Ruth Perry over at The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors posted a huge list of links about the response to Fifty—oh, never mind, you know what book it is. I read a few. One that I found especially intriguing was from a woman who had survived an abusive relationship: “Fifty Abusive Moments in Fifty Shades of Grey.” I’ll be writing about numbers 48 and 50.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the book, have no plans to read the book, and absolutely no intention of wasting time and money on a movie based on the aforesaid book. Normally, I think people should read a book/watch a movie if they’re going to critique it; I’ve made an exception here.
Second full disclosure: I’ve never been in a physically abusive relationship, though my first relationship falls into the “emotionally abusive” category. I wasn’t certain that this was true until now.
According to this blogger, here’s what happens in Fifty Shades:
Soooo…. In chapter 14, Christian goes into a “catatonic state.” He is terrified that Ana is going to leave him, because she’s angry that he spent time alone with Leila and has decided to go back to her own apartment for some space. So he goes into submission mode. He falls to his knees, breathing heavily and refusing to speak to Ana, or look her in the eye. Ana spends ages, begging him to talk to her, telling him she loves him, how much he means to her, how she can’t stand the idea of anyone else being with him… And then she gets to the nitty gritty and starts saying she’s not good enough for him and she’s sorry and she just doesn’t know what he could possibly see in her. And bingo. Christian’s back, everyone!
This got to me.
It’s a long story, but here it goes:
At the Christian college, I had an older guy pursue me. He asked me to go with him to the Junior-Senior banquet (as friends).
I turned him down; my roommate had a crush on him and he had had a brief flirtation with her. She’d been devastated when he broke it off.
Then he confessed that he had a crush on me.
I’d never been pursued before, and for various reasons, I said he could call me. And he did call me.
Every night. For hours. With my roommate in the room.
He was on the phone downstairs, just outside my dorm, and I was upstairs in my room, refusing to come downstairs to him. (At the beginning of the school year, he’d had serious flirtations with three of my friends, and I was scared to go for a walk with him.)
Every so often, someone would walk by him and ask,
“Who are you talking to?”
“Nobody,” he’d reply.
My friends hated his guts; each time they saw me on the phone with him, they’d tell me to hang up. It was good advice, but being nice, polite, and pleasing other people was ingrained in me, and I didn’t do it.
He followed me, taking every opportunity to talk to me. I tried to make certain my friends were always with me.
He cornered me in the cafeteria. I avoided mealtime.
Can you possibly see a few red flags here?
The stress of the situation was one reason I developed bulimia. My already depressed mood deteriorated.
Within two weeks of asking me out, he told me that he loved me. (Fast worker, just like Mr. Grey in Fifty Shades.) And he had to tell me, over and over and over, on the phone, “I love you.” I swear, the guy was a CD player set on repeat.
More red flags.
My mood swings burst out in full force. I started developing feelings for him, a guy I found physically revolting, and one Monday night, as I swung into a hypomanic episode, I told him I loved him, too.
Bliss! Happiness! Dancing on the bed in ecstasy! Hypomania. It lasted less than twenty-four hours before I started to spiral down and rethink this entire love business. Wasn’t this happening a little quickly? I didn’t really have to marry the guy, did I?
I told him I needed space.
And he turned into a Christian form of Christian Grey. Total silence. Wouldn’t respond to my words. Wouldn’t look at me. Breathed heavily. Left campus, head hanging.
The next day, he didn’t show up for classes. His friends started asking my friends if I knew where he was. “He’s skipped Russian history twice this week,” one said. Once, to hold hands with me-in-bliss-of-hypomania-state. Second, to manipulate me. He’d told me that he’d wanted to kill himself before; now, I wondered if he’d committed suicide and the school just didn’t know yet. It would be my fault because I didn’t love him enough.
When he finally did appear, he didn’t talk to me. My moods were still swinging and now I was in a mixed phase: all the negativity of depression and all the energy of mania. I emailed him, demanding to talk, and ripped into him. (At least I didn’t act like Ana in this case!)
“You gave me the silent treatment. You shut down! You wouldn’t talk to me.”
“You do that, too,” he replied.
Suddenly, I felt responsible, guilty and implicated and confused. Was this all my fault? Was I behaving just like him? I hit bottom with a depressive phase. Within hours, I was unable to speak. Friends begged me to talk. I couldn’t. I’m not capable of love, I thought, and I don’t deserve his love.
All of this had happened in less than one week’s time.
Fast forward to when I read the post’s description of the characters’ behavior. I saw my ex-boyfriend’s behavior in Christian’s “catatonic state.” I saw my response in Ana’s. I felt indignant and angry at how easily I had been manipulated.
But then I remembered how I’d fallen into that silent state of depression. Wasn’t that just like his behavior? Was I any better than he was? Maybe I shouldn’t point a finger at him because I was guilty, too. Wasn’t I just as manipulative as he was? Judge not, lest you be judged, and all that.
Didn’t I see myself in Christian Grey?
Then my thoughts waved a big red flag. This time, I paid attention.
Isn’t this exactly how an abuser controls a victim?
Christian forces Ana to identify with him; while he says that they are both to blame for the mess in their relationship, the underlying message is that it’s really her fault. He uses silence as a tool for manipulation, remaining silent until she feels guilty, blames herself, and feels unworthy of his love.
It’s not love. It’s emotional abuse.
What struck me as bizarre is my reaction to this incident in the novel, as reported by someone else. I’m not reading the book and immersed in the plot; I have no emotional investment in these characters; I’m a mature woman in a stable and loving marriage with a man who respects me. Plus, I’m a Christian, a feminist, and trained in literary analysis, so I should be aware of sexist undercurrents, right?
Yet I’ve almost been manipulated into believing that the whole strange mood-swing-induced romance-gone-bust was my fault and that I’m just like Christian Grey.
That’s how powerful emotional abuse is.