That’s the motto of the just released film Fifty Shades Darker, the second in the trilogy of films adapted from E.L. James’s Fifty Shades pulp fiction series.
James’s books have become a global sensation, drawing in everything from hardware stores selling rope to retail fashion outlets selling themed lingerie to pre-schools hosting screenings for fundraisers.
But if, as the promotion claims, this second instalment is the “dark side” of the “fairy tale” does this mean that every little girl secretly desires to be whipped, choked, harassed, stalked, manipulated and made to suffer physical and emotional injury at the hands of her prince?
After all, Anastasia is subject to this and more in the first instalment, which I saw – along with a cinema full of schoolgirls in uniform.
And herein lies the problem.
Abuse is served up to young women as romance: the first film was released on Valentine’s Day two years ago; the second in the lead up. Why say it with roses when you can say it with whips? In Fifty Shades of Grey Christian tells Anastasia that if she were his she wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week (because of the damage he would do).
This is a fairy tale in which the female lead is beaten with a belt and covered in bruises as tears stream down her face. Soothed only by his strong jaw, his baby grand, sports car and helicopter.
The film’s trailers pose the question: “Can love survive?” – meaning, of course, that Fifty Shades of Grey was about just that. Because nothings says true love like being controlled and stalked.
Fifty Shades is part of a wider culture in which women are taught their greatest power comes from being an object of male desire. We see a powerful man, corporate power player Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) prey on a naive university student, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) whose virginity is a problem to be rectified. He proceeds to groom her for his sadistic pleasure. Sexual violence and emotional abuse – including threats, stalking and isolation – are represented as sexy and romantic.
What is in reality intimate partner violence becomes something women secretly desire – which puts all women at risk.
The first film depicted sexual violence – forced sex acts, contact against Anastasia’s will (stalking) and the use of alcohol to compromise consent. Anastasia Steele signs a contract in which she agrees to be submissive and meet Christian Grey’s every wish – and not just for the sex acts he wants. His specifications include what she can eat, how much she can drink and how she behaves at all times.
When unequal power relations and female submission are presented, not only as somehow romantic and desirable but as actually liberating and empowering, you know you’ve got a serious problem.
“Our systematic analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first novel in the trilogy, reveals pervasive emotional and sexual violence in Christian and Anastasia’s relationship. Our analysis also shows Anastasia suffers significant harm as a result – including constant perceived threat, managing/altering her behaviors to keep peace in the relationship, lost identity and disempowerment and entrapment as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.
“Christian uses an interlocking pattern of emotional abuse strategies – stalking, intimidation, isolation, and humiliation – to manipulate and control every aspect of Anastasia’s behavior. These strategies are consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definitions of intimate partner violence.”
This is borne out by something that Teagan, a survivor of abuse, shared with me: “As someone who has recently gotten out of a abusive bdsm relationship I know what it’s like and this movie represents abuse. Currently reading the books now and actually reading what Anastasia feels really hits deep for me and I understand it all.” Sounds more like a nightmare than a fairy tale.
I think there are a few reasons for this romanticisation of intimate partner violence, each interconnected. The global sex industry is very good at getting its tentacles into everything. It knows how to embed and normalize porn-themed practices and ideas. Thus we have Target selling Fifty Shades of Grey themed lingerie and hardware stores selling Fifty Shades packs including rope, duct tape and other BDSM paraphernalia.
The broader culture effectively grooms women and girls for pornography consumption. Women imbibe a message that adopting pornified roles and behaviours is how they will attract men, keep men interested, stop them “wandering.”
In porn culture, women are sexual objects for male sexual gratification and pleasure. They are always available and willing, and they never say no. They enjoy painful and degrading sex acts done to them. Women are told they should want to be brutalized, to enjoy and welcome male sexual aggression We are encouraged to embrace it and find power in being dominated and brutalized by men. Fifty Shades highlights just how effective pornography has been in infiltrating the mainstream, with women now readily accepting their sexually subordinate position.
Women are supposed to enjoy porn, including violent BDSM inspired sex. The most popular genres of pornography feature violence against women – with women depicted as deriving pleasure from it. A young woman I know asked her new (now ex) husband, “How can I make it more like porn for you?” because he wasn’t interested in a normal (that is, non-pornified) woman. We are offered a commercialized version of sexuality. The latest manifestation of this is of an especially violent variety because everything else has been “done before.” Violence is the new black.
One repercussion is that women start to think there is something wrong with them if they don’t like this stuff. And teen girls think this is what “romance” looks like. So many young women describe coercion and pressure to accept sex acts they neither desire or enjoy. This film just adds to that pressure. I’ve had year 7 girls at an Anglican school ask me questions about BDSM. They want to know if a boy wants to whip them, choke them and tie them up does this mean he must really like them? Stalking comes to be seen as a sign of affection. I’ve read messages from boys on Facebook threads about the film saying how great it is because now they can get girls to do what they’ve always wanted them to do.
How will our young people understand what true intimacy and authentic human connection looks like when porn-based messages about sex dominate their formative environments?
“Girls around the world are born into a pornified culture where consent is rendered irrelevant. In real life, men use the same tactics as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades trilogy to gain and maintain power and control over the women in their lives. This includes isolation, threats, physical and sexual assault. This is not entertainment. This is not sexy. This results in serious harm to women and in the worst case scenario, murder.”
We don’t have to see it. But any depiction of violence as romantic harms us all. As we say in our 50 Myths post: “Fifty Shades is a massively popular cultural phenomenon, perpetuating and reinforcing harmful attitudes about violence against women. Women cannot simply opt out of a culture that exploits or harms them.”
This is about raising awareness of the film and domestic violence. We want people to recognize that Fifty Shades glorifies abuse of women, and to ask themselves whether that is something they really want to support financially.
We are calling for potential cinema goers to put their money toward financially supporting some of the frontline services for women that are so desperate for funding instead. My friends who work in the women’s refuge sector tell me that their refugees are full of the victims of the Christian Grey’s of this world.
To get behind this campaign, you can participate on social media by using the #50dollarsnot50shades and #FiftyShadesIsAbuse hashtags; or for more information, visit the Collective Shout website.
Yesterday, American “pick-up” artist and “executive dating coach” Jeff (Jeffy) Allen had his Australian visa revoked by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
Allen’s tour – part of a Real Social Dynamics (RSD) global roadshow – was billed as “Meet Jeffy.”
Those concerned about rising rates of violence against women and the callous mistreatment of young women and girls, reflected in groping, street harassment, unwanted sexual demands and all the other manifestations of everyday sexism, decided the only “meeting” Jeffy should get was with fierce opposition.
When Julien Blanc – the big name RSD instructor – known for his choking-girls-around-the-world hashtag – came to Australia in 2014, he didn’t last long. A massive campaign (#takedownjulienblanc) saw him booted out of the country. A number of other countries also refused to let him in.
But then Blanc’s side-kick, Jeffy Allen, arrived to finish what Blanc had started.
Questions of due diligence must surely be raised: how did a man who was in breach of our character tests get in? (Many women see the activities of RSD as warranting the same approach as accorded to terrorists.)
The tour was originally slated to make its way to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane over the coming months. However, due to pressure from activists – including a 67,000 signature-strong Change.org petition and getting Vibe hotels to cancel two bookings (RSD misled the hotel by using a different name) – tour dates are now off the RSD website.
Allen fled the country before the retrospective visa cancellation, but not before he had passed on RSD’s toxic teachings at one Sydney “boot camp” last Thursday. The image of these men in this Sydney hotel room being taught the art of seduction by Allen, was taken by a young man by the name of Josh.
Pictures of Josh on his Instagram profile show he is young, most likely not out of his teens. Josh is just starting to make his way in the world. He’s learning about masculinity and sexuality and women and how he should treat them. His tutoring now includes the L.A dating company – billed as the world’s biggest dating hub for men – which evangelizes men with the ideology that men are “beasts” and women are “whores.”
Josh, along with other young men like him, were indoctrinated into the world of the dominant RSD alpha male. Allen drives a van – which he fondly calls his “rape van” – for picking up women. Decals representing women are glued on the van door for every “whore” he’s bedded in it. (You can see him talk about it in a video here, along with other video evidence of the raw contempt for the right of women to be treated as something other than a live “f–k doll” – including Julien Blanc’s infamous routine of grabbing the heads of random Japanese women on the street and shoving them into his crotch).
In RSD “boot camps,” men dominate and women must be made to submit.
All this at a time when there is more focus on the need to address violence against women; when we have come up with a National Plan of Action to Address Violence Against Women; when our Prime Minister says violence begins with disrespect. It is remarkable to me that, in the current climate, the RSD cult-leaders are allowed in the country in the first place.
These snake oil salesmen cannot help boys like Josh develop healthy respect-based relationships with women. He won’t learn how simply to enjoy a woman’s company, her conversation, her friendship. He won’t learn about care, empathy, how to give and receive love. He will learn how to get into her pants then add her to his total score. Such conquests are marks on the virtual bed-heads of RSD’s online forums.
RSD doesn’t bring men and women together – it breeds suspicion. For many women, who experience harassment and unwanted attention from men almost daily, RSD will only make them more suspicious about male intentions. In this environment, every man comes to be seen as a potential pick-up artist.
Fortunately there are men speaking out. Dr Matthew Berryman helped lead the charge against Julien Blanc in the 2014 campaign. He too is tired of the limited and increasingly toxic messages we send men and boys about masculinity. I asked him why he got involved:
“If you think that being a creep and/or actually abusive to women in order to sleep with them is a good idea, then you are not only being unnecessarily disrespectful to others, you’re actually missing out on having an actual, meaningful relationship, with all the rewards it brings.
“The tactics adopted by Real Social Dynamics and other ‘pick up agencies’ are not only harmful to women, they harm the ability of all men to be taken seriously as actual, decent people (and it’s that that will help you meet women and form relationships). Men need to have a healthy approach to themselves and to others. To do otherwise diminishes us all.”
Another, of course, is Matthew Jowett, who initiated the Change.org petition against Blanc. When I asked him why he did it, the 29-year-old IT worker replied:
“Being raised by a single mother and living with a father who was abusive to his spouses, and seeing my sister be abused by successive partners all also shaped an interest in opposing domestic violence and supporting women’s rights. But most fundamentally it comes down to my very strong desire to equality, which I think grew from the seed my mother planted with the often repeated axiom ‘treat others how you’d like them to treat you’. It seems painfully obvious to me that the only way to achieve a society with any real measure of equality is from a culture where everyone is valued and where respect for others is a central pillar.”
Let’s hope that Josh and other young men like him are persuaded by this philosophy and these examples, rather than by RSD’s warped view of women.
The group is renowned for lying to avoid consequences (surprise fkn surprise, right), so many were concerned that they were still conducting their seminars in secret.
However, today, author Melinda Tankard-Reist sent a tweet to Vibe Hotels, who were hosting the seminars. They responded saying that the functions were booked under a false name, and they had cancelled all of RSD’s events.
“These things happen,” he said. “We have to move on.”
Isn’t it wonderful that Gayle is able to move on and put it all behind him?
Unfortunately for him, a tidal wave of women everywhere won’t let him do that. Because, as women, we can’t just move on from the latest example of everyday sexism. Because it is women and girls who most bear the brunt of this behaviour every day.
Sexism doesn’t just happen. It happens when sexist men make it happen.
And a “sorry” followed by “… if she felt that way” is not an apology. It’s victim blaming. Gayle says there was no harm done even when explicitly told his actions have harmed her (“she’s pretty upset”). He chastises the questioner, “be quiet and let me finish.”
Gayle doesn’t want to hear that this woman didn’t like his advances. His ego is damaged. He believed that because she was physically attractive and on his turf, she had to play by his rules. Her participation in sport as a woman, meant that she was inviting sexually loaded comments.
While others want to dismiss Gayle’s behaviour toward Ms McLaughlin as cheeky, as Gayle being Gayle (reminiscent of “boys being boys”) and (albeit it a short-lived tweet from Channel Ten’s sports account) “smooth,” others, including myself, won’t just let it go. Even when we are painted as overreacting and told to “calm down.” As my colleague Melinda Liszewski responded on Twitter: “Keep calm and let sexism win? I don’t think so.”
This is what Gayle said after being dismissed for 41 off 15 balls in the Melbourne Renegades’ win over the Hobart Hurricanes:
“I wanted to come and have an interview with you as well, that’s the reason why I’m here – just to see your eyes for the first time. It’s nice. So, hopefully we can win this game and we can have a drink after.”
This was not a bit of fun. It was an act of public humiliation on free-to-air television.
As McLaughlin showed her discomfort, Gayle laughed at her displeasure and chided, “Don’t blush baby.” Telling her not to blush was both condescending and infantilising. Also disturbing were the audible sniggers from the commentary booth at Gayle’s performance, demonstrating that this was not one man’s private flirtation with a woman but a public display for the lads.
Gayle held her captive. He made a pass at her against her will on national television. She had no choice but to take the humiliation – his admission he’d virtually fantasised about being interviewed by her, his mocking laugher, his verbal touch-up. It’s not enough for him to admire her quietly. He has to make it public and she has to know it.
Channel Nine reduced all this to Gayle and other cricketers being “smitten” in a (since deleted but helpfully cached by Google) tweet. Is it too much to expect that a woman can perform her professional duties without being hit upon?
Channel Ten boss David Barham said he phoned McLaughlin who was angry and upset. Why wouldn’t she be? She turns up to work and gets harassed. Those making light of it don’t know what it is like to have this happen.
Respected Fox Sports journalist Neroli Meadows angrily described what it’s like to be harassed every day in your working life. She blasted Gayle for his behaviour, describing him as a repeat offender:
“He’s done it before, he’s done it to me, he’s done it to several women … It happens, situations likes that, 10 times a day when you’re a female in this sports industry and that’s just a fact.
“We do not need that to happen to us in our workplace because that is what it is, our workplace and Mel has been doing her job for 10 to 15 years and she has done it with respect. Her career now gets defined by this.
“The same thing has happened to me, the same thing has happened to Yvonne Sampson at Channel Nine, the same thing to Erin Molan at Channel Nine. We have successful careers and they get defined by idiots saying the wrong thing, inappropriate and then other people laughing as though it’s the one thing that has ever happened. Of course it’s not.”
An extreme outworking of disrespect for female sports reporters that is endemic to sports journalism, especially in the United States, is a practice where random men shout over a female sports reporter’s live piece to camera “I would f–k her right in the pussy” – which now has its own FHRITP meme.
Gayle’s response give an insight into how high-profile men hate being called out on their behaviour. In essence, his attitude is I’m allowed to be a pig and you’re not allowed to call me on it.
The former Cities Minister Jamie Briggs demonstrated this when he forwarded an image of the young public servant who made a confidential complaint about him, to his mates (one of whom leaked it to The Australian and who knows where else). This was followed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s “mad f—ing witch” text, sent to News Limited journalist Samantha Maiden.
Women who speak out are to be shamed and made to heel.
We still have a long way to go before rhetoric in high places about respect for women results in a change in behaviour nationally. Sexism continues unabated at every level of culture and we’re still expected to take it as a compliment. Not to do so means you are weird.
Following an interview I did on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program yesterday regarding Briggs and Dutton, I received messages on my public profile Facebook page that my response was an overreaction. That I should preserve my anger for serious matter like rape, abuse and violence. But these behaviours occur on a continuum which begins with a lack of respect for women.
As Our Watch states, the most consistent predictor of support of violence by men is their agreement with sexist attitudes. And Victoria’s Police Chief Ken Lay has said: “Our culture is filled with men who hold an indecent sense of entitlement towards women…”
In most schools I address around the country, girls describe unwanted comments about their bodies, being pressured for sexual images, being touched inappropriately in the classroom and on the school bus. Some of these girls are 12 and 13.
The behaviour of public figures such as sportsmen and public officials trickles down to influence the boys who go onto harm girls. Attitudes affect behaviour. Sexism begets sexism.
That’s why, Chris Gayle, we won’t be moving on and putting what you did this week behind us anytime soon. (Nor, it seems, will Gayle’s club. The Renegades have now lobbed a $10,000 fine on him for his behaviour.)
Since the publication of Rachael Hills’s article “Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist” (and see her reflections two weeks later) at least ten on-line and print media articles have joined in a public dissection and commentary along the lines of, “she’s a conservative religious fundamentalist” and “she’s pro-life and can’t be a feminist.”
The subliminal context of the attempts to bring Melinda Tankard Reist to her knees and destroy her work is of course the elephant in the room: if her considerable impact on educating the public about the harms of the sex industry could be reduced, the pornography and prostitution promoters and profiteers would rejoice.
As her publishers at Spinifex Press, Australia’s only feminist publishing house (and secular), we take issue with these portrayals of Melinda Tankard Reist. It is easy to try to dismiss someone by smacking on a “fundamentalist” (whether Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish) label and thereby dismiss the arguments that a person makes. What is less easy, but more ethical and intellectually rigorous, is to examine Tankard Reist’s views – which are shared by many feminists and other advocates for social justice and human rights – and to see what the factual arguments for those views are. Read more>
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
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Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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