50 Shades of Sexual Assault

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It seems that the more progress society makes with calling attention to women’s issues, the more we have to fight the undercurrents that subtly subvert that progress. One such subtle attack on the issue of sexual assault is the bondage/S&M sex style in Fifty Shades of Grey. The movie raises the question, “Is sexual assault only an offense if the law says so?” In one article about Fifty Shades of Grey, the author raised an interesting question. Her question was, “Is consent enough?”

Obviously her question goes beyond the answer found in the court’s instructions to the jury. The law sets forth what it will entertain if one party claims offense by another. However, in spite all attempts to manufacture a just society, our courts do not address all matters of morality. For instance, adultery is not a crime punishable by the law, but if you could document all of its effects on society we would probably think that it’s criminal. Nevertheless, most of us are probably of the mindset that it would be ridiculous to jail someone because they cheated on their spouse. However, we probably believe that distributing drugs is a crime worthy of punishment. We are taught to define an offense by a legal system that is not designed to protect our spiritual well-being. The law is good but we must be careful that we do not rest our moral standards on it. We have been taught that fidelity in marriage is no longer as precious as it used to be. We have successfully learned to devalue something God deems as sacred. Marital faithfulness is no longer a black and white issue. It resides in some shade of gray.

In like manner, we have been undergoing a process in which we devalue sexual purity. No longer is virginity on a wedding night a prize. Our culture openly validates cohabiting and engaging in sex with a variety of partners with no shame. We have learned to be shameless. We often mislabel it as freedom or self-expression. Dakota Johnson, Ana in Fifty Shades, says that her character is “fearlessly exploring herself emotionally and sexually.”

There exists in the gulf between society’s law and God’s desire for our lives more than fifty shades of gray. As we seek to satisfy our desires we drift further away from God’s desire for our lives. We should not allow our hearts to rule us because as the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful…desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9) Consequently, consensual abuse may not be illegal but that does not mean it’s good.

Fifty Shades of Grey has the potential, however unconscious, to shift what is normally shameful into something acceptable. It changes God’s gift of sexuality into a painful experience. The precious relationship between a man and a woman in which a man loves a woman so much he would be willing to die for her undergoes a drastic transformation. Fifty Shades reverses that scenario and instead of being a loving, tender man, Christian is an abusive man.

At its core, the movie is a story that glorifies the bad boy syndrome where a woman sacrifices “to save” the man. On the surface, we look around, and even accept, the dangerous message about sexual assault in order to see the “protagonist” overcome the odds of winning the bad boy’s heart. A word of caution: please don’t ignore the poisonous message that pervades the movie. Women don’t need to fix men. Good men come already fixed, not perfect, just not broken. In Fifty Shades it’s easy to miss that the bad boy is simply an abuser wrapped in a rich good looking illusion.

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