So, I’m doing the school run this morning when my 16 year old turns to me, “Mum, have you read 50 Shades of Grey?”
“Um, no… and I don’t want you to either.”
My 16 year old continues: “Well everyone is talking about it, and the trailor came out yesterday… What’s it about anyway?” My 15 year old leans in to join the conversation.
I take a breath in, then decide to be honest and just put it out there.
“Well, it’s… well… its basically porn for women.”
‘Ok, I’ll tell you the story… it’s about this girl, and she meets this guy, and he gets her to sign this contract that he can pretty much do whatever he wants with her sexually, including chains, blindfolds and whips etc, then he pretty much seduces her and uses her for his own gratification’.
It was this conversation then watching the trailer myself that sparked me to write this blog. As a parent, I do not want my teenage daughters to watch this movie, to feel pressure from their friends to watch this movie, or to believe that this 50 Shades of Grey is now the expected norm in love, sex and relationships.
If you want, you can check out the trailer for yourself here
Now some of you may be thinking, “Come on Kym, you’re not the moral police; Fifty Shades is not that bad, we read it ourselves and we love it!” Ok, so, I’d like to debunk 3 of the most common excuses supporting FSOG that I’ve heard so far:
One: It’s not porn, it’s just a bit of fun.
The reason I am calling Fifty Shades ‘pornography for women’ is because it really is just that. The definition of pornography is ‘Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement. ‘ (Oxford Dictionary) 50 Shades definitely does that, but goes further by romanticising sadistic and masochistic sex as ‘enlightenment’ – which it definitely isn’t.
Bearing this definition in mind, 50 Shades author, ‘E.L. James’ told the Huffington Post; “Well to be honest, it was mostly curiosity. I had just read some stuff about BDSM [bondage-domination-sadism-masochism] and found it really, really hot — an arousing kind of hot. And I got to thinking, ‘What if you met somebody who was in this kind of relationship, in this lifestyle, and who knew nothing about it and probably didn’t want to do it? What would happen next?’ And I just took it from there, really.” (1)
It’s also interesting that the genre of these books is called ‘erotica’ so it’s clearly not light reading for general consumption.
Two: It’s not harmful, it’s female sexual liberation
Australian research shows that by 16 years of age, 100% of boys have been exposed to pornography, with the current average age of exposure to boys being around 11-12 years of age. There are varying studies and statistics regarding female exposure, with some research showing girls reporting a 97% exposure of porn by the age of 16. (2)
In a recent study by the Australian Institute, it reveals the findings of how exposure occurs:
“Boys and girls follow different paths to exposure to pornography. Typically, girls watched pornography only once, because a boyfriend or somebody wanted them to or because they were curious, and then did not watch again. The majority of boys are also exposed to pornography for the first time through the encouragement of others, but it is more likely to be by male friends.” (3)
Now while these stats may be surprising to some, they cannot and must not be palmed off as “Well that’s just the world we live in now.” The unfortunate reality is that because porn has become so common and viewed as ‘normal’, and we are saturated by the media with women’s bodies and the increase of sexualisation of women in the media, some of us are now thinking that BDSM is now part of a normal sex life. I can assure you, it isn’t.
I can’t tell you the number of teenage girls who come to me and say; “My boyfriend wants me to do this (insert weird, kinky and potential harmful sexual act) but I don’t feel comfortable with it…” Then they lean in, full of self-doubt and anxiety and ask, “Is there something wrong with me?” How tragic. What type of world do we live in when a young woman questions her own gut instincts? Why isn’t she instead questioning the sexual act being forced upon her, or the guy asking her to perform these acts? This is not women’s liberation, but actually the opposite.
It makes me so angry and sad that teenage girls are questioning themselves and thinking something is wrong with them for not wanting to do those things. This book romanticises these acts, and that is not real life.
Three: If she consented, it’s fine. It’s none of your business!
Ok then. Let me apply this same logic to domestic violence. As a counselor, many DV clients often say; “Its fine, its my fault, I deserved it. I forgive him.” The emotional manipulation women are susceptible to, especially by men, cannot be comprehended or underestimated. The female heart desires to love and give ALL, to lay her life down and sacrifice everything for the man she loves. Many words of manipulation have caused women to go far beyond this natural desire, into accepting sexual violence in the bedroom, all because he says ‘he wants it.’ This is not OK! Just because someone consents, doesn’t make it right. No one has the right to harm anyone, even if they supposedly ‘ask for it’.
Let me share an interesting story a friend told me recently. He has a friend who catches the train every day to work. On this particular week, his friend noticed a woman reading Fifty Shades of Grey sitting in the same seat near him for 3 days in a row. On the fourth day he bought a Penthouse magazine, sat close by the woman as usual, and began to read the magazine. The woman looked up and said, “Excuse me; that’s offensive”. The guy nodded towards Fifty Shades of Grey and responded “So’s that.”
Parents Speak Up
I encourage all parents to join me and take a stand with their teenage daughters (and sons) to avoid 50 Shades of Grey when it comes out. You could use the opportunity instead as an opportunity to talk about the subtle influence of pornography in twisting a healthy respect for the opposite sex. Parents, we need to share with our teenagers that sex is about giving and not taking. That sex is an act of love and selflessness, an expression of total love and faithfulness. That sex is not a sadistic sport or activity entered in to for selfish pleasure. As I said to my daughters in the car; “You don’t ask people you love if you can hurt them for your own pleasure and gain.”
Let me encourage parents out there to speak to your teenage children about this movie and why they won’t be going with their friends to watch it. It is time for us to stand up to this porn saturated society that is objectifying women and telling our daughters that it is ok to accept this type of treatment from a man.
I will certainly be fighting for my children’s dignity. Will you?
(3) Youth and Pornography in Australia: Evidence on the extent of exposure and likely effects. The Australian Institute.