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‘50 Shades’ sparks debate over gender violence

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The movie adaption of the bestselling novel, 50 Shades of Grey, was officially released last week amidst a heap of controversy. Despite the book’s widespread success, the story has been slated for what many see as a promotion of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Despite receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, this has done little to stop moviegoers flocking to watch the much anticipated film.

The controversial story tells the tale of a female protagonist, Anastasia Steele, who enters into a BDSM-centric relationship with a wealthy businessman. This means that the fundamentals of the relationship include bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism.

Gender rights activist, Lisa Vetten said that whilst the majority of people may frown upon BDSM, the fact that it was consensual meant that it could be considered an acceptable practice in today’s society. However in the case of 50 Shades of Grey, there were several more disturbing aspects to the central character’s relationship.

“Initially one can see that Anastasia Steele is not that into the relationship, and this man makes her a little bit frightened. I think the relationship is almost how he harasses her into it, in quite a coercive way. This wouldn’t suggest this is a genuine BDSM relationship,” she explained.

According to activist Taryn Hodgson, the film markets rape as romance. In a letter published in the Cape Argus, she described it as the “worst pornographic glamourisations of sexual violence to be released on the big screen”.

“Christian Grey, the main male character in the book/movie, uses manipulation, jealousy, intimidation and violence to control the naive Ana. Ana is depicted as being young and innocent. Although her given age is 21, her true emotional age is much younger. The film thus subtly promotes paedophilia,” she wrote.

“It glamourises rape and the abuse of women and says women should enjoy it. If you take away the glamour, Fifty Shades is just a sensationalised lie, telling women that they can, and should, fix violent and controlling men by being obedient and devoted, and that, somehow, abuse is romantic.”

Vetten said the story also showed characteristics often seen and associated with abusive relationships. This was that some women would ignore the abuses suffered, believing they could help fix the man, or help them overcome their emotional difficulties. She labeled such aspects ‘unhealthy’.

“I think this idea that women should be sort of social workers and fix them, while quite an appealing one, it is not a very helpful at all,” she stated.

Despite only being released on Friday, the movie adaption has already been an enormous success. Local cinema company, Ster Kinekor recorded its highest sales for a single day, thanks largely to its screening of the movie on Valentine’s Day.

According to Vetten, the reason the movie was gaining such traction was that the story was one that played to the excitement of many women. She added that it was important to examine why so many females responded to such forms of dominance.

“I think it is worth us trying to look and understand why that particular fantasy is so attractive to women, and why it speaks to them,” she said.

“It would be beneficial for us to think about what other sexual material one could use or create that does reach to them, which includes less unhealthy relationships at their core.”

Vetten said such literary material could be considered relatively safe, as it provided people a chance to explore different aspects of their sexuality in a fictitious space. This was provided people not confuse it with what relationships should be like in real life.

But Hodgson argued that this sort of depiction should not be taken lightly. Pornography, through the portrayal of violent sex and degradation, has is a contributing factor to rape culture.

“While millions of women are fantasizing about the controlling and abusive Christian Grey of fiction, many other women are dealing with the horrors of living with males like him.” VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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