50 Shades of Domestic Violence

I haven’t been shy about my dislike of the book 50 Shades of Grey and the message it’s sending.  If you follow me on twitter you’ve heard me bitch about it even more over there when I get on one of my rants.  There are many, many reasons why this book just plain pisses me off.  Shitty writing, shitty fact checking, shitty editing, barely making an effort to change it from AU fanfic before publishing it… I could go on for days.  But honestly, the thing that bothers me the most about this book is that it is so incredibly full of universal red flags for Domestic Violence (DV) and women all over the world are eating this book up like it’s cake. 

BDSM is not domestic violence if both partners fully consent to it.  That’s not by any means what I’m getting at.  I think that when the DV term is thrown out there people automatically assume that you mean physical violence.  That’s not at all what I’m talking about here.  So let me give you my social worker rundown real quick.

Domestic Violence is not about anger management or just about physical abuse.  It’s about power and control over another person.  That can be physical control in the form of beating the shit out of someone, or emotional control through threats, isolation, and mind games.  As someone who has lived through emotional abuse I can say that it royally sucks and it’s just as awful dealing with someone emotionally beating you up as it is getting physically beat up.

An alpha can be an alpha without being an abuser.  Someone can assert themselves and be in control without having to control you.   The person who beat me never touched me physically.  But that person crushed my spirit, made everything bad in the world seem like it was my fault, blamed all of their problems on me, and kept me in this fucked up world where I actually believed that I was the problem.  But I wasn’t.  That is what domestic violence is about; having power and control over someone else and making them believe that they’re doing it for your own good.

I enjoyed the Twilight books and movies.  I’m not a Twilight hater by any means.  But the books were very hard for me to get through because of the little things that Meyer put in the books that screamed of DV.  I mean come on, step away from your love of Edward for a moment and think about it.  He would crawl through Bella’s bedroom window at night to watch her sleep and started that before he even was her friend.  He was nice to her one moment and then mean the next.  He got mad at her for tripping on the field trip to the greenhouse.  When he saved her life and she wanted to talk about it he blew her off and said she had hit her head.  He told her that he could kill her and how everything in him wanted him to.  Even Bella’s mom says to her in the second book how Edward is so clingy.  

Check this out and think about Bella and Edward’s relationship: Power & Control Wheel.

I can honestly point out something in nearly every spoke of that wheel that Edward does to Bella in the Twilight books.  I’m not the only one either, there have been plenty of articles about DV organizations pointing out the red flags in Twilight.

Even though Twilight is full of red flags, I was able to separate it as fantasy and just enjoy it.  Unlike when I rewatched Phantom of the Opera as a social worker and could not stop obsessing about how creepy the Phantom suddenly was! 🙂  But then we come to 50 Shades.  A story that is not about vampires even though it was written about Twilight characters.  A story that women all over the world are eating up and saying how bad they want a man like Christian Grey in their lives, how they wish their husbands were more like Grey.  That, my dear readers, is where I have a really big fucking problem with this book’s success.

Christian Grey is Edward Cullen on steroids.  He’s got all of the character flaws of Edward and then a few dozen more on top of it.  He is the clinical definition of a domestic abuser.  He stalks Ana finding out where she lives and works.  He traces her cell phone so he can “rescue” her at a bar.  He forces her to eat when she doesn’t want to eat.  He wants her to sign a freaking contract so she’ll be his sub and although he says she can leave at any time the contract clearly says the opposite.  He gets mad at her because another guy calls her phone.  He uses power and control over her to get what HE wants but makes it seem like he’s doing it for HER while she eats it all up.

But this is who women are saying they want and fawning over like he’s the best guy in the world.  *insert heavy sigh*

As you probably know, my friend Jennifer Armintrout has been posting recaps of the chapters of 50 Shades on her blog.  Each time she posts a recap I’d think to myself, “I really need to write something about DV in literature…” but then I’d put it off because I rock like that.  Then yesterday the chapter 13 recap was posted and before I could even get through half of it, I’d dipped into my social worker bag of resources and sent a bunch of stuff on DV to Jen because it was bugging me so bad.

Today she took a break from the recaps to do a different sort of post.  She used a Universal Red Flags checklist that I’ve used with victims of DV and she filled it out for Ana.  I don’t care if you’re a rabid fan of E.L. James and the 50 Shades trillogy and Christian Grey, if you read her post there is NO way you can say that this book isn’t full of DV. 

So take a moment and go read her post:  50 Shades and Abusive Relationships

I’m seriously, seriously disturbed by the fact that so many people are reading these books and are overlooking this stuff like it’s not a big deal.  I don’t care if it’s supposed to be fantasy, it’s still not okay.  If you were reading a book where some creeper was perping on little kids sexually you wouldn’t say, “Oh but it’s just fiction…”  So why the hell are you able to do that about domestic violence? 

Maybe what these readers are actually saying is that they want creativity in the bedroom.  Maybe they want more role playing and even want to try out some BDSM.  Maybe these women have never read REAL erotica before and think that this awful book (my blog, my opinion) is what erotica is all about. 

Honestly, people, if you want reccomendations on erotica that doesn’t involve any sort of DV, be it physical or emotional, I can do that for you gladly!  There are tons of BDSM books out there that are properly written and don’t involve DV.  There are also tons of non-BDSM erotica books out there with strong characters who don’t use power & control tactics on their partners.  Don’t just jump on the 50 Shades bandwagon because it’s easily accessible and “everyone” is reading it.  Go into the freaking romance section of any bookstore and you’ll find just as much sex without the awful writing, awful plot, and awful glorification of DV in it! 

I’ve said my piece.  I’m done for now.  But seriously people, think about it.  1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.  What are you doing to prevent it?


32 responses to “50 Shades of Domestic Violence

  • ScrapNMichelle

    I think that for lots of people, BDSM and DV go hand in hand….and that is not neccesarily true. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I absolutely see what you are getting at here. How on EARTH are they going to make it into a movie without it out and out promoting DV?!?!?!


    • Kel

      It’s SO not true… But I agree, people think they’re one in the same. I’d like to know the same thing about how they’re going to make the movie. They’re going to have to do a serious makeover of Christian if they want to make it BDSM without DV.


  • ScrapNMichelle

    PS: Is your next post going to be about acceptable BDSM books? I could use some more recommendations….Bwahahahahahaha!


  • Kris

    Just want to say… well done. Excellent blog. It’s hard when you’re one of the few people disliking a popular book… folks just look at you. Thank God someone else sees this. I only wish readers had to take and fill out the checklist before spending money on promoting DV…


  • Jen

    Thanks for writing this. My husband (who has been abusive) bought me this book. Clearly, he thinks my reading it will inspire some new level of “intimacy”. I have avoided purchasing this book for the very reasons you stated. If I wanted to read about domestic violence, I’d read my own life story! I don’t need to see domestic violence worshiped and praised just because it’s in a mainstream novel. And, by the way… I feel the same as you about the Twilight Series. (Although I did read all the books twice… it was like cotton candy for the brain, sometimes you need that, I guess.)


    • Kel

      Thank you so much for your comment, Jen. It means the world to me to have someone else who truly understands DV to get behind what I’ve said about this book. I truly understand the need for fantasy and how readers can fall into thinking that Edward is this great guy but when it comes to Christian, E.L. James totally crossed a line and has misrepresented BSDM while glorifying DV.


    • Christina

      My husband (who has also been abusive) bought me this book as well after his friend told him how much his wife loved it. I forced myself to read it. It’s awful. I was horrified over the scenes when he punished her and over all the times that he tells her that she is his. I felt like I wanted to rip the book into a million pieces as soon as I was done. It’s been a few days and I am still upset over it. I think it needs to have a warning label on it that women who are victims of DV should think twice before reading it! 😦


      • Kel

        Thank you, Chistina. I’m appauled on a regular basis by the rate that this book seems to be growing and how many people read it and just don’t care. Don’t care that it’s poorly written fanfic, and don’t care that it’s so full of domestic violence instead of actual BDSM. Yesterday I heard it called “Porn for Mommies” and I wanted to throw up. There’s a huge difference between good erotica and this awful book and it’s follow up books. People keep passing it around because of the sex and they’re just ignoring the rest. It’s really sad.

        Many hugs to you,


  • Shelley

    If you want to see what the movie will look like, watch 9 1/2 Weeks. The characters may be a little bit older than 50 Shades but probably the same idea.


    • Kel

      Eh… I gotta disagree on that one. I haven’t seen 9 1/2 Weeks in a really long time, but it’s not at all what I think of when I think about 50 Shades.


      • Shelley

        There are, of course, differences, but the basic idea is the same. Mickey Rourke’s character was way older but very intense (and I will say, sexy in the beginning) and Kim Basinger was not the shy, bumbling female lead but as I said, the same controlling, eventually abusive, non-explanation giving, over the line behavior on his part still rings of Christian in 50 Shades. I really figure IF (and that’s a big IF) this film gets made, the producers, directors, writers will sanitize the shit out of it and water it down to make it palatable for a potentially very young (let’s say 20 to 35 yo) audience anyway. After all they’re just wanting to make a buck (or a million). Just sayin’… :O)


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  • Josie

    I also read it with a social worker hat on and I thought I might be the only person wondering about the amount of DV red flags.


  • Laura McFadden

    Please share your list of erotica that doesn’t involve any sort of DV, be it physical or emotional. 🙂


  • danielle

    Well, I’m not on the 50 Shades bandwagon, I don’t care about the book, I don’t plan on reading the book, but you make some valid points and since I NEVER read 50 Shades BUT have seen 9 1/2 weeks, I’d agree, it sounds like 9 1/2 weeks revisited! I thought 9 1/2 was a horrible movie filled with DV as well! I haven’t read the Twilight books and I’ve only seen part of the 1st movie, but I will agree with you there as well. I thought it creepy when Edward was watching Bella sleep in her room. Weirdo!!! Thanks for your writing!


    • Kel

      And thanks for your comment! 🙂 It’s funny, I haven’t watched 9 1/2 Weeks since I started working in social work… I bet if I watched it now I’d really hate it. :p I used to love the movie, but that was before I knew about DV personally and professionally.


    • Shelley

      I watched it not too long ago again and had forgotten so much. I actually read this book when I was very young (probably 12 or 13 – my stepmom had left it lying out) and was sooooo weirded out by it naturally!! I finally saw the movie a few years later and still did not really understand at all but was like, “Mmm…whatever!”. When I watched it this last time, I tried to go into it purposely “forgetting” most events and kinda started being ok. By the end though, my thought was, “Thank God she got out when she did!”. And to think they went on and made sequels of him stalking and abusing more women!!! Wow!!!


  • Lou

    Thanks for this post.. I’m not sure if it helps me particularly, but I did come across it with the search “I wish I never read…” I have never suffered from DV, and feel so much for anyone that has. I did, however, use to find some level of intrigue in BDSM despite never carrying this out. It interests yet sickens me at the same time. This book is full of so much darkness, which I suppose is part of the intrigue. But it is so very messed up. It is messing with my head even though I have deleted the e-books so I cannot keep reading it, certain dialogues just keep swimming around in there. And I think you are right, misrepresenting BDSM is dangerous. All the people wishing CG was real, that their partners would be more like him.. Not reality.. I think it has way too much potential to warp peoples’ sense of what relationships can be like. Look at how messed up the character Leila is.. Caught up in the whilrlwind and spat out. Nevertheless, it appeals to our curiosity: why is he so tormented, what is it about her that brings him out of his darkness, etc etc. Anyway. Thanks, and I still wish I never started reading this book.


  • Tonii

    I enjoyed your article, But can i just point out that your references to twilight having DV red flags are a little misleading? Or maybe you’ve taken them the wrong way.

    “When he saved her life and she wanted to talk about it he blew her off and said she had hit her head.”

    If you’re referring to the first book/movie, He blows her off because she doesn’t yet know he’s a vampire, He was trying to come up with a cover story and said she hit her head and must have been confused, because, obviously, no human being could possibly do what he just did.

    “He told her that he could kill her and how everything in him wanted him to.”

    Well, Yes, he is a vampire. It therefore follows that he wants to eat her, and her being human, would likely not survive this.

    The instances of stalker-ish behavior are a bit odd, No one enters a relationship, wakes up to find their boyfriend watching them sleep, and thinks ‘Well, it must be because he’s a vampire!’. Edwards abnormal behavior can be excused because he isn’t human. Therefore it is more acceptable for him not to act like a normal human being.

    Christian Grey however, Is a Human being, And it is this difference that i think crosses the line – His behavior is excused by the author with reasons that thousands of abusers use every day in order to trap their victims into an emotional prison from which escape is difficult, if not impossible for them. To save my self time, I’ll say, Pretty much what you said with bells on about this so called piece of literature!


    • Kel

      While I agree that a lot of the things you mentioned can be blown off simply because Edward is a vampire, they’re still Universal Red Flags for Domestic Violence so I stand behind my statements. I know a lot of Twilight fans who think that the things Edward does (the bedroom stalking, crazy overprotectiveness, etc.) are romantic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that they wish they had a guy like that and they’re not talking about a vampire, but a real guy. That’s where I have a problem, when people can’t draw the line between vampire fantasy and how creepy those things are when translated into a real relationship. If Bella had taken the How to Spot a Dangerous Man quiz at the beginning of her relationship with Edward, she would have found a whole lot of red flags.

      Whit that said though, I’m glad to have another person on the Anti 50 Shades bandwagon. 🙂 Every time I hear someone going on and on about how great these books are I get so frustrated. I honestly believe that it’s all about the sex. Most of the people reading these books aren’t avid readers so coming upon a trillogy that has so much sex in it is a shocker. Those of us who do read a lot realize that sex in books isn’t anything new. But these new readers who aren’t familiar with how to find a good book with sex in it settle for the shitty writing and the awful DV undertones because the books are widely available. It’s sad, because there are some fantastic writers out there who these people could be reading instead of this crap.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  • Jami Gold

    Great post! I first didn’t like FSoG because of the fanfic issue. (I ranted across many posts about that. 🙂 ) But the more I heard about the books, the more I hated them for the DV and the message it sends.

    I hate that some women are wanting a Christian in their lives, and I can only hope that they mean the other aspects of him. (Rich, probably. Let’s hope they don’t want someone to be so emotionally damaged.) I also hate the message that men are potentially taking away from these books–that women want them to act more like Christian. That thought scares me to pieces.

    I read Jennifer’s recaps as well, and one sentence from the book stood out to me. After her “friend” is antagonizes Christian at dinner, Ana and Christian go to the boat house and her first words are: “Please don’t hit me.”

    Only a DV victim would think: a) He might hit me, b) He’s angry and that increases the chances that he would hit me, and c) He’s not able to control himself and *not* hit me, especially when he’s angry. So that single sentence is enough to trigger my THIS IS DV button. I only wish the media covered this aspect of the books. *sigh*

    Thanks for giving me a place to vent. 😉


    • Kel

      Thanks so much for the comment, Jami! I totally agree with you, that “Don’t hit me” line came sort of out of nowhere and screamed of DV victim. It still drives me nuts that so many people are reading these books and not seeing the DV at all. It’s sad, really.


  • E

    Thank you for posting this. I was shocked and felt alone that no one else shared my views of this book. While reading it, I wrote comments in the margins of similar abusive experiences I witnessed in a previous relationship. This book was like therapy in a way. Many Grey characteristics and actions were all too familiar for me. It made me realize how lucky I am to be a survivor of the horrific abuse.

    Thank you to all of the commenters of this post who have so openly shared their experiences.


    • Kel

      You’re very welcome, and thank YOU for taking the time to reply! The popularity of these books kind of breaks my heart because so many people are willing to overlook the DV in it. Or they’ll attack me for saying that it’s DV because they think I’m talking about the BDSM. I’m always happy to hear that another person understands what I’m trying to say. So thanks again. 🙂


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