examine sexual abuse within the series.
We commonly think of sexual abuse as meaning rape, or sexual contact without consent. However, the term “sexual abuse” can also refer to:
• Unwanted rough or violent behaviour during sex
• Refusing to use condoms or restricting/controlling a woman’s birth control methods.
• Sexual contact with someone too drunk/drugged to give coherent consent.
• Using threats to encourage someone into sexual encounters they may not want to have.
• Pressuring someone to perform acts they are uncomfortable with.
• Using sexual insults against a person.
With this in mind, let’s examine the evidence of sexual abuse in 50 Shades.
When Ana Steele meets Christian Grey, she is a virgin. Not only is she inexperienced when it comes to having sex with another person, she goes as far as to inform the reader that she has never so much as masturbated. She is entirely naive about the highly sexual kind of relationship that Christian is keen to have with her. When Christian discovers her virginity, he acts as though it is an annoyance, which he must quickly remove from her, in order to continue with his sexual plans. This shows a total lack of respect for his partner. Christian is not patient or genuinely tender towards his innocent girlfriend, but acts as though having to “make love” to her is an inconvenience, given that he’d rather indulge in his own sexual preferences.
Before they have even taken their relationship to this level, however, Christian displays signs of abusive, worrying behaviour. In chapter four, when Ana goes out dancing with her college friends, to celebrate the end of their exams, she drunkenly calls Christian from the toilets. He can tell she’s been drinking and phones her back to say he’s “coming to get” her. Ana has not, it’s important to point out, given him her exact location. Indeed, when he asks her during their first phone conversation where she is, Ana refuses to tell him. She says NO. However, Christian tracks her mobile phone in order to discover where she is. This is controlling and dangerous behaviour on his part. It’s not romantic to stalk someone into being with you and to have this behaviour written in a way that suggests to the reader that we should view it as passionate is enormously troubling.
The first real incident of sexual abuse within the book, however, comes from Jose rather than Christian. When Ana leaves the club to get some fresh air, Jose makes a move on her. Ana makes it clear that she’s not interested. Jose does not immediately give up; instead, he pressurises her and – bang on cue – Christian has to arrive to “rescue” her.
By the time Christian appears on the scene, Ana has already been sick as a result of drinking to excess. She is in no fit state to give – or withhold - consent to anything. Christian takes Ana to the dance floor, but shortly afterwards, she loses consciousness. Christian then takes her back to his hotel. To clarify: This is a woman that he currently is not in a relationship with. She is unconscious and therefore unable to give her consent to being taken anywhere other than her own home. To take her back to an unfamiliar place is irresponsible at best. Dangerous at worst. A decent man would have helped Kate (Ana’s best friend and flatmate) to get Ana back home, rather than taking her away from those she knows when she’s in no fit state to argue. Although no sexual activity takes place, Christian’s decision to remove Ana from those around her and to undress her and put her in bed cannot truly be seen as “romantic.” Upon waking the following morning, Ana is so confused by her surroundings and by her state of undress, that she feels compelled to ask Christian whether he had sex with her. THIS IS NOT A ROMANTIC QUESTION TO HAVE TO ASK.
Christian goes on to tell her she “wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week” if she was his, simply because she chose to get drunk with her friends. He also victim-blames her, when mentioning Jose’s sexual assault. And yet Ana refers to him as “a white knight, in shining, dazzling armour.” There is nothing brave or charming about taking a comatose person back to your bed without their consent, having stalked them in order to find out where they are in the first place, but EL James chooses to casually ignore that fact, in her crusade to make her fantasy the fantasy of every other woman in the world. Sadly, it’s a dangerous fantasy and one which should never be held up as an ideal.
Although by the time they have their next date, Ana is describing herself as ready for sex and seems excited by the thought, Christian bulldozes her with paperwork before anything can happen. He then takes her to his “playroom,” at which point it begins to become obvious that Ana is overwhelmed by what she is seeing. She thinks to herself “I know I’m going to say yes and part of me doesn’t want to.” A good Dominant (a good boyfriend full stop) would be able to recognise that his extremely naive prospective partner is not certain about the lifestyle she’s being asked to enter. However, rather than truly discuss Ana’s concerns, Christian plays on the fact that he is aware of Ana’s obvious feelings for him. When she asks what she would get out of a BDSM arrangement between the two of them, he replies: “me.” He knows that Ana wants more from him (her behaviour makes it abundantly clear) and is aware that offering himself to her in this way will make her more likely to agree to his demands. He is emotionally manipulating her in order to gain sexual gratification for himself. However, it is at this point that Ana reveals that she is a virgin. Christian’s response is not considerate of her feelings in any way.
“He closes his eyes and looks to be counting to ten. When he opens them again, he’s angry, glaring at me.”
This may not be an expressed sexual insult, as mentioned in the list of sexually abusive behaviours at the top of this blog, but his anger is clearly intended to intimidate Ana, who has done nothing wrong besides admit to not having had sex before.
He then suggests that he takes her virginity. Rather than show any concern for her feelings, or make allowances for nerves that Ana may be feeling, he refers to having sex with her as “a means to an end.” He also piles on the pressure, using phrases such as “I know you want me.”
For Ana, a woman who until recently had never even held hands with a man, having sex with someone for the first time is a big deal. Christian doesn’t show any kind of patience or consideration for this. Instead, he simply continues to pressurise her, telling her how much he wants her, until she consents. When he does take her to bed, he tells her he’s going to fuck her “hard” – again, not showing any consideration for it being Ana’s first time – and Ana describes a “pinching sensation...as he rips through my virginity.” Far from being aroused by this scene, I personally found it uncomfortable; Christian, who has a wealth of sexual experience, choosing to have sex with a virgin whose hymen is still intact, is one thing. That he feels the need to take her virginity roughly, possibly causing some degree of pain in the process is another. Again, Christian Grey only cares about his own sexual gratification, regardless of what the text might say to the contrary. Indeed, he tells her during their second sexual encounter (moments after the first): “I want you sore, baby.”
Once Ana’s pesky virginity is out of the way, Christian swiftly moves on (throughout the next few chapters of book 1) to applying more pressure to her in order to gain her agreement to his sexual demands. “The sooner I have your submission the better,” he tells her in chapter 10.
In the same chapter, we hear about “Mrs Robinson,” or Christian’s former Dominant, Elena. Elena seduced Christian when he was 15 years old, yet this isn’t referred to as what it clearly is: Statutory rape. Christian is described as having “fond” memories of his time with Elena and is still in contact with her, but it’s worth pointing out here and now that to have a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent is against the law. Later, this damaging “relationship” with Elena is used as a form of excuse for Christian’s own abusive behaviour. Therefore it’s worth reiterating again that there is no excuse for abuse. We can feel sympathy for Christian’s past, without needing to use it as an excuse for his present.
A few chapters later, when Ana decides to email Christian that it was “nice knowing” him, having been unsure of the BDSM aspect of their proposed relationship, Christian reacts by turning up unannounced at her apartment. He tells her that he’s there to remind her just how nice it is to know him, meaning that he intends to have sex with her. They have sex, which appears to be consensual, however afterwards, Christian finally admits that he came round because he was angry and didn’t find her “it was nice knowing you” joke funny. The implication behind his words is that he would have come round and demanded sex regardless of her consent. It also makes it blindingly obvious that Christian is trying to pressure Ana into agreeing to try BDSM, by coercing her through sex he knows she already enjoys. When he has her in a highly aroused state, Christian knows he can manipulate Ana into agreeing to his desires. This is NOT ROMANTIC. Indeed, Ana describes herself as feeling like “a receptacle. An empty vessel to be filled at his whim.” Ask yourself honestly; is that how you want to feel after sex? Used?!
Christian shows yet another sign that he doesn’t respect Ana’s freedom to consent, when they go to dinner to discuss their relationship in chapter 13. When Ana suggests that they eat in the main dining area, in order to be on “neutral ground” where he cannot distract her with sexual advances, he responds by asking: “Do you think that would stop me?” Again, he is not only suggesting that he’d go ahead with sexual contact despite Ana’s lack of express consent, but he is also applying more and more pressure in order to gain her agreement to his BDSM “contract.” Remember the “pressuring someone to perform acts they are uncomfortable with?” line from the list of sexually abusive acts? Just thought it worth mentioning... And of course, Christian ignores Ana’s wishes, taking her to a private dining room in spite of her request to remain in public. Once there, he begins ramping up the pressure, telling her how much he wants to undress her. Ana even refers to his use of sexual manipulation as “his most potent weapon.” He tells her “I know you want me,” which only serves to manipulate her further. Again, I have to ask, which part of this is supposed to be romantic? The total ignoring of his partner’s wishes, the gaining of consent through coercion or something I’ve missed?!
Ana decides to leave the restaurant, as she is unable to think clearly (can’t think why). Christian threatens her with: “I could make you stay.” This is clearly meant to be sexually exciting, but combined with Christian’s previous abusive behaviour, it just sounds menacing. When Ana says no, Christian kisses her passionately and, feeling her aroused reaction, he asks again if he can persuade her to stay. He’s not listening to her needs – he only cares about his own. Throughout this scene, Christian continues to try to get Ana to stay the night with him, from subtle emotional manipulation (making her cry at the thought she may never see him again) to telling her that her car is unsafe to drive home. All he wants is to have his physical desires met, regardless of what Ana is actually telling him. She’s saying no. He’s desperately trying to convince her to change her answer to “yes.” This is not romance.
By the time we reach chapter 14, Christian is demanding that Ana makes her mind up regarding BDSM. He takes her into the men’s locker room at her college and locks the door behind them, telling her that she has until tomorrow to reach a decision. This kind of behaviour is threatening and he is once again paying no heed to his partner’s concerns or desires. Yet this is the man women are claiming they wish they could meet in real life... I find that terrifying. Shortly afterwards, in a room full of people, including her stepfather, Christian manipulates Ana again, telling her how good a BDSM relationship would be. He’s pressurising her yet again and this time it works. Ana says yes.
In the following chapter, Ana and Christian discuss their “hard limits.” Ana says that she isn’t interested in either fisting or anal sex. Christian tells her: “I’ll agree to the fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass.” Essentially, he’s telling her – AGAIN – that he’s overriding her desires, or lack thereof. Ana doesn’t want anal sex, but Christian does, so eventually, they’ll be having anal sex, because his desires are far more important to him than hers will ever be. Again, I’m compelled to refer you back to “pressuring someone to perform acts they are uncomfortable with.”
It’s also worth noting that during this conversation – an important discussion about the limits Ana feels comfortable with when it comes to BDSM – Christian is plying her with alcohol. By the time they move on to talking about safe words and hand signals, Ana is clearly drunk. Christian asks her: “Would you like another drink? It’s making you brave...” This is a conversation that is important within a healthy BDSM relationship and it needs to be taken seriously. Christian is intentionally getting Ana drunk so that she’ll consent to whatever he wants. This is coercive consent. This is sexual abuse.
Christian then shows Ana that he has bought her a car and she is reluctant to accept his gift. As a result, he becomes angry and demands that they go in and have sex. Ana tells him “you scare me when you’re angry,” but Christian does not respond to this (quite an important admission on Ana’s part) and instead focuses on seducing her. After he has had his way, Christian will not allow Ana to touch him, leaving her once again feeling confused and unhappy. This is not a positive sexual relationship between two equal partners.
In a particularly unpleasant exchange, Christian first tells Ana he hates condoms and orders her to sort out some other form of birth control (you might want to check that list of sexually abusive acts again), then admits to having gotten Ana drunk on purpose so that she wouldn’t “over-think everything.” That renders the sex they’ve just had as sex gained through coercive consent. Ooh, romantic!
The following day, after Christian has spanked Ana for the first time and she is trying to explain her confused feelings about it, he once again shows total disregard for her concerns, asking: “If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try and embrace these feelings, deal with them for me? That’s what a submissive would do.” Ana is telling him that she felt guilty and uncomfortable. Christian is telling her to “deal with it.” WHY ARE WOMEN WANTING THIS MAN?! DO WE ALL HATE OURSELVES THAT MUCH?! Given that Ana is, at this point, saying she’s not sure she wants to be smacked during sex, we can look back up to that list, to the “unwanted rough or violent behaviour during sex” part. If Ana says no and Christian does it anyway, it’s abuse. Here, she’s saying she’s not sure she wants it and Christian is pretty much letting her know that she needs to accept it happening for him.
In chapter 19, Christian moves on to caring even less about his partner’s wants. During a family dinner, knowing that Ana is not wearing underwear, Christian runs his hand up her leg and attempts to touch her sexually. Ana is not comfortable at this and bats his hand away, squeezing her thighs shut. Christian then “punishes” Ana for denying him what he sees as his. This is not healthy. Ana has the right to say no to his sexual advances at any time. We ALL have the right to say no to anyone. Writing a subsequent sex scene in which we are supposed to be aroused by Christian telling Ana that saying no to him was “hot” does not undo the damage. Christian was angry because Ana said no. He wanted to have sexual contact regardless of her desires. I don’t even have to refer you to the checklist. That’s just wrong. He then tells her that the sex they have will be for him, not for her and that he will punish her if she has an orgasm. Orgasm denial can be a part of BDSM relationships, but Ana has never agreed to this. In non BDSM relationships, orgasm denial is recognised by abuse counsellors as a form of sexual abuse. So Christian scores another sexual abuse point. Yay.
In the final chapter of the book, we come across a scene I’ve mentioned in these blogs already, in which Christian hits Ana with a belt to show her “how bad it can be (it being BDSM).” Ana’s reaction – tensing, crying, heavy breathing etc – would all let Christian know that she is not enjoying what he’s doing to her, yet he continues anyway. Although Ana has agreed to the scene, she is clearly not happy within it and Christian should have stopped and checked if she was okay, regardless of whether she used her safe word. His inability to consider her needs just shows him as he is – abusive.
I’ve only looked at the first book for this blog, yet I’ve found several examples of Christian displaying signs of sexual abuse. From plying Ana with alcohol, or using manipulation to gain coercive consent, to completely ignoring her desires and threatening sexual activity with no consent at all, Christian Grey is a sexual predator and not a romantic hero. Holding him up as such sets a dangerous precedent and is yet another reason why what happens in 50 Shades should never be seen as any kind of romantic ideal. The relationship portrayed within its pages is abusive.
|Posted by Emma and Natalie on October 8, 2013 at 2:40 PM||comments (0)|
As Domestic Violence Awareness month continues, we at @50shadesabuse have been examining the many different forms of abuse evident in the popular “romantic” series, Fifty Shades of Grey. Today, we look at physical abuse.
This kind of abuse occurs when a person uses physical force against another, in order to cause pain, injury or emotional distress. This can include, but is not limited to, hitting with hands, striking with an object, kicking, biting, pinching, pulling hair, scalding/burning, sleep deprivation, placing the person under physical stress against their will, strangling or cutting.
For obvious reasons, there is an immediate problem when discussing physical abuse in Fifty Shades. Christian Grey’s enjoyment of a BDSM lifestyle means that we expect there to be physical acts involved. Within a safe, mutually respectful relationship, BDSM does not equate to non-consensual physical abuse and the subtext within the Fifty Shades trilogy, that BDSM is some kind of sickness that Ana needs to cure Christian of, is an insult to the many people who enjoy this lifestyle.
However, Christian’s version of BDSM is warped at best, downright dangerous at worst. Many within the BDSM community have spoken out against EL James’ portrayal, labelling it “inaccurate,” as well as “offensive,” whilst expressing concerns for those who may attempt an unsafe version of BDSM as a result of reading the trilogy.
For a start, it is paramount in a BDSM relationship for the partners to command equal respect and to have their safety considered and their individual needs met. Ground rules must be set and adhered to. Safe-words are used for the protection of both parties. Although Christian provides Ana with a “contract” and pre-loads the laptop he buys for her with information on his lifestyle, he does not adequately prepare her for the world he expects her to enter. When Ana hesitates about becoming involved in a BDSM relationship, he actively persuades her to reconsider, gaining coercive consent through sex, rather than taking time to listen to her concerns. He does not listen to her at any point, thinking only of his own desires. When Ana tells him that she doesn’t want anal sex, he tells her they’ll try it anyway. This selfishness would be damaging in any relationship, but in a BDSM situation, it can cross the line into dangerousness. Christian is not respecting Ana’s limits.
From their earliest encounters, in spite of her insistence that she enjoys her time in Christian’s “Red Room of Pain,” Ana contradicts herself. Throughout the trilogy, she makes references to being afraid that Christian might “beat” her if she steps out of line. Her internal monologue makes several mentions of wanting to bring Christian “into the light” and somehow rid him of his “need” to physically punish her. After their first foray into spanking, although Ana is aroused whilst she is with Christian, as soon as he leaves, she feels guilty, embarrassed and upset at what has happened to her. She tells the reader:
“Have I strayed so far from who I am? ...What Am I doing? The irony is, I can’t even sit down and enjoy a good cry. I’ll have to stand.”
Later in the same chapter (chapter 16, book 1), Ana weeps: “He actually hit me.” When Christian returns to her apartment, Ana goes so far as to inform the reader: “I don’t want him to beat me.”
Indeed, the poor writing in the Fifty Shades series means that Ana constantly yo-yos from being excited at the thought of physical admonishment for her misdemeanours, to being genuinely frightened and wanting to avoid punishment. Whilst this may be accidental on EL James’ part, the fear of physical repercussions to trivial “crimes” is a common theme in physically abusive relationships and does little to detract from the fact that Christian Grey is an abuser himself. A caring, responsible Dom would be aware enough to pick up on subtle signs that his partner is not enjoying their play as much as he is. Christian, regardless of whether or not he can tell that Ana is happy, makes no effort to show restraint and continues to take their BDSM relationship forward. He also makes frequent threats of physical punishment (“I will hit you and it will hurt”), in spite of knowing that his partner is inexperienced and has shown some reluctance. Again, this not only shows a bad Dom, but an abusive man. Instead of showing any consideration for his partner’s obvious distress, he tells her (again in chapter 16, book 1): “I want you to behave a certain way and if you don’t, I shall punish you and you will learn to behave the way I desire.” In a mutual BDSM relationship, this would be fine, but Ana is quite blatantly expressing enormous concern about entering into that lifestyle and so Christian’s words come across as threatening and cruel.
Despite Ana’s doubts about the BDSM aspect of their relationship, Christian does not back down from his desire to pursue it anyway. When Ana bites her lip, or rolls her eyes, or commits any other trivial offence, he reminds her that his “palm is twitching.” This means he wants to spank her and the reader is supposed to view this as erotic. However, within the confounds of this relationship – in which one protagonist has expressed large doubts about being physically punished – this is no such thing. Instead, it becomes the threat of the abusive partner, using words and the prospect of pain to ensure he retains complete control at all times.
As a result of Christian’s emotional manipulation of Ana (which we will explore in greater depth in another blog), she begins to shrug off her own physical and emotional responses. Remember the mention of “scalding” in the list of physically abusive acts? In chapter 25 of book 1, Christian encourages Ana to shower with him and we have the following exchange:
“‘Ow,’ I squeal. The water is practically scalding. Christian grins down at me as the water cascades over him.
‘It’s only a little hot water.’”
It may seem trivial, but even something as simple as this, shows that Christian is not considering Ana’s physical responses. Although Ana goes on to say that actually, the temperature is “heavenly,” it appears that her response comes from Christian’s words, rather than her actual physical senses.
As their relationship progresses, so does the BDSM – again, not with Ana’s complete consent. At the end of book 1, we finally see Christian’s unsuitability as a Dom, as well as Ana’s unsuitability as a submissive.
Ana questions Christian as to whether she is able to say “no” to his “punishment.” Christian tells her that if she does, he will “have to find a way to persuade” her to allow him to physically admonish her. Ana then tries to jokily run away from Christian and when he remarks that it seems as though she really doesn’t want him to catch her, she confesses “I don’t. That’s the point. I feel the same way about punishment as you do about touching.”
Christian has told Ana that he does not like to be touched. He went as far as to describe it as one of his hard limits. Here, Ana is clearly telling her partner that she DOES NOT WANT TO BE PHYSICALLY PUNISHED. She uses phrases such as “I worry you’ll hurt me” and “I do it for you... You need it. I don’t,” to describe her feelings about BDSM. She is making her feelings known and a good Dom – a good boyfriend – would listen. However, Christian then uses emotional manipulation – playing on his tortured past – in order to get Ana to change her mind.
Ana tells Christian to show her “how bad it can get.” Christian fetches a belt and makes it blatant to Ana that he is going to hurt her as punishment for threatening to leave. To reiterate: In a safe, consensual BDSM relationship, this would be an enjoyable experience for both partners. This relationship is not safe or consensual. As a result, Ana cries and is in very obvious distress. She is too upset to use her safe-word. Christian does not stop hitting her with the belt until they have counted six blows, in spite of her distress. Ana then leaves him, saying she can’t take his lifestyle. It should have been incredibly obvious to Christian, in spite of Ana’s later protestations in book 2 that she missed his “kinky fuckery” when the couple reunite, that her reaction to being hit proved that she did not want that kind of relationship. Instead, he pursues his own desires, telling her that he “wants” to hurt her. This massive power imbalance has nothing to do with BDSM. Christian’s selfishness and his total disregard for Ana’s feelings are not the actions of a Dom. They are the actions of an abuser.
In book 3, Christian demonstrates possibly the most worrying display of physical abuse in the trilogy. After Ana sunbathes topless on their honeymoon, Christian physically drags her from the beach, in an action designed to humiliate his wife. Ana begs him: “Please don’t be mad at me,” but Christian informs her that it’s “too late.”
They ride a jet ski together, but rather than relax and enjoy herself, Ana is displaying classic signs of an abused wife, internally asking: “Please forgive me?” as they ride, in spite of having done nothing wrong. Upon arriving back at the boat they’re honeymooning on, Christian tells Ana he wants to punish her. Ana asks him not to hurt her and he acts as though the suggestion offends him, telling her he would never do such a thing. He then proceeds to have sex with her, using handcuffs which he deliberately puts on too tightly around her wrists and ankles, leaving “deep, red welts.” He also gives her love-bites all over her chest (remember “biting” as a form of physical abuse?), causing bruises to her breasts, which he tells her will ensure she doesn’t sunbathe topless ever again. Ana has never, ever consented to having her body marked in any way, yet Christian does this in order to ram home the point that she belongs to him and that her sunbathing had to be punished. The act of marking her body was entirely non-consensual (Ana is horrified when she sees the marks). This is NOT BDSM. This is physical abuse.
Ana is even too afraid of physical repercussions to admonish her husband properly for his abusive behaviour. She remarks:
“Can’t he see what he’s done? ...I want to shout at him, but I refrain – I don’t want to push him too far. Heaven knows what he’d do.”
Even when Ana is standing, with her body covered in welts and bruises (in spite of Christian promising her that he wasn’t going to hurt her and acting offended by the suggestion that he might), she does not feel able to adequately express her feelings because she is afraid of what he might do in response.
IN WHAT WAY IS THIS ROMANTIC?
As a lousy cherry on the cake of abuse that is this awful trilogy, Christian then manipulates Ana emotionally by reminding her of his terrible childhood and how hurt he was to see her sunbathing topless and Ana asks him for forgiveness.
This is not a book about BDSM. In a safe, consensual BDSM relationship, a sub would have previously agreed to having his or her body marked. Ana has never agreed to this and indeed, in the same chapter, Christian tells her that she’s his wife, not his sub. Yet he shows a total lack of respect for her by deliberately marking her body against her will, in order to show that he owns her and she must obey him.
There is nothing sexy or erotic about this relationship. Christian Grey is an abuser, using his physical strength and power against a naive young girl who he manipulates into being too afraid to share her real feelings.
BDSM does not equate to non-consensual physical abuse. But 50 Shades does NOT equate to BDSM. 50 Shades is abuse.
|Posted by Emma and Natalie on October 6, 2013 at 3:35 PM||comments (0)|
The UK definition of “Domestic Violence” covers: “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness month, @50shadesabuse will tackle each of those forms of abuse – psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional – and provide evidence of it being displayed in the popular 50 Shades of Grey series. In this blog, we look at psychological abuse.
Psychological abuse refers to a person subjecting another to behaviour that intends to cause emotional or psychological injury. This form of abuse may result in anxiety, depression or Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Abusers often play upon an imbalance of power within a relationship. As psychological abuse is intended to seep into the victim’s brain, causing them to doubt themselves and their own worth, the person experiencing the abuse often blames themselves for it and does not label what is happening to them as any kind of mistreatment, imagining instead that they have brought it upon themselves through their own behaviour and they must change in order to fix the situation.
From very early on in the 50 Shades trilogy, we see Christian Grey using classic psychological abuse against Ana. It could be argued that even the wording of Christian’s “contract” for their D/s relationship is designed to cause Ana to question her own wants, needs and even her own intelligence. Ana is thrown in at the deep end, with no knowledge of the kind of world Christian expects her to enter and she is handed a faux-legal document, which she is expected to sign. Christian applies emotional pressure on her to sign the contract, without giving her adequate time to consider her response. Ana thinks: “My head is buzzing. How can I possibly agree to all this?” In a healthy relationship, her partner would realise that she should not be pressured into agreeing to something that is possibly not right for her. Unfortunately, the relationship portrayed in 50 Shades is unhealthy and when Ana jokes that “it has been nice knowing” Christian in an email, hinting that she’s not sure she’s ready for the kind of relationship he wants, he responds by turning up unannounced at her apartment, ready to cajole her into agreement through sex. He is showing no consideration for her needs or her concerns, thus subtly giving her the psychological message that only his desires are important. This sets the whole tone for their relationship.
In their early dates, Christian controls where and when they meet; again subtly letting Ana know that she is secondary to his whims, causing her to question herself. When she asks, in chapter 13 of book 1, whether she can drive to their date, Christian responds by insisting that she is picked up. She thinks to herself: “Doesn’t he understand that I may need to make a quick get-away? ...I need a means of escape.” Clearly, even this early on in their relationship, Ana is harbouring concerns about her partner. This is evidence that Christian’s behaviour is beginning to take its toll on Ana’s psyche. She is becoming anxious and nervous at a point in their relationship where she should be feeling excited about their dates. In the same chapter, when Ana suggests that they eat somewhere public, in the hope of talking, rather than being distracted by Christian’s amorous advances, he replies: “Do you think that would stop me?” Ana refers to this as a “warning,” albeit a “sensual” one. Again, this is designed to let Ana know that he is in control, not her. Another psychological blow from this supposed romantic “hero.”
Christian also toys with Ana’s emotions by promising her one thing and delivering something else entirely. He tells her “we’ll take this slow,” yet his actions prove that he has no intention of doing so. This leads Ana to admit to being confused about the state of their relationship and she refers frequently to the power imbalance between them. Again, Ana’s internal monologue is filled with anxious questions and self-blame, when in fact the cause of this is not anything she has done, but Christian’s deliberate psychological tormenting of her.
In order to explain away his behaviour, Christian tells Ana that he is “fifty shades of fucked up” (chapter 16, book 1). Again, this sets a tone for their entire relationship, as it puts Ana in the position of nurse to Christian’s emotional wounds; a job she is not qualified for and which puts far too much pressure on her. However, these are not issues that trouble the abusive Christian. Although we are supposed to feel sympathy for Christian due to his harsh childhood, the message the book gives is that what he experienced is an excuse for his behaviour towards Ana. Sadly, it is worryingly common for abusers to explain away their behaviour by citing abuse or distress in their own past. There is never an excuse – abuse is always a choice and it is deeply concerning to see a best-selling novel perpetuate the dangerous trope that a person cannot help their behaviour in the present, if they were abused in the past. This is one of Christian’s most consistent and dangerous psychological tools. He is aware that if he continues to tell Ana that he is “messed up” and not to blame for his actions, Ana will continue to try to “fix” him and won’t want to abandon him, the way he tells her that his mother did. It’s a subtle form of emotional manipulation, designed to ensure that Ana stays with him and never blames him for his persistently abusive behaviour.
As their relationship progresses, Christian uses the word “mine” to describe Ana. This would be sweet, if done in a mutual, romantic manner (perhaps), but he is possessive, jealous and controlling. He tells Ana in chapter 19 of the first book that she was “denying me what’s mine” when she refused to allow him to touch her sexually at the dinner table, whilst in the company of his family. Such a decision was entirely her right, but her choice to exercise that right causes Christian to angrily suggest that she belongs to him and he tells her that he wants her “frustrated” as punishment. Christian uses the word “mine” so frequently throughout the trilogy, that, inevitably, Ana begins to use it to describe herself. Seeing herself as “his,” she gains self-worth. This is Christian’s intention; to take a woman who sees him as too good for her and to plant the thought in her head that her only real worth is from being in a relationship with him. This means that Ana won’t leave him, in spite of his treatment of her – why would she? She is nothing if not “his.” The psychological use of the word “mine” also ensures that Ana is too afraid to freely see her friends and family without seeking permission from Christian first. She cannot make her own decisions anymore, because she belongs to Christian, not herself. When she goes out without asking him, she describes herself as having to sneak out of the house. This does not show romance or passion. It shows fear on a deep, psychological level.
Christian’s insistence on controlling every aspect of their relationship – from where (and what) they eat, to what topics of conversation are acceptable – ensure that Ana is kept in a constant state of confusion, never entirely being able to judge what Christian may say or do next. Her anxious state of mind is testament to the psychological mind games that the supposed “hero” has been playing on her. In chapter 19 of book 1, when Christian begins to speak intensely about their relationship, rather than being pleased or excited, Ana does not know how to “correctly” respond, musing: “What do I say? Because I think I love you and you just see me as a toy...Because I’m too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off, or worse – beat me?”
Again, we see use of fear. Christian has moulded Ana’s responses so much with his psychological tricks, that she is now afraid of admitting to her true feelings, or behaving in a way that is natural to her, in case he reacts badly.
Ana is, we are told, a bright and intelligent young woman. Christian should be encouraging these traits, yet there are several points within the trilogy where he is seen to talk down to her, or mock her for her lack of worldly experience. Again, this is a psychological trick, in order to ensure that Ana continues to think that he’s too good for her and that she should feel grateful for his “love” and attention. Christian even goes so far as to buy her place of work and have her promoted. When Ana discovers that her promotion was bought, rather than earned, she feels belittled and angry and understandably begins to question her own intelligence and skills, thus furthering the anxiety she already feels.
In book two (chapter 5), Ana expresses that she wants to “run, fast and far away. I have an overwhelming urge to cry.” Again, this level of anxiety, this constant state of uncertainty within a relationship is deeply worrying and further evidence that 50 shades should not be held up as any kind of romantic ideal. Psychological abuse, as mentioned earlier, refers to behaviour that is intended to cause anxiety, depression or mental injury. Ana is, in this quote, expressing exactly these feelings as a result of Christian’s behaviour towards her. He has taken her to a hairdressing salon, run by an ex, to which he has taken all of his other exes. Ana is intimidated and hurt by this. His behaviour has made her feel minimised and as though she is just another of his subs and although Christian is described as “having the grace to look contrite,” he later dismisses her in order to take a phone call and then tells her she is going back to his apartment, even if he has to “drag you by your hair.” Again, Christian is showing little concern for Ana’s welfare and she is left confused, hurt and silenced. As always, Ana explains away her feelings, citing Christian’s terrible childhood as well as her own inexperience – a very typical response from someone who has been psychologically conditioned not to blame her abuser for his own actions.
As things become more serious between the couple and they look towards building their own mansion together, Ana shows very clear signs that she still harbours doubts and insecurities. She wants to discuss the problems they have within their relationship, but every time she tries, Christian distracts her with sex – psychologically reaffirming the idea that Ana has just one role in life: To satisfy him and to allow him to give her any self worth. This is evidenced in chapter 18 of book two, when Ana muses: “I slightly resent how easily I fall under his spell. I know now that we won’t be spending the evening talking through all our issues and recent events... But how can I resist him?” Christian is using the sexual chemistry between the pair to distract Ana from the complications in their relationship. Since she has no prior sexual experience, Ana is unused to being so desired, or to fulfilling a man’s needs. As a result, this becomes more important to her than it otherwise might and Christian uses this to his advantage, rather than nurturing a warm, caring relationship with more to it than lust. Yet another sign that Christian Grey is playing a psychological game with his young partner, rather than treating her with any real respect. He even uses sex games as a way to ensure that Ana agrees to his proposal of marriage, asking her whilst in bed: “What can I do to make you say yes?”
Once Ana has agreed to the marriage, the psychological abuse does not stop. In the first chapter of the third book in the series, Ana admits that she and Christian have rowed over whether or not she’ll agree to “obey” him as part of her marriage vows. Although the argument is unseen and Ana tells the reader that she won it and didn’t use the word in her vows, the point is moot, given that Ana still does everything Christian tells her to and demonstrates fear when she exercises free will. The psychological effect of Christian’s controlling nature from the outset has led to Ana frequently questioning her own decisions; wondering whether things she chooses to say or do will make her husband angry with her. She is self-censoring due to the anxiety that Christian has caused her. There is nothing romantic, or sexy about that.
Christian also once again refers to Ana as “mine” on their wedding day. During their honeymoon, in a supposedly tender, sexy scene, he kisses various body parts, saying “mine” to each one. This may seem passionate or romantic to some, but is in fact a subtle reminder to his new wife that she is his property, to do with as he sees fit. Ana is already psychologically conditioned to believe that her only real worth is as his partner, yet Christian feels the need to ram the point home as often as possible. Another symptom of this possessiveness, is that Ana begins to alter her own thinking and “parrots” Christian when referring to him. She begins using the word “mine,” as she has heard him do so many times. In chapter 8 of book three, she thinks: “He’s mine. Annoying – infuriating, even – but mine.” Thanks to Christian’s manipulation, she no longer sees his negative traits and instead simply repeats his own patterns of ownership. This need for “ownership” comes to light most startlingly, when Christian notices that Ana has not changed her surname at work; he berates her for not showing the world that she belongs to him. This is incredibly unhealthy and shows a complete lack of respect for Ana as a separate human being.
As the final book in the trilogy continues, so does Christian’s excessive control over Ana. His manipulation of her is such that whilst he is away on business, Ana feels she must ask his permission to go out for a drink with her best friend. She tells him:
“I’ve only seen her a few times since you and I met. Please. She’s my best friend.”
Ana is effectively reduced to begging her husband for his permission to go out for drinks with her friend. Christian attempts to emotionally manipulate Ana by saying his concern is for her safety, when in fact, it’s a barely concealed attempt to maintain control over his wife, even when he’s in a different state. After an argument, Ana tells him that she’s going to stay in and her internal monologue tells the reader: “I feel guilty for worrying him.” This is just one of several examples of Ana taking responsibility for Christian’s negative behaviour and is another classic sign of abuse within a relationship. Christian has succeeded in making his wife believe that she is to blame for all of their troubles and that she is also responsible for fixing them.
This message is rammed home further when Ana announces that she is pregnant. She ponders giving Christian the news whilst their security are on hand, showing that she still has a deep-rooted fear of how her husband might react to her. She is concerned that she may need protection from him. She even considers telling him about the pregnancy during sex, as that is her most important value in Christian’s eyes and subsequently in her own.
Ana is right to be worried. Christian is the father of her child; he is responsible for having gotten her pregnant. However, when he discovers her condition, Christian reacts violently, screaming that she is “stupid.” This is another buzz word, designed to make Ana question herself and her decisions. On a deeper level, once the storm has passed, psychological abuse such as this makes a victim feel that they should be grateful for their abuser staying with them, when they are so undeserving. This is an emotion which Ana conveys frequently throughout the trilogy and is not a healthy attitude to have in a relationship.
When Ana cries after Christian’s violent outburst, he screams at her: “Don’t turn on the waterworks,” thus implying that her emotional response is somehow not real or valid. Again, this is a device used in psychological abuse – the abuser may mock or question their victim’s honest response to his/her cruelty. As is so often the case in these situations, Ana apologises, in spite of the situation not being solely her fault and in spite of Christian’s hurtful reaction being entirely his responsibility.
Christian goes on to show signs of jealousy towards his unborn child, ensuring that his psychologically damaged wife feels it’s her duty to make him feel better, despite the nastiness he has displayed towards her. Again, he plays upon his own tragic childhood as an excuse for his abusive present.
The marriage that Ana and Christian have is an abusive one. To suggest that there could be a “happy ever after,” is a dangerous lie and the introduction of children into this toxic relationship would, in reality, be potentially catastrophic.
Christian Grey is an abuser, psychologically belittling his wife, leaving her fearful, anxious and feeling as though she must somehow “cure” her husband of demons she cannot begin to understand. To idealise a man like this is to ignore the reality for women across the world, abused and manipulated by the men they fell in love with.
50 Shades is not romance. 50 Shades is abuse.