Holly Richardson: ‘Fifty Shades‘ in a #MeToo world

The Valentine’s Day weekend box office hit was a story glorifying sexual violence, misogyny and abuse.

In this image released by Universal Pictures and Focus Features, Dakota Johnson, left, and Jamie Dornan appear in a scene from the film "Fifty Shades of Grey." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures and Focus Features)

The #MeToo movement has brought much-needed attention to a pervasive problem — sexual harassment and abuse. Recent photos of Colbie Holderness’ black eye, the resignation of two White House officials accused of abuse and a string of stories of women dying at the hands of their partners have brought attention to the scourge of domestic violence.

And yet, the Valentine’s Day weekend box office hit was a story glorifying sexual violence, misogyny and abuse.

Houston, we have a problem. Love is not “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Instead, the book series and the trilogy of films normalize rape culture and romanticize emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Stalking, beating, cutting the victim off from contact with friends and family, obsession, control and manipulation are not romantic. They are abusive.

Katherine Blakeman, director of communications at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said: “It is incredibly socially irresponsible to uphold ‘Fifty Shades’ as mainstream entertainment, while at the same time we express our outrage at Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, and while we work to eradicate sexual harassment, sexual assault and the rape myth mentality from our culture.”

Caitlin Roper, who calls herself a “campaigner against the sexual exploitation of women and girls,” asks: “So what happens when a film series of this magnitude frames domestic abuse and male violence against women as sexy and desirable? What message does it send to women and girls, and also to men and boys? Who benefits from widespread acceptance of the belief women and girls secretly want and enjoy sexual violence?” Clearly it’s not the women.

More than 12 million women and men each year are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner — an average of 24 people each minute of every day. (And that’s not accounting for the underreporting of rape cases; some studies show 4 out of 5 rapes are not reported.)

As we well know, some of those victims end up dead: The most lethal times for an abused woman are right after she leaves and right after she gets a restraining order. Forty-four percent of the homicides in Utah last year were linked directly to domestic violence.

The organization Fight the New Drug lists five unhealthy things that “Fifty Shades” teaches:

1. Affections can be bought and the more money spent, the more control is “earned.”

2. Stalking and controlling are gestures of affection. Possessiveness is loving, especially when manipulation is involved.

3. It is “romantic” to ignore or enjoy the pain of others for personal pleasure.

4. It is acceptable for sex to be used as a weapon, and coercion and force aren’t abusive — they are expressions of desire.

5. Wealth and success plus a tortured past make an abusive relationship acceptable.

I would add another unhealthy falsehood: that you can “fix” a violent and controlling partner by being submissive and obedient. It’s simply not true. Domestic violence shelters — and, sadly, graveyards — are full of women who were unfortunate enough to meet their own “Christian Grey.”

We cannot simultaneously be serious about eradicating the #MeToo scourge and buy tickets to see “Fifty Shades.” As long as we continue to normalize and support the glorification of sexual violence and abuse, we cannot be taken seriously when we also claim the goal of ending sexual abuse and domestic violence. It just doesn’t work that way.

It’s time to be serious about ending sexual harassment, assault, exploitation and violence. In addition to not seeing the movie, there is a campaign, #50DollarsNot50Shades, that encourages donations of $50 to a domestic violence shelter. I donated to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. You can, too, or find a shelter in your community. They would welcome your donation. Violence is not a fairy tale, and abuse is not normal, no matter what shade they are packaged in.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson is mystified that in the era of #MeToo, Hollywood would even consider releasing a movie like “Fifty Shades Freed” and even more mystified that people would pay good money to go see it.