‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Sexual abuse study should scare off readers

Copies of "Fifty Shades of Grey" are seen on display at a book shop in central London.
Copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” are seen on display at a book shop in central London.
(Will Oliver / AFP/Getty Images)

“Fifty Shades of Grey” glamorizes violence against women. That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of Women’s Health by psychologists at Michigan State University and Ohio State University.

That should seem obvious to anyone who has read -- or read of -- the blockbuster trilogy about Christian Grey, a young wealthy bachelor, who preys on Anastasia Steele, a seemingly weak ingenue he can turn into a sex slave.

You have to wonder whether the psychologists just wanted an excuse to read the books, which were especially popular in 2012. But, in fact, their research did arrive at an important conclusion.

They found “that its characters’ behaviors are consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official definition of intimate partner violence -- and that the book perpetuates dangerous abuse patterns,” explains Melissa Pandika on Science Now.


To which Breitbart’s Joel B. Pollak rolls his eyes, arguing that the report is not a real study but rather “just a bunch of pseudo-literary interpretations from busybodies determined to quash a racy book enjoyed by millions of women.”

The success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” sent the book industry into a tizzy to publish the next great erotic novel. Stores selling BDSM products saw sales skyrocket. Even the classical music described in the trilogy got a boost, making the Billboard 200.

Meantime, fans, which might also include your mom, have thanked E.L. James for inspiring their romantic relationships and giving them hope. And at least one husband gushed at last year’s Comic-Con: “My love life is awesome. Thank you!”

But this new study should give fans pause. As Melissa Pandika writes:


According to the federal agency’s guidelines, intimate partner violence includes “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse.” Physical violence includes acts such as slapping and choking, while sexual violence entails forced sex acts, often induced through the use of alcohol or other drugs. Psychological or emotional abuse can involve humiliation, social isolation and stalking.

The book depicts multiple elements of such abuse, [Ohio State University researcher Amy Bonomi] said. Additionally, Anastasia “suffers reactions typical of abused women,” changing her behavior to maintain peace in the relationship and, over time, becoming disempowered and socially isolated.

Pandika also points out that “intimate partner violence affects around 35% of women globally.”

This is not the only problematic element about “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In addition to promoting sexual abuse, it also trumps up the retro notion that women are more fulfilled when a man’s in charge.


What’s really troubling is that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is written by a woman, from a woman’s perspective, and for the benefit of female readers. And that women love it.


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