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.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the recent sentencing of Daniel Morcombe’s killer along with the imprisonment last week of former television star Robert Hughes after being found guilty of nine sex offense against three underage girls, have all heightened public attention on the scourge of child sexual assault.
There is deep distress in the community that defenceless children are used in such evil ways. But the broader culture that encourages the abuse of the children goes unaddressed. The same loathing that is directed toward child sexual abuse has not been extended to the mainstream promotion of paedophilic fantasies for profit.
Predators are emboldened and more networked through thriving internet child porn rings. But there are other drivers of the trade in children’s bodies. Products in local newsagencies, milk bars and retail outlets and online, normalise and eroticise child sexual assault.
Bookworld, Barnes & Noble and Amazon have been exposed for selling hundreds of rape and incest titles in categories emphasising terms like “taboo,” “forced,” and “reluctant.” Titles included Daddy takes my Virginity, Daddy forces himself on little teen, Daddy’s Sex Slave and I tempted Daddy.
On the same site as Bookworld’s Father and Daughter Erotica section, was Repair Your Life: A Program for Recovery from Incest and Childhood Abuse. There are currently 30 titles listed under ‘‘Daddy Fantasy’’.
Amazon was forced to withdraw The Paedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Childlover’s Code of Conduct, written by a paedophile. But other pro-paedophile titles continue to be promoted.
Novels with incest themes typically eroticise sex between an older male relative, a father or sometimes uncle, and a young, virginal daughter or niece. We know that the prevalence of abuse by men known to victims, such as family members, is particularly high. So why allow publications that normalise it? Read more
As published in the Sydney Morning Herald 14 April 2014
A 15-year-old boy confided in me after I addressed his class at a Sydney school last year. He cried as he told me he had been using porn since the age of nine. He didn’t have a social life, had few friends, had never had a girlfriend. His life revolved around online porn. He wanted to stop, he said, but didn’t know how.
I have had similar conversations with other boys since then.
Girls also share their experiences. Of boys pressuring them to provide porn-inspired acts. Of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy. Of seeing sex in terms of performance. Girls as young as 12 show me the text messages they routinely receive requesting naked images.
Pornography is invading the lives of young people – 70 per cent of boys and 53.5 per cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
This is an unprecedented experiment on the sexual development of young people. The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16, according to a study behind the book The Sex Lives of Australian Teenagers, by Joan Sauers.
The 2012 report of Britain’s Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn had a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image. Cross-country studies link teens’ frequent consumption of porn with acceptance of sexual harassment and forcing someone into sex.
The globalisation of pornographic imagery has led to destructive ideas about sex. This is canvassed in the documentary Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, which screened on SBS Two on Friday night and will be repeated on August 15 on SBS One). Co-directed by Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, the film draws on interviews with 75 young people.
It shows how healthy sexual exploration is distorted in a pornified world. The importance of consent and respect has become clouded. Boys are imitating what they see online and find that girls don’t always groan with pleasure at porn-styled sexual pounding.
According to a 2010 content analysis of the most popular porn, 88 per cent of scenes included acts of physical aggression and 48 per cent of scenes contained verbal aggression. In 94 per cent of cases, the aggression was directed towards women who were often shown enjoying it.
Jake, 18, says of his first sexual experience at 15: ”First time I had sex, because I’d watched so much porn, I thought all chicks dig this, all chicks want this done to them … all chicks love it there. So I tried all this stuff and, yeah, it turned out bad …
”When a guy watches porn: ‘that’s hot, I want to try that. You, do this, this and this,’ you know what I mean? And they will just keep pressuring and pressuring. I’ve got mates who do it. They will tell you, ‘Yeah, she didn’t want to at first but I just kept hounding her and hounding her and finally she let me …”’
The level of disempowerment in the girls is disheartening. Disconnected from their own sense of pleasure and intimacy, they often pretend to like certain acts to keep a boy happy. Often he doesn’t even ask permission.
Sara, 20, says, ”Girls, they love it in porn, so maybe boys think that girls like that and, you know, when you love someone, you know, you’re always willing to just … make them happy. [if] I’m in love, then I’ll do it for you and I’ll pretend that I like it … And in the end … I just became an object … ”
Porn has also contributed to body-image dissatisfaction. Boys think they need bigger penises. Girls have their pubic hair removed because boys who regularly consume porn think it’s disgusting. Sara says: ”[Porn stars] are really pretty … like they’ve got gigantic breasts and … perfectly moulded vaginas … my body does not look like that.”
Co-director Crabbe says what was most striking to her in making the film was the pressure porn put on young people.
”Young people are receiving very unhelpful messages about what it means to be a man, or a woman, and about sexuality,” she says. ”It’s selling sexuality short. Where do young people find mutually consenting, pleasurable experiences of sexuality in a culture in which the porn industry has such a powerful voice?”
One sign of hope is the young people who want just that. They have a desire for something better than what porn offers, a quest for authentic intimacy and love. As Joel says: ”It is all about being close to that person and showing them how much you love them.”
Addressing the myths of the prostituted Asian woman
On July 3 the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article titled ‘Low prices fuel exotic sex trade’ . Accompanied by an alluring photo and informing us that prostitutes from Asian backgrounds offer more exotic services than their Caucasian counterparts and for less money, it read almost like an advertisement for buying sex from Asian women. ‘Cut price Asian women, will do anything you want – get yours now!’ I thought it warranted a response so asked Caroline Norma, a lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University, and a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, to respond.
University of NSW researcher Christine Harcourt is a long-time campaigner for the legalisation of prostitution. She recently appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald to announce the fact that Asian women are ‘very much in demand’ for prostitution in Australia because they are ‘very attractive’ and are ‘very good at their work’.
Harcourt’s comments were reported in explanation of the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission’s finding that 20 per cent of that state’s legal brothels were staffed exclusively by Asian-born women.
Harcourt expressed a view that appears to be commonly held in Australia: that the overrepresentation of Asian women in the sex industry here is simply a product of the innate nature of Asian women: they love to serve men submissively and sexually, and are cunning in their ability to out-gun Aussie women in the sex industry and bring down prices and standards.
In Harcourt’s view of the world, no-one should be alarmed at the fact that Asian women are filling up Australian brothels at a rapid rate. The inherent suitability of Asian women for prostitution is a belief that underlies this view, and short-circuits any discussion of the possibility that Asian women here might be victims of trafficking, sexual slavery, or even just extreme levels of hardship and adversity.
The Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon Kate Ellis MP, recently gave $50,000 to the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance to run a campaign to highlight the adversity that migrant women face in Australia. This is a wonderful project that will make a difference to the lives of newly arriving women. I wonder, though, with academics like Harcourt producing research in the area, whether the government is really able to perceive of the true extent of the adversity that migrant women face in Australia, given its continuing denial of the reality of trafficking of women from overseas into the sex industry here.
When public servants fund good initiatives like this, don’t they feel any sense of incongruity about the number of Asian women they allow to languish in Australia’s sex industry? Don’t they feel any pangs of conscience about how openly pimps sell Asian women on the back pages of local newspapers in Victoria, NSW, the ACT and Queensland?
Bureaucrats need only check out brothel websites to see the extent of the trade in Asian women. In Brisbane, there’s a legal brothel called Miso Honey that advertises
all Asian flavours including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and more. If you’re looking for a submissive Japanese girls [sic], or a totally dominant Taiwanese terror, look no further.
Miso Honey is not the only brothel running a profitable trade in Asian women. According to a 2010 CSIRO-published report, over 54 per cent of women in prostitution in Western Sydney were born overseas. A study done in Western Australia in the same year found 29 per cent of women in prostitution were from non-English speaking countries. In Sydney’s brothels, 53 per cent of women are from Asia.
A Victorian report from 2009 records the stories of adversity that lie behind the grim statistics. One wonders what the Office for the Status of Women would think about the adversity facing a Laotian woman, ‘Minh Ha’, who works in a legal brothel in Melbourne. According to researchers, she
works in the sex industry two days a week at a licensed brothel…She works four or five nights a week in the hospitality industry. She works days at the brothel, picks up her children and oversees homework, then works at the restaurant in the evening. Minh Ha… migrated to Australia after she married…She is 41 years old. Her marriage recently broke down because her husband was violent; she currently has an AVO against him…She is now responsible for supporting her five children. She approached a customer she knew at her hospitality job to ask for a loan…[he] said Minh Ha would need to commit to working in ‘massage’; but Minh Ha suspected that sex work was being proposed. She transitioned reasonably quickly to full service in a licensed brothel. While she says “some workers enjoy this job,” Minh Ha does not.
While Minh Ha might not technically have been trafficked into Melbourne’s sex industry, in terms of ‘adversity’ there is not much to distinguish her case from the descriptions of actual sex trafficking that are contained in the report. Another woman told researchers, for example, that there
are a lot of Korean-owned shops here…[and] a lot of Korean workers end up in them. The treatment there is not very good compared with the other shops…Girls are ignorant, they don’t know and they are concerned about the debts they have to pay off through the agent. These are legal brothels. They are very strict and a lot of people work there [to pay off debts]. You have to provide more of a service.
Governments in Asia are aware of the problem that Australia poses in the region in terms of sex trafficking. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade hosts pre-departure training for its nationals participating in working holiday programs to Australia on their vulnerability to sex trafficking (US State Department, 2011, p. 218). In 2005, the Seoul Metropolitan Police arrested seven people on charges of arranging for 38 women to be trafficked abroad. One of the victims, a 28-year-old woman who had been trafficked to Australia, told police that brothel owners had exploited her throughout her stay, and she had been trafficked to pay a KRW70 million debt owing to her pimp in Seoul. She told police she was used by five customers a day in Australia (Sohn Hae-yong, ‘Prostitutes leave Korea to work,’ 23 February 2005, JOONAI).
The Australian government continues to close its eyes to the fact its domestic sex industry causes serious harm and adversity to women newly arriving in this country. It continues to allow pimps to legally sell women for prostitution in most Australian states under advertisements that use words like ‘oriental’, ‘Asian’, and ‘Far Eastern’. The only thing the Victorian government has done in response to research showing evidence of trafficking in Melbourne is to require brothels to display anti-sex slavery signs in their waiting rooms.
Compare this to action taken by the UK government in 2009 when a Home Affairs Committee report revealed that 80 per cent of women in off-street prostitution in the country were foreign nationals, and that there were approximately 5000 victims of trafficking in the UK at any one time. In response to this finding, the government passed a law that criminalised the buying of trafficked women for prostitution. This law requires defendants to prove they had no knowledge of a person having been trafficked.
We might wonder why the Australian government seems unable to see signs of adversity where Asian women are advertised for sexual sale. The answer to this question might be found in an observation made by Melba Marginson in 1996. Marginson is the national coordinator of the Centre for Philippine Concerns in Australia. She noted that Australian men viewed Asian women as ‘manipulative, sexually adventurous, whore, prostitute, gold-digger, materialistic and use foreign men as a ‘passport’ out of their destitute lives’ (Not the Same, 1996, p. 18).
By failing to see the adversity that the sex industry inflicts on women who newly arrive in Australia, the government institutionalises this inhuman view, and fails in its duty of care to women who come here from overseas in the most vulnerable of circumstances.
I’m pondering how it is that the Sydney Morning Herald decided to run this piece yesterday headed ‘True to form the drama queens have been holding court again.’
Robert Grant, for AAP – a news service I usually respect – describes how female players really aren’t very good. They are boring to watch, their matches ‘dreary’, but their off-court actions make it all worthwhile. In fact, it is their drama queen behaviour which justifies them being allowed to play at all.
But the women fully deserve their place in the game because they provide off-court entertainment that the men seem intent on avoiding. And they have proved that, while the matches might be a dreary string of error-ridden statistics, women have given us wonderful tales.
Grant then goes onto list all these off-court antics, seemingly oblivious to male players like John McEnroe and others whose behaviour has been far from immaculate over the years.
And what’s with including Kim Clijsters in the drama queen roll call? Clijsters was not being a drama queen when she exposed Channel 7′s Australian Open commentator Todd Woodbridge for his texts to a former number one woman player, in which he said he thought Clijsters was pregnant because she seemed grumpy and her ‘boobs looked bigger’.
Why is he checking out her breasts in the first place?
What Clijsters did deserves to be commended not made fun of in a mocking article. She nailed Woodbridge with style, grace, and humour.
We Heart: Kim Clijsters
This is how Clijster’s actions were characterised on the Ms blog:
Just after tennis player Kim Clijsters beat her opponent in the Australian Open, she scored a major victory for the women of the world. Read the rest here.
But it’s the 21st century and we’re still putting up with true to form articles like that by Robert Grant.
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