When Abuse is Normalized

Every Saturday after the kids go to bed my husband and I rent a movie to maintain some resemblance of being a couple outside of being parents.  Last weekend I made the terrible choice of choosing Manchester By the Sea.  If you love feeling like an open wound, freshly salted, then it's the movie for you!  If not, then move on.  So this weekend we chose Fifty Shades of Grey thinking it would be a cheesy but fun movie. 

To be clear: two consenting adults engaging in dominant-submissive behavior can be a positive and pleasurable part of a relationship. 

To be extra clear--that is not what was going on in this movie.

There are about 1 million articles written on how this movie got it right or wrong.  This article articulates my thoughts on how it got it wrong in it's portrayal of who dominant and submissive individuals are.

More importantly however, is the not-so-subtle normalization of abusive behaviors.  This isn't the first movie that gives us romance with a splash of violence or violence with a glimpse of romance.  And it certainly won't be the last.  But let's be extra, super clear about a few things:

  1. No one should ever "own" you.  It's one thing to play out roles and follow "orders" but it's another when someone is exerting power and control over you.  When the role play is over, but the control continues, it's a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
  2. When someone tells you that you are no longer "allowed" to drink alcohol, curse, wear provocative clothing, spend time with a friend/family member, [insert just about anything here], that is an example of someone exerting power and control over you.  In true BDSM, there may be a restricted time period in which part of the play is that you are to not engage in a behavior, but if you're being told that you can no longer do something you've always done, that's a red flag for abuse.
  3. If someone keeps showing up at places you are (at home, work, a bar, or in this case across the country at your mom's house) that's stalking behavior.  More on stalking here.
  4. If you are ever forced to or ever feel pressured or shamed into engaging in a sexual act with a partner, it is not a healthy relationship.
  5. A partner who wants all of your attention and limits or interferes with your time with friends and family is not showing affection.  They are isolating you from your support system.

Over the past two years I've somehow stayed out of most conversations regarding this book and movie.  I liked that women were talking about sex and sexuality.  I liked that people were exploring sides of their psyche that they maybe haven't before.  I heard and read a lot of opinions around the ethics of BDSM, questions around if you can be a feminist and a submissive and what it means to be a trauma survivor and a dominant/submissive.  But there was little said about Christian and Anastasia's relationship outside of the bedroom.  Which is why this movie surprised me so much and why I'm writing it two years after it came out. 

Hollywood has a long history of normalizing abusive relationships.  Abuse is not normal.  If you've found yourself in an unhealthy relationship or have one that you're having trouble getting past?  Get support.  You deserve to feel safe.   You deserve to feel happy.