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“Fifty Shades of Grey” is About Women’s Empowerment

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Western chapter.

I feel as though I will be the first to admit that I am not ashamed to be a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey series. I will not label it as a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty about loving it. I read all of the books when they first became popular, saw the first movie, had the second movie’s release date set as a reminder in my phone for nearly two years, bought my ticket two weeks in advance for opening night, and then saw it twice in the first week that it came out.

And every time I did one of these things, or talked about doing these things, everyone would get this judgemental, embarrassed-for-me look in their eyes that used to make me blush and stop talking mid-sentence as though I was doing something wrong.

Now, however, after having this argument countless times, I’ve accepted that I may never be able to convince people that Ana and Christian’s story is more than porn. I’ve accepted that many people will never be able to understand the love I have for the characters, their chemistry, and, most of all, their incredible story.

So, here, I would like to state my case, once and for all: Fifty Shades is not porn and it is not rape and it most definitely is not a woman simply submitting to the first guy to give her the time of day. This story is about love and struggle, and empowering women to embrace their bodies and their sexualities.

If people bothered to read the books or watch more than just the movie trailers (which focus on the sex scenes to make people want to see the movie – it’s called good marketing!) before dismissing it, they would see that this love story may just be one of the great ones, right there alongside Romeo and Juliet or Carrie and Mr. Big or Jack and Rose.

From the beginning, it is made very clear that Ana is the one with all the power, in and out of the bedroom. A friend of mine was telling me the other day about an argument she was having with her friend who said that the story was entirely about rape, and my first, stunned, reaction was “are you kidding me?” Christian, the Dominant, is only allowed to do things that Ana agrees to. Realistically, he probably gets more consent from his sexual partners than most people in real life do – have you read that contract?! It is thorough!

Yes, Ana loses her virginity shortly after meeting him and does pretty much everything he wants her to do, but it’s because she wants those things too. When she meets him, she knows that she is ready to have sex and, when she meets the Dominant side of him, though it shocks her at first, she agrees to try because she loves him. Christian never pressures her into anything she doesn’t want to do and makes it clear that she can leave whenever she wants.

I don’t know much about the world of BDSM (nothing, actually, except what I’ve learned from this series) but I imagine that, for the consenting participants, it would be a very freeing experience, being able to explore your sexuality in such an intense, yet safe, space. I don’t know that I would personally be into it, but I can understand the logic behind wanting to try those things, and it frustrates me to no end when people completely reject the idea that this could be something that real people take part in, and enjoy. Why are we degrading the real people (but women especially) that do take part in this kind of sexual activity?

Why is Ana the one that gets most of the criticism for participating in these activities “just so the guy will stick around” when she realized that she actually enjoyed this kind of sex (and had to convince Christian into doing it again after their breakup)? Has anyone noticed how defiant, sassy, and independent Ana really is? She knows it and Christian certainly knows it, but it’s everyone else that seems to miss, or ignore, that part of the story.

Aside from the sexual aspect of their relationship, Ana is still always in control (even if neither of them know it), even when Christian tries to boss her around. From the get-go, Christian knows that she is different from the others, but he still tries to maintain control because that’s who he is. He’s willing to give it all up, however, when it seems as though he’s going to lose her. Much of their story is about finding their way to that balance of control between two partners (but isn’t that like everyone else’s relationship?). Why, in 2017, are we still telling people that there is a right and wrong way to love someone, and shaming people for the things they’re interested in?

When talking to one of my friends about the movies, our conversation ultimately led to her saying, “I can’t believe they gave Ana a fake bush; it’s 2017!” and my first thought was “why did you just assume that it was fake?” And my second thought was “why is that so unbelievable?” Why, in 2017 as she so clearly pointed out, is female pubic hair a topic to be considered with disgust and judgement? Why are women judged based on whether or not they keep this completely natural body part? I think it was an incredibly brave decision to include it in the film when this kind of reaction was expected. In an interview with Mirror, when asked, quite condescendingly I might add, if she was “body confident,” Dakota Johnson (who plays Ana) responded:

“I was brought up to respect myself and be comfortable and confident. I always admired that in other women, I always was attracted to those who were not ever worrying about what other people think. I was also brought up in an environment where it’s more important to be interesting than pretty.”

Being with Christian gave Ana a confidence (sexually and mentally) in her own body that she never had before, and I just can’t understand why it matters so much how she got there. If there’s one thing that Christian taught her, it’s that she should never be ashamed of her body, and I think we could all use a little bit of that kind of encouragement.

I’m sure I’ll get a lot of backlash from this article, even from people I know and love telling me that I’m wrong and misguided, and I’m prepared for that, but I just want people to see that there is so much more to their story than just the sex. Even if this article doesn’t convince anyone to do a complete one-eighty, which I don’t expect it to, I hope it at least reaches a few who decide to give the story a fair chance before condemning it.

EL James showed the world (even though most of the world criticised her for it) that it’s okay for women to be confident in their bodies and have hair in whatever places they want, that it’s okay for women to want and enjoy sex just as much as men, and that love comes in infinite forms and it’s not for us to decide which of those forms are acceptable and which are not.

I am a freshmen at the University of Western Ontario in the Arts and Humanities program. I think I am going to major in English Literature, and after I complete my undergrad, I am hoping to go to Law School. Books have always been my safe place, my escape from the real world - I have always been more of a reader, but with this new phase of my life starting, I decided to try my hand at writing. I guess we're about to find out how that goes.
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