The Destructive Phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey by Christina Knowles

Snagged from www.nydailynews.com
Snagged from wwwnydailynews.com

I have purposefully never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I did watch the movie, 9 1/2 Weeks starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, which to my understanding is basically the same story of sexual manipulation and submission.  Rourke’s character is even named John Gray. However, 9 1/2 Weeks alludes to the fact that this type of relationship is ultimately damaging to the parties involved, whereas Fifty Shades of Grey does not. I have seen the repulsive previews of the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey and listened to my friends and co-workers rave about the books. The fact that this book series is popular with women is disturbing to me in so many ways. I am shocked and disgusted with the idea that women think this is sexy or romantic. In Christian Grey’s own words, “I don’t do romantic.” You’ve got that right, Christian; you certainly don’t.

However, I have heard numerous women say that the books are romantic. I believe these books portray the ideal relationship as dangerously abusive, patronizing, and dehumanizing, which should not be a romantic ideal for women, yet women are being brainwashed into thinking that being treated like a sex object, devoid of all identity and independence, is romantic as long as your partner is completely obsessed with you. This is a common idea in every Harlequin and Silhouette romance novel I ever had the misfortune of reading as a teenager, perpetuating the idea that obsession equals love; it is ludicrous. Yet many women believe this, and apparently not just as teenagers. If you were to ask them if they wanted a relationship characterized by submissiveness, low self-esteem, and having no identity of their own, they would say, “Of course not.” However, that is exactly the kind of relationship idealized in these books.

In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian demands that Anastasia sign a contract to exercise a certain number of days each week, eat only what Christian tells her to eat, and take a form of birth control, so he doesn’t have to wear a condom during sex, implying that her physical appearance and not having a child with her are his greatest concerns. Does this say love to you? Romantic? How about sexy? Christian Grey is a sociopathic control freak, and Anastasia is in danger, not only physically, but also from losing all sense of self and independence. Christian does not care about Anastasia as a person at all. He basically owns her as a sexual object, and he doesn’t care about her feelings or her well-being. So is it the danger that is sexy? It is true that some people are sexually excited by danger, but is this ever considered healthy or loving? Something for women to daydream about? Sounds more like a male fantasy to me, a stereo-typical and unhealthy male’s fantasy. So why do women love it?

Surprisingly, some feminists find that Fifty Shades of Grey supports “traditional family values,” values which many women have worked hard to overcome, values advocating for the submissive role of women in marriage and the dominant aspects of male authority. According to feminist writer Carey Purcell of The Huffington Post, ideals promoted in Fifty Shades are not only damaging to women and relationships, but are archaic and patriarchal in nature, “Early marriage to one’s first sexual partner, having a baby even when saying neither of the partners is ready to be a parent, and submission to one’s husband as the head of the household are all aspects of life that feminists and progressive thinkers have worked to move beyond. Anastasia and Christian’s relationship is not romantic. It is abusive” (Purcell). In fact Christian’s first observation after saying his wedding vows is that now Anastasia unequivocally “belongs” to him, and he doesn’t mean this in the mutual or metaphorical sense. He is now free to require anything he desires from her. One might ask in the 21st century, when will we be done with oppressive gender roles for women? This, in my opinion, is just another patriarchal subversion designed to brainwash women into thinking that they want to be subjugated and objectified.

Of course, sadists are not all men, and masochists are not all women; however, for the purpose of the romance novel, this is usually the case. Sadomasochism is about annihilating self—the persons in submission have their identity and will annihilated. It is not about love, but killing the will of the other person. However, once the will is dead, the oppressor will often move on to a new victim, someone who still has a will to remove because this is where the pleasure for the sadist originates. The victim is left with the shattered pieces of her life to try and patch back together.

Many people will argue that role-playing and sadomasochism are just lifestyle choices and should be viewed as healthy among consenting adults. Ask anyone who has broken free of this lifestyle and see if this is how she sees it. But let’s see what the experts have to say. According to psychologist, Michael J. Formica, “In a relationship driven by power and control, rather than compassion and cooperation, one partner becomes ‘parentalized’ and the other ‘infantilized’. . . When the underlying dynamic shifts to one of compassion, cooperation and communication from one of push and pull, the cycle ceases, or at least recedes into the background, and the stage for authentic relationship is then set” (Formica). In other words, to have an authentic relationship consisting of compassion and cooperation, the cycle of sadomasochistic abuse must end.

Not only does this book series promote practices that destroy healthy relationships, but it stands to reason, that the mainstream acceptance of these ideas as “normal” will increase the danger of violence against women in the form of date rape, stalking, and even rape by strangers with the idea that women secretly desire this behavior, even if they don’t know it. So why are women attracted to this nonsense? I believe the only women who find these sadomasochistic scenarios sexy, are women who have either never been in a controlling relationship or are still caught in the destructive cycle of abuse.

One theory about the popularity of these types of relationships is that these women, like Anastasia, have “daddy” issues; they long for the love of a controlling parental figure because they have felt the lack of it at an early, developmental age. But I know too many women for which this is not the case. My theory is that we, as women, are conditioned from childhood to think our main source of self-esteem is derived from our attractiveness and appeal to men. If men find us irresistible, attractive, desirable, then we are worthy, and we will not end up alone, which we are taught to believe is the ultimate curse, and that we will find “true” love if our male counterparts are obsessed with us sexually. Magazines such as Cosmopolitan give women sexual advice to hold a man, reinforcing this as our primary value to the opposite sex. Women are taught that if a man is insatiably obsessed with them, this equals everlasting love. At the same time we are being taught this, men are being taught to be sexual animals even in greater degree than biology dictates. Men are taught to take what they want in order to be a man, they are told that women are attracted to “bad boys,” and that strength and violence are attractive. Being who we are is never enough, we must play games, dress up, role play, and be someone else, which inevitably lowers our self-esteem because we realize we are not good enough as we are.

Women are taught from youth that love means sacrifice and putting others first, even when it costs them their very lives and identities. And being willing to do anything sexually is the ultimate power over men. Women are considered desirable and valuable only because they are willing to do whatever a man desires sexually, even if it is degrading to them as people. This ideology turns the entire relationship into a “game,” while in reality, love and true intimacy require the absence of game-playing. For a healthy, successful relationship, a couple needs to know their communications, interactions, and sexual intimacy are authentic. Therefore, the type of “romance” in these novels is not only destructive to the psyche of both parties, but true intimacy and love can never exist within this framework.

I believe, once a woman experiences this type of relationship, she either mindlessly continues seeking this type of relationship as each ends in a vain attempt to succeed where the others failed, or if she is lucky, she will emerge from her conditioning, realize she is valuable just the way she is, and then she will no longer need a relationship to make her whole; she will know she is fine by herself, and will then only enter into a relationship if it is a healthy partnership, wherein both parties can be totally themselves with complete honesty and no unhealthy game-playing. When both people are healthy, each one caring for each other and themselves, neither person needs to control the other, and sex becomes just another way to communicate love, respect, and intimacy. It puts sex in its proper place and removes it as a means of subjugation and humiliation, which is a healthier and ultimately more satisfying place for it.

So, I refuse to participate in society’s patriarchal attempts to condition me to equate my value as a human being with the sexual gratification and the controlling desires of men. I am not a prude, but I sincerely believe women need to actively judge for themselves what it means to be loved or even desired in a relationship. Do you want to be re-made into an object of degrading fantasy, or do you want to be seen as worthy of love and respect the way you actually are, and have your sexual relationship be about expressing that value in the most intimate way? Don’t send the wrong message to men. Subjugation, humiliation, and physical control are not sexy or manly—and not what we want from them.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Formica, Michael J. “Sadomasochism in Everyday Relationships.” Psychology Today. June 13, 2008. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/200806/sadomasochism-in-everyday-relationships Accessed: October 23, 2014.

Purceel, Carey. “Fifty Shades of Feminism – A Response to E. L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’” The Huffington Post. January 2, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-purcell/fifty-shades-of-grey-feminism_b_2395932.html Accessed: October 23, 2014.

The Dog That Taught Me How to Live Again by Christina Knowles

Mulder flowersEveryone knows I’m a dog lover, but not many know that I owe a big part of who I am to one special dog. I’ve tried putting these feelings into words so many times and have given up every time, but it is long overdue, so here goes. Mulder Pitman-Knowles passed away in May of 2008 at the age of fifteen, and broke my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible. I put off writing this memoir to honor her because I was afraid, afraid to feel the emotions again, the grief, the gut-wrenching loss. You may, but I hope you don’t, think that that is an over-dramatic reaction to the death of a pet, but Mulder was not a pet. She was my friend, and I loved her as much as any other friend I’ve ever had. I know some people won’t understand what she was to me, but those of you who have had the privilege of loving and being loved by at least one extraordinary animal, will know what I mean.

You see, Mulder unexpectedly changed my life. She saved me, really.Mulder window

I adopted Mulder in 1994 from the Humane Society, or rather, she adopted me. The week before, I took my kids there to look at the animals, and we saw an adorable little male beagle. He was sweet and friendly, but he was a stray, not owner-surrendered, so I had to put my name on a list and wait five days to see if the owner came for him. When I called to check five days later, they said I could come and pick him up. I was so excited and had already picked out his name, Mulder, after the main character on my favorite TV show, The X-Files. In nervous anticipation, I followed as a staff member led me in to the dog holding area, but she couldn’t find the male beagle. She told me that the one I wanted must have mistakenly been given to someone else. I was terribly disappointed, but just then I saw the most beautiful beagle I had ever seen. The staff member told me she was a female who had been owner-surrendered because she was “un-trainable” and hated cats. The cat part turned out to be true. I didn’t care what her previous family said; I knew this was supposed to be my Mulder. She immediately came to me and laid her head on my bent knee and gazed at me with her huge soulful eyes. It was like we connected instantly. There was an intelligence and wisdom in those eyes, and I knew she was meant for me.

Scan 36I was a little anxious when I took her home because my ex-husband (current at the time) did not want a dog in the house. We had a golden retriever, Clancy, that he wanted basically for hunting, but he insisted that the dog be kept in a small dog run because Clancy had a thing for digging holes. It broke my heart, and every day I would let him out all day until my ex came home from work, but then one day, a man I hired to paint the house fell in love with Clancy. Every time this painter took a break, he would chase Clancy, then roll in the grass, wrestling him. This went on for a week, and on the last day, I asked the man if he wanted to take Clancy for his own. He had ten acres in the forest, and he was thrilled at the offer. He promised to never lock him up. I cried my eyes out as I said goodbye to my golden retriever that day, but I knew I did the right thing. I couldn’t live long without a dog, and I never wanted to put another dog through what Clancy experienced, so I talked my ex into letting me get a small dog that we could keep in the house. My ex agreed to let Mulder live in the house as long she didn’t do anything wrong-ever; however, he insisted on locking her in a kennel at night or whenever we left the house.

I don’t know why her previous family thought she was un-trainable because Mulder was house-trained within a week; she learned to sit, lie down, and stay in the first week as well. Right away she was “my” dog. She followed me everywhere. We ran three miles every morning, rain or shine; she did whatever I said, but listened to others only when she wanted to. She curled up on my lap every evening, and she knew exactly what she could do when my ex wasn’t around. When he wasn’t home, which was most of the time, she could sleep on the furniture or the bed, and she had free run of the house. As soon as she heard the door open in the evening, and he walked in, she would jump off the couch and take her place on her pillow. He never knew because she was so good. She never chewed up anything that wasn’t hers. She wouldn’t even touch a toy until I told her it was hers to play with.Scan 34

During those years, Mulder was my solace. My ex-husband was manipulative, controlling, angry, and intolerant. Nothing I did was correct, but Mulder thought everything I did was right. She accepted me with no make-up on, wearing old sweatpants, and she was okay with whatever I wanted to do—going for a run, snuggling on the couch while I read, sitting on my lap watching TV. She was good with my kids too. I remember one year my daughter wanted to make a calendar of Mulder pictures. She dressed Mulder up in a different costume for every season and took pictures of her. Mulder was not happy, but she didn’t complain once.

Scan 37 Scan 37 Scan 38

In 2004 I left my ex-husband and filed for divorce. By this time, I was pretty beat down from seventeen years of being screamed at, seventeen years of being told to change who I was, seventeen years of being controlled like a child, used, humiliated, and devalued. I was tired of walking on eggshells just to make sure he didn’t get upset. He was okay with the kids. I was always the target of his anger.  I told him I wanted fifty-fifty custody of the children because I knew he would never give me full custody without a fight, and I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I told him he could have virtually everything we owned if I could just have Mulder. I was so afraid that he would try to keep full custody of the kids or take Mulder away from me just to get back at me. He didn’t want the divorce, but he agreed.Scan 35

I bought a townhouse with a little yard for Mulder, and we moved in before I even bought any furniture. The custody agreement ended up being one week on, one week off, so every other week, it was just Mulder and I. Mulder was never locked in a kennel again, but had free rein throughout the house and was allowed on all the furniture. It was then, these times alone with Mulder, that she made me realize what kind of life I wanted, the person I wanted to be, and how to live and love the way we are meant to. She loved me unconditionally, she never expected me to be anything other than what I was, she listened to me quietly, she comforted me when I cried, she never judged me, she never screamed at me, or told me to change. She showed me how peaceful and calm a home could be, how to look forward to coming home, how to love without selfish expectations, how to accept people exactly as they are. She healed me and made me strong. She looked up to me and found me worthy. She made me realize I never had to settle for less than unreserved love and acceptance ever again.

When I met my soul-mate, Randy, Mulder’s approval was paramount. Mulder loved Randy instantly, and Randy loved her. Mulder accepted Randy into our home with surprising ease. Because of this, I knew he must be a good person. Randy and I lived there with Mulder for two years, blissfully happy. I remember when Randy first moved in after we married, he asked if he should put up his slippers, so Mulder wouldn’t chew them up. I was so insulted that he would assume she would do that! I told him Mulder never chewed up anything that wasn’t her own personal property.Scan 40

She did get into mischief once in a while though. She was an avid rabbit hunter, and she was fast. More than once, I found her eating her kill, much to my dismay. She also learned how to open the cupboard where we kept her treats. One time she pulled them out and dumped them on the kitchen floor and ate her fill. I came home to the remnants of broken treats on the floor. And Mulder loved Christmas, particularly the stockings. She got excited when we hung them and even knew which one was hers. I’m not making this up. Ask my husband. She would be so excited on Christmas morning when her stocking was full. She’d go straight to it and jump at it. But one year, a week before Christmas, while we were gone, Mulder found her bag of treats and toys in the closet, the ones that were to go in her stocking. She obviously knew they were meant for her because they were dog treats and toys. Anyway, she dragged the whole bag out of the closet and halfway down the stairs when, apparently, guilt overwhelmed her, and she abandoned the entire bag on the stairs and hid in the bedroom. We came home, found the bag on the stairs, contents spilling out, but no Mulder to be seen. I called and called her, and finally she slowly emerged, head hung low, and tail down, completely ashamed of herself. Of course, I just thought it was adorable and wasn’t upset at all, but she so wanted to please me and couldn’t stand disappointing me. She just couldn’t contain her Christmas anticipation. I’m the same way. That is one of my fondest memories of her.Scan 39Scan 41

It was because of Mulder that I was ready for someone like Randy in my life, someone kind, easygoing, loving, and honest. So many times I’ve seen people enter into the same type of relationships over and over because they haven’t worked out their issues or figured out what they want, what they need. Mulder taught me I was enough. If I was to let someone into my life, it would be only because they added something, but that I was just fine by myself, and I knew when I fell in love with Randy that, just like with Mulder, I never had to be anyone but me ever again. I would be loved and accepted just the way I was, and I could be that way for someone else in return. There never had to be any yelling, name-calling, any manipulation. No lies and attempts to control, only complete honesty and respect. Mulder showed me I deserved that and how wonderful and peaceful life could be. She taught me how to live again.

That sounds like a lot to learn from a dog, but then Mulder wasn’t just any dog. She was my friend, she loved me, and I loved her. I had loved her before, a lot, but after I left my ex and moved out on my own, we bonded so extensively, probably because of the trauma I had been through, and because she was the only one there for me. I’m glad she was the one there for me. I miss her all the time. I will be forever grateful to her, and I will cherish her memory in my heart always. I love you, Mulder, and thank you.—Christina Knowles Mulderold

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