To say that I hate Fifty Shades of Grey would be a pretty massive understatement. People say that "hate" is a very strong word, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not strong enough for my opinion of that book and its subsequent sequels. I hate the appallingly bad writing. I hate the fundamentally unlikable characters. I hate the crappy merchandise associated with the trilogy; from "9 months ago, mummy read 50 Shades.." babygrows (gross) to "Waiting for Mr Grey" coffee mugs. But most of all, I hate the abuse - emotional, psychological, sexual and physical - that features within the pages, but which is casually passed off as all part of the most wonderful, passionate, truest form of love you ever did see. And possibly even worse than the abuse itself (if you're thinking "WHAT ABUSE?!" I've written about it before and provided plenty of evidence here), are the excuses for it.
I'll say this now and I'll say it in shouty capitals: THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR ABUSE.
Since speaking out about my dislike (okay, my seething, raging hatred) of Fifty Shades, I've come into contact with fans who've said things such as:
"Christian is really vulnerable, okay?! He's never had a serious relationship; you can't expect him to know how to behave!"
"You can't judge someone when they've had such a fucked up childhood. Christian doesn't know any better."
"Poor Christian never had love growing up. He's trying his best!"
There's a collective word for this group of genuine quotes. That word, my friends, is "bullshit."
Congratulations, Fifty Shades fans!!!
For a start, if you're 27 and head of your own, massive company, then I don't care a jot whether or not you've ever had a serious relationship. You know how to behave around people. You don't become a bazillionnaire, well respected in his industry, without having any idea of social etiquette. You also don't reach 27 without having ever witnessed a couple in a healthy relationship interact with one another. Christian has adopted parents. He has a sister. He has staff. There is no way he can argue that he simply doesn't know how a person is supposed to behave in a relationship.
Skipping the middle quote; if your idea of Christian "trying his best" involves him refusing to allow his girlfriend to see her friends without his express permission, or deliberately bruising her body in retaliation for her sunbathing topless, or threatening her with physical punishment when she has actually told him that his doing so makes her afraid and uncomfortable, then I would hate to see your definition of Christian not trying his best.
But by far and away the most offensive argument, is the "you can't judge him, because he was abused as a child" line of thought. Okay, time to get personal...
The words that helped me recover from abuse.
I've mentioned before that I spent over a year and a half in an abusive relationship, during which I was systematically emotionally manipulated, had my confidence destroyed and was expected to give sex on demand, but was called a slut if I initiated it. One of the most common questions people ask when you open up about that sort of thing is: "Why didn't you just walk away?" In truth, there are a hundred different answers to that question and it would take all night to address it properly. But the simple answer, for me at least, was because I believed that my ex couldn't help the way he behaved.
He'd been abused as a child; how could he possibly know how to love? He was trying really hard. How could I judge him for his behaviour after all he'd been through?
IS ANY OF THIS SOUNDING FAMILIAR??!!
Fifty Shades remains the only book I've ever burnt. The worst experience of my life as a LOVE STORY?! Just NO.
Now that I'm out of the situation and no longer being manipulated, I can look at my own argument and shriek: "What a load of BALLS." But when you're with someone you love, who has led you to believe that they're broken and that only you can help to piece them back together again, you make excuses that you'd never swallow under different circumstances. And I can only assume that when a truly badly written piece of "erotica" has gotten you all hot under the collar, you're prepared to believe the same bullshit about a fictional asshole, too. Because the truth of the situation is this: There is never an excuse for abusing someone. There is no tragic backstory in the world that makes up for choosing (because yes, it is a choice) to abuse another human.
Think about it logically: If we're supposed to excuse someone for abusing their partner, because they experienced abuse as a child, where do we stop? "Oh dear, Jimmy murdered someone. But hey, he witnessed a murder as a kid, so he doesn't know any better, poor love." It's a ludicrous argument. If having a bad childhood, or experiencing tragedy at some point in your life was a valid excuse for your own abusive/criminal actions, our prisons would be empty. Everyone would simply claim to have not experienced enough love when they were small and boom: immediate acquittal.
Are we supposed to apply this rule to everything in life?
"Well, Lisa's husband cheated on her. She's in a new relationship now and if she cheats on her boyfriend, it won't be her fault, because of what she went through before."
"Liam's house was burgled last night. Poor bloke; they took everything. So if he robs from me tonight, I'll forgive him, because he doesn't know any better now."
Can you see how utterly stupid this argument is?! If we believed this, we'd allow people to have a convenient excuse for treating other people like shit. And seriously, abusers don't need an excuse.
We live amongst other humans. We work alongside them, watch them form relationships with one another, chat to them about our day... The vast majority of us know how we ought to treat people. Whether or not we choose to behave respectfully is up to us. Whether or not we choose to be faithful, considerate and affectionate towards our partners is up to us. And if we choose to hurt people - physically or emotionally - we make that choice ourselves.
Sure, we all carry our own baggage around with us and the experiences life has thrown at us in the past will undoubtedly colour our present, to varying degrees. Some experiences change us forever. Some can damage us and cause us to need professional help in order to move on. I don't mind admitting that after my abusive relationship ended, I struggled to cope. I suffered severe depression and I sought counselling. After a few months, I was transferred to a women's abuse charity, where I had weekly therapy for a year. What I lived through, thanks to the bastard I fell in love with, changed me forever. But will I ever use it as an excuse for my actions in the now? Never. I'm an adult. I make my own choices. If I manipulated someone; if I used them, bullied them or hurt them in any way, it would be because I chose to. And I'm not the sort of person who could ever forgive myself for making that sort of abhorrent choice.
Fifty Shades fans could argue that Christian Grey hasn't recovered from his childhood and that's why he is repeating abusive patterns of behaviour with Ana. But straight away, I counter that: If he's still too damaged by his past to be able to recognise that he's abusing his partner, then he shouldn't be in a relationship at all. Moreover, Christian doesn't equate what he's doing to Ana with what he lived through as a child;In fact he claims his past is the reason he wants to cherish Ana and give her the love he didn't have. The truth is, he controls her, stalks her, threatens her and manipulates her. In fact, he uses his past as a convenient excuse for his lousy behaviour as and when it suits him - usually when Ana is questioning him for the way he treats her. Funny old thing, my ex used to do exactly the same. If I criticised his behaviour, he'd break out the "but I've had such a terrible life and I don't know any better" line. If you're wondering why I hate Fifty Shades so much (have you READ it?!), this is the crux of the matter. It mirrors the worst experience of my life. And it paints it as a love story. A love story featuring a "heroine" who magically fixes the abusive man. Why did I stay with my ex so long? Because I thought I could fix him. When I left, I felt like I was a failure for not having succeeded. So thanks for reawakening all of those memories, EL James. But hey, back to the matter in hand...
One thing I get accused of by Fifty Shades fans, is lacking compassion. Because God knows, it's very important to have compassion for the fictional childhood of an abusive man in a badly written book. But seriously, that argument is ridiculous.
I had bucketfuls of compassion for my ex. I pitied the childhood he'd had and I still do. I will always think that if he was treated as badly as he said he was, then that's awful. As an innocent child, he in no way deserved that ill treatment. But you can look at what happened to a person in their past and feel sympathy, without going so far as to allow that past to erase their bad deeds in the present.
Victoria Coren landed herself in hot water this year, when she wrote about Roman Polanski and his tragic past, as well as the fact that he drugged and anally raped a child. Victoria's argument seemed to be that we should feel sympathy for what Polanski had been through in his life and that having done so, we shouldn't allow ourselves to be angry or to have violent thoughts of retribution over the fact that he became a rapist. Although she says that his past is "not an excuse," she trips over her own shoelaces by going on to say that "a complicated factor" is that his films are full of beauty, as though that fact makes it harder to be angry that he raped an underage girl. The message of her piece is that we ought to learn not to box people into categories: Good or Bad, but to instead see the whole picture. The thing is, most of us are perfectly capable of looking at that whole picture. I see it thus: Roman Polanski lost his parents in the holocaust. That is tragic. That is awful and I feel very sorry for that little boy. As an adult, his heavily pregnant wife was murdered. That's an utterly terribly thing for someone to experience and I have huge sympathy for him. Then he anally raped a child. And I think he is despicable for doing so, because I cannot, WILL not excuse him on account of his having experienced tragedy in his earlier life.
Whilst we may be coloured by our pasts, we are more than what we have lived through. It is perfectly possible to feel total sympathy for what a person has been through in his or her life. It is not acceptable to use their past as an excuse for their present. My ex went through a bad childhood and I feel sorry for him for that. He then grew into an intelligent man, capable of attending university, making friends and functioning as an adult in society. And yet he still chose to emotionally manipulate me. He chose to treat me the way he did. His past doesn't excuse him any more than Christian Grey's past excuses the way he treats Ana.
To suggest that a person's past means they cannot help their behaviour in the present and future is an insult to those who suffer abuse at that person's hands. I'd even go so far as to say it's an insult to an abuser's intelligence.
We are masters of our own destiny. We make our own choices. Deciding to rape is a choice. Deciding not to consider the feelings of another person at any point is a choice. We are responsible for our own actions and we become what we choose to become. And when we choose to abuse, there is no excuse.