Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Fifty Shades of Grey" and Religious Right Hypocrisy

The release of the Fifty Shade of Grey film, based on the erotic novel by E.L. James, has generated controversy and protests over the film's BDSM content and its depiction of an unhealthy relationship. Twitter hashtag campaigns such as #50ShadesIsAbuse and #50dollarsNot50Shades urge movie-goers to donate money to domestic violence shelters instead of seeing the film. Anti-violence activists have called for a boycott of the film, arguing that Fifty Shades of Grey glorifies domestic violence.  For example, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite argues that eroticized violence such as that depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey is symptomatic of a larger social pathology.
"Eroticized violence in fiction, whether in films or novels, is treacherous because it promotes the idea that women desire to be treated violently. Violence against women then becomes part of the very construction of the nature of love and desire in societies, orchestrating the eroticizing of bodily pain itself and deadening the impulses to compassion and empathy."
I'm pleased that the film is encouraging public discussion about domestic violence. We need to call out the entertainment industry when it sugar-coats unhealthy relationships. We need to ask the hard questions about BDSM. We need to ask ourselves how societal forces shape our sexuality, and what healthy, consensual sexuality looks like.

However, conservative religious leaders have condemned the film as well, using its release as an opportunity to speak out against gender-based violence. Given the Religious Right's poor track record on violence against women, I found these commentary pieces highly ironic.

First, in a February 9th press release, the American Family Association accused the film of glamorizing abuse. AFA president Tim Wildmon observed that the main character's relationship features many red flags for abuse. (Hat tip to Progressive Secular Humanist.)
"...the film glorifies abusive relationships and glamorizes abusive tendencies such as stalking, bondage sex, intimidation and isolation. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control’s standards of emotional abuse and sexual violence include nearly every one of the interactions between the two main characters. Both movie theaters and moviegoers can stand up to this kind of disgusting content that’s touted as ‘entertainment’ and choose not to show or pay to see the film."
Lisa Anderson, Director of Young Adults for Focus on the Family, slammed the film for denigrating women. "Enough with the exploitation, enough with the degradation of women, I mean here we are in outcry in all other times to say women should be honored and respected and treated as equals," she told KOAA 5.

Catholic leaders have warned against watching the film as well. In a February 10th Facebook post, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr called the film "a direct assault on Christian marriage". (Hat tip to the Cincinnati Enquirer.)
"The movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, is scheduled to debut in theaters across America on February 13, 2015. The story line is presented as a romance; however, the underlying theme is that bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable. In the story line, a young Miss Steele is urged to sign a contract becoming a sex slave and agreeing to an abusive and degrading relationship. This movie is in direct contrast to the Christian message of God’s design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy. The movie is a direct assault on Christian marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God’s people. We need to inform our people about the destructive message of this movie and to highlight the beauty of God’s design for loving relationships between a husband and wife in the bond of marriage."
In a February 4th statement, Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, did not mince words. Malone called the film "a graphic portrayal of a young woman agreeing to be abused and degraded in a sexual relationship." The film serves as an opportunity to remind believers about the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality, he wrote. (Hat tip to Religion News Service.)

"This is an opportunity for us to remind the faithful of the beauty of the Church’s teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation."
I want to take these condemnations of violence against women seriously, but I can't. I've seen too many examples of Religious Right apathy and callousness toward victims to believe that they're changing their tune now.

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when its most prominent members were attacking the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when proponents of complementarianism repeatedly covered their rear ends during high-profile domestic abuse scandals, instead of asking hard questions about the relationship between sexist gender roles and violence against women?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when churches and commentators demonstrated insensitive attitudes toward domestic violence victims?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when several Christian Patriarchy proponents were accused of mistreating women and girls?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when one of its most celebrated academic institutions was accused of failing rape victims?

Where was the Religious Right's outrage when its members, especially anti-abortion activists, made grossly insensitive statements about sexual assault, time and time again?

If the Religious Right truly cared about violence against women, it would jettison its misogynist attitudes, treat victims with respect, and support policies that aid victims. It would promote a vision of equality and justice. Until the Religious Right takes those steps, I cannot take its current statements seriously. Condemning one film isn't enough.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links. Trigger warning!

Melinda Tankard Reist: Sadistic abuse is not romantic

Huffington Post: What We Learn From Beauty and the Beast, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey

Medium: Fifty Shades of Grey Unmasked

Salon: “50 Shades” of coercive sex: The movie is even worse than the book

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.