Usually at 8 am I don’t expect The Today Show to dismiss the children in the room due to ‘sexual content’. It’s still time for breakfast and pajamas, why are you asking them to leave? Well, earlier this week the crew decided to go onto the set of the new book-to-movie sensation, 50 Shades of Grey. They go through different scenes where the main character (Anastasia Steele) begins as a shy college student and interviews a young entrepreneur, Christian Grey (Really? Steele and Grey?). After watching the trailer, you see the girl transform from a humdrum girl, who sees nothing too exciting about herself, into a girl of sexual prowess. Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms. Still in my robe, between sips I was fascinated by the explicit sex scenes explored on morning television. Whips, blind folds, and dungeon-esque bedrooms are admired with delight, with other anchors exclaiming, “you go girl!” to the flood of tweets sent in by viewers confessing their ‘blushing love’ of this story.
If this is just on morning television, what is in the real book? The real movie? It’s 8 am, and I’m blushing. Women are publicly celebrating this highly sexual series, praising a story that clearly details the frequent sexual encounters these characters have. I had to ask the question: “Why?” Why is our society celebrating this? This sounds a whole lot like a word cautiously uttered in public: porn.
“Porn is basically sexual junk food. When a person is looking at porn, their brain thinks they’re seeing a potential mating opportunity, and pumps the brain full of dopamine. And unlike healthy sexual relationships that build up over time with an actual person, porn offers an endless stream of hyper-sexual images that flood the brain with high levels of dopamine every time the user clicks to a new image.” (http://www.fightthenewdrug.com)
Uh oh, I said the ‘P’ word. Spoken in public, the word can bring a chuckle, a rush of blood to our cheeks, or a shrug. The word is hardly foreign. In fact, it’s a word that rolls off 12-year-old boys’ tongues when they’re alone with friends, or it’s a word that is just as easily typed by men and women into their laptops. It’s a word that captures attention. It’s a word that holds deep shame for some and apathetic numbness to others.
Merriam Webster definition: movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement.
Enter 50 Shades of Grey by E L James.
If you have read it or were considering it: I would encourage you to re-look at this story. The premise is a young college girl who finds empowerment in being controlled by an older man who, according to the author, “struggles with demons” from his past. Domination that he has to control? Domination she desires? A rich, powerful man ‘enlightens’ a young girl through erotic, dominating sex? This book, which E L James deems, “Provocative Romance”, is really just a classier word for readable porn. It’s a form of communication describing sex in order to arouse sexual excitement and compulsive intrigue. Where do I get the word ‘compulsive’? It’s the only sensible word resulting from our dopamine levels rising every time we imagine James’ sexual images that tell us “you need this” over and over, page after page. Compulsivity stemming from encounters that aren’t real, but our bodies feel tricked from a real experience so we go back to get to the feeling, and the ‘experience’. We need more Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
Ladies, can we be honest about something? While women don’t tend to engage in traditional pornography (or at least talk about it out loud), there has been a public free pass with material such as James’ series. We can share it with our friends, read it in front our kids. Somehow these books and movies become a way for us to feel justified. The words “empowered” and “enlightened” slip into conversations between girlfriends. 8 am morning shows begin to praise the material, inviting everyone else to celebrate with them. It’s public, so let’s celebrate! We have the right to publicly express love of this fictitious relationship, and more truthfully their sex life. The book is centered on the new, erotic sex life that Anastasia binds and gags herself too. We are collectively reading explicit details of a sexual relationship. If we need a Grey area between our ‘yes’ and ‘no’ choices, I think we are swimming in it.
Women, if we don’t want our sons, brothers, boyfriends, or husbands watching porn, why do we get a free pass to indulge in sexually explicit material?
Where is the solidarity?
It’s nowhere to be found. Instead, we found a loop hole: “Girl Porn“. What is this term? I promise you’re familiar; we all have been probably longer than we know. GP takes what pornography offers, but places a relationship of the romantic type in the midst of it. If we’re being honest (and I’m all about honesty), I could name a few television programs, magazine, and books that I too have indulged in that compulsively lured me into the Girl Porn candy shop. Total ‘junk food’. They didn’t seem that way at first, but I ignored the images and justified getting through them because of “the story”. Isn’t that what happens? Everyone is reading, watching, and talking about it, and we allow our curiosity to direct us to the channel/website/ebook/store and try it out. Eventually we find ourself compulsively going back to the thing, maybe because of the story, but maybe, if we’re honest: it’s about the sex. Not necessarily at first, but our curiosity for ‘the story’ allows us to justify eating the GP candy. We walk in, buy the sugary, sticky product without ever asking, “should we?”
Ladies: Saying you don’t watch pornography doesn’t mean you aren’t indulging it.
In that same breath, I would look to the males in the room and ask why they watch or read material that is masked by war genre, but chock-full of raunchy, hardcore pornographic scenes. Saying you don’t watch pornography doesn’t mean you aren’t watching it.
You may be asking yourself, “Is this your only point? That it’s porn?” Remember, it’s Girl Porn: explicit sex scenes hidden behind the sickly sweet underbelly of relationship candy. And no, it’s not just about sex: this is a relational issue.
If this relationship was real, and you encountered it, would you support it?
Imagine yourself at a coffee shop, enjoying your regular and in walks a friend of yours. She has never really been too convinced of her potential, which you know. You’ve prayed for her to find some identity in goodness she already obtains. She doesn’t speak highly of herself, like most of us sometimes struggle with, but you hope for inner strength for your friend. Between sips of coffee you learn of a new relationship in her life. Naturally, you’re intrigued. I mean, come on! New relationship? Obviously, you want details. She gives you a peek into this secret you didn’t except: a relationship with a man that slightly alarms you. It seems off-kilter the way she talks about him – disconnected and yet obsessive. She talks of a violence in the bedroom, she admits to the dominance he holds over her sexually and in her daily routine. Your friend gushes of his accomplishments, how she feels to be his, and you see this shift in her composure. Talking about herself has ceased, but him? Her world seems to be spinning around this powerful man who clearly holds control in almost every aspect of her life. You look at her face to find any clue to piece this puzzle together. Would you call her ’empowered’? Would you encourage her to continue doing what she’s doing, not asking her the hard questions like, “Are you sure you’re okay with this? Do you feel safe? Does he love you? Do you have any desire to love him? Where is this relationship going?” Would you be worried about her? After sitting with her, a friend you have deep connections with, would you truly walk away from that conversation feeling totally at peace with what you just heard?
Is this inner strength, joy or security? I would argue, no. Because as ‘independent’ as she may seem in her sexual endeavors, where is her security and self-worth? In whatever this man does, or says it is. You saw the shift in the coffee shop.
We should be alarmed by the celebration following this material not just because of sex, but because of the control. This relationship celebrates the ‘enlightenment’ of submission, lack of control and a woman’s inequality in a sexual encounter with a man. Does the character consent? Absolutely. Is that alarming? Definitely. It’s obsessive and entangled. If a character doesn’t see a clear, definitive boundary between herself and this man, how is the audience supposed to see one?
What jolts me is teenage girls reading this material. Maybe not all, but enough. Teenagers with hormones leaping and bounding into corners they are not ready to go and into a fight they aren’t ready to fight. Believe it or not, they are thinking and envisioning the same sexually explicit material that you as an adult woman or man would be envisioning from James’ story. Yes, it is just a book. But, are we really ignorant enough to believe that it doesn’t affect them? That it doesn’t affect us? That they don’t begin to develop a fantasized version of how sex should be (especially outside the context of a safe relationship) or where their WORTH should be? The blurred line between consent and violence gets increasingly smudged. When girls are fantasizing about being ‘desired’ on someone else’s terms, they have already justified the violent and destructive relationship that inspired it. Who’s to say they won’t justify one of their own? Who’s to tell a young man, “that’s not what women want,” when America is shrieking in delight over a book founded on the cornerstone of a dysfunctional, aggressive relationship? When a culture supports and perpetuates work that reflect this kinds of relationship, how can we not expect it to become the norm? It sounds like it perpetuates young girls and older women to begin envisioning themselves as someone’s plaything. It sounds, dare I say, oppressive. It sounds dangerous, and that’s not fair.
It’s not fair to their future relationships, marriages or self-esteem. It’s not fair to look to our sons and shame them for pornography but not set a boundary for ourselves or daughters. Again, where is the solidarity? Girl Porn doesn’t just excuse explicitly pornographic scenes, it glorifies unhealthy relationships in the public eye.
Being sensual or sexual is not the crime. The crime is how our society decides to exploit it. This is not about sex in art, media and literature. It’s not about how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ sex is, or that you will go to hell if you have it outside the context of marriage. This is about the line. When does our media, art and literature become pornographic?If we don’t have a definitive way of discerning when art forms cross over into pornography, how are we going to discuss what to say ‘no’ to?
I’m pleading with you to begin with this story. Why? Because what good is it doing for you, me, our daughters or sons? What good is it for this fictitious relationship to be celebrated, let alone other fictitious ones like it? Is this to shame real-life people who maybe live the stories? Absolutely not. This is about options, for our art and for our society. What’s one option? Don’t let your curiosity win. Curiosity can be a valuable asset, but it also can destroy what we need to protect. (Not to mention, it kills cats.) In other words, you don’t have to read or watch it to have an opinion. As a lover of the arts, I understand the ‘give it a chance’ motto. But honestly, it’s not true. If you know what it’s about and it’s not adding up as something you want to keep in your schema, then don’t. No one is making you, you are free to disagree and not partake. You have the power to look at a piece of literature or art and make the decision if it is good for you. By actively analyzing what’s celebrated in culture, you are taking part in the kind of world you want for the future. Your decisions can say, “I want this to be different”. We have an opportunity to truly analyze all sides of what stands on the platform of “art and literature” and decide what it really means for us. We have a choice to say, “no”. We have the power to change what stories are told about us, what will influence our sons and daughters, and what future relationships and marriages can be.
If you are considering to see the movie:
Ask yourself, ‘why?’
What is your motivation for seeing it?
What will it do for you?
What will it do for your relationships?
Will these images be healthy to consume?
I’m constantly asking myself these questions. I’m still learning to discern what is Girl Porn and how it shows up in other art forms. It’s difficult, and it’s sometimes a groaning process: but I promise it’s worth it. So really, ask yourself. Where is the Girl Porn in your life?