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The Problem with 50 Shades of Grey

Pictured: 50 Shades of a piece of shit human being.

Pictured: 50 Shades of a piece of shit human being.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Another author jumping on the bandwagon to dump hatred on this book and upcoming movie? Really? What do you have to say about it that someone hasn’t already said?”

And that’s a fair statement. I’m not the only one who is discussing the upcoming 50 Shades movie. Plenty of authors have gotten into it already, whether for or against it. I won’t try to convince you to listen to me. Instead, I will just speak my piece and let you do whatever you want to do afterward.

The reason that I have a burning hatred for 50 Shades of Grey is not simply because it’s poorly written, because it’s popular, or because it’s erotica.

The reason I have a burning hatred for 50 Shades of Grey is because it is a book and movie about glorifying an incredibly abusive relationship and it is the first time in recent memory that the general populace just seems to be okay with it.

“But Kyoko,” you say. “Isn’t that why you disliked Twilight?”

Yes and no. The reason I hate Twilight is also because it’s poorly written and it glorifies an unhealthy relationship, but let me explain why Twilight pales in comparison to 50 Shades.

First of all, Bella Swan is a teenager. Teenagers are illogical, emotional beings. Their hormones make the calls. I was one not too long ago and the way you feel dictates every single thing you do, and you can’t really help yourself most of the time. I’m not making excuses for Bella because she is still a dull, stupid, wet blanket of a character and she shouldn’t have put her life in danger just for a booty call with someone who put his needs above hers constantly. However, that’s the very reason the books were popular. Teenagers don’t know any better. They read about some tall, dark, and handsome dangerous vampire obsessed with one below average girl and they think, “Oh, wow, wouldn’t it be so cool if I had a hot guy who wanted me this badly?” Edward Cullen is not and never should be a teen idol because he’s an overpowering, pretentious, selfish prick, but it’s not like we don’t have fictional characters who are popular in spite of being absolutely awful. (Read: Loki, Hannibal Lecter)

To me, Twilight is less offensive because it deals with an unhealthy psychological relationship. As far as I know, Edward never physically abuses Bella. He forces his opinions on her, sure, and let’s not even talk about his actions in Breaking Dawn, but he’s a douchebag and she’s too much of a sea cucumber to stand up for herself because she’s a teenager and she has never known better. She isn’t an adult. She doesn’t know how to respond to the way he treats her, and she doesn’t realize yet that she had better options.

At the end of the day, Twilight is a fad. It’s already faded by about 50% in the last couple years. Twenty years from now, it’ll be like N’sync and the Backstreet Boys. Some girls will look back on it and giggle like, “Wow, what was I thinking back then? Hormones are powerful things, huh?” Jump ahead another 50 years and we might not even remember it at all except for the box office records.

50 Shades, however, is just straight up glorifying one adult abusing another adult, and the reason this pisses me off so much is that it’s going to corrupt a lot of teens and women who just don’t know any better.

With Twilight, the odds that girls got into bad relationships because they were looking for some creepy stalker were high, but probably not attainable. Girls wanted to be Bella, but it’s not really possible without a lobotomy. I’m sure men preyed on those impressionable girls for a while, but most men were repulsed by the franchise and didn’t bother to try to imitate Edward Cullen because no one on earth can possibly be that bizarre mix of brutish disdain and boring lack of personality.

With 50 Shades, the reading world who made this the fastest selling book of all time is staunchly saying to these women, “This is what you should want. This is hot. This is what BDSM is like and you should want that kind of relationship. This made so much money because all these women want this kind of sex and this kind of boyfriend.”

And women have it hard enough.

Every day, women are subjected to advertisements and television shows and movies and video games and anime that enforce what the “ideal woman” is on us. She’s this height, this weight, she has these proportions, she has this hair color, she wears these clothes, she sounds like this, she goes to this place, and you’re never going to be loved if you’re not like her. The media lovingly whittles down our confidence with onslaughts of unfair and unrealistic stereotypes that make us feel worthless in comparison, and there are few of us who are strong enough to ignore it and take our beautiful asses elsewhere.

50 Shades of Grey is the ultimate inaccurate portrayal of something to aspire to. It is not real BDSM, it is something that E.L. James imagined while furiously masturbating. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Look up actual S & M culture, and they will straight up tell you that what Christian Grey is doing to Ana is NOT the proper protocol for BDSM. He is abusing her. He is performing unwanted sexual acts on her, and just because she gets off on it later doesn’t mean it’s not abuse. That is the single biggest reason why I detest this book and this film. It is blatant disregard for one woman’s personal and sexual desires and it sends the ugliest message out into the world that I’ve ever seen in my life.

Because for every decent, loving, mature man out there, there are fifty immature douchebags who are going to see this movie and have every backwards-ass thought in their head reaffirmed. These assholes are going to see 50 Shades make $100 million dollars and say, “Oh, so it’s okay to ignore what women want and force my views and my sexuality onto them. They obviously bought these books and saw this movie ten times, so it’s okay. I can be an asshole and still get laid.” And that is exactly what decent women have been fighting against their entire lives.

Think I’m exaggerating? Do you remember the #YesAllWomen event on Twitter last year? All women have at least one street harassment story. Most have several. We have to deal with unwanted male aggressions, micro or otherwise, all the time. It may not be frequent, but there are always men who think it’s okay to badger women out of some misplaced sense of entitlement.

And 50 Shades of Grey is unconsciously saying that these guys aren’t the minority.

I will have nothing to do with a book or a film that helps these pricks continue to treat my sisters like they are nothing less than meat. Never.

“But Kyoko,” you say. “You’re a fangirl. Aren’t fans notorious for glorifying unhealthy relationships?”

Yes and no. I’m a fangirl alright, but I’m actually pretty conservative in certain terms. Yes, I write about an abusive relationship between my protagonist Jordan and the villain Belial, but the difference is that I make it 100% clear that what Belial does to Jordan is wrong and should not be the way anyone treats another person. Belial himself fully admits he’s an evil piece of shit and he wants to bring Jordan down to his level. Jordan fully admits that being attracted to Belial is the worst part of her personality and she is ashamed of her carnal desires for him. Furthermore, while Belial treats her badly, he does actually have something to offer her: money, status, power, and sexual fulfillment.

Furthermore, yes, fans often glorify abusive or even illegal fictional relationships. It’s sad, but it happens constantly in certain circles. I’ve seen them try to justify rape, incest, bestiality, abuse, child molestation, and all kinds of foul things, and they do it with the same emphatic enthusiasm and denial as the women who claim that 50 Shades isn’t about abuse. And guess what? It’s not okay either. They will argue until they are blue in the face for me saying so, but no, I think certain things that fans promote are despicable and should not be done even if it’s just fictional.

However, the difference here is that this is fandom. What does the word “fan” stand for when used in this context? Fan is short for fanatic. That is actually a much smaller demographic than Tumblr would lead you to believe is the norm. These are a very specific subset of people who actively search for this kind of thing. They are not the average woman or girl who would just happen to stumble across these sorts of things.

50 Shades of Grey has been promoted and plastered on every available surface, whereas the unhealthy things that fans like are in a much smaller, more concentrated setting. Sure, some girls who don’t know better might see the things that the fandom insists is okay, but it’s far less likely. 50 Shades is widespread and it’s going to mess with so many impressionable women who don’t know that what they are seeing is an exaggeration and misrepresentation of BDSM and all the things that are associated with an interest in kinky sex or a relationship based mostly on the physical aspects. I am all for women taking charge of their sexuality and exploring what they desire, but I am not for a pigeonholed version that is mostly nonsense of some woman who managed to trick people into thinking her fantasies were anything near what actual BDSM and actual well-written erotica are like.

I condemn this book and movie not because it places sex on a pedestal, but because it makes it clear that Christian Grey’s wants and needs are more important than Ana’s, and that at the end of the day, the man is still the one who dictates the relationship, and the woman is his plaything. I condemn this book and movie because there are so many women with abuse stories that will feel a centimeter tall when people advocate such an obvious monster of a man taking advantage of an ignorant girl. I condemn this movie because it was written by a woman, and yet it enforces nearly every single unhealthy stereotype that lousy men embody.

You have every right to like what you want to like. No one will ever stop you. But I think it bears repeating that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s good, and doesn’t mean it’s something people should ever take to heart.

*climbs back down off of soapbox*

The Slippery Slope (Part 2)

Featuring Nicole Beharie (Abbie Mills), Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane), and their usual lack of personal space.

Featuring Nicole Beharie (Abbie Mills), Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane), and their usual lack of personal space.

The story of how I got roped into watching ‘Sleepy Hollow’ seems like an old classic. Here I was with my steady lineup of shows and then I heard about a fantasy show with a black female protagonist. Granted, it was on Fox—the Judas of all television channels—but I figured that since I’m in the same business, I should watch the trailer. Needless to say, I was not impressed and thought it was the dumbest premise I’ve ever seen in my life. However, I felt obligated as a fellow woman of color to support a show that featured a black woman as something other than a side chick or a housewife, and gave the pilot a watch.

Since then, I’ve been watching ‘Sleepy Hollow’ with mild interest. Yes, the premise is ridiculous, there is absolutely no logic involved with any of the monster-hunting, and it’s basically like taking one of my books and putting it in a blender with ‘Constantine’ (2005) and ‘Supernatural’, but it’s still harmless entertainment with a twist of diversity.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago. If you’re acquainted with the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ fandom, then you know that the episode “Deliverance” is ground zero for one of the biggest fandom freak outs in quite some time. And rightfully so.

If you haven’t been reading Genevieve Valentine’s io9 Sleepy Hollow recaps, please do. She pretty much sums up my feelings about 80% of the time, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of why the episode was a nuclear holocaust: Ichabod Crane’s witch wife, Katrina, has been staying with the bad guys—her son, Jeremy, the Horseman of War—and Abraham—the Headless Horseman of Death, who was her betrothed back in the day before they all time jumped into modern day thanks to the war with the demon Moloch—in order to “spy on them for valuable information” to later share with Crane and Abbie Mills, his partner, police officer, and fellow Witness (and work wife, if we’re being honest.) In the previous episode, Jeremy got his hands on an evil substance that turned into a spider, crawled into Katrina’s mouth, and somehow managed to impregnate her with a baby version of Moloch. Yes, I cannot believe I just typed that sentence with any amount of sanity in my brain. Katrina escapes to Crane and Abbie to figure out how to get rid of the demon baby before Moloch is born and the war begins.

Where do I even begin with why this episode may in fact do this show in for good? I mean, if I can manage to sidestep the utter creepiness of a son inseminating his mother, or the tired-ass plotpoint of “unwanted supernatural pregnancy,” then the clear reason why this episode did not work is centered around Katrina Crane. Her presence in this show went from exasperating to just plain infuriating.

Look, it’s not like Katrina needs to be a gun-toting bad ass like Abbie to be a good character. I can name plenty of Non Action Girl heroines that are effective and three dimensional. The problem is that she doesn’t do anything useful. She’s such a damsel in distress. She went undercover to spy on the bad guys, and yet all she did up until that episode was send Crane a note with a raven. She has not learned a damn thing and she hasn’t done much other than giving Crane vague messages while she was in Purgatory back in season one. Even though her actions technically started the plot of the series, the fact that the writers staunchly refuse to make her an important asset to Team Witness is grating.

For example, even though Jeremy kidnapped her and left Crane to die in a coffin buried underground last season, Katrina is somehow convinced that there is good in Jeremy and he can be saved. She even gets Crane in on her nonsense, insisting that Moloch’s influence is why he turned out evil. We have not seen one single sign that Jeremy is being controlled, but she and Crane insist to Abbie that their faith in him is why he deserves to be saved. Mind you, Crane goes to Jeremy and asks him to get rid of the demon baby and he pretty much laughs in Crane’s face before leaving, but this somehow still doesn’t deter the Cranes. The blind love they have for someone who is trying to literally raise hell on earth just makes me want to pound my head into the wall until I’m unconscious.

Furthermore, it’s clear that the writers just brought Katrina in for the sake of interrupting the dynamic between Crane and Abbie (affectionately called Ichabbie by those who ship them) and it feels unnatural as hell. To their credit, the tension between the two women is not jealousy. It’s just that Abbie has been busting her beautiful ass fighting Moloch and the two horsemen with Crane, but then Crane will drop whatever he’s doing to coo and fuss over his wife, who constantly distracts him from the work he should be doing trying to prevent the Apocalypse. If Katrina were written properly, she would have a vast knowledge of the dark forces of magic, she would be able to combat Jeremy and Abraham’s schemes with spells, or she would be teaching Abbie incantations that could later help her protect herself (as Abbie usually only has a gun and that never works against the monsters in this show.) And yet here we are, with Katrina preggers with a demon baby whining and screaming and protesting that Jeremy is still worth saving despite the fact that he put the demon inside her knowing that its birth would kill her.

Majority of the fanbase was rightfully angry at this episode because it just brought up how unacceptable Katrina’s presence is in this show because she is not helping any facet of the show move forward. She’s a roadblock, plain and simple. She opposes Abbie for paper thin reasons, she has lied to her husband on multiple occasions, and while she protests that she has no feelings for Abraham, she still seems to like the attention he dotes on her. Two episodes later and Katrina is back with Jeremy and Abraham under the pretense that she’s still spying on them, and she made Abbie tell Crane she was going back to them like an irresponsible coward.

Honestly, the way the Cranes have been acting in the last two episodes have killed off a large part of my interest in this show. ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is not smart or controversial or brilliant. It works because Tom Mison (Crane), Nicole Beharie (Abbie), Lyndie Greenwood (Jenny), Orlando Jones(Captain Irving), and John Noble (Jeremy) all have the acting chops to make this farce of a premise seem interesting. Tom and Nicole have bucketloads of chemistry, whether romantic or not, and they are the core of why people watch this show. This season has lost its way by shoving Katrina into the spotlight but not giving her anything to do, shelving the incredibly awesome Orlando “Trollando” Jones, putting Jenny on a bus for several inexplicable episodes, forcing us to spend time with the charm-deficient mercenary and failed attempt at a love interest for Abbie Nick Hawley, and for taking away the meat of the show that everyone was enjoying and replacing it with dry wheat toast.

The worst part is that ‘Sleepy Hollow’ also isn’t the most popular show on the network. It’s doing alright, but if even a portion of the fans jump ship because of the poor writing, then it could be circling the drain by the time the season ends if they don’t get back on track. While I’m not married to this show by any stretch, I do think what it represents is important and that’s why it deserves a shot at longevity. We need diversity in television—not just with black women, but people of color in general rarely get the chance to be a main character in an urban fantasy or supernatural type show. I want this show to do better because it fills a void. Sure, there are novels with women of color in the lead, but it’s highly rare for television and it needs to be a stepping stone to future diversity-oriented shows.

My hope is that the writers have paid attention to the large outcry that “Deliverance” caused and learn from their mistakes. I hope they write Katrina better, whether it’s giving her something to actually do in the show or letting her go to the Dark Side with the baddies. I hope they stop making up lame reasons for Crane and Abbie to fight. I hope they don’t create a stupid love triangle between Hawley and the Mills sisters (which would be a moot point since I genuinely think Abbie is not interested in any romance period, Crane or Hawley or otherwise). Fingers crossed, Sleepyheads. Hang in there.