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Natalia Paternina

Dr. Jonathan Abel

November 15, 2016

CMLIT 130

Rape Culture and Fifty Shades of Grey

The novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James contains multiple plot elements that

glorify and promote abuse as well as rape culture by making them seem romantic. The

novel includes many instances where the main character, Anastasia, is perceived to be weak

and overly submissive. Christian Grey, the male lead, is also portrayed as the ultimate

Alpha male dream man, who is overly controlling with stalker tendencies. Furthermore,

Anastasias character development throughout the entire novel serves mostly as a way to

redeem Christians character and validate his desire to abuse women. Her entire character is

mostly based off of a gender stereotype that makes women seem like a weak, one-

dimensional being whose only purpose is to please her dominant male partner (Trout).

Possibly the most problematic theme throughout the entire novel (and the next two

novels) is the blatantly abusive and unhealthy relationship between the two main

characters, which is supposed to be perceived as romantic. Christian Grey is exceedingly

controlling throughout the entire novel. He controls when shes allowed to see or visit her

friends, he monitors what she eats, follows her, shows up unannounced at her mothers

house in a different state, and worst of all, tries to take ownership of her body. An example

of this is when Christian organizes an appointment for Anastasia where she is supposed to

get prescribed to birth control pills. Christian: Dr. Green is coming to sort you out.

Ana: Why? Christian: Because I hate condoms. Ana: Its my body. Christian: Its

mine, too. (James). This quote demonstrates how little Christian actually values
Anastasias right to control her own body and have her own opinions. The overall theme of

the novel helps glorify rape culture, which is already exceedingly prevalent in our society.

It helps promote the notion that women are objects that should only exist to please men. It

adds on to a preexisting issue where rapists such as Brock Turner can get away with using

women for their own pleasure and have minimal to no consequences. This normalizing of

rape culture is perhaps one of the reasons why Donald Trump, a man who has made

multiple misogynistic comments and who has been accused of sexual assault, managed to

get elected as the next President. Its works such as Fifty Shades that attempt to glorify and

normalize abuse and rape culture by making it seem romantic.

Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and womens studies at Wheelock College,

reviewed the Fifty Shades trilogy and movie adaptation. Dines argues that Christian Grey

fits the exact personality profile of a predator who lures a nave, inexperienced younger

woman to believe she is consenting to an abusive sexual and emotional relationship

(Dines). Grey preys on Anastasia by impressing her with his wealth and good looks and

then convinces her to sign an emotionally binding contract where he controls multiple

aspects of her life. Similarly, Dr. Denise Cummins, a research psychologist and fellow of

the Association for Psychological Science, explains the appeal and reality behind abusive

relationships such as this one. Christian uses his damaged past as an abused child to

convince Anastasia to do whatever he pleases, even if it makes her uncomfortable. She feels

an overwhelming need to save him from his troubled past, which gives him all the power

in their relationship. At the end of the third novel, James gives both of them a happy

ending, which suggests that women who remain in abusive relationships will eventually

have their own happy ending just by loving their significant other and bearing the blunt

of the abuse. However, as Dr. Cummins reiterates, in real life, most of these abusive
relationships end up either in psychiatrist offices, womens shelters, or the morgue

(Cummins).

Furthermore, James characterization of Anastasia is both harmful and offensive

towards women in society and abuse victims. E.L. James writes Anastasia as being a virgin

who goes through a sexual awakening of sorts. Truthfully, her entire characters arc is used

as a plot device to help support the male character, who is not the protagonist, and his

journey. Some of the sex scenes incorporate acts that are supposed to be seen as erotic, but

in reality appear to be abusive since Anastasia seems to barely tolerate them: And he hits

me again and again. From somewhere deep inside, I want to beg him to stop. But I dont. I

dont want to give him the satisfaction. (James). Later on in the novel, Anastasia stands up

for herself and tells him she doesnt enjoy getting beaten up. Mark Hughes, a writer for

Forbes, highlights how this is supposed to be a major step forward for Anastasia and how

she is finally standing up for herself. While it is absolutely true that Anastasia deserves

basic human decency, the way the novel approaches this could be considered offensive.

E.L. James treats not getting abused by your significant other as a privilege, instead of a

presumed right (Hughes). It makes women appear as emotionally torn people who despite

not enjoying getting abused by their partner, still feel bad for them and contemplate letting

the abuse continue. Its also especially insulting and degrading towards abuse victims, who

genuinely fear for their lives and feel terrified standing up to their abuser, since this novel

romanticizes the actual abuse (Green).

To reiterate, the novel Fifty Shades of Grey inadvertently promotes abusive

relationships by normalizing behavior that is usually perceived as harmful. This particular

characterization of the main characters is also demoralizing towards women and abuse

victims, as well as glorifies the preexisting rape culture in our society.


Works Cited

Cummins, Denise. "What 50 Shades of Grey Tells Us About Women." Psychology Today.

N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Hughes, Mark. "Review - 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Is Abusive Gender Roles Disguised As

Faux-Feminism." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Green, Emma. "Consent Isnt Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades." The Atlantic.

Atlantic Media Company, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Dines, Gail. "Review: Watching 50 Shades of Grey Is Torture." Feminist Current. N.p., 18

Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Trout, Jenny. "Fifty Shades of Grey and the Anti-Feminist Critique." The Huffington Post.

TheHuffingtonPost.com, 06 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

James, E. L. Fifty Shades of Grey. New York: Vintage, 2012. Print.