Several years ago a patient was gushing about how she wanted to meet someone just like Christian Grey in the (then) new release, Fifty Shades of Grey. She said he seemed “perfect.” Out of curiosity I picked up the book and started to read it. The next time I saw her I gave her a piece of my mind (as I’m sure you can imagine) and suggested she continue with her weekly sessions until men like Grey no longer seemed appealing to her.
It’s almost too perfect that Jamie Dornan was picked as Christian Grey. Our friends in the UK will remember him as the wildly creepy serial killer who enjoys sexually torturing women before he kills them (The Fall). Now he’s taken on the role of Christian Grey. Not too far a stretch, from what I can see. But the point, the even bigger point is two-fold.
First, let’s look at the whole “saving men” piece of this. Women love to save men and Christian Grey certainly is someone who needs saving. He’s dark, tormented and wickedly screwed up. But the whole saving thing is more fallacy than it is real, because it generally never works. Also, women who want to save men probably have bigger issues than the men they are trying to rescue because saving someone is actually easier than loving them. Now this doesn’t mean that you can, in fact, save them. It just means that loving a good, decent person and not trying to change them – just loving them for who they are – is some of the hardest and most intimate work you will ever do. And therein lies the struggle for most women. Saving someone, and focusing on someone who needs saving is an endless journey and because of this, you never have to focus on yourself – just them and their needs and their progress. The real catch it, most men who need saving are never actually saved or healed. In the end, the joke is on you.
The other element of this book and movie that I find highly disturbing is how we have misinterpreted our idea of sex and pleasure. In one scene of the book, Ana (Christian’s “love”) is left so hurt and bleeding she can’t move. Is that love? No, it’s control and it’s not healthy. Most men who are die-hard into S&M not only have control issues but rage that lies just below the surface. Most of these men come from extremely difficult backgrounds, often motherless, traumatized children who may have been beaten themselves. One tiny change can turn the playroom into something entirely more frightening. Now I’m not talking about tying someone up with neckties or pantyhose – or handcuffing them to the bed. I’m talking about the need to see someone bleed or scream or something far worse. And my concern (frankly my deep concern) with this movie is that it teaches women (and young women because I can almost guarantee given Ana’s presumed age in this movie you’re going to see a lot of young, impressionable girls watching this) that if you wrap everything in a happy ending, it’s ok to let him do whatever to you that he wants, even if it means a trip to the ER.
Maybe I’m getting old and maybe I even sound old. “Oh, lighten up Ruth Ann, it’s just entertainment!” Sure, maybe it is and if you’re old enough to know the difference that’s fine and if you can go into it with the “it’s just entertainment” attitude then have a ball. The problem is, I don’t see this as entertainment. I see this as sending a message to our young girls who are already being given thousands of confusing messages a day and battling huge self-esteem issues. You want to know what I’d consider entertainment? A good love story, a real happy ending, a solid guy who just wants to adore this woman he’s met. While that may seem boring, that to me is the biggest and best happy ending you could ever hope for.