That's right — I am your feminist killjoy friend who finds problems in your favorite shows, movies, and books faster than you can say "f*ck the patriarchy." I cringe at the missteps that even female-led comedies like The Mindy Project and New Girl sometimes make, and when it comes to how women are written and portrayed, I both intentionally and involuntarily overanalyze most things to the point of exhaustion.
And I didn't hate Fifty Shades of Grey. I even liked it a little bit. Take this with a huge grain of salt and bear in mind that I have not and will not read the books, from which I know most of the accusations of abuse and domestic violence arise. Still, in part because of the huge amount of backlash around the movie, I think I expected it to be so extremely issue-ridden that all of the polarizing views would be justified. Sadly, for women and for the world, Fifty Shades hovers quietly on the line that nearly all TV shows and movies straddle — the one that is blurred by the portrayal of women as objects incapable of actual thought, or as damsels in distress needing to be saved, or worse still, the line often crossed that mistakes abuse and control as something that's sexy or desirable. The point? Many — no, most — of the aspects of Fifty Shades that people have found so problematic are not a far cry from ones easily found in some of their, and your, favorite films.
So let's talk about the movie's very own Anastasia Steele — the lip-biting English lit major with a plain Jane exterior (yeah, right) and affinity for the high ponytail and cardigan sweater — and her ridiculously handsome, worldly, and "50 shades of f*cked up" counterpart, Christian Grey. He is controlling, yes. He is attractive, also yes. She kind of thinks he is ridiculous and (again, from what I saw solely in the movie) actually is pretty clear about what she is and is not OK with, even if she is boring and monotone as she proclaims it. The scene of Christian and Ana negotiating the dominant/submissive contract is actually pretty hilarious, with her firmly shutting down the possibility of clamps, anal fisting — or any fisting for that matter — and Christian promptly crossing out the offending items on the list. If anything, she has him wrapped around her finger, not the other way around. When he is in his dominant role and she in her submissive one, she verbally asks for him to proceed and visibly takes pleasure in the exchange. Many scenes are undeniably sexy, with little issue, albeit a whole lot of nipple. The point is, different people find different things arousing, so while whips, handcuffs, and getting tied up may not be relatable to everyone, abuse it does not necessarily make. Again, haven't read the book. In the movie, he even specifically asks "is this what you want?" while they are in the act, and she consents each time, until the final scene. I'll get there.
The movie has its admittedly adorable rom-com moments, paired predictably with cringe-worthy one-liners that make it all the more similar to the plethora of simple and sweet love stories churned out for the big screen. Not complaining, just sayin'.
Christian's behavior in the final scene is controversial, but also mildly unsurprising based on the buildup throughout the movie. Basically, Christian — presumably because of his ambiguously screwed-up past — takes the BDSM one step too far when, after a bad day, he whips Ana repeatedly. Ah, here the (more blatant) abuse rears its ugly head. NOT GOOD. But I honestly can't complain about how Ana responded. One more time, everyone, still haven't read the book. In the movie, she basically gives him a really big "screw you" and leaves, saying she can't do the relationship anymore. He calls after her, and she shockingly does not fling herself back in to his arms at his pleas. Instead, she looks him dead in the eye, and with more emotion than she has managed to muster throughout the film, firmly says, "no" and leaves. End scene.
Look, I'm not trying to argue that the development of this relationship is necessarily pretty to watch, and I am not saying it's not without its problems. They have an Edward Cullen and Bella Swan-like level of unhealthy dependency and affinity for longing glances, but as far as sex in the film is concerned, it was more like 50 shades of foreplay than anything nearing the realm of actual BDSM. Instead of portraying the style of sex inaccurately — which was a common criticism — the movie didn't really portray it much at all. Rather, we saw the edges of that erotic world without actually entering it.
All I am saying is that to single out Fifty Shades is pretty hypocritical of the people sitting down to watch the same sh*t on a daily basis, even if what they're watching is undeniably more well-written or masked as something more. At best, it simply falls in line with the mass of melodramatic and mildly entertaining formulaic slush that's a guilty pleasure for most of us — myself included. I mean, c'mon, it's two hours of extremely attractive people going at it — who actually hates that? Plus, from where I stand, Ana owned her sexuality in many ways throughout the movie. What we should be doing instead of focusing on one movie in particular is looking at the bigger picture of the culture of sexism, domestic violence, and abuse we live in. And everyone should brush up on their BDSM, because Fifty Shades? Not really portraying it. It's supposed to be enjoyable people, not just endurable.
My takeaway? The soundtrack is killin', and ropes have some diverse and interesting uses.