50 shades of domestic abuse? Women deserve better


Domestic violence is not sexy; it’s dehumanizing.

How do we instill that message in the minds of women and men who have gobbled up the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy and the subsequent movie which debuted Valentine’s Day weekend? That it’s not acceptable for a man to inflict pain on a woman — and it is not acceptable as a form of entertainment.

It’s a tough sell. The movie, based on the book trilogy, has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, 10 million in the U.S. alone, and has been translated into 52 languages, according to Religious Alliance Against Pornography. The popularity of “Fifty Shades” fuels acceptance of domestic violence whether or not readers and viewers admit it.

“Fifty Shades” focuses on the relationship between Christian Grey, a wealthy and successful Seattle-based entrepreneur, and Anastasia Steele, a recent college graduate with apparently low self-esteem. Religious Alliance says the story is presented as a romance novel, but the content conveys a message that bondage, dominance and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable.


“The Fifty Shades of Grey book series and franchise promote torture as sexually gratifying and normalize domestic violence, particularly violence against women. This type of material cultivates a rape and sexual violence culture and is now permeating our society,” states the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in its initiative to boycott the film (see http://endsexualexploitation.org/fiftyshadesgrey).

Rather than paying for the movie ticket, the center advises donating to domestic violence shelters and provides access to a list. In Iowa, go to: http://www.womenshelters.org/sta/iowa.

Or publicize the movie’s destructive message and highlight the beauty of God’s design for a loving relationship between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. That suggestion comes from Religious Alliance in a statement signed by religious leaders of different faiths, including Catholics.

“[W]e as bishops have spoken with a united voice against domestic violence, and in particular, violence against women,” observed Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., one of the statement’s signers. The movie’s debut, he added, is a good time to “remind the faithful of the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation.”

But first, let’s eliminate the conflicting signals our society transmits about morality.

We decry sexual slavery as an element of human trafficking and hold seminars to raise awareness and to stop it. At the same time, millions pay to read books such as Fifty Shades of Grey (whose male protagonist demands subservience) and purchase access to the movie. The movie’s trailer portrays two attractive, young adults drawn to each other. Staccato flashes of bondage and a whip poised on a woman’s back, but not striking it. It suggests erotica, not the violence required to achieve it.

We teach our children from an early age to respect their bodies, but fail to teach them to respect others’ bodies. Fifty Shades’ Christian Grey has no interest in respecting his conquest’s body. It’s all about his self-gratification. He is the center of the universe. That’s our fault. We make our children the center of the universe, but what do we teach them about self-respect? Not enough if we acknowledge a hook-up culture that views sex as an intramural sport.

As an antidote to Fifty Shades, a movie titled “Old Fashioned” debuted the same Valentine’s Day weekend. The movie and book based on it depict an “old-fashioned and God-honoring courtship in contemporary America.”

A companion book, “The Old Fashioned Way,” seeks to reclaim the lost art of romance. The author observes that we’ve lost “respect for ourselves and who we are in Christ.” Without that understanding, “we may struggle with respecting ourselves and confidently requiring that others respect us. We deserve to be treated with respect and honor because we are made in God’s image.…”

We’ve got a lot of educating and role-modeling to do, beginning at home. In the meantime, write a letter to the editor; make a donation to a domestic violence shelter; see the movie Old Fashioned. Spread the word: Domestic abuse isn’t sexy; it’s dehumanizing.

Barb Arland-Fye

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