To: All the Parents in America
From: A very concerned, somewhat feminist, Christian mom
I heard something very disturbing yesterday. I was sitting in a coffee shop when a group of high school students (wearing uniforms from a local private Christian school) walked in and sat at a table near me. They were talking loudly and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation as they made plans to sneak out and go see the 50 Shades of Grey movie on Valentine’s Day. My heart dropped when I heard this. I have no idea who these students are, but I am terrified for them.
Let me give you a little background: About a year ago, my friend Kathi Lipp asked if I would consider co-authoring a book about sex, women and modern Christian culture. The book idea stemmed from a blog post that Kathi wrote about 50 Shades of Grey. Kathi felt that 50 Shades of Grey was not only demeaning towards women and demonizing towards men, but it also was greatly affecting the state of Christian marriage in our country. She also believed that sadistic, erotic literature led to the normalization of violence in marriage.
The response to Kathi’s blog post was… shocking. Christian women defended the book, saying it was “a love story” and it was “just a way for women to start thinking about sex.” They even went as far as accusing Kathi of being “prude” or “boring” because she felt God intended more for marriage and that women’s emotional and physical health was at risk.
Fast forward a year and Kathi and I have spent hours researching not only the cultural connotations surrounding 50 Shades of Grey but also the affects the book has on both women and men. And we’ve learned some scary things. And while much of the media surrounding the book has to do with erotica and mental pornography– which are rampant in the book–but there has been little discussion about another major facet of the book: Abuse.
To prepare for a radio interview I did last week, my publisher asked me to read at least part of the book. I understood where they were coming from: I hadn’t read the book and couldn’t honestly speak against it if I didn’t know what it was about. I prepared myself to encounter erotic descriptions and sex. Interestingly, I never got that far. The first few chapters of the book are about a young, innocent woman and a powerful, rich man who meet. There is nothing erotic in their relationship at all, and the book is actually pretty benign when the man invites the woman to his apartment. Once there, he shows her a room full of whips, canes and chains. Then, he asks her to sign a contract that gives him permission to dominate her in any way he chooses– and punish her physically if she fails to submit. He explains to her that she can walk away before signing, but if she wants a relationship with him, she must do things his way. Which that meant submitting herself to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Now here’s the thing that really upset me: When he pulls out this contract, she doesn’t run away as quickly as she can. She doesn’t call the police. She doesn’t call a therapist. She stays. And that is the moment that I knew I had to put the book down. I couldn’t read another word where this kind of abuse was normalized. Accepted. Condoned.
Now, I haven’t read beyond that point in the book, but I know from the online reviews that she does sign the contract. And that the rest of the book goes on to detail explicit sexual encounters including many that are abusive, violent and degrading.
Parents, the thought of my daughter (and the girls in the coffee shop) being exposed to this and being told it is a love story is so disturbing to me that I feel physically ill. Because while this book and movie have been normalized and even praised in our media, I really believe they are incredibly damaging. And I think as women– Christian women, feminist women, any women—we have to stop for a moment and consider the implications of this.
Do we really want our daughters even considering the idea that an abusive relationship could “end well” if they give it time?
Do we want our sons to even consider the idea that violence could be “okay” or “allowed” as long as the woman supposedly agrees to it?
Do we really want our kids to learn that there are shades of grey when it comes to love and that these shades can involve domestic violence?
And so I have to warn all of the parents in America: This isn’t okay. I can’t imagine why our culture has allowed abuse to be normalized. I refuse to accept that for myself or my kids. I refuse to accept that a damaging, abusive relationship is being celebrated and that kids and adults alike are flocking to watch the drama unfold.
We can stop this. We can stand up and say we want more for our sons and our daughters. That we want women to be safe, protected, supported, loved and we want men to be empowered and respected. We can seek help for women who are trapped in abusive relationships, stuck in the place where there seems to be no escape. We can seek therapy for men who struggle with control and power. And we can say these things are wrong. Dangerous and wrong.
The first step is not going to see the movie. And not letting your kids see it.
But there are more steps. Talk to your kids about domestic violence and abuse. Explain the pain it causes both the abused and the abuser. Tell them where they can go if they ever feel like they are being abused.
And then find a way to help others. There are women around the world who are enslaved in dangerous relationships, marginalized, abused. Instead of watching this abuse, do something about it.
Together, we can change the world for our kids.
Edit: I want to make it very clear that I feel no feelings of judgement or animosity towards anyone who has read the book or will go watch the movie. I get that we all have different opinions and trigger points and that each of us looks at this with a different perspective. Even after reading the comments and emails, I still believe that this book is abusive. That said, I do not wish to judge any of my readers, nor wish to isolate them or make them feel attacked. I hope that through this we can bring forth honest dialogue that is both uplifting and thought-provoking to all. And so, with that, let’s talk. Let’s converse. Let’s hear your opinion. But let’s not be mean. We are all in this together.