Fifty Shades glamourises abuse, say campaigners

Universal Pictures

Bestselling phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey "glamourises" abuse and is in danger of perpetuating violence between young people, domestic violence campaigners have warned.

A group, under the name 'Fifty Shades is Abuse', protested the movie premiere in London tonight. Led by gender justice campaigner Natalie Collins, they are determined to show that the books, and now the film, are not romantic, but in fact the portrayal of a dark and extremely unhealthy relationship.

Collins told Christian Today that many people within the BDSM lifestyle portrayed in the film had been outspoken about the book being a portrayal of domestic abuse. "We want to provide a voice for the many people out there who are saying that this book mirrors [their] experience of abuse from an ex-partner, or these books are glamourising abuse," she said. "[Fifty Shades] misrepresents the BDSM lifestyle. We're not about censorship, but about adding a voice to the conversation."

In an interview with the Mirror, Collins underlined the parts of Fifty Shades which suggest Grey – theoretically a handsome, tortured soul – has an unhealthy fixation on young journalist, Anastasia Steele. "Is it romantic when somebody tracks your phone, when somebody knows where you live before you tell them, sells your only means of transport, or buys the company you work for?" she asked.

"I have spoken to people who have said that [Grey] was abused as a child and that is why he is the way he is. It is...very dangerous to suggest that people abuse because of their childhood and that women can fix broken men with enough love."

Of course, Collins isn't the only to criticise E L James' trilogy. Many Christian groups have expressed concern, with some calling for a boycott upon the movie adaptation's release in cinemas. US Pastor Ed Young last week pledged to 'baptise' a copy of the book, which he labelled "a perverted attempt to trap readers".

However, Collins said that while much of the outrage targeted at Fifty Shades has been from conservative Christians offended by the portrayal of sex, BDSM is actually a "red herring within the whole conversation".

"Those within the BDSM lifestyle have been critical too, and why? It's an unhelpful aspect to focus on, because it's not what the book is actually talking about. We have to have a more nuanced conversation," she said.

"The Bible says that [we should] care for the orphans and the widows – as a Church we have a legitimate responsibility to respond to the promotion of abuse, which has the potential to harm women and children. If the Church was coming from that approach, that perspective, then people might listen a bit more. It would show that we're not just against something, we're for something."

Much has been made of the decision to release Fifty Shades on Valentine's Day (February 14). Collins says it's unnerving because it plays to the psyche of young people, in particular.

"Valentine's Day comes into our conscience when we're tweens – when we're 11 or 12, and we're first sending a secret card to somebody...There's something about how the film paints innocence and naivety," she explained.

Young people, who are just beginning to form romantic attachments and connect with their sexuality, are at risk of being "totally exploited and destroyed by a film which is essentially domestic abuse," she said. The brand is inescapable; Fifty Shades merchandise – teddy bears, changing mats, even baby clothing – can be found all over the high street.

Natalie Collins is leading the '50 Shades of Abuse' campaign

"Young people especially, but all of us, are immersed with the brand that is Fifty Shades, that says this is normal and okay and what society thinks is acceptable," Collins said.

This afternoon, Leicester Square was already teeming with young women – many of whom were no older than 16 – eagerly waiting for the stars of the movie, Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, to walk the red carpet.

"When young people do see the film, which they will – when it comes out on DVD they can download it and all they have to do is check a box saying they are 18 – they will think...that's what romance looks like." The potential repercussions for young people "who are already experiencing and perpetuating domestic violence in relationships on quite a high level" could be huge, Collins warned.

Ruth, a youth worker from High Wycombe, is one of those demonstrating alongside Collins tonight. She told Christian Today that she felt compelled to join after members of her youth group told her they'd read it and loved it. "In the same conversation, they told me they'd done things with their boyfriends that they hadn't wanted to do, and said 'I have to, because I'm in a relationship with him, right?'" she said.

"I drove past a school bus stop, which had a huge picture of Christian Grey with the message 'Lose control', which is the exact opposite of what we're telling them in sex education. It's not acceptable," she continued.

"40 per cent of teenage girls have engaged in sex acts they didn't want to do. Fifty Shades of Grey will only make that worse."

Iriana, a 17-year-old schoolgirl, is also protesting. "As a young person, this movie shows that this type of behaviour in an intimate environment is okay, and I don't think that's right," she said.

"The trailer shows lots of a woman's body, but not a man's."

If critics are right, and Fifty Shades really is a glorified depiction of emotional manipulation and physical abuse, how has it become such a hit among fans?

An article by Rosie Waterland has been widely shared after she reviewed the film this week.

"I went in....thinking it would be two hours of B-grade hilarity about bondage that I could make fun of. It was actually two hours of incredibly disturbing content about an emotionally abusive relationship that left me really, really shaken," she wrote.

"It's emotional abuse disguised as a 'naughty sex contract'. It's domestic violence dressed up as sexy fantasy."

Waterland described it as a "genius, subtle move."

"Putting this kind of controlling, emotionally abusive relationship in the context of a sexy billionaire who just needs to be loved makes it ridiculously easy to convince audiences the world over that this kind of behaviour is okay," she explained.

"He's not some poor drunk with a mullet, hitting his wife for not doing the dishes. Christian is classy. Rich. Educated. He's not what most women imagine an abuser to be, and his kind of abuse is not what most women would immediately recognise."

Collins agrees. "We'd like to think we would notice abuse. We want to think it happens to 'those women' and is perpetuated by 'those men', but actually those women are us, and those men are the men we know," she said today.

"They don't have 'Monster' tattoos on their foreheads – that's just not what an abuser looks like in real life. They can be charming and lovely.

"That's what the books show – that we are ill-equipped to recognise abuse. We don't notice it in real life, and we don't notice it in the books."