Every now and then, we find ourselves in a position where we have to defend our views or beliefs. It's not always easy, particularly if the person causing us to defend ourselves is behaving in an aggressive manner. But the feeling you get from just being able to say "actually, I stand by my opinions and here's why," is one that everyone should experience. Because despite it being scary, voicing your beliefs is enormously empowering.
Obviously, there's a caveat - if you could be personally endangered by speaking out against something/someone, or by defending a controversial opinion, then my guidance is always towards self-preservation. But, if you are in a position to be able to defend yourself and your views, I can't recommend it highly enough.
On Thursday, I travelled to London for the UK premiere of Fifty Shades Darker. Now, I know that EL James' book series was phenomenally popular and that the first movie made a whole heap of cash at the box office, despite being almost universally panned. But popularity does not necessarily equate with "good." And, in my view, Fifty Shades as a franchise, is guilty of promoting emotional and psychological abuse as romance, completely misrepresenting safe, consensual BDSM and perpetuating harmful abuse myths. For those reasons, I was not in London to whoop and cheer along with the crowd gathered in Leicester Square on Thursday night, but to protest against it.
Before Thursday night, I had never protested anything. Well, you know, I've ranted a lot about hundreds of things, but I've never gone out with a banner, with the intention of standing up against someone or something and saying "I don't believe this is right."
What I'm trying to say is, I was nervous. I was nervous because of the way I've been treated online for suggesting that there's abuse in Fifty Shades. Right here on my own blog, I've been told I'm a "disgrace of a human being." I've had fans of the series contact me on Twitter to suggest that "it's about time Mr Grey beat the stupidity out of" me. I've been called everything from a "prude" (hahahahaaa, so far from being true...) to a "jealous wannabe author" (again, couldn't be further from the truth). So, knowing how difficult it can be to challenge something so almost-universally popular - and knowing how soul-destroying it is to receive threats of assault, rape or even death just for speaking against it (because yep, there are apparently many fans of Fifty Shades who turn to abuse just as fast as their hero does), I was wary of taking my views out into the real world.
Thankfully, I wasn't going alone. And, rather than use my fellow protestors as human shields, I was simply able to draw comfort from their presence. Knowing that you're not alone in thinking or feeling the way you do is, of itself, an enormous source of strength. So, despite my nerves, being part of a group of strong women, all unafraid to voice their opinions, helped me to realise that whatever was thrown at us, we'd be okay.
And yes, we got a bit of flack. The usual, incredibly poorly thought out fan arguments were tossed our way:
- "If it was abuse, nobody would buy it." - Yeeeaaaaah, that's not how abuse works, dearie. It's never so blatant that you just go "oh, that's abuse, let's all hate the abuser and call their behaviour out." I was in a relationship in which I was emotionally and psychologically abused for more than a year and a half and not once did I call it "abuse." Why? Because abuse hides in plain sight. It's insidious. More often than not, you don't even recognise it when it happens to you - not at first, anyway. So, the popularity of Fifty Shades doesn't make me think "oh, well it simply can't be abuse, then..." It merely highlights how much further education is needed on the subject of abuse, for us to be able to recognise it clearly as a society.
- "It's just a book/movie!" And a line of sex toys. And a line of clothing. And a range of wines. And... You get my point. Besides which, nothing exists in a vacuum. Just as popular culture is influenced by world events, societal views can be influenced by popular culture. And so, when you have a work of fiction - in print or on screen - suggesting that abusive behaviours such as stalking, threats, manipulation, coercion and excessive, unwanted control are acceptable, excusable or even desirable, this has a knock-on effect. And that knock-on effect is evidenced every time a fan of the Fifty Shades franchise uses a stereotypical abuse myth to casually dismiss the abuse in the series. Such as...
- "If it was abuse, she would have left him!" Erm, the dude who tracks her phone, has a file of personal, quite possibly illegally gained information on all his exes and who has already stalked her several times before is not someone I trust to allow Ana to leave, safely. He may say in the third book that she can leave him if she wants to, but his actions are roughly ninety bajillion miles away from those words. Besides which, I am so, so sick of the onus being put on the abused person to leave, rather than on the abuser to STOP BEHAVING ABUSIVELY. There are hundreds of reasons why a person may not feel able or even willing to leave an abusive partner. Suggesting it's not abuse if the person it's happening to doesn't leave is just victim-blaming. And that's gross.
This gif basically encapsulates my feelings towards Christian Grey.
We had some other stuff yelled at us - one woman was utterly enraged at the idea that she might not meet her beloved Jamie Dornan, due to our protest happening opposite where she was standing, which, you know, I get how frustrating that must have been for her, but yelling expletives at us when we'd been told to stand there by Universal was kind of pointless...
But, despite some negativity towards us, what I discovered was that actually, most people aren't going to start yelling and screaming at you just for daring to have an opinion that goes against the grain. Particularly if you can calmly explain why you hold that view.
And, as the celebrities disappeared down the red carpet and the crowd began to disperse, I was left feeling overwhelmingly glad that I had attended the protest and had the chance to make my views known.
Standing up for what you believe in won't always make you popular and it won't always be easy. But that's a price worth paying for the sense of pride you get from having defended your views, particularly in the face of adversity.
I learned something on Thursday. I learned never to let myself be too afraid to challenge things that I believe are wrong. I learned to speak out when it's safe to do so. And I learned that just doing those things makes you feel stronger and walk taller.
And believe me, that's not easily achieved when you're only five feet tall...