The film Fifty Shades

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The film Fifty Shades

How 50 Shades of Grey Reinforces Negative Masculinity and Negativity

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Introduction

The film Fifty Shades of a Grey is a classic fairytale where a basic girl falls in love with a handsome and rich man. Pop culture is an agent of socialization depicting the transfer of norms and values to people in culture. Gender, sex, and pop culture are interconnected and their effects are far-reaching. Fifty Shades of a Grey is a movie about erotic and progressive fiction. It operates under the pretense of encouraging women to explore their sexuality to empower them. However, the films do not live up to this expectation as it reinforces power dynamics and gender roles that are traditional and conservative. The film has received backlash for romanticizing mental health issues, domestic violence and for using childish repertoire words to describe sex, experiences, and body parts. We claim to live in a period of self-proclaimed post-feminist equality for girls and women in all public spheres of life yet in the film, we encounter fetishization in a narrative of feminine sexual pathology and masculine sexual dominance. The question of ongoing sexual double standards and gender equality is raised in regards to the impact it has on sexualizing femininity and the self-esteem of girls. The purpose of this text is to discuss the aspects of negative masculinity and femininity as presented in the film Fifty Shades of a Grey including destigmatizing sexual practices (BDSM), the issue of consent, sexual and emotional abuse and the use of mystery to reinforce negative masculinity.

Depiction of destigmatizing Sexual Practices

Popular culture, as depicted in the film Fifty Shades of a Grey has brought new meaning to the values that people hold when it comes to exploring their sexuality. The main protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a college student who is rather inexperienced in matters of sex. She is infatuated and can barely resist the charms of Christian Grey. Anastasia is willing to do all it takes so that she can be with him. Anastasia is willing to engage in practices that are new to her just to please Grey and this includes Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism (BDSM). Masculinity is evident from the onset of the film. Anastasia is presented as a naïve Christian girl while Christian is a sexual prowess with successful businesses. He uses them to lure Anastasia and dominate her sexual life. As has always been the case, women have a subordinate status in society compared to men. Women’s subordinate position is reinforced by actions such as seeing Anastasia kneeling for Grey in their initial meeting (Barrenetxea, 2017). Anastasia had gone for a meeting at Grey’s offices when she trips and falls. We see Grey standing over Anastasia which paints a picture of the level of power and control men have over women in society. Anastasia’s naïve and Christian background makes it easy for Grey to possess more power to make her do as he pleases. Before meeting Grey, Anastasia was a motivated and determined student but upon meeting him, she became obsessed with him. She lost focus and was always fantasizing about Grey while in class. Anastasia’s main focus becomes how she will capture the attention of the successful, powerful, and handsome young man.

The Issue of Consent between Partners

Another issue that shows inequality for women in the film is the issue of consent. This has to do with the fact that Anastasia is expected by Grey to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they start the relationship. The agreement stipulates the conditions which Anastasia must abide by if she wants to have a relationship with Grey. The documents serve to mainly protect the interests of Grey including his reputation as a respected businessman and his finances (Kocur, 2016). It seems like Anastasia does not have much of a choice but to agree to the terms. She wants to get the attention of Grey so bad and is willing to do just about anything, including signing the non-disclosure agreement. The main issue is that the contract is designed to satisfy the needs of one party; the dominant. This arrangement allows Grey to control Anastasia’s behavior while doing whatever he pleases with her body. If consent was there, this would not have been the case. So long as the dominant stays within the limits of what the submissive has agreed to, the arrangement would work as both parties are contented. As such, Fifty Shades of a Grey uses this situation to negatively demonstrate power dynamics, sexual relations, and femininity. The film gives the illusion that it empowering women while in the real sense, it reinforces the negative representation of masculinity and femininity.

Sexual and Emotional Abuse

In the film, Fifty Shades of a Grey abuse is visible in nearly all interactions taking place between Grey and Anastasia. The abuse takes various forms including stalking. Christian is seen stalking Anastasia as he used his computer to keep track of her whereabouts and he even goes to the extent of following her around. Emotional abuse is evidenced by acts of intimidation. Grey displays both non-verbal and verbal behaviors that are intimidating to her. Grey routinely commands Anastasia to eat and threatens to reprimand her. Further, Anastasia is in isolation which is also adds to her emotional abuse. Grey puts a limit on her social interactions and contacts. Because Anastasia is naïve and inexperienced, she is willing to do anything to win Grey’s affection. Sexual violence is also pervasive in the film and is evidenced when Grey tries to initiate a sexual encounter while he is angry (Charania, 2016). Further, he occasionally threatens Anastasia that he would terminate the contract and violate her boundary requests. Grey uses alcohol and when drunk, he violates her consent. We see Anastasia going through reactions typical to that of a woman who has been abused. Her identify becomes altered and we hear her describe herself as a pale and haunted ghost. Additionally, the film uses negotiations which Grey terms as safewords which they use in their sexual encounters. He also tells that she is allowed to leave if she wants to and does not give her much of a choice or an opportunity to say what she wants. This paints a picture of how the film demonstrates and romanticizing violence. Overall, the film depicts patterns of reflective persistent intimate partner violence, a major issue of concern in the current society.

Use of Mystery to Reinforce Negative Masculinity

Worth noting, in the course of their relationship, Grey goes to great extents to maintain secrecy and mystery with Anastasia. It takes time for him to finally reveal his desires and sexual tastes to her. Grey takes even longer to open up to her emotionally and to tell her things about his past and himself. It appears that Christian is afraid that if he opens up, it would make him vulnerable or it might scare and push her away. Grey fails to realize that by not opening up, his mysteriousness is what pushes Anastasia away and makes her question the entire relationship (Hayati & Emeraldien, 2019). She is unhappy with the fact that she does not know anything about him or his past, or why he embraces dominant sexuality so much. She feels that Grey is out of reach. He gives her vague details concerning his life, for instance, he refuses to her about the situation that made him leave Georgia and go back to Seattle. When the relationship first began, Anna found it alluring but this changed with time. Anna began yearning for openness and true intimacy from him. Essentially, Grey uses his capacity as a private man to get what he wants from her and to control her life which reinforces the dominant position of men in society.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, the film Fifty Shades of a Grey is a progressive erotic fiction operating under the pretense of encouraging women to explore their sexuality to empower them. The films have received backlash for romanticizing mental health issues, domestic violence and for using childish repertoire words to describe sex, experiences, and body parts. Ongoing sexual double standards and gender equality is highlighted through the destigmatizing sexual practices (BDSM), the issue of consent, sexual and emotional abuse and the use of mystery to reinforce negative masculinity. Anastasia’s naïve and Christian background makes it easy for Grey to possess more power to make her do as he pleases. She is expected by Grey to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they start the relationship. The main issue is that the contract is designed to satisfy the needs of one party only. This arrangement allows Grey to control Anastasia’s behavior while doing whatever he pleases with her body. The relationship is dysfunctional. The film shows violence meted on women and the normalization of emotional and manipulative abuse disguised as romance.

References

Barrenetxea Guerekiz, A. (2017). Hommes Fatals: Masculine Destructiveness in Alfred Hitchcock´s s Rebecca (1940) and Sam Taylor-Johnson´s s Fifty Shades of Grey (2015).

Charania, M. (2016). The Promise of Whiteness: Fifty Shades of Grey as White Racial Archive. Intensities, The Journal of Cult Media, 8, 78.

Hayati, K. R., & Emeraldien, F. Z. (2019). Janice Rodway’s Ideal Romance in Hero (Christian Grey) and Heroine (Anastasia Steel): An Analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. Tell: Teaching of English Language and Literature Journal, 7(1), 1-10.

Kocur, D. (2016). The phenomenon of fifty shades of grey: The role of sexual satisfaction and motivation.

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