The thought of getting your own back feels great. Some random guy sent you a lewd unsolicited message and a quick flick through his timeline shows that you’re probably not the first woman he’s tried this with. His comments ooze with ego and a grossly misplaced sense of entitlement. You see it. You’re fed up with it.
And after a little digging you’ve found out who his wife, girlfriend or play-partner is.
You relish the thought of busting this guy and seeing this woman triumph over him in a blaze of fury.
Having recently grown in admiration for Jane Austen as an author, my husband and I are rewatching the BBC’s 1995 six-hour adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. That’s the one where Colin Firth plays Mr Darcy. *swoon*
Anyway, we watched the scene where Mr Wickham (who later turns out to be the villain of the piece) introduces himself to Lizzy (the heroine).
So here’s the thing: you do not protect someone by faulting their behaviour and then trying to control them so as to limit it.
It took me a while to click this and I don’t have it entirely straight in my head yet, but the way I see it, if a person is vulnerable to making unhealthy choices, you protect them by limiting their surroundings, not by limiting them.
To give an example: you protect children by keeping sharp objects out of reach; you don’t protect them by telling them they must never reach, and certainly not by punishing them for trying to reach. (Though sometimes you let them discover wisdom for themselves – like when my parents let me serve myself a heaped spoonful of mustard because I kept demanding it.)
Meanwhile, as anyone who has studied domestic violence will tell you, entitlement and desire for control are the root of abuse. I’ll be the first to say that faithfulness is bigger than consent, but faithfulness is not about control – and it’s definitely not about retributive punishment.
With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.
So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.
Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.
I should know: I dated him.
And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.
Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.
CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades.
I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:
Understanding sex and consent in context
Giving and receiving consent
Bad consent and withdrawing consent
I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!
He strolls towards me until he’s standing in front of me. “What did you buy?” he whispers, and I know it’s to change the topic of conversation.
“A dress, some shoes, a necklace. I spent a great deal of your money.” I glance up at him guiltily.
He’s amused. “Good,” he murmurs and tucks a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “And for the billionth time, our money.”
— Fifty Shades Freed, p290
I remember shifting uncomfortably in my seat as I was watching Beauty and the Beast. Belle was standing at the top of the stairs dressed in her yellow ball gown. The problem was, I couldn’t be sure that this whole scene wasn’t Beast’s way of ignoring or – worse – glamorising Belle’s captivity. And what was I to make of the strong and determined heroine? Had the prospect of a pretty dress and a candlelit dinner made her forget her dreams of adventure?
How did this iconic ballroom scene reconcile with the rest of the plot?
“He has a point, Christian. You’re very wealthy, and I’m bringing nothing to our marriage but my student loans.”
Christian gazes at me, his eyes bleak. “Anastasia, if you leave me, you might as well take everything. You left me once before. I know how that feels.”
— Fifty Shades Freed, p32
For context, that’s Christian Grey explaining why refuses to sign a pre-nuptial agreement with Ana. It’s another classic Fifty Shades moment which is trying to sound romantic and affectionate – but isn’t when you stop to think about it. Christian is saying his life isn’t worth living if he doesn’t have Ana.
No pressure then.
It’s not unsurprising that Christian is able to make all manner of promises of commitment to Ana, even though he is abusive towards her. He has, after all, no intention of losing her.
This mini-series on Choice, commitment and consent has four parts:
Part 1 looked at how promise is important to understanding redemption.
Part 2 looked at Christian’s promises in the first book of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Part 3 (this one!) looks at Christian’s promises in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
Part 4 will look at Ana’s promises in the trilogy.
Jeez, I’m a quivering, mess, and he hasn’t even touched me. I squirm in my seat and meet his dark glare.
“Why don’t you?” I challenge quietly.
“Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia—not until I have your written consent to do so.” His lips hint at a smile.
— Fifty Shades of Grey, p74
Four pages later, we see how good Christian is to his promise:
“Oh, f*** the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me pushing me against the wall of the elevator.
The plot of two halves
In Choice, Commitment and Consent (Part 1), I talked about how the idea of promise is important to understanding redemption. In that post I also raised the following objection to the plot of Fifty Shades:
Redemption is about the redeemer making a single promise to the person needing redemption. In Fifty Shades it’s Christian who keeps making promises – and breaking them. He is always shifting the boundaries of the relationship by changing the terms of his promises.
It’s important to recognise that how Christian reveals his secrets to Ana (and breaks his promises to her) shifts after the end of the first book. Up to the end of Fifty Shades of Grey the focus is on him obtaining and keeping Ana on his terms, for his ends. Afterwards, however, he recognises that’s not going to work because Ana leaves him. So he begins to take steps so that the relationship is more on Ana’s terms.
In other words – and I’m not saying I agree with the following statements – there’s a case for saying that, from a redemption perspective:
Fifty Shades of Grey is about Christian thrashing about wretchedly in his fallen state, trying suck Ana into his darkness and failing.
Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are about Christian learning to relate in healthy ways or ‘learning to love’ as the narrator in Beauty and the Beast would say. In learning, Christian eventually reaches his complete redemption – being married, monogamous, a father of one child a father-to-be of another, and still having a great sex life with Ana.
The thing is, I don’t think either of these parts of the plot speak about redemption. So in this post I’ll talk about the first part, and in the next post I’ll talk about the second.
Why am I even thinking about this?
— Fifty Shades of Grey, p165
This is a mini-ish post in my series looking at the redemption arcs in Beauty and the Beast compared with Fifty Shades.
Reason being, I need a little more time to work on the next proper one in the series which will look in a lot more detail at Ana’s choice to try to redeem Christian. In this one though, I’ll just make a couple of observations about Ana’s motivation and Belle’s motivation.
“I think the reason why you love Beauty and the Beast so much is because it has such a strong redemption narrative.”
My best friend was right of course. I love stories of redemption. To borrow from another saying, these stories have power, not because they tell us that there are monsters in the world, nor because they tell us that we can be monsters. But rather, because they tell us that – even in our most wretched and unlovable state – we can be saved from being monsters. We can become children of light.
In fairness, the appeal of Disney’s film when I was growing up probably also had much to do with the fact that I could identify with the heroine who didn’t quite fit in. Plus I admired her beauty, ability and courage. And then there were the songs.
I was recently asked if the idea of ‘the One’ was biblical and I decided to blog about it as I think it’s essentially a question about how romance relates to hope.
The very boring short answer is No, for the simple reason that many modern romance narratives (including the idea of ‘soul-mates’ and the ‘One True Love’) have literary origins which are much later than the Bible.
But that doesn’t answer much more interesting questions like whether God intends everyone to experience romantic affection or whether a Christian can expect to meet their ‘One’ miraculously.
So, I’ve put a few thoughts on the boring short question in an appendix, and have written a post that tries to address those questions instead. Also, because the original question asked about the Bible, I’ve framed most of my answers using examples from it.
So: is the idea of ‘the One’ consistent with the Bible?
I’m going to say more no than yes.
It’s not that God never does bring ‘the One’ into a Christian’s life (he does), but specifically expecting that God will do this makes too many assumptions about life and how God works. And it encourages too many unhelpful behaviours.
I recently wrote a post in which I mentioned that my husband and I went for psychosexual therapy (you can find it here: On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving). Much to my surprise, I was soon contacted by someone asking about the therapy – because they and their spouse were also thinking about it. Our correspondence was only brief, but in that time I learned that they, like my husband and me, were Christians and that they came from an evangelical background. Now, I don’t currently identify as an evangelical, but evangelicalism certainly influenced how I was brought up and how I thought about sex. So perhaps it was unsurprising that I felt for this person and ached to tell them something that would be of benefit to them. So I went away, thought about it, and wrote this (quite long) collection of thoughts. (If you’re after something short and sweet on what sex is about in the first place, try this: The key to lifelong sex? Get the right advice.)
EDIT: this post is aimed at people who feel guilty about being pleasured. If you want to read about consent and negotiating for mutual enjoyment as part of a long-term sex relationship, I recommend this post on Ashley Easter’s blog.
The ‘always be giving’ myth
Every now and then I read something that suggests that if you’re not on the giving end of sex, you’re doing it wrong. The argument follows a few leaps of logic:
It is better to give than to receive;
Therefore, to desire your own pleasure is to put yourself before your intimate partner;
Therefore, if you’re not giving, you’re abusing.
If you’re in a sexual relationship and you’re never or rarely at the giving end of sex (or not nearly as often as your intimate partner), then that points to an imbalance and imbalances raise questions about the overall health of the relationship.
But I cannot reconcile myself to a model of sex where the expectation is that you must always be giving. Or, to put it another way: I cannot reconcile myself to the idea that a healthy sexual relationship means you should always be contributing to the pleasure of your intimate partner.
This post is a writer’s-commentary on a sketch I wrote, based on two Bible stories: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-20, and the book of Ruth. If you haven’t read the sketch, it’s in my previous post.
I originally wrote the sketch as an illustration of the differences between good and not-so-good sexual desire, which in the church often get called “love” and “lust”. But these words are often unhelpful as they are often used in different ways. Bigger than that though, is the problem that “love” and “lust” don’t usually come on their own.
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