The big-screen adaptation of E.L. James’ bestselling bondage novel Fifty Shades of Grey lands in theaters later this week. Some industry prognosticators are predicting the explicit, controversial film could generate as much as $60 million in its opening weekend.
Other voices, however, are not just calling for a boycott of the movie, but asking would-be viewers and readers (most of whom are expected to be women) to trade their experience of Shades for something that might actually help themselves and help others.
Christian authors Julie Slattery and Dannah Gresh are offering to give women a copy of their new book, Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart, in exchange for their used copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. Slattery told Salon she has no idea how many women might take her up on the offer, dubbed Trade Your Shades (which ends on Valentine’s Day). “[It] could be five, could be 10,000.” But she believes the issues the book deals with are impacting women who mistakenly believe erotic lit could spice up their relationships:
There are two dangers in seeking sexual arousal in this way. First of all, erotica/porn teach you to be sexually aroused by looking away from your partner, not toward him. You may be engaging your body with him, but your imagination is with some fictional character. That’s not intimacy. Secondly, erotica and porn impact your brain in a manner that breeds tolerance. What was sexually arousing a few months ago will no longer be enough to produce the same sexual high. This is how men and women get drawn into increasingly hard-core porn and/or sexually acting out what they have seen or read.
Elsewhere in her lengthy interview with Salon, Slattery also included a warning about the effects of stories like this on men. “I think some men may be initially happy that their wives/partners are interested in something so sexually explicit,” she said. “What they may not realize is that books like Fifty Shades sets them up for rejection. Just like a woman can’t compete with the porn her husband is looking at, a man can’t compete with a fantasy man like Christian Grey.”
Meanwhile American and Canadian domestic abuse and anti-pornography groups have teamed up to launch a campaign dubbed 50 Dollars Not 50 Shades, encouraging women to take $50 they would have spent on a night out seeing the film and give it to any organization advocating for abused women. The group’s Facebook page says, “The money you would have spent on movie tickets and a babysitter or movie tickets, popcorn and drinks will go towards serving victims of abusive relationships like the one glamorized in the 50 Shades series. Hollywood doesn’t need your money, abused women do.”
The campaign has been sponsored by the anti-pornography organization Stop Porn Culture and the London Abused Women’s Centre. Megan Walker, head of the latter group, says of the story’s sexual bondage focus, “It’s about the power control, intimidation and manipulation behaviors and tactics. This is about the life of a woman who is being abused. That should never be fodder for entertainment value; it should never be something for people to go see and support. … We live in this society now where violence against women has become so normalized that when you read the book you don’t recognize the abuse. For me that’s really disheartening.”
Finally, if you’re looking for a chivalrous cinematic alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, the Christian love story Old Fashioned—released this weekend, too—offers wholesome, inspiring and romantic counterprogramming.
Though it is disheartening, as Walker noted, that a story such as Fifty Shades of Grey has gotten such cultural traction, it’s also heartening to see that a diverse range of voices in our culture is also calling out the book and film’s violent, sexually abusive themes for the damaging lies that they are.