50 Shades provides warped perspective of female sexual empowerment

Disclaimer: I have had minimal exposure to both the book and movie Fifty Shades of Grey. I have, however, read a lot of literature both on the consumption and the emotional abuse within the novel and film. I will not share information about the plot, nor will I critique the writing. This article is an opinion about being critical consumers of the novel and movie.

Fifty Shades of Grey premiered on Valentine’s Day to mixed responses. It made $95 million within the first four days of opening in the United States. This qualifies as huge success, but many have boycotted the film for its twisted depiction of BDSM Bondage/ Discipline/Dominance/Submission/Sadism/Masochism and the emotionally abusive relationship between main characters Anna Steele and Christian Grey.

Both the film and book sell sex and are being primarily consumed by women, leading many to call them “mommy porn.” In this sense, Fifty Shades of Grey is groundbreaking. When was the last time that women have been consuming erotic fiction and film in public? Yeah, I can’t think of one either. Popular media has time and time again made erotic images for men. Fifty Shades of Grey proves that women desire the same kind of erotic entertainment. This a moment where women are grabbing hold of and exploring their sexuality, which is incredible.

However, just because the film and novel create a space for women to explore their sexuality does not mean that the media’s results and effects should be ignored. Only weeks after the movie opened, a news story emerged about a college student who raped a fellow student and said that he was reenacting Fifty Shades of Grey in doing so. This kind of violent sexual behavior will continue if consumers aren’t critical of the book and movie’s content. Before the movie came out, people within the BDSM community said that the book did not follow code. Misinterpretation of media can lead to perpetuation of negative ideas and practices.

Many people have poked fun at Fifty Shades of Grey, while others have denounced it for its emotionally abusive relationship. The blog 50shadesofabuse.wordpress.com used to have a chapter-by-chapter break down of all the trigger warnings within the novel. Unfortunately, because of death threats and copyright issues, the blog had to take them down. It has kept the links to resources on the side for people who have experience with emotional and sexual abuse.

Women want to express their sexuality and this is a good thing, but how we do it is much more important. We are in charge of the world we create, so let’s make it safe.

There are many questions to ask before taking both the novel and film at face value. For instance, what are the guidelines for BDSM? What are critics saying on both sides of the story? How do I recognize signs of emotional/sexual abuse? How can I be sexually responsible and aware of my partner’s needs?

By asking the right questions we can be sexually well informed consumers who are critical of what popular media gives us.

Cynthia Zapata ’16 zapata@stolaf.edu is from Apple Valley, Minn. She majors in English and race and ethnic studies.