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Fifty Shades of Grey Controversy

It is a worldwide phenomenon as a book series, it will be a worldwide phenomenon as a movie trilogy, and it is certainly a worldwide controversy. Since British author E.L. James published the first installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy in 2011, it has been a topic of debate in various groups. Newsweek sums up the controversial nature of this series best when they stated “…for every blogger or expert proclaiming Fifty Shades an emancipating tool for women, there’s another decrying it as dangerous trash.” Fifty Shades has fallen under extreme scrutiny due to its supposed inaccurate depiction of BDSM and glorification of domestic violence. Proponents of the trilogy claim that it promotes woman’s sexual exploration and that it puts an end to shaming women into silence over their sex lives.

            The most pressing concern of those against the Fifty Shades trilogy is their conviction that it promotes abuse. This is largely due to the apparent control Christian Grey holds over Anastasia Steele, as well as the enormous gap between their sexual experiences and how Grey supposedly pressures Steele into their sexual relationship. Amy Bonomi, the chair of Michigan State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has been studying Fifty Shades since the book’s publication. She has since concluded that Grey and Steele’s relationship is abusive under guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bonomi states that “this book is perpetuating dangerous abuse standards and yet it’s being cast as this romantic, erotic book for women.” Another criticism of the trilogy is that it is an inaccurate depiction of BDSM. BDSM can be loosely defined as a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, roleplaying, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics. Members of the BDSM community claim that Fifty Shades does not accurately portray this lifestyle and paints it in a potentially negative light. An unnamed member of the BDSM community released a blog post in which he/she stated, “BDSM is a community that believes in safety and comfort. Consent is always necessary, and partners take care of each other. After acts and role-plays, partners comfort each other to help transition out of that zone. Fifty Shades does not include any of this…This book completely throws people who participate in BDSM completely under the bus by misrepresenting BDSM as a whole.” This sentiment is shared by countless other members of the BDSM community, as well as non-members who are knowledgeable of the lifestyle.

            On the opposite side of this battle, proponents are applauding Fifty Shades for starting the conversation about what is considered to be a taboo lifestyle, as well as simply making it easier for women to explore sexual fantasies. Margaret Corvid, a professional dominatrix, states, “Of course, talking freely would be easier in a society without moralism and that’s another reason why I welcome Fifty Shades. It is riddled with problems but if it brings kink out of the dungeon and into the light, that’s probably a good thing.” Corvid makes a point to explain the inaccuracies of BDSM portrayed by Fifty Shades, but she also makes a point to express her gratitude to the trilogy in that it has started a sexual conversation for women everywhere and has brought this taboo topic out of the dark. Another defender of the series is Dakota Johnson, the actress who plays Anastasia Steele on-screen. In an interview, Johnson said, “I know that a lot of people, before seeing the movie, were thinking that maybe it’s promoting abuse and violence, but I think it’s actually doing the opposite. I really don’t think that [Anastasia’s] a weak, submissive victim. I think that she’s a strong woman who is fearlessly exploring herself emotionally and sexually.” Many other women agree with Johnson’s explanation of her character and proclaim that Steele should be considered a heroine of sorts because she is entering a world that is so taboo. Furthermore, proponents of Fifty Shades believe that this book encourage women’s sexual imagination and their right to explore their fantasies and enjoy their sex lives without judgment.

            In my opinion, Fifty Shades does not promote abuse in any way and it is not a how-to-book on BDSM. I find the trilogy to be a mix between an erotic and romantic novel, with a focus on how two people are very much affected and changed by one another, and I think that theme is being lost in this debate over the trilogy’s morality. Yes, there is a strong focus on sex in this book, but there is a more important focus on the character development of Grey and Steele. Not matter how you look at it, Fifty Shades jump-started the conversation on woman’s sexual imagination and the conversations that come with this series is showing women that there is no shame in them thinking or discussing about their sex lives. Women have been shamed into silence over this for centuries and if this series can put an end to that and encourage women to be more open and comfortable with their sexual lifestyle, then I think that’s great. 

Chloe Vickers is a Junior studying Public Communication and Animal Science at UVM. She began writting for Your Style Forecast towards the end of Summer 2014 and began writing for UVM's Chapter of Her Campus shortly after. 
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