Why the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Trilogy Is an Ode to the Idea of Consent

That’s the headline that was used for quite possibly the worst of all takes on the 50 Shades of Grey franchise. Just read over that again and if you’ve seen the 50 Shades movies (Or read my reviews for Darker or Freed) then you’ll begin to notice why I was laughing uncontrollably reading this. I want to state, for the record, I have no ill will towards Variety or the author, I’ve got a sickening feeling this is something written either out of naivety or the studio paid for it in order to try and distract from the narrative but here’s the thing, either way, this isn’t OK and so I’m going to go through the article and list all the problems with it… because clearly, someone has to.

All quotes are taken directly from the article linked to at the top of this post, credit for it goes to Variety and the author Amy Nicholson.

Five months into the #MeToo movement, the franchise finale “Fifty Shades Freed” is hitting theaters — and despite our mental image of Dakota Johnson’s submissive Miss Steele, she might be a role model for the moment.

The role model for the #MeToo movement is not a 21-year-old Literature student who allowed a wealthy rich attractive man to use her purely for his sexual needs and treats her like little more than property. I may not be an expert but I dare say that such a role should be played by… not someone who is submitting to an emotionally abusive relationship.

For all the eye-rolling that E.L. James’ hugely popular novels were a paean to old-fashioned romances where a girl married a man who took care of all of her needs, from new cell phones and laptops to a trip in his private plane, they’re strikingly modern in their insistence on hearing a woman say yes or no.

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OK for starters, that’s exactly what the novels are but about that insistence on hearing a woman saying yes or no… what is neglected here is mentioning Grey’s reaction to those words. Using the source Fifty Shades of Regret I found a few choice quotes from the book to point out why this is the worst of all takes.

From the contract negotiation:-

“I want you to follow the Rules–all the time. Then I know you’ll be safe, and I’ll be able to have you anytime I wish.”
“And if I break one of the Rules?
“Then I’ll punish you.”
“But won’t you need my permission?
“Yes, I will.”
“And if I say no?”
He gazes at me for a moment, with a confused expression.
If you say no, you’ll say no. I’ll have to find a way to persuade you.”

The last line makes one thing clear about this relationship… no doesn’t mean no. It reminds me of a sketch from Family Guy where they parodied James Bond’s attitude towards women.

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This is what Christian Grey actually believes.

From Fifty Shades Darker Chapter 11, Grey has just pulled out a large perspex ruler after bending Anastasia over the billiards table.

“I want to be quite rough with you, Ana. You’ll have to tell me to stop if it’s too much,” he breathes.
Oh my. He kisses me . . . there. I moan softly.
“Safe word?” I murmur.
“No, no safe word, just tell me to stop, and I’ll stop. Understand?” He kisses me again, nuzzling me. Oh, that feels good. He stands, his stare intense. “Answer me,” he orders his voice velvet soft.

Whoa, please don’t be anxious, Christian. “I’ll tell you. No safe word,” I reiterate to reassure him.
“We’re lovers, Anastasia. Lovers don’t need safe words.” He frowns. “Do they?”

There’s a paragraph between these two that just talks about dropping hints but let’s go over this. For starters, this is a moment where the power of the safe word is now being removed. This is the second book and by this point, that word should have power and be even more important than Stop between them and yet not only does Grey take that word away, he destroys it forever with “Lover’s don’t need safe words” and frowns, emotionally guilt tripping Ana into being beaten. I’m not a BDSM expert but I’m going to hazard a wild guess here, actual people who do BDSM do not treat safe words like this because they’re kind of important.

From the book 50 Shades Freed, towards the very end.

“Don’t even think about it, Grey,” I whisper menacingly.
“You’re my wife,” he says softly, threateningly.
“I’m the pregnant woman you abandoned yesterday, and if you touch me I will scream the place down.”
His eyebrows rise in disbelief. “You’d scream?”
“Bloody murder.” I narrow my eyes.
“No one would hear you,” he murmurs, his gaze intense….

…Yeah, this book is truly modern in its insistence on hearing a woman say yes or no. Just a pity that her partner in the book doesn’t give a damn if she says no.

Do I even need to keep going? The article claims that this book cares about if Ana says yes or no but even a cursory read shows that it’s not consistent on that, it’s selective as hell. Am I being selective? Yeah, but the fact I could produce these examples with barely any effort shows that “Yes” and “No” are not absolutes in this series, and for this point to mean anything they have to be absolutes.

 

Back to the article

Christian is tyrannical and controlling. Yet, in “Fifty Shades Freed,” Ana dominates.

No, she doesn’t. She defies Grey, they state this explicitly throughout the film and every time she does she get’s punished in some form. Take her top off on the beach? Punished on the boat shortly after, also screamed at by Grey. Get’s drunk with her friend? Vibrator torture to pay for that, this is also a day after she’s been held at knifepoint. Kicks him out of her office? There’s a scene not too long after that. She’s not dominating him, she’d defying him and in return, he causes her pain. He’s just lucky she’s either into the pain or into the status that being married to a rich guy has permitted her to have otherwise it would not be happening. It’s a cliche joke, but it’s true. If Chrisitan Grey were not hot and rich, he’d be in prison.

The movie, like every “Shade” movie, has been ridiculed by critics because, frankly, girl-beds-BDSM-billionaire is a ridiculous premise

…No, Critics ridicule these movies because they’re poorly written and poorly acted and actively contributes to a culture that treats women as objects to be fucked and treated like property. The premise is one that is old as dirt, E.L. James just threw in spanking and isn’t a good writer so we mock her for that.

Over the three installments, Johnson’s Anastasia blooms from awkward naive young woman to powerful feminist.

She goes from naive young woman to naive slightly older woman. An actual feminist would’ve shoved a dildo up Grey’s ass and told him to fuck off with his controlling bullshit, before taking the jaguar and going out for drinks with her friends because she’s her own woman and not Grey’s property. Her final act in the final movie is literally giving up her sense of ownership and presenting herself to Grey in a manner he specifically enjoys that she knows will end in her physical harm, shortly after her own personal trauma. She doesn’t get any actual pleasure from the BDSM part, merely the sex part and the beatings are just how she helps Grey get his rocks off. So, yeah, no.

“I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia,” whispered Christian in the original film. “Not until I have your written consent to do so.” Yes, written. An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to Christian and Ana’s sexual contract negotiation: 21 clauses, 24 bullet points, and five appendixes, including a list of approved foods.

The chapter in question is chapter 7 where the contract is laid out in detail and guess what? She doesn’t sign it in that chapter. You know how that chapter ends? With her saying she’s a virgin and then this specific line.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?” he growls.

He is angry at Anastasia for not telling him she’s a virgin. Surely this means that he’s going to do the right thing and just treat her to a date, slowly get her used to him and… no, no the next chapter is him taking her virginity without her explicit written consent. Sure, she goes along with it, but let’s not pretend for a moment that this is actually consensual. Again…

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She is pestered about how she hasn’t had sex and instead of saying something like “Can I be your first?”, Grey demands that they deal with it. She literally asks him why he’s angry at her because his reaction to this news would be like how most men react to news that they’ve been cheated on. She only actually says ‘Yes’, giving him permission, AFTER he’s kissed her and bit her lip and I’m sorry but the deal was that he wouldn’t touch her until after she signed the contract. Let’s just call it what it is, he’s dominating her from the second they meet, she just happens to have not screamed no yet.

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The next several paragraphs of the article are about the history of the ‘bodice ripper’ novels and I can’t comment as I know nothing of those so I’m only leaping back in at the last hurdle to bring this baby home.

In fact, at the start of “Fifty Shades Freed,” Anastasia has already won one of #MeToo’s most important fights. Ana’s male boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who stalked and attacked her in “Fifty Shades Darker” has been fired for sexual harassment, and she’s taken his job.

She takes his job because Grey owns the company. The only reason Jack was fired at all is explicitly that Anastasia was having a relationship with his boss. That’s it, this isn’t about her revealing what happened to someone in authority. This isn’t a #MeToo moment, this is Anastasia being assaulted and getting her boyfriend (The boss) to fire Jack… If you think that’s how those fights are meant to go, you do not understand anything.

Jack will return, of course, whining about the humiliation of his wrecked life.

His whining will be aimed at Grey, because that’s who has the life Jack believes he should have.

It’s no spoiler to say Anastasia triumphs. She always does. And hopefully for other women who’ve faced down similar bad bosses, her victory won’t just be a fantasy.

…Anastasia is almost kidnapped and held at knifepoint before her attacker is taken to jail. At his bond hearing, he is given a half a million dollar bond, which he somehow makes, and is out and kidnaps Grey’s sister. He called Ana and demands she get him 5 million in cash, which she does and is taken to him by another victim of Jack’s who he blackmailed to work with him on this plan. While Grey is following (Because he tracked Anastasia’s phone), Ana is taken to Jack and is punched and kicked, including a kick to her stomach WHILE SHE IS PREGNANT! She shoots him in the leg but is seriously wounded and has to be taken to the hospital. She has no idea if Jack’ll get off since he got off last time with 2 security guards witnessing his attempted abduction, and she now spends her life as nothing more than Grey’s sex slave because the relationship they have is about him and not her. #Victory

If you think Anastasia Steele is a feminist icon, you either do not know a thing about the character of Anastasia Steele or you do not know what a feminist icon looks like. Anastasia is a victim who has surrendered to a relationship of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and in no way should the facade of yelling “Red” be confused with actual goddamn consent.

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