A flood of attention has been given to the release of the cinematic version of 50 Shades of Grey. Since that time, social media platforms have been bombarded with articles and debate about the intentions in the story. Dr. Miriam Grossman, a well-known psychiatrist, asserts that the film actually “blurs” the lines between what is healthy and unhealthy in relationships, creating “confusion”. In the midst of this swirling debate, it is crucial that we return to a conversation around the basic rights of every human being.
Every person has a right to his or her own boundaries and to withhold or give consent to another person at their own discretion. Alongside these rights, we have the responsibility to respect the boundaries of others. These principles should be at the very core of every relationship. If someone in a relationship feels devalued by his or her partner, disrespected, or if they have not said, “yes,” to any action, this should be cause for concern. It is not surprising then, that with the presentation of the films there has been escalated discussion about the nature and prevalence of domestic violence.
According to critics, 50 Shades of Grey glamorizes an abusive relationship. In such a relationship, there is a “Honeymoon” phase. The abuser first woos the potential victim with romance and unnatural flawlessness. The next phase, is the tension-building phase. That is, the potential victim begins to feel like they’re walking on eggshells—at any moment, the perfect partner, they have learned to love, may express rage. When tension has built, there is an “incident.” The incident could be physical, emotional, psychological or a combination of each. It may present as yelling, hitting or coercion to sexual actions. This is followed promptly by saying, “I’m sorry” in an attempt to justify the incident and rectify the relationship. At this stage, he or she may attempt to win back affection with gifts and special treatment. The progression of these events is often labeled the Abuse Cycle. These relationships can be identified by signs of isolating behaviour, control, threats, insults, overbearing jealously and much more. To those who are familiar with 50 shades, all of this should sound suspiciously familiar. The relationship between the main characters, Christian and Anastasia, fits the cycle and displays the signs of abuse very accurately.
Brooke Axtell, a survivor of domestic violence and an activist for women fleeing similar situations, spoke about her own story at The GRAMMY Awards this year: “Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse.” Axtell raises a crucial point that should cause us to pause and consider the type of relationship that the film promotes. When we begin to view such relationships as desirable, we are ignoring the fact that abuse is not romantic or authentic, and is definitely not respectful. Let’s not glamorize abuse.