I wonder if men like Jackson Katz and Jonah Mix and Chris Hedges (mentioned in this piece by Meghan Murphy and by me in this post on ABC Lateline and ‘sex work’ know what it means to women to have them speak so strongly and unequivocally – and often condemned for doing so- on issues such as sexual violence, equality and the human rights of women? My colleagues and I share articles by these men and others with much enthusiasm. Perhaps it makes us feel a little less lonely? Men like this refuse to stand by and watch as women are trashed physically and emotionally around the world. (They also happen to write really well – of course not as vital a point to make, but it does have special appeal to those of us who live by putting words together). Today I’m reprinting Jackson Katz in a Huffington Post piece on 50 Shades of Grey and how it sets back relationships education with boys, and Jonah Mix twice because he’s so good, once wasn’t enough.
Fifty Shades of Grey and the Miseducation of Boys
Much of the commentary about the film’s release has focused on women’s reactions to it, including the message that its mainstream acceptance sends to girls about their sexuality and the lengths of degradation and self-negation that women are sometimes pressured to endure in relations with men to achieve intimacy or great sex.
But my primary concern for now has to do not with girls, but with boys like my son and other young men, who are trying to navigate the rocky shores of heterosexual desire themselves, in a culture that routinely offers them up sexually subordinate, compliant and sometimes self-loathing women at the click of a mouse or the price of a movie ticket.
What do parents of sons say to them about the draw this story has for women? How can we help them make sense of the mixed messages our society sends to them about what women want? That women want men to treat them as equals, even as millions embrace a story that countless battered women’s advocates say more closely resembles an abusive relationship than it does some sort of kinky sex fantasy?…
One of the most important goals of gender violence prevention work is to teach boys and young men that violence is not manly, and abuse is not sexy. To the extent that this movie complicates our efforts, it harms not just women. It also does damage to young heterosexual men, who in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey’s commercial triumph are left scratching their heads and trying to figure out responsible and healthy ways to relate sexually to women, and themselves.
Not rape just rough sex: consent and victim blaming
Rapists hiding behind the smokescreen of “rough sex” is nothing new. Jian Ghomeshi tried the same approach last year when his pattern of sexual brutality was revealed. It’s not hard to see why so many abusers utilize this defense; a simple mention of the word “consent” and the question shifts from exactly why a man enjoys punching a woman in the face to whether or not the women enjoyed being punched in the face. It’s a classic abuser tactic in which the spotlight of inquiry is shifted onto the victim so the perpetrator can remain unexamined in the dark.
Once you adopt the consent-as-sole-moral-consideration ideology, a man like Dominique Strauss-Kahn restraining a woman, choking her, and then violently penetrating her becomes immoral simply because she didn’t find it sexy – not because fucking someone with your hands closed tight around their neck just might, you know, not be a good way to relate to another human being. When you say that a man punching, slapping, choking, and bruising a woman is wrong only because she doesn’t “consent,” you’re saying that the only thing wrong with men’s violence is that women haven’t learned to enjoy it yet.
There was a time where rapists insisting their victims “wanted it” was considered the lowest insult one could possibly aim at a victim of sexual violence – thanks to BDSM ideologues, it’s become a meaningful defense.
To those who have publicly attested to their enjoyment of [violent pornography], I ask them to consider the lives of those who have endured the same treatment but without the magic word of consent. Are those women expected to watch and understand as their torture is reenacted as a legitimized means of entertainment? What the popularization of violent pornography is telling these women is that they could and maybe should have enjoyed their rapes. After all, if some women have, why don’t they all?
And I wonder: If male sexual violence becomes immoral only when it fails to arouse a woman, why should we attempt to stop predatory men from cultivating the woman-hating sadism that leads to rape when we could just teach women to find it sexy? Why are our anti-rape campaigns aimed at stopping men from violating women when we could just try encouraging women to develop submissive sexual desires? I can imagine the slogan of an anti-rape organization run by male kinksters: Stop rape – turn it into sex! Read full article
When Paternalism is worse than commercial rape: state of extraction and the new manarchist
Accusations of “moralizing” are by definition vacuous. Considering that morality refers simply to a set of standards we have for what ought and ought not be done, literally any political position is in some way moralistic unless it makes absolutely no demands on behavior. Opposition to police brutality or pipeline construction, for instance, are all acts of moralizing, in that they all make universalized prescriptions – that cops ought not enact violence on citizens, that indigenous land rights ought to be protected, et cetera. Chris Hedges’ condemnation of prostitution as abusive, depraved, and unjust is no more tethered to a moralistic outlook than the anarchist dude who rambles on about the evil of cops and CEOs. Both have beliefs about what behavior is permissible and both hold the belief that certain actions are justified to correct impermissible behavior.
The only reason that condemnations of sexual abuse and exploitation are stuck with the condescending label of “moralizing” while other political stances are not is, of course, because the concerns of women are systematically barred from consideration as political concerns. While the oppression of men is seen as an issue befitting the high ideals of politics and justice, the oppression of women is relegated to “morality” – a category most leftists, stuck as they are in the navel-gazing solipsism of post-modernism, see as contemptibly passé.
But accusations of “moralizing” are but one half of the Inane Leftist Dude Objection Power Duo, joined quickly by even more inscrutable accusations of “paternalism” – which, in this case, means the terrible sin of saying that we should have laws that protect women.
At a time when many of us are working flat out to help young women avoid controlling, manipulative, emotionally and physically violent relationships, comes a film which presents these behaviours as romantic.
Fifty Shades of Grey, based on E.L James blockbuster book, hits the cinemas today for Valentine’s Day.
Sex shops report a roaring trade, hardware stores are stocking up on cable ties and rope, and everyone’s getting in on the act. Anti-violence men’s group White Ribbon was to be the beneficiary of a Fifty Shades screening until we pressured them enough to scrap it (unfortunately we haven’t yet had the same success getting Dr Ahmed Tanveer removed as an Ambassador for his Australian piece this week contradicting and undermining the White Ribbon cause, but watch this space). A Uniting Care pre-school was to benefit also from a fundraising screenings but Uniting Care was persuaded that that wasn’t such a good idea either and that idea was pulled.
But the juggernaut rolls on. The film is being advertised on bus shelters outside high schools and even in respite care centres for children.
Why say “I love you” with chocolate when you can say it with blood and bruises?
Christian Grey, 28, in reality a sexual sociopath worthy of a restraining order, is depicted as handsome, alluring and exceedingly wealthy. Playboy Grey targets and grooms Anastasia (Ana) Steele, a virginal, klutzy, 21-year-old college student.
His obsessive and controlling behavior towards the naïve Ana is read as a sign of love and devotion. He loves her like no other.
In the advertising overdrive, the dangerous messages propagated by the Fifty Shades phenomenon should not be missed: stalking, aggression, sexual violence, threats, intimidation, manipulation and control are sexy.
If he stalks you he must really love you. If you say ‘no’, that’s just a come-on. And if you love a sadistic abuser he’ll change and you’ll live happily ever after in a really big house.
None of these behaviours are marketed as problematic but promoted as romantic. That’s why domestic violence groups internationally have launched a campaign called ’50 dollars not 50 shades’ calling for a boycott of the film and asking for donations to women’s shelters instead. They have seen too many real-life Anastasias.
But rather than walk away from the Christian Greys of the world, the genre tells women that if you love him and cop enough of his shit, eventually he’ll magically morph into the man you wanted.
Melbourne mental health profession Geoff Ahern agrees. “It’s fiction that glorifies fear, intimidation, stalking and violence against women. When I read extracts from the book I hear my clients telling the same stories and that is most certainly not fiction”.
Natalie Collins set up the campaign group, Fifty Shades Is Domestic Abuse. The Independent reports:
When Collins’ co-campaigner first read the books, she said she was “deeply disturbed by how it mirrored the abuse that she had experienced from an ex-partner…women are coming to us and saying, ‘We feel exploited, we feel that our stories and the abuse and trauma that we have suffered are being capitalised upon.’ We’re concerned especially how that’s reflecting and impacting young people.”
Men learn to be turned on by women in pain.
Grey calls Ana his ‘submissive’ and expects her to sign a contract outlining the ways he intends to control her.
“I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele… Hard.” And then he “rips through” her virginity, making her cry out. He then tells her he wants her to be “sore.”
Young women are growing up in a culture which grooms and socialises them to be subordinate. Fifty Shades reinforces that – with the expectation they should also find aggression sexy and desirable.
An analysis by Michigan State and Ohio State universities determined that Grey is a perpetrator who uses an ‘interlocking pattern’ of emotional abuse strategies to manipulate Ana and control the relationship, including, stalking, intimidation, isolation and humiliation. Physical and sexual violence are prevalent and Christian uses alcohol to impair Anastasia’s consent.
“Sexual violence is pervasive,” said the authors, citing Christian using alcohol to compromise Ana’s consent, intimidation, initiating sexual encounters when angry, dismissing Ana’s requests for boundaries, threatening her and humiliating her.
The authors noted Ana experiences reactions typical of abused women such as constant perceived threat, altered identity, stressful managing, engaging in behaviours to ‘keep the peace’ like withholding information to avoid Christian’s anger.
Researchers believed the popular book series had the power to influence attitudes and beliefs surrounding intimate partner violence, arguing “individuals regularly alter their real world beliefs and attitudes in response to fictional communication.”
The impact on Anastasia is consistent with that of other victims of intimate partner violence –constant perceived threat, managing and altering her behaviors to keep peace, lost identity, disempowerment and entrapment.
A 2013 Vic Health survey found a sizeable number of people believe there are circumstances in which violence can be excused.
We don’t need more myths about intimate partner violence being a reflection of true love. The last thing we need is the romanticisation of domestic abuse.
We can’t ignore the implications of depicting a man worthy of criminal charges as hot, sexy and desirable. The packaging of a story about an abusive relationship as ‘Romance’ perpetuates violence against women and undermines efforts to promote equal, respectful relationships.
Collective Shout responds to common pro-Fifty Shades arguments
Over the last few weeks, the campaign calling on supporters to boycott Fifty Shades of Grey and donate to a domestic violence shelter has escalated – and so too has the backlash from fans of the book series arguing that it was all just a bit of harmless, sexy fun.
We’ve prepared responses to some of the most common arguments we heard in support of the book series and film.
“It’s just fiction!”
Many Fifty Shades fans argue that it is just a book/film, a work of fiction, and as such the eroticized representations of violence against women have no power to influence thinking, attitudes or beliefs.
However, an analysis of the novel found sexual violence and emotional abuse were pervasive and the popular book series had the power to influence attitudes and beliefs surrounding intimate partner violence. The authors argued that “individuals regularly alter their real world beliefs and attitudes in response to fictional communication” and “stories are especially influential when readers become drawn into them and cognitive resources, emotions, and mental imagery faculties are engaged.”
The authors noted in their conclusion “our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.” Read more
“It’s so popular!”
Fifty Shades of Grey is popular in large part because of the misleading way the the trilogy has been promoted. It has been marketed as “romance” and “porn for women” and defended as “playful fantasy encouraging women to become more daring in their sexuality.” If the story was promoted for what it is – a powerful sadistic man grooming a naive young woman for sexual violence and abuse – we doubt it would achieve the same success.
The popularity of Fifty Shades’ means it has even greater potential to perpetuate and reinforce damaging attitudes about abusive relationships.
Throughout history many there are many examples of oppression, violence and injustice that were popular or socially accepted in their time, but are now strongly rejected. Read more
“But he loves her so much!”
To accept this argument would be to believe that stalking, possessiveness, manipulation, jealousy, control and other elements of intimate partner violence are based in love – that abusive men hurt their female partners because they ‘love them so much’.
Perpetrators themselves like to say they acted out of love. This is false. Read more
Primed to accept brutality as normal in romantic relationships
It’s not enough that classic works of literature like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights are to be given a 50 Shades of Grey makeover (read how Catherine Earnshaw enjoys bondage sessions with Heathcliff!). Or that there are 50 Shades of Grey mother and daughter cooking classes (whip up ’Playroom Pretzel Ropes’ and ‘Bondage Wrapped Shrimp’ with mum!) Or ‘My mummy pretends Christian Grey is my daddy’ slogans on baby jumpsuits complete with charming handcuff motifs.
The ‘50 Shades’ juggernaut rolls on, consuming everything in its wake. Now the latest market is teens who are being targeted with spin-offs from the phenomenon.
We know 13 and 14-year-olds are already reading this ode to sadism, receiving an early lesson in submission 101.
In the multi-million dollar best seller, Anastasia Steele has to sign a contract agreeing to do whatever her lover Christian Grey wants. She must be available on call.
One of the terms is: ‘The submissive shall submit to any sexual activity without hesitation or argument’. This is presented as true love rather than as a powerful man controlling a naïve young woman having her first sexual experience.
Anastasia feels “demeaned, debased, and abused.” But Grey is wealthy and showers her with gifts. Isn’t that so romantic? Cruelty is OK, as long as there is a happy ending.
Now teens are being sold their own versions, promoted as’ erotic fiction’ helping them ‘explore their sexuality’. But what is it that is being eroticised?
One of the most new popular titles for young people is Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. Here’s an extract about the reaction of main character Travis after Abby sleeps with him and leaves without saying goodbye:
“Travis is a fucking wreck! He won’t talk to us, he’s trashed the apartment, threw the stereo across the room… He took a swing at Shep [roommate] when he found out we helped you leave. Abby! It’s scaring me! … he’s gone fucking nuts! I heard him call your name, and then he stomped all over the apartment looking for you. …he tried to call you. Over, and over and over…His face was… I’ve never seen him like that. He ripped his sheets off the bed, and threw them away, threw his pillows away, shattered his mirror with his fist, kicked his door… broke it from the hinges! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Ah, young love. Travis, unhinged, goes around destroying things when he can’t get his way. He tries to blackmail Abby and limit her freedom. Obsession and jealousy are misread as love.
One young reader wrote on the Goodreadings site “I felt like Abby was in danger throughout the entire novel…anyone as needy as Travis is dangerous, in my opinion, especially when alcohol is in the mix”. Smart girl.
We are seeing a trend toward the acceptance of brutality as normal in romantic relationships. I heard a 15-year-old boy say he slaps girls and pulls their hair during sex because he read they liked it. Some girls expect to receive bruises from sex. Why say it with flowers when you can show it with beatings?
The view that ‘erotic’ fiction is an alternative to kids visiting porn sites has not been demonstrated. Even if they read one or two books, the bombardment of sexual imagery and porn online will barely be dented. Average age of first exposure to online porn is 11.
Age social affairs writer Michelle Griffin has argued that kids should be reading porn-themed books, recommending ‘House of Holes’ for the school library and family bookshelf. This is the book described by The Guardian as a “porn fest.”
There is a difference between literature which help teenage girls interpret their natural curiosity in sex and their bodies and literature which seeks to shape or exploit it.
Melbourne mother Helen Parkes wrote to me: “There are 12 & 13 year olds in my daughter’s class reading 50 shades and other ‘steamys’… I don’t think these are positive in any way even as a tool to ‘begin dialogue’. I want my daughter and her friends to spend a few years participating in school plays and sports instead of grooming themselves for men before they even know who they are and what they enjoy”.
Girls and young women describe cold, soul-less sexual experiences in which they are expected to be service stations for boys, pressured to ‘put out’, with no concern for their emotional wellbeing.
Will these so-called erotic novels help develop respect-based relationships? Real connection and intimacy? I doubt it. Yet that’s what girls say they want. In this months’ Girlfriend, the magazine’s sex survey shows 76% of readers are not sexually active – 56% say it’s because they are waiting for real love.
Reading material that portrays sex as a part of caring, complex, human relationships is a way of promoting healthy physical and psychological development. We should be equipping and empowering young people to make positive choices about their sexual lives rather than training them in domination and submission.
Perhaps it’s time for some explicit content on love and authentic human connection?
The porn industry must be throwing a fit right now. The adult book Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over twenty million copies in record time, and sales are still going strong. How did E.L. James, a first-time author who was a television executive, manage to pull off a feat that has eluded the porn industry—getting women to see sexual cruelty as hot sex? In my interviews with them, porn producers regularly bemoan the fact that they just can’t seem to make porn that appeals to the majority of women.
I can’t say I am surprised that the normally business-savvy porn industry has been bested by a novice, given the somewhat ridiculous advice Adult Video News (the porn industry’s premier trade) journal offered to pornographers interested in attracting more women to their websites. Arguing that only 15% of Internet porn consumers are women, AVN suggests that to attract women, “adult Webmasters need to create sites where the primary elements are interaction and education.” And what would these sites look like? “Such sites would allow women to obtain advice, perhaps during teleconferences with experts, have elements of cybersex, and should play into women’s relationship fantasies”.
I can’t imagine women flocking to websites where they can get handy hints from experts mid-arousal. But The AVN article did get something right: women are flocking to a book that plays into, and exploits, “women’s relationship fantasies.” The fantasy they recommended, “a story of how a woman got a rich and powerful boyfriend” because she is good in bed, is very close to the formula James followed. But this story line alone isn’t going to sell to women, as the porn industry knows only too well.
While much of the sex in Fifty Shades is as cruel and sadistic as in mainstream porn, it is expertly packaged for women who want a “fairy tale” ending. In male-targeted porn, the woman is interesting only for as long as the sex lasts. Once done with her, the man is onto the next, and the next, and the next.… She is disposable, interchangeable, and easily replaced. No happy ending here for women.
In Fifty Shades, however, the naïve, immature, bland Anastasia is, for some unfathomable reason, the most compelling woman our rich, sadistic, narcissistic hero has ever met, and he not only kisses her during sex (something you rarely see in Internet hardcore porn) but he doesn’t move on to the next conquest once he has had his wicked way with her. In fact, he actually marries her and confesses undying love. As one of the female fans I interviewed said, this is like Pretty Woman all over again.
Indeed, Fifty Shades is about as realistic as Pretty Woman. How many prostitutes do you know who end up living in marital bliss with a former john? I would guess about the same number of women who live happily ever after with a man who dictates, in a written contract, what to eat and wear, and when to exercise, wax, and sleep. In my work, I meet many women who started out like our heroine, only to end up, a few years later, not in luxury homes, but running for their lives to a battered women’s shelter with a couple of equally terrified kids in tow. No happy ending here, either.
In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Mr. Grey is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.
And yet women of all ages are swooning over this guy and misreading his obsessive, cruel behavior as evidence of love and romance. Part of the reason for this is that his wealth acts as a kind of up-market cleansing cream for his abuse, and his pathological attachment to Anastasia is reframed as devotion, since he showers luxury items on her. This is a very retrograde and dangerous world for our daughters to buy into, and speaks to the appalling lack of any public consciousness as to the reality of violence against women.
Fifty Shades also reveals just how pornographic our culture has become over the last decade or so. While the old Harlequin romance novels had narcissistic heroes who toyed, sexually and psychologically, with their much younger prey, however remote and emotionally challenged he was, the hero did not have a torture chamber tucked away in his basement. Fifty Shades of Grey is Harlequin on steroids, a kind of romance novel for the porn age in which overt sexual sadism masquerades as adoration and love. New as this is, the ending remains depressingly the same for real women who end up falling for the Mr. Greys of the world.
GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press). She a founding member of Stop Porn Culture.
Gail Dines is a contributor to Big Porn Inc:Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry (Ed MTR and Dr Abigail Bray, Spinifex Press, 2011).
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