I gets asked on a fairly regular basis why I bother with Fifty Shades, or ranting about women’s issues, when “all” I’m doing is giving free publicity, or preaching to the choir. Why not work on my own book trilogy instead? Or my couture business? Or anything else?
In the movie Mary Poppins, Winifred Banks was a suffragette. She fought for her daughter to have equal rights and a better standing than she herself had growing up. Votes for women was a massive step away from women being property into women being their own. In real life, the suffragette movement often seemed like a lost cause. The ones with the power to legally change things were the ruling group. The oppressed group could only beg, try to persuade, and make a general nuisance of themselves until voting men gave in to basically stop the nagging and strikes against housework. It was far from a sure bet, yet women did it anyway, with the hope of their daughters having some autonomy, and to been seen as full human beings. The song referenced in the title of this post is here:
Today we are seeing a different sort of suffrage movement. While we have the right to vote (some people would like to see this taken away from us, and discourage us in the meantime, and this ongoing poll shows 29% who think we shouldn’t be allowed to vote), we are losing ground on access to medical care, employers are allowed to block our access to birth control coverage through insurance if it goes against the inanimate corporation’s religious beliefs, and we sure as hell have lost when it comes to courts protecting us against sexual assault, going as far as blaming 14-year-olds and 3-year-olds for being raped.
When it comes to our bodies, and having the right to willingly say yes or now, we have people who say “No means yes if you know how to spot it,” or who say that the victim didn’t say no, even if she was unconscious or too scared. Sexual assault and rape are commonplace now. We have lost the right to our own bodies it’s the rare person who doesn’t know women who’ve been assaulted or raped.
Fifty Shades is a series of books that do portray assault and rape. More often than not, Ana is afraid to say no, and when she does, Christian plows ahead anyway, and tells her that her body responding really means yes. She believe it. Fans believe that, because she naively believes this, that this mean rape didn’t happen. Guess what. Bodies can respond during rape. Ana’s often afraid to say no, and tells the reader that she can’t say no. The inability to say no means no consent, even if someone verbally says yes.
Books like Fifty Shades, and the praise for those books, tells our daughters that saying yes in fear is acceptable. In fact, that teaches boys that they can intimidate a woman into saying yes, and, as long as she doesn’t physically fight back, that it’s okay. Fifty Shades is unprecedented in its reach. There are few ways someone could have missed hearing about this book. Teenagers are given this book, and middle-schoolers get homework with Fifty Shades. These books are dangerous.
I have two options.
1) I can imply condonation to the societal view of these through silence.
2)I can speak out and let it be known that this is wrong, that women don’t exist to be sex toys, that we alone own full rights to our bodies, to not have to put up with being intimidated into sex, to not be told that our bodies physiologically responding doesn’t mean that our assaulters were right and that we really wanted it. I can speak out that stalking is wrong, breaking into bank accounts so victims feel there’s no escape and no way they can say “no” is wrong, that being gifted lots of expensive items doesn’t mean we’re obligated. That we shouldn’t make our decisions based on what’s likely to severely piss off our significant other or send him into a rage.
It’s a lot more work, and takes being proactive, but I choose #2. I will speak out against Fifty Shades, and I will do what I can to combat it. Right now, that’s speaking and trying to write books showing what consent really is. Fifty Shades is the biggest elephant in the room, and so I shall do my best to pick it off.
Winifred Banks and her fellow suffragettes fought against a system that said women are second-class, and for their daughters and their daughters’ daughter to have the right to vote. I’m fighting against books that teach that abuse is acceptable and romantic and even desirable, and for our daughters and our daughters’ daughters to own their bodies, and to know what genuinely willing consent really is.
Fiction has tremendous power to influence the way society views life, death, matters of consent and non, and so much else. So I can’t ignore Fifty Shades. I must fight.