BOSTON When “Fifty Shades of Grey” opens in theaters this Friday, not everyone will be lining up to see the much hyped and highly anticipated movie based on the bestselling erotic trilogy.
A social media campaign called #50dollarsnot50shades is asking people to donate $50 to a battered women’s shelter instead of going to see the movie, which critics say glamorizes and perpetuates violence against women.
“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a movie that is straight out of porn culture,” said Gail Dines, who started the campaign. “It is a movie that tells lies about women’s lives. It tells the lie that if you get this sadistic predator, which is what Christian Grey is, and if you just love him enough out of this then in fact you will love him into being a good man, a good father and you’ll have a happy ever after ending in a beautiful house with a couple of kids. It is a complete lie.”
Dines is a professor at Wheelock College in Boston and the founder of Stop Porn Culture, an organization aimed at raising awareness about the harms of pornography. As an activist and author, Dines focuses on pornography in mainstream pop culture and has written about it in the book “Pornland: How the Porn Industry Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.”
She said the $50 donations, which represent the price of two movie tickets, popcorn and drinks, are being directed to women’s shelters because that’s where she believes the book’s female character would end up in real life — if she was lucky.
“You might think this is a romance story, in reality it’s a horror story for most women,” Dines said.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has become a global sensation since the first book in the series was released in 2011. The books by British author E.L. James have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and inspired a slew of products — from teddy bears to wine to laundry detergent — as well as many parodies. And many fans have already snapped up pre-sale movie tickets, pushing the film, which opens Valentine’s Day weekend, to become one of the all-time top five R-rated movies on the ticket-buying website Fandango.
The books depict the relationship between a college student, Anastasia Steele, and a billionaire, Christian Grey, who is into bondage, dominance and submission and sadomasochism (or BDSM).
But Dines said the books do not represent sadomasochism and calls them pure sadism.
“If Christian Grey was living in a housing project on food stamps I doubt he would be so attractive to all these women,” Dines said. “It’s his wealth that they have used to rebrand violence as romance. Because if you take away all the veneer of wealth and fancy planes and beautiful apartments and being taken all over the world, you’ll see this for much more what it is, which is the story of a sadistic predator targeting a young, immature, vulnerable young woman and basically beating her and torturing her sexually.”
Dines said she started the #50dollarsnot50shades campaign because many women and men have been angry about the book and have felt silenced by all the buzz and marketing around the film.
“I meet women who married ‘Christian Grey’. They are on the run for their lives. They are living in battered women’s shelters. They’ve got two teeth knocked out, cigarette burns up and down their arm and traumatized kids in tow.”
She said through her work she has met many women who have ended up with men like the book’s Christian Grey character.
“I meet women who married ‘Christian Grey’” Dines said. “They are on the run for their lives. They are living in battered women’s shelters. They’ve got two teeth knocked out, cigarette burns up and down their arm and traumatized kids in tow … Many women are dead today because they really thought they could love a ‘Christian Grey’ into being a good man.”
The #50dollarsnot50shades campaign, which began a couple of weeks ago, has already been picked up by several women’s groups and domestic violence organizations, according to Dines. She said groups in Sweden, Norway, Australia, England and Canada have joined the effort.
Other activists working to fight domestic violence say the campaign provides an opportunity to talk more openly and honestly about BDSM, consent and what constitutes a healthy relationship.
“I think that the problem is that [the book] gives people the idea that in order to engage in a relationship with BDSM or SM with another person, it has a connection to abuse, which is untrue,” said Cassie Luna, a coordinator at The Network/La Red, a survivor-led domestic violence organization in Boston. “SM is about a consensual relationship between all the parties. That is the basis of a healthy SM relationship.”
“[‘Fifty Shades of Grey’] doesn’t leave room for what a healthy SM relationship could look like, where consent on both ends of the parties involved is respected.”
The Network/La Red works to end partner violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, BDSM, polyamorous and queer communities. One aspect of their work involves educating people about the difference between BDSM and abuse. Luna said the difference really comes down to consent, and “Fifty Shades of Grey” raises red flags because the main character struggles with boundaries. At one point, “the main character explicitly says no and is then threatened” that she will have her legs tied if she struggles, Luna said.
The Network/La Red is not part of the #50dollarsnot50shades campaign, but Luna said they hope it will get people to learn “what it really means to participate in meaningful SM relationships” instead of relying on the depiction from one book or movie.
“[‘Fifty Shades of Grey’] doesn’t leave room for what a healthy SM relationship could look like,” Luna said, “where consent on both ends of the parties involved is respected.”