Responding to 50 Shades of Grey

February, 2015

Friends,
As you know,  a major national effort is being made to combat sexual violence. Unfortunately, the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon (the trilogy and the movie, to be released for Valentine's Day) threatens to undermine that effort by glamorizing sexual violence. Below  are several resources that can help deal with this challenge. Please consider sharing widely.

Dr. Tom Lickona and Marthe Seales
Co-Editors, excellence & ethics
Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect & Responsibility)
State University of New York at Cortland

A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People About 50 Shades of Grey

Miriam Grossman, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist

There’s nothing gray about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all black.

I help people who are broken inside. I ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers.

One thing I've learned is that young people are utterly confused about love—finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.

I don’t want you to suffer like the people I see in my office, so I'm warning you about a new movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Even if you don't see the film, its toxic message is seeping into our culture, and could plant dangerous ideas in your head.

Fifty Shades of Grey is being released for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll think it’s a romance, but don’t fall for it. The movie is actually about a sick, dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional abuse. It seems glamorous, because the actors are gorgeous, have expensive cars and planes, and Beyoncé is singing. You might conclude that Christian and Ana are cool, and that their relationship is acceptable.

Don't allow yourself to be manipulated! The people behind the movie just want your money; they have no concern whatsoever about you and your dreams.

Abuse is not glamorous or cool. It is never OK, under any circumstances.

This is what you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey: as a child, Christian Grey was terribly neglected. He is confused about love because he never experienced the real thing. In his mind, love is tangled up with bad feelings like pain and embarrassment.  Christian enjoys hurting women in bizarre ways. Anastasia is an immature girl who falls for Christian's looks and wealth, and foolishly goes along with his desires.

In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail, and Ana in a shelter - or morgue. Or Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale. Trust me on this one.

As a doctor, I’m urging you: DON’T see Fifty Shades of Grey. Get informed, learn the facts, and explain to your friends why they shouldn't see it either.

Here are a few of the dangerous ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey:

1. Girls want guys like Christian who order them around and get rough.

No! A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She wants to feel safe, respected and cared for by a man she can trust. She dreams about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.

2. Guys want a girl like Anastasia who is meek and insecure.

Wrong. A psychologically healthy man wants a woman who can stand up for herself.  If he is out of line, he wants her to set him straight.

3. Anastasia exercises free choice when she consents to being hurt, so no one can judge her decision.

Flawed logic. Sure, Anastasia had free choice—and she chose poorly. A self-destructive decision is a bad decision.

4. Anastasia makes choices about Christian in a thoughtful and detached manner.

Doubtful. Christian constantly supplies Anastasia with alcohol, impairing her judgment.  Also, Anastasia becomes sexually active with Christian—her first experience ever—soon after meeting him. Neuroscience suggests their intimacy could jump start her feelings of attachment and trust, before she's certain he deserved them.  Sex is a powerful experience—particularly the first time.

Finally, Christian manipulates Anastasia into signing an agreement prohibiting her from telling anyone that he is a long time abuser.

Alcohol, sex, manipulation—hardly the ingredients of a thoughtful, detached decision.

5. Christian's emotional problems are cured by Anastasia's love.

Only in a movie. In the real world, Christian wouldn't change to any significant degree. If Anastasia was fulfilled by helping emotionally disturbed people, she should have become a psychiatrist or social worker.

6. It’s good to experiment with sexuality.

Maybe for adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogamous relationship, AKA "marriage". Otherwise, you're at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault. It's wise to be very careful who you allow to get close to you, physically and emotionally, because just one encounter can throw you off track and change your life forever.

The bottom line: the ideas of "Fifty Shades of Grey" are dangerous, and can lead to confusion and poor decisions about love. There are vast differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but the movie blurs those differences, so you begin to wonder: "What's healthy in a relationship? What's sick? There are so many shades of grey—I'm not sure."

Listen, it's your safety and future we're talking about here. There's no room for doubt: An intimate relationship that includes violence, consensual or not, is completely unacceptable.

This is black and white. There are no shades of grey here. Not even one.