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Consent in Fifty Shades.

Posted by Emma and Natalie on June 29, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the issue of consent in Fifty Shades. I think we can all agree that it's an issue dealt with pretty appallingly, in as much as very little Christian does happens with Ana's free, non-coerced consent. So you can imagine my horror when I came across this blog ( http /www.modernmom.com/fad99e04-3b45-11e3-8407-bc764e04a41e.html), in which the author suggests that the positive way that consent is dealt with in the books could be used to teach teens about the importance of consent in relationships.


 

Positive way it was dealt with??!! I was fairly disgusted by the outright lies in the blog and by the suggestion that Christian is even remotely a positive character to use as an example of consent in fiction. So to save you reading the blog, I've copied and pasted the piece on consent and I will use it here to argue against the suggestion that Fifty Shades is anything close to being a good example of consent. From here on out, the writing in italics are direct quotes from the blog. The responses in bold are mine.


 

"Christian Grey likes things a certain way. He likes control. He likes power. He likes pain. He likes to dominate his sexual relationships. What appears to be an anti-feminist part of the plot (this heartthrob of a man wants his women to want to be dominated in every way) has a silver lining." Does it? There's a silver lining to this "heartthrob" using stalking, manipulation and coercion against an incredibly immature, naive young woman? Oh do go on...


 

"Christian Grey never touches a woman without her complete, undivided, conscious, sober consent."  Um... Okay, where to start??!! How about at the very beginning? When Christian "rescues" Ana from a bar and takes her back to his bed, he does so without her consent. She collapsed unconscious in his arms. She couldn't agree to go back with him, yet he does it anyway. He's not "rescuing" her; if he was, he'd have had her friends take her back to her own bed, so she woke up in familiar surroundings. Instead she wakes up embarrassed and confused and has to ask him whether he had sex with her, because he undressed her without asking if that was okay. The fact that he didn't have sex with her doesn't suddenly make it okay that he stalked her by tracking her cell phone without her consent, turned up unannounced and took her away from all of her friends whilst she was in no position to argue. Once the couple are in a relationship, things don't get any better on the consent front, either. Christian makes out that consent is a huge deal for him, telling her that he won't touch her until she has signed his contract, agreeing to a BDSM relationship. Then, in chapter 8, having banged on about how important it is that she signs, he says "oh, fuck the paperwork" and has sex with her anyway, even though she hasn't signed and has been displaying concern about that part of their relationship, thus undoing all his high and mighty words about consent being important to him. Later on, in chapter 12, Christian arrives unannounced at Ana's apartment, having received an email in which she pretends to be breaking off their relationship. Even though he actually admits that he didn't realise she was joking, he turns up, initiates sex and when Ana says "no," he responds: "If you struggle, I'll tie your feet...If you make a noise, Anastasia, I'll gag you." But consent is REALLY important to him, right, blog author? This is a positive example of consent that we should be showing to teenagers??!! NO. This is an example we should be showing them to illustrate what happens when a man has no consideration for consent. Christian's claims to care about consent are entirely undone in this scene (not that they hadn't already been, several times over). As for sober consent. What about when Ana and Christian are discussing their hard and soft limits in preparation for taking their relationship further into BDSM territory and Christian deliberately plies Ana with wine, because "it's making you honest?" Never mind the fact that he ignores her limits in favour of his own desires (e.g. when Ana says she doesn't want to try anal sex and he says he wants to do it anyway), a drunk person cannot freely give consent. It's coerced consent at best when someone is deliberately given a large amount of alcohol before they agree to something. When you're drunk, you're not as able to rationalise your choices and Christian surely knows this (seeing as he made a big fuss about having not had sex with her when he took her home drunk, earlier in the book). So, this wonderful guy, who apparently would never touch a woman without her complete, undivided, conscious, sober consent, is coercing Ana into consenting to his desires by getting her drunk. And let's not even start on the orgasm denial he does on Ana without her consent (more than once), which confuses and upsets her so much that she's brought to tears. As part of a healthy, CONSENSUAL BDSM relationship, orgasm denial can be enjoyable for both partners. It certainly isn't for Ana. And why? Because she never consented to it. Because Christian never bothered to ask. What a shining example to give to teenagers...


 

"He does not take advantage of Ana when she’s drunk, and he divulges everything he wants in a sexual relationship before beginning it."  Except... You know that scene I just mentioned, in which Ana is plied with alcohol by Christian, so that she agrees to what he wants? Well, guess what happens?! Yep, he takes her to bed. And she's very drunk by this point (she describes feeling fuzzy and being unable to focus). It could also be easily argued that although nothing sexual happened, Christian took advantage of Ana when he first ever took her home from that bar, too. After all, she was hardly in any position to say no; she was unconscious. As for divulging what he wants in a sexual relationship before beginning it, well, not exactly... Christian does show Ana his playroom before he has sex with her for the first time. But up to that point, he has been subtly manipulating her; drawing her near with compliments, deliberately unnerving her and warning her to stay away from him, yet insisting that he can't stay away from her. Ana is incredibly immature and has no sexual experience. Upon discovering that she's a virgin, Christian gets angry and describes her innocence as a "situation" to be dealt with. From that point on, he is fully aware that Ana has no clue about BDSM and it quickly becomes obvious that she's a little nervous about the whole idea. A responsible Dom would step back and recognise that perhaps this girl isn't the right partner. Christian continues to push and manipulate, insisting he needs the kinky aspect of their relationship and playing on Ana's emotions by bringing his abused childhood into it. In short, he might divulge what he wants, but he gives Ana very little real opportunity to say no, by constantly pushing her emotional buttons and coercing her into agreement. Again, what a marvellous example of a romantic hero. We really must teach teenagers this stuff... (Sarcasm coming through, okay?!)


 

"The types of relationships discussed in detail in these books may be foreign to most of us, and they aren’t likely to be what you want your teen to strive for. However, what your teen does need to know, and can take away from Mr. Fifty Shades, is that mutual consent is not an option - it’s a necessity."  We agree on something, oh blog author! Teens DO need to know that consent is a necessity. What a shame you've chosen a character who talks about the importance of consent, then actively ignores it in order to illustrate your point. Christian manipulates Ana, gets her drunk and coerces her. He also piles pressure on with expensive gifts. Ana never signs his contract and she frequently comes across as being unsure about the lifestyle Christian wants her to enter. He almost never listens to her concerns, placing his own desires above Ana's emotional well-being time and time again.


 

"Our girls need to know that they should never feel pressured to get into any sort of intimate relationship that they are not completely, whole-heartedly comfortable with and ready for. A real man, even Greek-God-who-could-have-any-woman-he-wants Christian Grey, never forces himself on a woman."  Except for in chapter 12, when she says no and he threatens to gag her and tie her up. Oh and except for the times he makes threatening comments, such as "do you think that would stop me?" when Ana suggests that they eat in a public place so she feels protected from his advances. Also, I'm part Greek. We do NOT want Christian Grey, thanks. He's no God of any sort. And let's have a look at Ana, shall we? She describes BDSM as being something that Christian needs to be cured of. She talks of "bringing him into the light." And if I had £1 for every time Ana agrees to him spanking her or doing something she's uncertain about because "it's what he needs," rather than what she wants, I'd be rich enough to be writing this on a shiny new laptop, whilst sipping champagne and paying for "CHRISTIAN GREY IS AN ABUSER" to be tattooed onto EL James' forehead. Again, I agree with the point you're making - every girl DOES need to know that a good man would never force himself on her and that she shouldn't feel pressured into a relationship she doesn't want. But you've chosen an example of a man who does force himself on Ana and who manipulates and coerces her into consenting to a lifestyle that she actively says she's not certain she wants to be involved with. Ana even tells Christian that she doesn't think she can be a 24/7 sub and she doesn't want him to control her outside the bedroom. What is his response? He continues to stalk her, manipulate her and control her - stopping her from going out with friends, buying her workplace so that he can control her there too and reminding her constantly of his terrible childhood, so that she'll feel guilty enough to continue doing what she believes he "needs." It's an insult to call that "BDSM." It's an insult to call it fully consensual.

 

"And our boys need to know that all women want a real man."  Which is why no woman in her right mind should want Christian Grey.

 

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2 Comments

Reply Tabitha
8:28 AM on July 25, 2014 
So, I'll admit, up until recently I've 100% stayed away from the whole 50 Shades thing. That is, until I started seeing things about it being a story about abuse and coercion popping up on Twitter. I decided to check out the trailer when it was released yesterday (which eventually led me to your Twitter feed) and I'm appalled.

Because of what I've seen and read over the last 24 hours, I've decided I'm going to read the book. Not out of interest, but because I want to be educated myself on the topic and try to join the fight against it. In a society where we are fighting so hard to stop domestic violence, rape and abuse, it's appalling and sickening that something like this could garner such a following.

So thank you. Thank you for enlightening me, and thank you for your fight against something this vile.
Reply Emma and Natalie
6:07 AM on July 29, 2014 
Thank you - sorry, we only just spotted that comment! Hope you don't find the books too triggering and remember there is support out there if you do.

Seeing abuse romanticised in fiction is incredibly scary, not to mention offensive to anyone who has experienced abuse in reality. We're fighting against something pretty massive, but we believe it's too important not to. Thank you so much for your support - it really means a lot.