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A women's shelter or a graveyard – how '50 Shades of Grey' ends in real life

By Mary Rezac

Denver, Colo., Feb 11, 2015 / 04:02 am (CNA) - Valentine’s Day plans do not typically include domestic abuse.

Yet thousands of couples are already pre-purchasing their movie tickets for “50 Shades of Grey,” a film which many critics are saying romanticizes and attempts to normalize violence against women.  

“It brands violence as romance, it teaches women that sexual abuse and being a victim is hot or sexy, and it’s really the story of a seasoned predator,” said Dr. Gail Dines, founder and president of the international feminist organization Stop Porn Culture.

The movie “50 Shades of Grey” is set for an international release on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. The film is based on the first installment of a three-book series by British writer E.L. James, which has topped best-seller lists all over the world, including in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the series, wealthy, 29-year-old Christian Grey grooms naive 21 year-old Anastasia to engage in a sadistic sexual relationship.

More than 100 million copies have been sold worldwide, and the series has been translated into 52 languages, but its reception has been fraught with controversy. Many groups – from feminist activists and organizations against domestic violence to Christian leaders and Catholic bishops – are speaking out against the upcoming film, calling it misogynistic and a dangerous portrayal of violence as romance.

In a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., invited his fellow clergy to “(r)emind the faithful of the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation.”

Dines and others in her organization became so incensed by the media hype surrounding the film, they came up with a social media campaign to boycott the movie, but with an ingenious twist: take the $50 that would be spent on dinner and movie tickets for two, and instead donate it to a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Together with other organizations such as London Abused Women's Centre and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, they’ve been spreading the word with the hashtag: #50dollarsnot50shades. In just two weeks, their Facebook page has received thousands of likes, and the effort has been featured in dozens of publications, including The Guardian, BBC, Huffington Post, Time Magazine and People Magazine.

“This is a protest to give the money to a battered women’s shelter, because that’s where Anastasia is going to end up,” Dines told CNA. “She’s not ending up in a beautiful lake house with a guy who adores her. If she’s lucky she ends up in a women’s shelter, and if she’s unlucky she ends up in a graveyard.”

Tanisha Martin, an empowerment coach and kung-fu master based in Colorado Springs, said the campaign was just the avenue she had been looking for to speak out against the film.

“I was seeing so many people excited to see the movie and reading the books and I thought, 'They’re not seeing the real abuse side of it,'” she said. “There is real abuse and manipulation going on, so when I saw the #50dollarsfor50shade, I thought, 'I’ve got to do that for my local community.'”

For Martin, the story of Anastasia and Christian hits very close to home. Her ex-husband was abusive in many of the same ways, she said.

Martin, like Anastasia, convinced herself that she could somehow love her husband out of his abusive tendencies. Anastasia ends up accomplishing this, and defenders of the movie tout it as a story of love, rather than of abuse.

“That is a very dangerous concept to latch onto and glorify,” Martin told CNA. “That would be wonderful, but it’s not the reality for most victims and it’s not the reality for me.”

“It’s confusing enough to be a victim, because most of the time you don’t even realize you are one,” she said. “Even though you see signs of abuse, you still think it’s different with you…and that’s the biggest problem.”

The media hype behind the series has been the most infuriating part to Dines, who said she’s been walking around in a sort of “feminist rage” ever since the release of the first book in 2011.

“They’re making out as if this caught on all by itself, but it wasn’t organic growth. There’s been a juggernaut of media behind this, and it’s selling to women an image that somehow if you love a sadist out of his (abuse) you’ll have a great life,” she said.

“When in reality, how '50 Shades' would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm…she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.”

The media celebration of the books and movies shows an irresponsibility and an ignorance about how violence against women is perpetuated, Dines added.

“You have a media who’s celebrating this violence against women,” she said. “No other group would be celebrated when they’re beaten and tortured like this, it would be considered an outrage. For any other minority group, if you had a film that would eroticize them being violated, people would absolutely be tearing down the cinemas in the streets. And what do we have here? We have a massive media juggernaut promoting it.”

Dines, who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said she believes “50 Shades of Grey” has also caught on because we live in a culture where pornography is considered acceptable.

“If you want to understand the popularity of this, you have to look at the way pornography has literally hijacked the way people think about sex and sexuality,” she said.

As a sociologist, Dines said she has seen a lot of research about the effects of pornography on the brains of boys and men. The younger someone becomes addicted to porn, the more difficult it is to break away, she said. Furthermore, regular viewing of pornography is re-shaping the way boys’ brains are forming.

“We’ve got 40 years of experimental psychology research which tells us that the more porn men look at, the more boys look at, the more they believe it,” she said. “The jury’s not out about that – that has been known in the science literature for years and years.”

Fortunately, Dines said, her organization has seen a positive, international response to the #50dollarsnot50shades campaign in just a few days.

“It’s been unbelievable, it has gone viral, it’s fantastic,” she said. “People are e-mailing from everywhere saying they’re not going, they’re donating $50 to a battered women’s shelter, I’ve got e-mails from England, Australia, Brazil, Germany… it’s just incredible.”

Dines said she credits the huge response in part to women are tired of being silent in a pornography-obsessed culture.

“I think it speaks to the silent majority of women who are sick to death of this porn culture, because you know the media silences them,” she said, “and I think what we’re hearing now is them coming into their own and speaking out via our hashtag.”

“And I think it’s about time people started speaking out against a porn culture, because we’re so inundated with it, and really what this is doing is it’s speaking out against it,” she said. “It’s about women, and men who support women, making a stand, because this (series) is part of the porn culture, this did not come out of nowhere.”

Learn more about the #50DollarsNot50Shades campaign at: https://www.facebook.com/50dollarsnotfiftyshades/info

To make a donation to a women’s shelter operated by Catholic Charities, contact your local agency through: http://catholiccharitiesusa.org/our-impact/agency-spotlight/

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