A (Partial) Defense of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey is just one movie of many.

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, Fifty Shades of Grey is not without some serious issues. And it’s absolutely worth pointing those out. People should know that this isn’t a healthy BDSM relationship, that Christian’s behavior is manipulative at best and downright abusive at worst, that the “sexy” dialogue is an affront to the English language. (I can only imagine Jamie Dornan’s resigned sigh when he got to the “I’m fifty shades of fucked up!” line in the script.)

At the same time, one of the reasons Fifty Shades of Grey is getting so much flack is because it bears the burden of representation. We’re hyper-aware of the way it treats BDSM or female fantasy because it’s so unusual to see those topics treated at all. When a bad comic book movie comes out, you can rest assured another one will be along in a few weeks. It’ll be much longer than that before we get another wide release about kinky female sexuality.

On top of that, when those subjects do come up, they tend to be treated as silly and/or strange. So it’s easy to fall back into old habits by mocking and vilifying Fifty Shades of Grey out of hand, and to tell women they’re better off without this trash. It takes more effort to engage with it honestly and consider what women are actually getting out of it.

Meanwhile, as we’re arguing over Fifty Shades of Grey, where’s the outrage when yet another male-oriented movie glorifies violence as a macho behavior? Christian’s obsession with violent sex is a product of this culture too, after all. Or other films that treat female characters as trophies, accessories, and hurdles? Or suggests that it’s sweet, rather than creepy, to direct grand romantic gestures at a reluctant woman?

In sum, critique Fifty Shades of Grey all you want. Lord knows the film has earned a lot of the vitriol it’s inspired. But don’t rush to make it an all-or-nothing proposition. Consider, for a moment, that the women who’ve fallen for this story aren’t simply idiots who don’t know any better. Consider that it’s giving audiences something they rarely get. Consider that, like its title, Fifty Shades of Grey may fall somewhere between black and white.

Fifty Shades of Grey - piano

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