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.