50 Shades of Double Standards: Consuming the Film with One Hand, Condemning Ghomeshi with the Other

Brittany Knapper | Alumni

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19

It’s an uneasy and provocative thought to have: Jian Ghomeshi is Christian Grey. Bill Cosby is Christian Grey.

Just like that, we’re faced with an interesting cultural crux: one where the collective pop-culture’s erotic fantasies find themselves aligned and condemned by legal truth. And yet, here we are, a people thirsty for a good story, flocking to theatres and bookstores, permitting ourselves to witness a grotesque and abusive relationship in the name of entertainment.

And then, in the same breath, we condemn men such as Ghomeshi, or comedian Bill Cosby, for alleged sexual acts. Further than hypocrisy, though, the success of this book and film signifies self-indulgence and hedonism. It is filled with pride and fear. And it teaches us that these acts of fear, punishment, and control should be part of true love. 

For those unfamiliar with “Fifty Shades of Grey”, a quick synopsis for you: Christian Grey is the suave, rich, and masochistic love interest of the innocent and unexacting Anastasia Steele. Grey decides that he desires Anastasia, who, in turn, falls for him. Grey uses sex as a weapon and prompts Anastasia into an agreement wherein she will submit to his predatory and controlling sexual behaviours. She is to be his at anytime, anywhere, and by any means. Her life and emotions are manipulated by Grey, and she is persuaded into sexual acts she would not have agreed to otherwise – simply because Grey threatens to punish (beat, humiliate, assault; choose your own verb) Anastasia if she does not comply with his wishes. In Grey’s own words: “I love to control." 

In the past few weeks, the Christian community, women’s rights communities, and those who continually fight against rape and pornography have been diligently writing a treatise to encourage the just of heart to boycott “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I’m not sure their efforts helped. The movie grossed $85 million in its first weekend. To put that into perspective, the Oscar-winning “Birdman grossed less than half a million in its first weekend.

I’ve read a lot of articles on “Fifty Shades.” I then proceeded to read the book so that I could understand what these articles were touching on. Yet, in all my reading, I found that the root of the problem with this novel and with the conversations surrounding it was completely missed.

You see, the root conflict is not violence against women, or masochism, or hedonism. It’s not even hypocrisy. The root is the distorted representation of a loving relationship this novel presents. What should unnerve us all is that this pop-culture phenomenon teaches our young men that they must control, and our young women that they must be the controlled, the manipulated, and the disrespected in order to call their relationship love; if they aren’t, something is clearly wrong.

In the novel, Anastasia is the Submissive and Grey is the dominant. She is required to heed his every sexual, physical, and controlling whim. He is required to control her. She is required to enjoy it.

Yet, for Christians, this relationship is debunked by rite of Paul’s message to Ephesus. In chapter 5, he relates the roles of men and women in marriage to the roles of Christ and the Church. We all know the texts: “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands” and “Husbands love your wives.” We also are all familiar with the church community’s struggle with this passage in the context of feminism. Yet, this passage uses the same language of submission as Grey’s contract with Anastasia. But instead of it relating to sexual acts (all of which the earlier half of Ephesians 5 forbids), the passage refers to marriage as metaphor for the Church’s relationship with Christ.

See, submission in the context of Paul’s message is not what Anastasia is required to do. It is also not the housewife version of womanhood played out in the 1950s. Submission is equated with respect, with adoration. It’s a fierce sort of love, offered out of loyalty and trust and returned with gentle care, kindness, and compassion. It’s based upon choice, not manipulation. The cycle of adoration and love is fundamental to a relationship which truly mirrors Christ.  

We must hold the Ghomeshis, the Cosbys and the Greys accountable for their actions, and we must not paint them as heroes in the art of love. 

Thus, submission is not fear – not fear of a person, and not fear of consequence. Love is not immoral. It is not controlling. It is not jealous. It is not Christian Grey.