Currently, I'm in the middle of doing research for a novel that addresses the sex trafficking issues in Portland, Oregon, where I live. Ironically, the erotic movie Fifty Shades of Grey is scheduled to release during this process.
I could spend the majority of this post relating the themes of the story and asking you to stay home from the movie. I could discuss how our culture's approach to sexuality contributes to domestic violence and sex trafficking. But rather than reiterate what others have thoroughly addressed (see the excellent Resources below), I'm compelled to ask myself:
What does the hype surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey teach me about myself, and what can I do about it?
What I've Learned
I'll be honest - when the books first came out, part of me wanted to know what was in them. Thankfully, I heard a few excerpts and watched an interview with the author, which solidified my decision to decline. However, I have to admit that the desire to know things is a temptation. I have to take responsibility for what I have participated in just because my mind is easily drawn to the unknown.
I Battle Fear
In writing this post, I have felt a measure of fear. Fear of being misunderstood, fear of what people might think, fear of being viewed as intolerant. Because my voice might be contrary to the millions saying this story is just fantasy for consenting adults, I am tempted to remain silent and let the "professionals" discuss it.
But at the end of the day, it's okay for me to disagree. If I want others to be honest, then I have to be honest too. Granted, I could avoid this topic, but if I fearfully opt out of the conversation, I miss the opportunity for a respectful, healthy dialogue.
I can exercise my freedom of speech and say that, as a strong woman, I'm offended by any story that would manipulate me into thinking that graphic sexual entertainment is beneficial.
I Am Inconsistent
In this country, women have intense feelings about equality and independence. We advocate for homes without violence. We expect our husbands to be faithful. We see how pornography destroys marriages, and we insist that women be treated as more than sexual objects.
In spite of all this, millions of women have flocked to read this book. By substituting the word erotic, it suddenly doesn't seem so bad. (See Merriam-Webster's simple definition of pornography).
As a woman, this phenomenon forces me to look at the inconsistencies in my own life. When have I acted against my core beliefs so that something doesn't seem quite so bad?
What I Can Do
I Can Value Myself
I've worked with many women in crisis: abused women, women involved in the sex industry, and women facing unplanned pregnancy. Behind a mask of sexual freedom, my conversations with them would often reveal that they had little value for themselves.
So what can I do to value women? One of the best things I can do is to value myself. This might be as simple as talking well about myself rather than constantly degrading my weight, my skills, my personality...When I value myself, then I am eager to express value for others.
I Can Value Men
Watching the Superbowl, I cringed as the Fifty Shades trailer and a graphic Victoria's Secret commercial graced the screen. It grieves me that my husband, my father, my brother-in-law, my nephew, and my friends can't watch a football game without being subjected to sexual images that exploit women.
While it seems that most of the criticism surrounding this Fifty Shades has focused on the way it degrades women, I'd like to propose that this story is just as offensive to men. Shadowed by fantasy elements, the message to men is that women want to be treated in a violent, controlling manner. How confusing and insulting it must be for good men to see millions of women enthralled with this violent expression dubbed as love.
One of the most loving things I can do for men is to proclaim that all the "tee-heeing" around this movie is a harmful masquerade. The emperor literally has no clothes on, and women need to say so.
I Can Turn Around
I've often been found guilty of falling into the lie, "Well, I've gone this far. I might as well go the rest of the way." In my life, this train of thought can be as subtle as:
- I didn't exercise on Monday. I suppose I shouldn't bother on Tuesday either, since I already blew it this week.
- I already ate half the tub of ice cream. Might as well finish it off.
- I already wasted an hour of my day. I might as well waste the rest of the evening.
Millions who have read Fifty Shades may think seeing the movie is just part of the package deal. But this doesn't have to be the case; we aren't animals who can't control ourselves. Nobody has to see this movie.
Over the years, I've had to throw out magazines, movies, and books because I realized they weren't beneficial. Just because I have the freedom to do something doesn't mean I should, and there's no shame in turning back to the road less traveled.
I Can Create Out of Love
Some time back, I heard the author of Fifty Shades admit that she would be mortified if her kids were to read her work. This disconnect convinces me that anything I create needs to be something I'm comfortable with my parents reading or my nephew hearing. If I can't share my writing with those closest to me, then I probably shouldn't write it in the first place. Whatever I create should be a gift to my friends and family.
The Good News
This is a teachable moment for our society. As individuals, we have the ability to make our own choices, which also means we are free to choose the best path. Thanks for hearing my heart on this difficult topic. Whether you agree or disagree with my insight, I welcome your respectful interaction in the comments below.
Be loved this Valentine's Day! - Heidi