I've achieved a few things in my life that I'm really proud of. Having three books published is one of them. Managing to not scream "I LOVE YOU SO MUCH I WANT TO LIVE INSIDE YOUR HAIR!" at Matt Smith when I went to see American Psycho is another.
One of the things I'm proudest of, is being asked to co-run the original 50 Shades Is Abuse campaign on Twitter. I say "original," because of course there are several pages calling out the abuse in the books and that's great. Anyone brave enough to stand up against the Juggernaut that is EL James' best-seller and say "hang on, this is rubbish; it's glorifying abuse!" is okay by me. But @50shadesabuse is the first and the biggest; it's the page I stumbled upon when, having read and been massively triggered by the first book in the trilogy, I really needed to know that I wasn't alone in being repulsed by the relationship portrayed as "romance." It's the page that the mighty Stephen Fry once tweeted out to his followers. I was thrilled just to find it, so you can imagine how beside myself I was when I was asked to help run it!
I now update the page regularly and liaise with the site's founder to think up new ways of spreading the word that abuse is not love. I'm passionate about it and I will continue to speak out against the Fifty Shades books, movie and anything else connected as long as there's breath in my body.
But of course that leaves me open to criticism from the series' fans. That's fine. Debate is a healthy thing and we can all learn a lot from discussing our opposing views with people who think differently to us. What's not fine, is when Fifty Shades fans contact the Twitter page - or me directly - to accuse us/me of being anti-BDSM. As though that's the only problem we could possibly have with the book. As though we've ever said that BDSM is wrong.
With that in mind, it's time for me to speak directly to Fifty Shades fans, in the hope of getting my point across, once and for all.
Okay, let's take a nice, deep, calming breath. Ready?
Lovely. Now let's talk. Just you and me, oh Fifty Shades fans. Let's have a little chin wag just between us.
Wasn't my dog cute as a puppy?! There, see, we CAN all agree on something!
You all get very cross that the Fifty Shades Is Abuse Twitter campaign exists. And I get why; we're criticising something you love. You're bound to be protective. The trouble is, in rushing to slate us, you're failing to do any research as to what we're about, or why we say the things we say. Your go-to reaction is this: "OH MY GOD, YOU'RE SUCH A PRUDE, WHY ARE YOU SLAGGING OFF BDSM?! YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND KINK! GET A LIFE!" Only this morning, we had a person contact us to tell us she was sick of our "Victorian morality" and "it's not abuse, it's BDSM."
No, no, no. You see, we've not once said that BDSM is abuse. We've not once said that the BDSM in the books is what we're campaigning against (although those in the BDSM community HAVE confirmed our suspicions that the portrayal within the books is at best offensive and at worst dangerous). We've actually gone so far as to explicitly state that we have no issue with safe, consensual BDSM whatsoever. But you guys like to ignore that and casually think that anyone who has a beef with Fifty Shades simply must be a prude who's weirded out by spanking or something. In reality, responding to our campaign by focusing your anger on an entirely imagined attack on BDSM is ridiculous and, without being mean, kind of makes you look stupid.
Let's imagine that EL James cooked us a roast dinner. I mean, she wouldn't, because when we politely contacted her to ask why she's accused people like us of "doing a disservice to women who experience (abusive) relationships" for highlighting the abuse in her books, when actually, many of us are women who've experienced abusive relationships, she promptly blocked all of us and went on to refer to us as trolls. But glossing over that fact, let's imagine that EL James cooked us a roast dinner.
Mmm; beef, potatoes, carrots, Yorkshire puddings, cauliflower cheese, creamed cabbage...
Now imagine that we said "sorry, but we can't eat that meat. We've seen the packaging and that beef had a use-by date that has long since passed. Nobody should be eating that meat; it's dangerous. Everything else looks delicious, but the meat is off."
We'd have a good point. We would be pointing out something that would be dangerous and unhealthy to anyone who ate it. But then along you guys come, screaming "OH MY GOD, YOU AWFUL PEOPLE! WHY ARE YOU SO ANTI CARROTS?! WHAT THE FUCK DID CARROTS EVER DO TO YOU?! WHAT PEOPLE COOK IN THEIR OWN KITCHENS IS THEIR OWN BUSINESS! I HATE YOU, CARROT-PHOBE! I LOVE CARROTS, SO THERE! YOU'RE A DISGUSTING, OVERLY MORALISTIC VEGETABLE-PRUDE!"
Do you see what I'm saying?! That's pretty much what you're doing when you accuse us of being anti BDSM. You're trying to make our campaign fit your own agenda, so you can continue to ignore the facts. It's much easier for you to make out that we're prudes who don't understand kink, than it is to listen to the fact that we're actually talking sensibly and from experience about an issue we're able to back up with actual evidence. It doesn't make you look like you're better, or more open-minded than us. It makes you look really silly, because you're accusing us of something we've never done, just to make yourself feel better.
There are loads of problems we have with Fifty Shades and we've tackled pretty much every comeback you could throw at us right here, in a blog I wrote about why there's no excuse that could justify Christian's behaviour.
And before you give me the whole "it's just a book" argument...
It's three books. It's a film. It's a whole line in tacky merchandise. It's a franchise that is actively silencing anyone who criticises it - EL James herself is pretty handy with that block button on Twitter, isn't she?! And it has given rise to countless women and girls - some still in school - who describe themselves as looking for their own Christian Grey.
Take away his good looks and his ludicrous wealth. Make him an average Joe who works in a supermarket. Then imagine he's controlling whether or not you can see your friends or family. He's threatening to physically hurt you if you don't do as he says, even though you've told him you don't like it. He's not listening to you if you say "no" to sex, but instead pressures you until you relent. He's not respecting your desire for space, but instead follows you thousands of miles away to keep tabs on you. He feels the need to control your work life as well as your home life. He's constantly applying manipulation tactics to you, in order to ensure you feel too guilty to leave him, in spite of his behaviour. He physically harms you for sunbathing topless on a topless beach, even though you've never ever agreed to him marking your body in any way. A man like that, without the fictional Christian's good looks and bank balance, suddenly isn't quite so appealing, is he? And yes, this is where you'll tell me that that's precisely why the story is a fantasy. It's why we can suspend disbelief and fancy the pants off this arrogant bully. But this is where I tell you how wrong you are. Because that man, minus the unrealistic sex appeal and even more unrealistic wealth? The one I described? That's the reality of Christian Grey. That's what one in four women will encounter. And it's not fun. It's not sexy or romantic. It's abuse.
Your beloved book has made men like my ex - an abuser - seem like romantic heroes. Passionate, troubled guys we should aspire to being with. That is just outright dangerous.
And that is the problem we have with your beloved book series.
It's nothing to do with BDSM and it never has been. So please, stop mindlessly accusing us and learn why we're saying what we're saying before you feel the need to leap on us and tell us we're prudish and overly moralistic. What anyone wants to get up to in their own bedrooms (or their red rooms of pain) is entirely up to them. But perpetuating the dangerous myth that abusive behaviour is sexy, or that the right woman can love an abusive man into wellness and he'll magically change his ways for her is just not okay. And we won't stop saying so.