So, everyone knows that I am utterly, emphatically, antagonistically opposed to 50 Shades Of Fucked Up. I've been posting links explaining how it's romanticized abuse pretty much since the books came out. But here's something ... when the books came out, I didn't yet realize that I was in a relationship with an abuser. I've been in a relationship with someone who tried to abuse me. And, for reasons that I plan to go into in another blog post, abuse doesn't seem to "stick" to me. I don't react to abuse attempts the way some other people do, so manipulation and abuse seems to act like a fiery catalyst, ending with an explosion of the relationship. When I was engaged to someone who attempted to abuse me, I got the hell out of there without, I believe, much damage to my own psyche.
But then I dated someone who abused his other partner. And, in spite of my experience, I didn't see it. Actually, I think it may have been because
of my experience. Because they had slightly different tactics, and because the victim didn't react the way that I did or like the way victims are portrayed in movies, I couldn't see what was happening right in front of me. To be fair, a lot of it wasn't right
in front of me. Most of the abuse was when they were alone. That's how it was able to fly under the radar. But I've since had the opportunity that only space and time can bring, to go over my own experiences and to hear the victim's story of what happened in privacy as well as to read and learn more about what emotionally abusive relationships actually look like.
So, let me tell you, when I found this link of 50 Abusive Moments In Fifty Shades
, I could have used a trigger warning. Now, I don't TW or CW my posts. I figure that I am
a trigger, so anyone who follows me should just know that. And I generally don't need warnings myself, even though I have plenty of my own triggers on a variety of subjects. I read what I read and that's just how it goes, for me. But I wasn't prepared for the connections this article made in my head. And I think it needs to be shared.
For the most part, negative reviews of 50 Shades
are much like any other - they all go into great detail explaining how the book is about an abusive relationship, many of which cite domestic violence resources as evidence, and many of them save a little room to attack the poor literary quality of the writing on top of the content. Many of these reviews are written by people who are not familiar with BDSM but who take care to point out that they are not attacking the BDSM but the abuse, that they see a distinction, and that they are echoing criticisms from their kinky friends and resources. And many of them are abuse survivors. Such as this one.
Here's what got me. In the second book, when Ana seems like she really might leave him (again), Christian goes catatonic. It was this blogger's use of the word "catatonic" that triggered me. See, the ex who abused his other partner did this. When things got too stressful for him, he literally shut down. I'd never seen this before, or so I thought until this article. His other partners had seen it, and they just accepted that his brain was broken and this is what they had to deal with. So I accepted that explanation too. Everyone bent over backwards and treated him like a special needs child until he was coherent again. What I didn't see was the pattern, until much later.
I can remember times when I got legitimately upset with my ex for things. I'd tell him I was annoyed and I'd reject his advances and the next thing I knew, he'd clam up. He'd lie there, all sad-eyes and mouth opening and closing like a fish on land, breathing like like every intake was painful. Sometimes he'd start to shake, too. And I'd panic, thinking "shit, I've broken him!" and set about trying to make it all better again. Sometimes I'd try to touch him and he'd swat my hand away. Sometimes I'd start trying to explain my feelings and he'd shush me. But you can mark my words; the second I started saying I was sorry and that I loved him and was going to support him? Suddenly he'd regain the power of speech and he'd start talking about something painful from his past, until I'd forgotten what I was angry about in the first place, because I was too busy comforting him. That happened pretty much every time I questioned his behaviour, until I just stopped questioning it altogether. It's manipulation. It's calculated emotional and psychological abuse. And okay, maybe I didn't see it as such at the time, because I loved him.
This is from the blog, not me. But I swear I nearly looked up at the URL bar to confirm if it was written by me or by his victim because this was exactly what happened. And this is when I connected his catatonic state to the one my ex-fiancé used.
My ex-fiancé was a pathalogical liar. He started out with small, easily-believable lies so that it wasn't until we were engaged and living together that I finally started hearing lies big enough to detect as lies. Sure, looking back from the vantage point of post-breakup, the pattern is obvious and even the small lies are easy to spot. But when they're still in front of you and the pattern hasn't been revealed yet, it's not so easy. One of his lies, the one that finally smacked me upside the head with a clue-by-four, was that he would conveniently get "sick" after or during an argument or just before I was about to do something that he didn't want me to do.
He had been raised by a stay-at-home mom who was my grandmother's age, and consequently, of a different school of thought on gender and family roles. So he didn't have a single homemaking skill like cooking or laundry because his mother never taught him. When we moved in together, even though I had been clear that I was not going to assume the same role as his mother, all the cooking and cleaning and domestic chores fell to me on top of my part-time job and full-time college schedule, while he worked only one full-time job to "provide" for us. So, when he got sick, he didn't even know how to make himself chicken noodle soup. And I, of course, as the loving fiancé, felt compassion for him in his time of need.
But then I noticed that his upset stomachs always happened when I was winning an argument. And after arguments. And before my night classes when he would be left at home alone. And on days when I went to my mother's house to do laundry and wanted to go without him. And right before my friend's bachelorette party that was no-men-allowed. And... and... and... Yes, I stayed with him through an awful lot of these episodes, but I was already resentful and irritated by about the 2nd or 3rd "upset tummy" and I very quickly lost my compassion. I also didn't stay home to nurse him for each episode either, but he continued to get "sick" each and every time. It was these "illnesses" that made me realize that he was lying, and I began to question all the other "convenient" things that had happened in our relationship too. Those things aren't relevant to this blog post, but I do have another one all about this relationship coming.
So I got the fuck out. The thing is, he wasn't a terribly good liar and he used the same excuses too often. As I said, in the beginning the lies were small so it was easy to believe and rationalize them. But as soon as they had any real importance, his duplicity became fairly obvious. So when the other ex would go catatonic, I didn't connect them because he wasn't obviously, blatantly lying. To this day, I'm not entirely sure how much was faked and how much was a real reaction due to his mental illness (which was diagnosed after we broke up). For all I know, he really, legitimately, could have lost his ability to function each and every time as a reaction that he had little-to-no control over.
But, here's the thing. Mental illness is not an excuse for abuse. There are plenty of people who have mental disabilities who do not abuse and who learn coping mechanisms for functioning in relationships. His breakdowns happened during very specific times and the result of each breakdown was that people would "panic, thinking 'shit, I've broken him!' and set about trying to make it all better again." And as soon as the person he was in conflict with apologized and took all the responsibility for the scene, "Suddenly he'd regain the power of speech and he'd start talking about something painful from his past, until [they'd] forgotten what [they were] angry about in the first place". I spent years trying to talk down a friend from suicide every time he asked me out and I refused to be anything other than a platonic friend, because I didn't know that suicide threats were also a form of abuse. I spent years until I had finally reached my limit and I lashed out at him. That limit never reset itself, so I don't have very much patience for people who "get sick" when we are in conflict. I've been accused of being a cold-hearted bitch for it, but now I see that the people who accuse me of that most often are those who are trying to use tactics that are classified as "abusive" by domestic violence agencies. So I take those accusations with a grain of salt, and I actually feel very grateful about my instinctual reactions
even though it hurts to be called "cold" by people who I thought cared for me.
As the blogger here says, "It's very much a thing and it's what made me utterly suicidal when I finally walked away from my abuser, because I thought he'd die because I'd abandoned him and I was a horrible bitch like all the others." This is exactly
what abusers do and this is exactly what Christian Grey does to Ana in this story. "And then this chapter goes on to play on the ridiculously dangerous 'if I love this man right, I can cure him' trope", which is right out of the #WhyIStayed hashtag movement (and if you haven't followed that yet, you should). I have, on more than one occasion, found myself in a relationship where I thought to myself that I would "prove" that I'm "not like the others" who were so heartless and cruel as to abandon this poor, mistreated, misunderstood man
. But it's not a mark of a good relationship to turn it into a competition between myself and his exes as to who can withstand his bullshit the longest. I am not a better person if I can cope with abuse longer than others. You know that saying that goes "if all your exes are crazy, the thing they have in common is you"? Well, if "all" his exes felt like they had to escape because they couldn't handle his damage, maybe there's a reason for that.
This subject is a difficult one because there are legitimately people out there who need help and they can't do it on their own. There are legitimately people out there who rely on their significant others to get them through rough patches. In fact, I'd argue that this is even one of the functions of a significant romantic relationship - to be someone your partner can rely on in hard times. I've had moments myself when I wasn't sure that I would make it, but a partner helped me through it. So I am not going to tell other people whether their relationships are abusive or not (although I will
point out when I see people exhibiting abusive behaviour). I am going to tell you all, however, that this is a common tactic of abuse.
Shutting down mentally, emotionally, and communicatively until after the victim has switched sides and embraces their fault and wrongdoing is one of the steps in the cycle of emotional abuse. I get it, really I do. When I'm upset with my partner, and I really believe that they have wronged me, it might cause me to disconnect from them emotionally, at least for a while, because, hey! they wronged
me. When they have seen and acknowledged the wrong that they've done to me, it can result in warming back up to them. Apologies that really display both remorse and understanding are worth considering and can repair a damaged relationship and damaged trust. So this can be extremely
difficult to see as an abusive step when you're the victim and you're in the middle of it. This can also be difficult to see as an abusive step when you're the abuser
, since abusers are not cartoon villains
, twisting their mustachios and plotting on how to manipulate their victims trapped in their dark towers.
This confusion, this masquerade of a real phenomenon, is what an abuser is counting on to continue the abuse, even if they aren't consciously aware that they are abusive. And this social acceptance of abuse as "romance" is what abusers count on to provide them with a steady supply of victims who will have no support network to help rescue them because no one around them will believe that this is wrong. This is why I am so opposed to this series and movie. It is not being billed as an abusive relationship. As I posted the other day elsewhere, this isn't like when my generation and before read Flowers In The Attic
- we all knew that book was a horror story. We knew that book series was about twisted minds and abusive relationships. We read it the way we read any horror story. It's completely OK that Flowers
exists and that people read it, because it was not intended to get people off and it was not defended as some gateway for the mainstream to learn about "alternative family structures". It was drama and psychological horror.
And so is 50 Shades
, but it's not being read that way. It's being billed as "erotica" and it's being defended as an open door for mainstreamers to learn about BDSM. I believe this is wrong, harmful, damaging, and frightening. I'm supporting the boycott solely because I do not wish to reward society for romanticizing abuse, not because I think this story should not exist. I've read the entire Flowers
series more than once. If the author was making a fortune because society was holding up that series as the new How To Guide for family values, I'd boycott that series too.