Friday, 3 July 2015

Dear EL James, let's talk about that hashtag, shall we?!

No copyright infringement intended.

Dear EL James,

I think we need to talk about what happened on Monday night.  Much has been said about your disastrous #AskELJames event, which took place on Twitter at the start of this week, but one voice has been conspicuous in its silence.  Yours.

Or at least, I assume you've remained silent on the matter.  I can't check, because a few years ago, when I told you that I was a survivor, triggered by the abuse romanticised in your books (and suggested you might want to donate to a DV charity as a show of good will), you did this:


I wasn't shocked.  It's something you have a habit of doing.  After you were quoted as saying that those who see abuse in your books are "doing a huge disservice to the women who really go through it," a friend of mine very politely asked you to "please consider that...many of the people who see abuse in your books are survivors of abuse themselves."  You blocked her, too.

I'm a writer.  Sure, I don't have your multi-million pound bank account, or a legion of adoring, unquestioning fans, but I am a writer of three published books.  I write blogs.  I co-run a relatively high-profile campaign that raises awareness of the abuse in your books and I'm required to write for that, too, be it short soundbites on Twitter, or longer, more analytical pieces.  Writing is my passion; it's what I want to do for a living, someday.  I literally dream of the time I can give up my day-job and earn money doing only what I love most.  So, believe me, I get what it's like to be very precious about your creations.  I understand wanting to protect something you've written from what you feel are unfounded accusations.

But when we write anything and put it out into the world for public consumption, it's then open to interpretation.  Open to criticism.  And how we react to criticism says more about us as writers - and as people - than how we react to praise.

It's overwhelming to feel that people are attacking something you've written and are proud of.  I know that, because your own fans have attacked me personally on Twitter, Facebook and here on my blog, for pieces I've written about the abuse in your books.  It can make you feel angry, hurt, cornered and defensive.  But we still have to take responsibility for our words.  We have to speak up for our creation, whilst also taking into account the views of others who see things very differently to us.

Very recently, I used an admittedly awkward phrase on Twitter, to describe the way that people don't often recognise abuse unless it's absolutely blatant.  One person criticised that phrase and said they thought it was "dodgy" and should be re-worded.  I immediately became aware that my choice of words was potentially wrong and I issued a genuine apology.  

And yet, when a rape survivor came to you and said they were triggered by your books, you sent her this gif:

Never mind the fact that she clearly had read the book, hence her being triggered by it; let's address the fact that you sent a survivor of abuse a blatantly violent gif and used the hashtag "#ignorant" just to compound your belittling of her views (this blog by Jenny Trout has screen caps from the event).

In the wake of prominent campaigning against the first movie instalment of the Fifty Shades franchise, you aggressively changed your Twitter bio to read "Author of the Fifty Shades trilogy: A LOVE story."

When Mara Wilson, actress turned writer, suggested that there was abuse in your books, you publicly referred to her as a "sad fuck."

When, on Monday night, your #AskELJames hashtag descended into not just one or two "sad fucks," but thousands of people - many survivors of abuse themselves - asking why you had chosen to romanticise stalking, threats, unwanted control, coercion and manipulation, or why you'd decided to perpetuate massively dangerous abuse myths ("he just doesn't know any better" and "he does it because he loves her SO much"), you opted to ignore those people, yet again.  You chose to answer only the questions that came from your established fans.  And then you cheerfully allowed yourself to be portrayed as a victim of bullying and harassment.

I am aware that there were people sending questions, mocking your age and appearance.  Personal attacks are not my thing and I distance myself entirely from those people.

But let's bring it back to what I said, earlier.  One person took offence to a phrase I used, recently and I issued an apology.  Thousands of people are seeing your books as portraying an emotionally abusive, violent man as a romantic ideal and they're calling you out for it.  And you are studiously ignoring them, blocking them, insulting them and dismissing them.  Is that really the right thing to do?

Of course you aren't going to come out and say "hey,  guys?  My books are full of abuse and nobody should read them."  Nobody is actually asking you to, either.

But it's clear from your very aggressive and deeply dismissive handling of the justified criticism you've received from survivors, campaigners and other members of the public, that you are not prepared to even consider why those people hold the views that they do.  You are not willing (or perhaps able?) to look at your own work from an outsider perspective.  You are unprepared to educate yourself.

Because that's what this is about, really.  Education.

Abuse happens to 1 in 4 women, here in the UK.  And abuse doesn't just mean "rape" or "being beaten."  Abuse can refer to stalking, manipulation, excessive and unwanted control, threats of violence (whether or not they're carried out), gaslighting, isolating someone from friends and family, coercing someone into doing things (sexually or otherwise) that they don't feel comfortable about and many other horrendous things, besides.  Too often, it goes unrecognised, even by the person it's happening to, because abuse is, by its very nature, insidious.  

And too often, we make excuses for our abusers, because we love them and believe we can help them to change. 

"He only does this to protect me."  

"I must have made him angry; I need to learn to handle him better."

"They can't help it; they were abused as a child.  This is the only form of 'love' they know."

Do you recognise any of this?  Because you should.  These are some of the forms of abuse shown in your books.  These are some of the excuses you use for it.  And that, for millions of people who have experienced abuse, know someone who has, or who works with people escaping from abuse, is NOT OKAY.  It might only be fiction - a fantasy you dreamed up whilst obsessing over Twilight - but fiction often represents societal views and vice versa.  Thanks to your work of fiction reimagining the fact of an abusive realtionship as somehow being desirable, fans of the books are telling survivors that they don't understand abuse.  They're using "he can't help it" as an excuse.  They're telling members of the BDSM community that they know and understand the lifestyle, based on nothing but the books.  They're saying things like "I want a man just like Christian Grey."  Some of them genuinely seem to believe that an abuser can be "loved better."

My big "NO."  So good I used it twice.

The people who criticised your looks, or mocked your age on the #AskELJames hashtag were trolls.  They weren't making a valid point.  They were bullying you.

But the people who asked why you chose to romanticise abusive behaviour, or why you block and ignore those who want to talk about the abuse in Fifty Shades weren't trolls.  They weren't bullying you.  They weren't trying to censor you, ban or burn your books, harass you or take away your fame and fortune.

In many cases, they were the people who have read your books and recognised their own experiences of abuse, being repackaged as romance and sold back to them.  They were the people who understand the need for greater awareness of what constitutes abuse and who felt frustrated at your fans using stereotypical abuse myths to excuse Christian Grey.  They were the people who don't want to do "a huge disservice" to survivors or victims.  They were the people who've felt that for years, the only person doing a disservice is - wilfully or not - you.

Those people were asking you why.  They were asking to be listened to, instead of being hit with the block button.  They were asking to be heard, instead of laughed off, insulted or otherwise dismissed.  They were raising their voices together in unity, taking strength from one another as they realised they weren't alone in being appalled by the "LOVE story" you continue to refuse to hear a word against.  They were trying to open up a discussion on abuse and how much education is needed to undo some of the damage you and others writing similar books have - perhaps unwittingly - caused.

Those people have, in many cases, been silenced enough.  They know what it's like to be unable to speak out, through fear or self-blame.  Those people deserve to be heard, now.

It's not nice to admit when we've done or said something wrong.  But it doesn't have to be the end of the world, either.  Your fans will still buy your books and watch the movies.  Your bank balance will still stay as healthy as it is.  All you need to do is say "I hear you.  I'm listening.  I'm sorry.  This wasn't my intention.  Maybe I got this wrong."

I have a horrible feeling that instead, you will continue to silence, block, ignore and dismiss.  Whilst your fans are fawning and you've created an "us and them" scenario between your backers and your detractors, that must be the easy option.

But the people you silence are growing in number.  They're growing in voice.  They aren't "sad fucks" with an agenda against you.  They aren't pro-censorship, or prudish.  In many cases, they've read your books, they know what abuse is and they understand BDSM.  They simply want you to say you hear them and you're not going to callously brush them aside anymore.

You could be a force for good if you were able to look at your work from a different view, instead of dismissing anyone who offers you anything less than praise.

I wonder if you'll ever be brave enough to do the right thing.


  1. Hi. I agree with you on the point that ELJames is disrespectful to some of her readers and cannot handle criticism. But I wonder. Do you think she wrote this books on purpose, to trigger abuse victims? Do you think she was aware that the story she wrote may be interpreted by some people that way? Also, what is your view on people, who like the books? And why, in your opinion, so many women would love to have a partner like Grey and just don't see his behavior as abusive, but desirable?

    1. 1. Of course I don't think she wrote this book to trigger survivors deliberately. If she did,she has massive problems. However, I think her lack of writing ability, combined with her naivity has contributed to this. Who writes about a man stalking a woman, threatening her with non-sexual, non-consensual beatings and manipulating her throughout and doesn't once think "ooh, this might sound dodgy"? Someone very naive, who hasn't researched her work properly. So no, she probably didn't deliberately set out to write something so damaging, but she has deliberately set out to silence those who recognise the abuse and that isn't through naivity, it's through arrogance. As soon as one person pointed out the abuse, it was her responsibility as an author to express what she intended. To perhaps admit that she researched consensual BDSM far less than she claims. But instead, as the number of people who see the abuse rose, she became more defiant and more determined to block and silence those voices.

      2. Your second question is kind of answered in my first answer,

      3. I don't have a blanket opinion on fans of 50 Shades, as I don't believe in mass judgement. I have friends who loved the books. If you're hoping I'm going to slag them all off, you're going to be disappointed. What I *will* say is that many of those fans probably don't recognise some of the more insidious signs of abuse, such as manipulation and coercion and to me, that is absolute proof that greater education on what constitutes abuse is needed. Many fans have become abusive towards those who criticise the books (I've had death threats, rape threats, threats of assault and been branded a liar over my own abuse experience,by fans who put the imaginary feelings of a fictional character above those of a real person with a valid view), but I like to think that is just a loud minority, rather than something the entire fandom would resort to.

      4. I think there are many reasons for women wanting a man like Grey. On the one hand, peer pressure is a massive thing; I read the books so that I didn't feel left out and for a while I didn't want to speak against them, for fear of being the only person who was. Secondly, the books tap into a fantasy of a rich man who can give you anything you want, is sexually adventurous and who "needs" you. That's a common fantasy for many women. But above all, I think unfortunately, many women see his behaviour as desirable because they've swallowed the "LOVE story" element and don't recognise abuse. Again, this goes back to the desperate need for education. I didn't recognise abuse when it happened to me, either. I thought my poor, broken ex just needed me to support him and he couldn't help getting angry, or saying nasty things, or pushing me away physically and emotionally, because of everything he'd experienced in his childhood. I thought if I carried on loving him the way he said he needed me to, I could fix him.Sound familiar?! When you wrap up manipulation, stalking, coercion, threats and unwanted control in a story of a poor, broken boy who just needs the right person to love him, so he can shower her with sex, money and a glamourous lifestyle, it's easy to ignore the bad in favour of the good. That's often how it happens in reality. I think the readers who desire a man like Christian are absolute evidence of the need to educate on what abuse is and the fact that it's a choice on behalf of the abuser and NOT something they "can't help" and the fact that it won't magically get better if you love them the right way.

  2. Well, I'm not going to reply to Elisabeth above---I think you have answered her in your blog----but, perhaps you may wish to take her points up one by one. Emma, I am in awe of the wonderful job you are doing standing up to this horrible author who has gained so much fame and money by writing books filled with abuse and leading to triggering traumatic memories in persons who have suffered so harshly. Good for you to keep fighting. We all need that fight. I was a therapist for 4 years with victims of abuse---domestic violence, child violence, sexual violence---hitting, emotional and verbal abuse. It is a terrible situation to have such situations glorified----and have it done with a completely deaf and even mean ear for people trying to respond to what ELJames has done, to try to tell their experiences to her. And your speaking up speaks up for all those who are silent and suffering in shame and blaming themselves and feeling they should have done better (when they were the clear victims). This is so important. Please keep it up. We have to struggle to make a path to a better world and to some healing for those who have been hurt so badly. Once again, thank you sincerely, Emma.

    1. Thank you, that really means a lot. I think it's incredibly telling that she's blocking and ignoring the voices of the very people who have met their own real-life Christian Greys and know the truth of her "fantasy" to be very different than the portrayal she's selling. It really is vital to stand up to this and I won't stop! x

  3. I don't think EL James wrote 50 Shades with the intention of triggering anyone. In fact, In fact, I honestly don't believe she knew (or has yet to accept) that what she was writing about was abuse, or that other people may interpret it that way. And that really speaks to a larger problem, I think. The same problem that makes women the world over wish for an abusive partner.
    It's the normalization of abuse. EL James isn't the first person to try to pawn off abuse as romance. Just look at Anne Rice's "Beauty" series. As one reviewer wrote "I love erotica, but let's speak plainly here. This is a story about the joys of rape and torture. I'm not a prude; these terms are used by the book's characters themselves. The book opens with the rape of a comatose sleeping Beauty, and deteriorates from there. There is almost no consensual sex in the book, because consent cannot be given while under duress - consent given under torture is not consent at all. The ploy used by Rice to whitewash this rape is that the rapists are generally attractive people, so the survivors of the rapes should presumably count themselves lucky. This story is about the rapist's ultimate dream - finding a victim who displays all the signs of victimhood - begging, tears, crying, shame, but who deep down begins to enjoy the rape, and love the rapist."
    The normalization of abuse has been fed to us for decades. It's a heavily ingrained part of our society. The real tragedy here is that, rather than learning from the experiences of the abuse survivors coming forward, EL James (and Anne Rice) is not only ignoring what they're saying, but also preparing the next generation for abusive relationships of their own by toting her books as "relationship savers". Instead of accepting that she is, in a way, a victim of the normalization of abuse, she is gleefully continuing the cycle.

    1. 100% agreed. It didn't remotely surprise me when Anne Rice came out to defend EL James. In fact, I figured it was just a question of time before she did. We really have to work harder to educate on what abuse is and to stop this sick glorification of it in fiction and the wider media.

  4. I'm not surprised EL James decided to ignore, block and then play the victim when people tried to ask her about the abuse. From what I've seen that's all she does.

    Odd how the friends who purchased "Grey" haven't really said much about it other than "It's HERE!" and that's it. Not a word on it since. Then again, they all know I'm not a fan of EL James and will call out the horrible writing in the book, as well as the abuse, and so forth. They may be talking about it in an area I can't see.

    Oh well. I have lost respect for anyone who thinks Christian Grey is a "romantic hero". He's a douche, to say the least.

    I don't think she realized what she was doing either. The fact she didn't do a lot of research on what BDSM really comprises is a dead giveaway, as is how she didn't look up the laws in Washington State, and Seattle proper. She was naive until people started pointing out the truth to her... And by then the books were on the best seller list, and her natural arrogance and narcissism won't let her see the real impact of her writings, and how rotten her stories really are.

    I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one out there who thinks the books are damaging, and giving women around the globe the wrong idea of what the ideal man should be like. I've never read the books myself - I'd rather never write again than read something that horrid - but I know enough about them to avoid them like they are coated with anthrax spores.


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