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The “Fifty Shades of Grey” Series Romanticizes Toxic Relationships

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

The movie Fifty Shades of Grey came out about two years ago, and about a month ago Fifty Shades Darker followed suit. Both movies racked up over half a billion dollars. The books have made the all time top-selling book list. I will have to admit, my friend lent me the books two years ago and I have watched both movies. For most avid readers, our all-time wish is to see the books we read transform into great movies. However, I never enjoyed the Fifty Shades of Grey series or movies. Further, I would not consider the Fifty Shades of Grey movies “great.” It may sound hypocritical since I finished the trilogy and watched both movies, but trust me, it was my inner critic and curiosity that motivated me. I was part of my high school’s book club two years ago and there was one girl who was incredibly obsessed with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. One of the teachers that was facilitating the book club mentioned how Fifty Shades of Grey was about an abusive relationship and how it was unhealthy that this young girl was idolizing Ana and Christian Grey’s relationship. That was the moment that triggered my inner critic and curiosity.  

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and movie romanticizes an abusive relationship. When people hear “abuse,” they quickly assume that it must be physical. However, Fifty Shades of Grey was a mix of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Emotional abuse can be characterized as a series of repeated incidents that humiliate, isolate and control/manipulate another person.

Christian Grey is a character that is incredibly obsessed with controlling Ana’s life. For instance, he always wants to be aware of who she is with and where she is, he bought the company she was working at, and has her bank account information without her consent. The trilogy was a constant cycle of Ana and Christian going on extravagant dates, Christian exhibiting possessiveness and jealousy which would lead to tension, Christian taking extreme action (like buying the company she is working at), and then they would make up by having sex. I even remember Christian Grey using the infamous phrase, “Those things won’t happen again.” When Ana tries to address her concerns with him, she is usually ignored. For instance, Ana was incredibly curious about Christian’s past life in general, however, her and the readers/watchers only get a glimpse of his past in the second book and movie. Their relationship lacks basic communication, trust, and understanding. I cannot pinpoint one scene where they had a meaningful conversation that helped the readers/viewers understand the characters. Rather, most conversations were either about jealousy or sex.

Near the end of the trilogy, readers, along with Ana, gain some information about Grey and realize he has some issues which are related to past trauma, abuse, and neglect. The movie and the books throw around the phrase, “he’s changing” a lot and attribute it to Ana being in his life. However, this reiterates the “broken bird” syndrome. Also known as the “broken wing” syndrome, it is when a person is attracted to those in need and to people that can be “fixed.” It is apparent in both the movie and books because the concept of “he’s changing” and you can save him is reiterated by Grey’s mother, friends, and even Ana. The idea of changing someone is not healthy for a relationship because a person shouldn’t ever go into a relationship with the mentality of wanting to change someone. If a person in a relationship is seeking out change and wants the help than sure, however, wanting to “fix” and change someone is unrealistic.

The Fifty Shades of Grey series reinforces a patriarchal relationship and gender norms. To make it brief, patriarchy is mainly about power. Christian Grey reinforces his power into their relationship when he acts as a dominant and treats her as his submissive, which is evident whenever they have sex. Most of the time, they would have sex when Christian wants to. While this does not mean Ana didn’t want to, it was on his terms most of the time. Patriarchy is about control as well, as I’ve mentioned before, Christian constantly wants control over Ana’s life, which includes their sex life. This is evident when it comes down to the lack of consent in the relationship.

Gender norms are reinforced in the series because Christian Grey doesn’t want her to work and would prefer if she stayed home while he makes all the money. Although, this is dramatized in the books and movies it is a subtle reinforcement of gender norms. In addition, he is always paying for everything and would not allow Ana to. Don’t get me wrong, being generous is a good trait to have, however, I would say Christian Grey does not do it out of generosity, rather, it’s another method to enforce his dominance and control. For example, he tries to order for her instead of actually asking her what she would like to eat.

The Fifty Shades of Grey series sensualized a toxic relationship with a paintbrush of “love.” Christian is incredibly possessive. For example, in reference to Ana being in contact with any other men, Grey would be incredibly jealous and has said, “He wants what is mine.” That is not a relationship, but rather ownership. This is also evident in the first movie when Ana was exposed to a contract she had to follow which controlled what she did with her time and body. Grey has an encyclopedia of information on Ana’s past, life, and work history. In contrast, she knows practically nothing about him and he lies by omission. He treats her as an object he owns. This is evident when he tries to control what she eats, what she wears, and where she goes. He tries to buy her forgiveness rather than change his actions. This is another sign of toxicity, because rather than dealing with his actions and communicating, he diverges it by buying her a car, a laptop etc. Therefore, Grey buying her stuff can easily be perceived as him caring and trying to fix things but it’s manipulative. This is dangerous in reality because I’ve heard women justify possessiveness, jealousy, and control in the name of love.

Now onto consent. After reading the books and movies I noticed most of the time they would just start having sex. I noticed the Fifty Shades of Grey series dismisses consent. Whenever they had sex it was usually on Grey’s terms and he was always in control. In most sex scenes in movies, you have something along the lines of two people kissing and then things getting more intimate, they stare into each other’s eyes, the guy or girl asks “Are you sure?” And the person usually nods or says yes. However, in Fifty Shades of Grey I cannot recall one scene where consent was obvious. In a lot of scenes Ana would be naked while Grey had his pants on and BOOM, all of a sudden they are having sex. He would never let her have control. This was evident when she was not allowed to touch him while being intimate. Consent is also non-existent when it comes to Ana’s free will in some scenes.

For instance, Grey usually doesn’t ask Ana to do anything but rather demands it. In Fifty Shades Darker, he told her what to wear and to put ben wa balls in her. I never heard him ask her permission… Not, “oh, you want try this tonight?” I remember I read something that said if Christian Grey was not attractive or incredibly rich, this whole story would be perceived differently. I think that is something to really keep in mind when watching and reading books about relationships and romance. There is nothing romantic about the Fifty Shades of Grey series, but it can perceived as such by a lot of the viewers and readers. This is where it gets problematic. This is where my teacher’s words ring in my head as I think about the people who idolize Ana and Christian’s relationship. It is always important to be critical of what we read and watch and think of the ideologies that are seeping into our conscious as we watch them.


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