NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Fifty Shades of Grey, set to release on the eve of Valentine’s Day, is already being condemned by some groups for venerating abusive relationships while being exalted by others for portraying female empowerment.
Perhaps one way to resolve the argument about whether the story restrains women’s sexuality or encourages them to embrace it could be to check if the movie passes the Bechdel test.
To pass the test, any work of fiction should feature at least one scene with two female characters who have names, talking to each other about anything other than a man. Created in 1985, the test is often employed as an indicator of gender bias across varied forms of fiction.
So if you go watch the film, try to assess if the "sexually liberated" female character – in this case, Ana Steele – is given the agency to talk about anything other than men.
The controversial film, which is bound to be a box office hit, is based on E.L. James‘ 2011 erotic romance novel with the same title and is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. The story is about Ana Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, a college student who gets involved in a sadomasochistic relationship with Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, an exceptionally successful businessman.
Those protesting the movie argue, as reported by the Independent, that "the film will help to normalize abusive relationships, exploit the trauma of victims and negatively impact young people, according to a domestic violence protest group."
Director Defends the Story
Director Taylor-Johnson, however, says the film’s scenes of BDSM–bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism– are an extension of a love story that exhibits female growth and free-expression, reports Huffington Post. "We feel that as Ana goes through [her relationship with Christian Grey], she becomes more and more empowered; not weaker, but stronger."
In London, protesters disagreed, holding up signs reading: "Some Ana’s don’t survive their Christians" and "50 Shades is domestic abuse," while the stars walked down the red carpet at the premiere Wednesday evening, the Mirror reported.
On its website, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, previously known as Morality in Media, launched its own campaign about the film. The Washington-based center claims the movie "promotes torture as sexually gratifying and normalizes domestic violence, particularly violence against women. This type of material cultivates a rape and sexual violence culture and is now permeating our society."
The organization has launched two hashtags on Twitter: #FiftyShadesIsAbuse and #50DollarsNot50Shades. Both hashtags were created to bring awareness and divert the franchise’s revenue towards domestic violence shelters.
The U.S.- based group Stop Patriarchy and others took also on Twitter to denounce the movie and call for more actions over the weekend:
— Stop Patriarchy (@StopPatriarchy) February 12, 2015
— Lisa Wilkinson (@Lisa_Wilkinson) February 12, 2015
— GirlhoodStudies (@GirlhoodStudies) February 11, 2015
Dozens of other organizations, such as Fifty Shades Is Domestic Abuse, a campaign group based in London, as well as the Canadian domestic abuse group PATHS, are promoting similar hashtags, reported Global News.
Fifty Shades is Domestic Abuse was set up by Natalie Collins after reading the E. L James trilogy. She believes that the movie will negatively impact young people by normalizing certain sexual behaviors. At the same time she says a community of people associated with erotic practices involving dominance, submission and bondage, or BDSM, are "misrepresented by the books."
Diana Parry, an associate professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo, while being interviewed by Salon explains that the film could have been seen as a means to create space for women’s sexuality to be acknowledged: not just through a male partner, but by influencing and encouraging women to take their sexuality into their own hands.
However, she also suggests that this idea should be explored with caution. "While they open up opportunities and provide women with unprecedented access to new genres or ways of thinking about their sexuality, at the same time, many of the scripts that are reproduced are really patriarchal scripts around women’s sexuality."
Justin Chang, of Variety, notes that given that the film’s main theme is control and submission, it is "unsurprising" that the usual gender-based double standard prevails: the film shows a lot of nudity on Dakota Johnson’s part and only fleeting glimpses of Jamie Dornan.
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