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What is feminist Beyonce doing on the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trailer?

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Beyonce's association with 'Fifty Shades of Grey' muddies her feminist message

What is Beyonce, feminist icon, doing on the movie trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a story that has been criticized as wildly sexist?

In recent years, we’ve come to respect Beyonce for empowering women with her music, for speaking up about why women should hold onto their independence, and for aligning herself with such campaigns as Sherly Sandberg’s #BanBossy initiative. Just this week, Beyonce posted a photo of herself as Rosie the Riveter. There’s even a college course that looks at Beyonce’s impact.

So isn’t it odd that Beyonce would align herself with “Fifty Shades of Grey”?

Certainly the two have something is common: They don’t shy away from the topic of sex. But there’s a difference in their narratives.

Beyonce is “sex positive”; she empowers women.“Fifty Shades of Grey” glamorizes violence against women and trumpets the idea that women are happiest when a man is in charge.

As some have opined:

“It’s true that the physical pain [that main character] Anastasia endures in the books is by her own consent, so much so that before he spanks her for the first time, Grey hands her a contract,” writes Kathryn Casey, a crime writer. “What I find unsettling is that in Christian Grey I see the attributes of so many of the men I’ve written about over the years, the ones who abuse and sometimes even end up murdering their intimate partners. Experts have said for decades that rape is more about control than sex. What I’ve seen over and over again is that a man who needs to dominate, humiliate and physically abuse a woman isn’t a hero. He’s not doing it out of love. That guy isn’t the man of any woman’s dreams. He’s a mistake, one she won’t end up rehabilitating but fleeing.”

“The themes of the novel — that love alone can make someone change, that abuse from a spouse is acceptable as long as he’s great in bed, that pregnancies should always be carried to term even if the parents are not ready to be parents, and the ridiculously antiquated, Victorian idea that the love of a pure virgin can save a wayward man from himself — are irrational, unbelievable and dangerous,” warns Carey Purcell.

“Much more troubling is the wider relationship between Christian and Ana which perpetuates some problematic myths about love: that stalking behavior is romantic; that it’s okay for a man to control a woman’s work, eating, contraception and friendships; that a woman should change a man into what she wants him to be. All promote a kind of possessiveness that would make a mutual relationship very difficult,” says Meg Barker, a sex and relationship therapist.

Maybe Beyonce had a different read on the “Fifty Shades” trilogy; there are people on the other side of the debate who say this story empowers women to get in touch with their “free love” instincts. Still, there’s even a study to back up the claims that Anastasia “suffers reactions typical of abused women.”

Which is too bad. Beyonce’s reworked, sexier version of “Crazy in Love” is pretty great, but it muddies her message.

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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