50 Shades IS NOT “female wish fulfillment”

Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporterwrote a movie review of 50 Shades of Grey yesterday. And in her review, she falls into every trap of encouraging rape culture and violence against women that this series propagates.

Though she recognizes that the novel revolves around a BDSM relationship she does not seek examine how this relationship is portrayed. She takes the story at face value that BDSM is a heterosexual relationship with a dominant man and a submissive woman. She does not make an inquiry into practicing BDSM in a consensual relationship regardless of the sex or gender of those involved.

Instead, Linden describes Christian Grey as “a long-fingered anti-hero” not an abuser. She praises the film for

the breathless way it melds the erotic kink known as BDSM with female wish-fulfillment fantasy

When authors write about sexual abuse as “female wish-fulfillment” they recreate and keep the myth alive that women want rape. That there is no legitimate rape because women ask for it. That deep down all women want to be swept off their feet and onto the ground as the submissive to a dominant man.

We are inundated not just with positive reviews of men and women in these roles, but we are told it is romantic. We are told the abuser is an anti-hero not a rapist. We are told that if you are in a relationship you cannot be raped. Sexual abuse in the name of romance and becomes the norm because, as Linden continues, the movie is just like any other romance story:

as with most mainstream love stories, an infatuated but commitment-averse male is in need of rehabilitation.

This is further problematic, as it places the main female character in the role of manic pixie dream girl–i.e. the woman who is quirky and only exists to fix the main male character and ultimately serves his sexual and romantic desires. The very concept negates female agency and yet Linden expresses the notion that this film is from “a woman’s perspective.” She claims that the movie works against the male gaze (the concept of telling the story from a man’s perspective and that every aspect of the film–especially anything sexual–is meant for the pleasure of men). Except, if the movie were to break from the male gaze, it would have to do a better job than pretending that BDSM is female wish fulfillment and that because the woman gets what she wants out of sex, it negates the notion that the female character exists for the men in the story and in the audience.

The female lead, however, is not in control of her sexuality and it reviews like Linden’s that propagate rape culture and exclaim through media that women want rape, that sexual assault is romantic and the ideal relationship, and that violence against women is sexy.

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What to Yell in a Public Space if You Feel Threatened

I’ve been taking a domestic violence advocacy training over the past few weeks. Each week a group of 20 or so participants gather together to learn more about the realities of domestic violence and that the answer is never to victim blame. The victim is never the cause and to combat domestic violence we need to teach abusers to not be violent.

At the last session a police officer came in to speak to us. He is a feminist and has been training new recruits in Georgia how to handle domestic violence cases. What struck me the most was when he asked our class:

If you ever feel threatened in a public place what is the best thing to yell to get help?

We yelled out all different answers from “Help!” to telling the abuser “Leave me alone” loud enough for passers by to hear. We talked about screaming until you get someone’s attention.

The police officer told us however that the best response is:

I don’t know them!

Whether or not this is true, I know I felt an immediate reaction to these words. I knew that if someone yelled that and I was within earshot I would go to help and I don’t think I would make the same decision otherwise. This is frightening because we assume the abused (and 90-95% of the time this person is female) belongs to the abuser. We assume the woman has done something to deserve this treatment, whether it’s being bullied into leaving a store, getting into a car or unwanted attention on the street. We assume the woman is in the wrong and by sitting passively we give license to abuse.

But the moment the abused shows they are not owned by someone else (a partner or otherwise) we feel sympathy because now the abuse is no longer justified. Except, abuse is never justified.  It shouldn’t take us so long to realize no one should have ownership over another human being. But it takes time because we are used to seeing women as objects owned and controlled by their partners. The moment we realize our own misconceptions of a violent situation (including verbal and emotional abuse) is the moment we can take a stronger stand against domestic violence.

end domestic violence

 

Mountain Dew and other forms of Racism and Misogyny

I know it’s been on the news and around the internet a lot, but in case you haven’t heard, Mountain Dew had to pull an online commercial on account of it being racist and misogynistic. Below is a link to the commercial and news commentary about the ad.

I take multiple issues with the ad and also the news briefing afterwards.

The ad is both racist and misogynistic, but they work  hand in hand and cannot be spoken about separately. Everything about this commercial is grounded in stereotypes. All the criminals are black men because obviously, only black men commit crimes. It’s the same logic that all criminal black men are gangsters and abuse women. It’s the same logic that on one hand says we’ve moved into a post-racial world because of Obama and in the same breath compares black men to animals.

In a more subtle fashion, I’m interested that those newscasters failed to mention that while the women’s assailant could only be black, she herself was white. The notion of black men attacking white women has kept our modern age secretly grounded in Jim Crow because we refuse to become racially aware and progressive. The message of this commercial was not “buy Mountain Dew” but “black men are criminals and animals; white women are fragile and overly emotional; the white male law officer is in charge.”

The racism is not more or less important than the misogyny. They feed off of each other.  While the racism pits the good guys in white against the criminals in black, the misogyny pits men against women, and the battered woman is harassed on all sides. Yes, the goat is trying to intimidate her, but so is the white man behind her. She is placed in the role of absolute weakness: physically because of her injuries and emotionally because of her harassment and eventual breakdown.

By this analysis, the ad says it’s okay for men of both races to intimidate women, but when the black man does it he is demonized in a police line up, when the white man does it he has authority behind him. Racial and patriarchal hierarchies are kept in tact and are perpetuated by the ad.

There are not two different fights raging for equality. There is no racial equality camp and gender/sexual equality camp. If we are for equality, we are fighting for everyone to have the same human rights. It helps no one to separate racism and misogyny into two categories because they support each other and they divide us. We need to unite under a banner of human dignity for all because this separation is helping no one but those who wish to uphold the racial and patriarchal standard.