Craig Gross, Fifty Shades and Understanding Abuse

I received an email, along with the rest of the XXX Church mailing list from Craig Gross this afternoon.  It was his response to having watched the Fifty Shades of Grey film.

Much of the content within the email concerned me and I contacted Craig via Twitter to ask whether I could communicate with him about the email.  He responded in this way:

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I was hoping to dialogue with him directly, but it seems he would rather I publicly respond, hence this blog…

Firstly, many of you will only know me as Mrs GLW or @God_loves_wome on Twitter.  Though I am vaguely pseudonymous, I should probably explain that I am an expert in preventing and responding to domestic abuse.  I have worked with hundreds of women who have suffered abuse from a partner or ex, trained hundreds of people in understanding domestic abuse, trained over 180 practitioners to work with young people to prevent them perpetrating or experiencing abuse, co-facilitated a perpetrator programme, written resources on child sexual exploitation, identity, recovering from the trauma of an abusive partner, parenting after abuse and equipping churches to respond to domestic abuse.  I have contributed to various books on gender and domestic abuse.  I have delivered keynote speeches at national and international events in Canada, Bulgaria and across the UK, including speaking alongside the Under Secretary to the United Nations and three Archbishops.  Two and a half years ago I set up the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign to raise awareness of the abuse within the series and to endeavour to change the shape of the conversation around the social phenomenon that is Fifty Shades.  Within the last 3 weeks that has included organising a protest at the premiere of the film and doing interviews of TV, and across much online and some printed media.

I find that writing as “God Loves Women” means that people can think that I come to the conversation without any expertise.  I choose to not use my Twitter account to advertise what I do because I’m not interested in building a platform or promoting myself, however, in order to effectively respond to Craig Gross’ email I felt it would be worth making it clear that I write this as an expert in the field of domestic abuse.

Okay so, Craig’s piece is written in full below, with my comments added.

I don’t read fiction. Ever. I haven’t since high school, and even in high school, I opted for the Cliff’s Notes. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I heard about it (and have even commented on it over the years) but never opened the book. I never even skimmed it. I have friends who have and have filled me in.

I have read all three books.  When I read the books, I folded down every page on which there was abuse.  This is a picture of the books:

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I thought it was a fantasy book about a guy with some crazy desires for some violent sex. I was blown away to learn it sold 100 million copies, and when the movie grossed $260 million worldwide this weekend, I became even more fascinated.

So I went to see the movie. I went with my wife, to the noon showing at the mall by our house. It was packed. I can’t believe how many people were seeing this movie on a Wednesday afternoon.

As part of the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign, we have been encouraging people to boycott the film.  Not because we are pro-censorship.  Not for religious reasons.  But because the film and associated branding is making those who created the film a lot of money.  Purchasing a cinema ticket contributes to the money being made, validates that the film is something people should be watching and, in the case of Craig Gross, reinforces that the film is not bad like pornographies (which his entire ministry is based on people not watching) and therefore is the sort of thing couples should be going to see together.  

I set up the campaign, not because Fifty Shades is “pornographic” but because it depicts an abuser an ideal partner, stalking as a charming character quirk, deep power imbalances as sexy, lack of consent and rape as BDSM, and coercion, emotional abuse and minimisation, denial and blame as normal behaviour from a partner.  I’m not even going to begin on the celebration of selfish capitalism, modelling of wealth, power and “sexiness” as a measure of success or the wider issues of gender within the series.

So what’d I think?

I didn’t hate the movie.

I did hate Christian Grey.

I didn’t walk out or picket, but I watched the whole movie because I wanted to better understand why this has resonated with so many. Why is Christian Grey someone that women are cheering on and fantasizing about? Why does my own mother at 66 years old connect with this story and feel like she “missed out” on something in her sex life.

I did picket.  Because I actually already understand why Fifty Shades has resonated with so many.  It’s because it is the story we’ve been told from childhood, of a broken “beast” of a man, rescued by the love of a good woman/girl.  It maintains the comfortable dynamic of men as powerful, and women as passive (you know the main dynamic in almost ALL pornographic material…) yet allows readers to feel they’re being edgy by adding orgasms and spanking.  Within a fantasy setting the books are just that, a “let’s pretend” story.  But within the context of 72% of girls being emotionally abused by a boyfriend within the UK, the Fifty Shades brand is reinforcing to all young people that abuse is not only normal, but also desirable. 

As I write this, the movie finished two hours ago, and I’m still upset over what I just saw. Not some young woman being tied up, but Christian Grey himself. Let me explain.

Christian Grey was born to a prostitute/crack addict and put up for adoption.

Christian Grey was sexually abused by an older lady from the ages of 15 to 21.

Christian Grey was introduced to BDSM and forced to be a “submissive” for a number of years.

Christian Grey is very successful, rich, and powerful in his job.

Christian Grey has everything he needs and more, but deep down inside you can tell is not happy or fulfilled.

Christian Grey is used to getting what he wants and no one tells him no.

Christian Grey has had over 15 sexual partners that we know of.

Christian Grey does not “make love,” he “f*cks… hard.”

Christian Grey does not like to be touched.

Christian Grey gives things to get sex.

Christian Grey is abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive. (I agree with Craig here)

Aside from his looks, money, and power, Christian Grey is the worst boyfriend imaginable.

Anastasia Steele is a virgin.

Anastasia Steele is infatuated with Christian Grey.

Anastasia Steele enjoys being pursued. (It’s not being pursued, it’s actually stalking.  Which is an actual, criminal offence)

Anastasia Steele obviously is uncomfortable with the sexual experiences Christian Grey is wanting.

Anastasia Steele is constantly pushed to give in to the sexual requests of Christian Grey

Anastasia Steele is given more things in order to submit to Christian Grey’s sexual requests.

Anastasia Steele desires a relationship but gives sex hoping to get the relationship.

So, for those who have not read the book or watched the movie, you’re up to speed so far. Christian has a “contract” he tries to get Ana to sign, a contract that explains what she will and won’t do sexually and what she is and is not allowed to do outside the bedroom. In exchange for the signing the contract, she can move into the house and get all the benefits of being with Mr. Grey.

I get from the movie that Anastasia is not interested in sex so much as she is Christian Grey, and I think that is pretty normal for most women I meet that are pursuing men. 

Ana is not interested in sex, because up until this point she has never actually had sex and hasn’t really been interested in having sex.  It has been suggested that if Ana genuinely has no sexuality before meeting Christian Grey, she probably is asexual.  The developing sexual script of human beings doesn’t begin at 21, it starts at birth and grows as we mature.  Ana’s approach to sex is NOT normal.  It is the measure of a character that has been given no depth or other dimensions, whose only purpose is to interact with the main male character.

More generally, women are socialised NOT to accept or embrace their sexuality.  Vagina is a dirty word.  There’s an assumption boys are masturbating as teenagers, there’s an assumption we don’t even need to mention masturbation to girls.  Boys are socialised as subjects within sex, girls are socialised to be objects.  (Again, something depicted across the spectrum of pornographies.)

(The famous saying, after all, is that men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love.) 

I’m not sure this is a famous saying.  And I’m not sure it’s true.

But in this movie, Christian is not willing to negotiate. He is not willing to show love or be attached. In fact, Anastasia is not even allowed to sleep in the same room or bed with him. She really is just his sex slave. She won’t sign the contract and at one point he gets so desperate he offers, “If you sign this, I will give you one night out a week as a couple. We will got out to dinner and go see a movie like boyfriends and girlfriends do.”

Enough about the movie. Here are some takeaways and things I am left not understanding.

  • Marriage only works when both sides give and both sides take, and sex is the same way. Men and women have needs and desires, and marriage and the marriage bed is a place to have those fulfilled. If you are with someone and they don’t take into consideration your needs and only demand things from you, then get the heck out of that relationship if you’re dating. If you’re married, then head to a counselor.

A wiser way of approaching this is that a relationship should be about “give and give”.  Neither person taking, but rather each person giving?  Surely that is the sacrificial love Jesus modelled? 

POINT ONE OF DEEP CONCERN.

THIS FILM DEPICTS ABUSE.   NEVER, EVER IS COUNSELLING A SAFE OR APPROPRIATE INTERVENTION FOR A PERPETRATOR OF ABUSE.  (Neither is anger management.)

The books show Christian visiting a counsellor (Dr Flynn), but the Flynn colludes with his behaviour (just as many counsellors do).

A counselling approach looks at “my feelings and other people’s action”.  What a perpetrator needs to do it look at “my actions and other people’s feelings”.  

If someone is being abused by a partner, whether they are married or not, there is a Biblical principle of leaving the relationship.  The sanctity of marriage should never be upheld in priority over emotional and physical safety.  Craig acknowledges that Christian Grey is “abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive”.  An academic study found that within the books that Christian Grey is an extremely high risk perpetrator.  

CHURCHES, CHRISTIANS, PASTORS: IF SOMEONE IN YOUR CHURCH IS BEHAVING LIKE CHRISTIAN GREY TOWARDS THEIR PARTNER (AND ANY CHILDREN) YOU NEED TO SUPPORT THE PERSON SUFFERING ABUSE IN ACCESSING A SPECIALIST SERVICE AND BECOMING SAFE.  DO NOT SEEK THE PERPETRATOR’S SIDE OF THE STORY, DO NOT DISBELIEVE THE WOMAN.  DO NOT TALK ABOUT FORGIVENESS, THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE OR PRAYING FOR CHANGE.  DO NOT TAKE AT FACE VALUE ANY CHANGES THE PERPETRATOR CLAIMS TO HAVE MADE.  THIS IS POTENTIALLY A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION.

JESUS CAME SO THAT WE COULD HAVE LIFE, AND LIVE IT TO THE FULL.  ABUSE IS NEVER A LIFE FULLY LIVED.  

  • Most people who abuse others were abused as children. The best available research suggest that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. Christian Grey was abused as a child, a horrendous act that he never got over or dealt with or talked with anyone about. This has led him to some serious walls that have gone up in his life. and the only way he knows how to deal with it is to abuse someone else. He has done this to over 15 women and will continue. I heard this story was about sex, but this story at its core is about a broken man and his inability to love and be loved. How do people reading this book or watching this movie not see this? This is not a love story. This is not even an erotic story.  This is a story of broken people continuing a cycle of dysfunction in their lives rather than dealing with their issues.

POINT TWO OF DEEP CONCERN

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS MYTHS THE BOOKS PERPETUATE.  ABUSERS DO NOT ABUSE BECAUSE OF THEIR CHILDHOOD.  THEY ABUSE BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY OWN THEIR PARTNER AND THAT THEY ARE ENTITLED OVER THEIR PARTNER.  THE MAJORITY OF THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE ABUSE ARE FEMALE.  THE MAJORITY OF ABUSERS ARE MALE.  THE MATHS SIMPLY DOES NOT ADD UP.  

Lundy Bancroft is an expert in domestic abuse, his work with perpetrators has found that 50% of abusers witnessed a father or step-father abuse their mother (or step-mum).  In these cases it was not about “brokenness” or trauma, but rather role modelling and what is seen as normal.  It was about the beliefs of ownership and entitlement being taken on.  And regardless, this leaves 50% of abusers who have not experienced abuse as children.  Fifty Shades is about domestic abuse, and so any research mentioned needs to be focussed on domestic abuse.

The myth of abusers being abused in dangerous for a number of reasons:

  1. It justifies the behaviour and makes it harder for the perpetrator to take responsibility for their choices.
  2. It allows us to reduce someone’s offence because it isn’t “as bad” if they have a reason we feel makes it understandable.
  3. As has been evidenced in this article, it shifts the focus of the impact and priority onto the abuser and their feelings, and away from the victim and her pain.  Craig has not focussed on the impact of the abuse had on Ana.
  4. The first step to an abuser changing is them taking full responsibility for their choices to hurt others, as such this message disables perpetrators from changing.
  5. Many women who suffer abuse from a partner believe that their partner’s “brokenness” is the problem and stay in the relationship believing that enough love will fix things.  This is not the case and can lead to the woman suffering abuse for a much longer.
  • The Bible says I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I am not against being playful or doing things to spice up things in your bedroom, but the question I always have is why? Why do you think you need that? If both people agree to try different things in the bedroom, I am all for that. Christian Grey, on the other hand, is dealing with his pain by inflicting pain onto someone else who is visibility uncomfortable with it. He has trouble at work one day, so he sends Anastasia to the “play room” to take out his frustrations on her. If your partner is asking you to do something or try something new in the bedroom, my advice to you would be to ask why. The reason behind the ask is the deeper issue than the act itself. In a lot of cases it might just be a fun thing – or it might be a case like Christian Grey where he wants to avoid dealing with his own pain.

This is not about Christian Grey “dealing with his pain”.  This is about Christian Grey punishing women who look like his mother (don’t get me started on the mother blaming message this sends).  The solution does not start with looking at Christian Grey’s pain, but rather in him changing his beliefs of ownership and entitlement.  In him re-humanising the women he is Othering in every possible way and developing empathy for them.

  • “Why don’t you try things my way?” Christian never wants to try things Anastasia’s way. I think that would be a better movie, but he insists she does what he wants. If you are in a relationship and your partner makes demands and pressures you to do things you don’t want to do, then say NO.

POINT THREE OF DEEP CONCERN

If only saying no were this easy.  The film shows that when Ana says no, Christian physically assaults her.  Understanding this must be in the context of the inner workings of coercion, of making someone feel guilty, of the traumatic processing attached to sexual abuse; in which saying yes is the only way someone can either keep themselves safe or psychologically cope with the abuse.  Advising someone to say no (when they are in a relationship with an abuser), rather than to find SAFETY can be very dangerous.

Many people won’t understand this, but because I’ve seen the inner workings of the adult industry, this movie didn’t turn me on – it made me mad.  The sex shown in the movie is violent and not love-making, and I don’t understand how 100 million people can read this book and think there is anything sexy about Mr. Christian Grey. If he was broke, ugly, and had a hard drive of porn instead of a “playroom” in his house, every women reading this would be freaked out enough to stay away from him forever. The books and movie have painted a sick disturbed man as a sex symbol that many, many women have gone crazy over.

Craig, I can tell you why so many people have read the books.  Because as a society we are conditioned to see abuse as romance.  Rarely will anyone identify the abuse perpetrated by their partner, because of the myths (e.g. it’s because of childhood) that are held by almost everyone.  People like these books and the films because abuse is seen as something alien, something “over there” happening to “those people” and therefore is irrelevant.

So I leave even more confused.

Why? Why does my 66-year-old mom feel she missed out? Why is this unhealthy domination held up as an ideal? Why do so many men and women still not realize the greatest sex you can possibly have is by learning how to serve one another, discovering how to give to your partner and receive from them as well?

Because of patriarchy Craig.  Because one of the consequences of the Fall is that men have ruled over women.  And even though Jesus came and gave us a beautiful Kingdom of mutuality; men still abuse women.  And people still make money from depicting men abusing women as romance.  And people give money (like you and your wife did) to go see this film; raising the ticket sales and encouraging film makers to make the next two films.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, don’t.

You’ve just spend a lot of time encouraging people to think about the film.  You’ve told everyone you went to see the film with your wife, so it seems a confusing message to tell other people they shouldn’t…

Instead of wasting that time examining this unhealthy dynamic, spend those hours talking with your spouse about sex. Talk about what you desire, what you think is missing. What your history with sex was. How you missed or messed up or abused sex prior to marriage. Talk about your expectations for sex and whether they’re being met or not. Don’t know how to start those conversations? We have a course called bestsexlifenow.com; watch the first video for free, and I assure you it will lead to so many productive conversations. Maybe even fifty of them.

Perhaps it would be worth telling people how to seek help if they recognise they are being abusive to their partner.  Or maybe directing people to help if they are experiencing abuse from their partner?  Statistically at least 25% of the women who receive your email will experience abuse from a partner at some point in their lifetime, perhaps you could tell people where they can find safety?  Or support?  Perhaps prioritise women’s safety over “better sex”.  Maybe?

This is a great international resource for people who are trying to find their national service: http://www.hotpeachpages.net.  Though, if like Christian Grey, their partner tracks their phone or checks their computer, it might be worth considering accessing this somewhere other than the home computer, or a tracked mobile (cell) phone.

To learn more about abuse the best book out there is “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

And for Christians these books may be useful:

Is It My Fault? by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Veronica

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8 thoughts on “Craig Gross, Fifty Shades and Understanding Abuse

  1. Amy K says:

    Although it’s not about the sex there’s a very good Christian fiction version which I’ve found very useful in using to open the debate with people who so often just see us as Christians banging on about something we view as sinful.
    We need to be in the debate – not so much to discuss the sexual content but to discuss the real nature of love. I agree with all u say above about abuse but once we can distinguish between various ‘interpretations’ of love that’s a great starting point.
    I was given the book – as a joke at Christmas – by a non Christian friend who I think thought it was a humorous parody. Actually I’ve since discovered it mirrors the original book (which I’ve not read) but can be used alongside the original to explore (through fiction) God’s love and limitless forgiveness.
    Interestingly my friend who bought it me has since read it and, for the first time, has engaged in faith questioning conversations with me. I’m sure it’s not for everyone but its a very good starting point to engage with those we’d often struggle to connect with or to show them that Christ is relevant to life right here, right now in the 21st century.
    The only drawback though is it’s only on kindle:
    http://amzn.to/1Ac2x9c

    Like

  2. mavis poole says:

    couldn’t read past 1st chapter/ if the man
    was – average income- practiced porn-
    ordinary looking-controling -.& so much!
    would this book be sensational? or published? .
    Th.Y. #brilliant #blog.

    Like

  3. Sheenagh (@mellowdramatic) says:

    “Christian Grey is used to getting what he wants and no one tells him no.”
    As you point out, it would be more accurate to say ‘no one successfully tells him no’. People tell him ‘no’ all the time, he just ignores them.

    I agree totally that women read this because we’ve been conditioned to view abuse as ‘romance’. I think there’s also a wider point that women have enjoyed these books because (despite how much they condone abuse) they do at least supposedly view things from the woman’s point of view. The set up is supposed to be a female-gaze fantasy. How many big-budget films are made which are wish-fulfilment for adult women (in the way superhero or space films often are for men)? Perhaps if women saw films made “for them” more often, they’d be less likely to make do with whatever we’re given, however problematic.

    Like

  4. Good response Mrs GLW and I particularly agree with your points of concern (helpfully highlighted with, er, massive CAPS!).

    Can I ask where these stats are from?

    Presumably you discourage any woman from getting into a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship? If you really, truly believe that the majority (72%) will end up being abused within that relationship, it’d be better for everyone not to enter into them at all.

    I also find it difficult to believe that at least 1 in 4 of the women receiving his email (presumably relatively few, as it is a site that specifically addresses a male-created and perpetrated problem from a perspective of self-help) will be abused by their partners, to the extent that you feel you should tell them all about where they can find safety.

    I love being made to think by this blog, but these are the elements that I struggle with. Do you not think that quoting such a shocking statistic, followed by the safety information, gives a very strong message: that every woman should have a local refuge on speed dial, because they have a 1 in 4 chance of their partner battering them on literally any day of their lives? 50 years of marital bliss – nope, not safe, it’s a lifetime risk – he could snap any day and knock you down the stairs.

    I know you are keen on gender reconciliation, I just can’t help but feel like certain approaches taken on this blog aren’t always conducive to it…

    Like

    • The stats are from Women’s Aid. Why do you find it hard to believe that one in four women will experience abuse? I didn’t say “are currently experiencing abuse” but rather “will experience abuse at some point”. I think it is better to be vigilant and offer information about safety; if only one woman receives the email and is currently unsafe, that woman’s safety, wellbeing and life are worth the time it would have taken to add a few links.

      I didn’t say any man at any moment may become abusive. Some men are abusive, 25% of women will at some point in their lifetime experience a relationship with an abusive man. It’s not that non-abusive men suddenly become abusive.

      Our society is not one in which everybody is aware of abuse, that those experiencing abuse can easily access support and help, or that perpetrators are held suitably accountable for their abuse. We’re just not there yet, so what we need to see is a society that is being vigilant, that does look to identify abuse, otherwise things will not change.

      There are non abusive men out there (the most accurate stat suggests that 80-90% of men are not abusive), Yet, the damage that can be done by offering dangerous advice can be, at worst, an abuser continue to abuse their partners.

      I am about gender reconciliation, and am looking at doing some work with http://genderreconciliationinternational.org within the next year. I am married to an amazing man, have a fantastic son and a wonderful dad. I’ve facilitated a perpetrator programme because I genuinely believe change is possible. Yet, much of what I do on this blog is about offering a voice of challenge, and that’s not always going to be within a tone of reconciliation. Sometimes we have to smash up the temple…

      (Thanks for saying I make you think, really appreciate it!) 🙂

      Like

  5. Brad J says:

    “Craig has not focussed on the impact of the abuse had on Ana.”
    “Craig, I can tell you why so many people have read the books.”

    Do you notice something similar in these two statements? You first exhibit the “nearest man syndrome,” (i.e. blame Craig), and then seek to put generalize blame on “so many people.” You’ll never make any progress, until you’re willing to acknowledge the ugly facts:

    – Fifty Shades was written BY A WOMAN
    – 80% of the books were purchased BY WOMEN (the rest were men probably buying gifts at the request of women)
    – 70% of the film audience were WOMEN (with some poor men being dragged to see it by a g/f or wife).

    Fifty Shades of Grey represents a trashy, low-brow, romance story written by a WOMAN for WOMEN. A more popular version of the novels you see in the discount rack at the dollar store – and the kind of material in which men have NO INTEREST.

    If you have a problem with the actions of WOMEN, then speak to WOMEN about it, and leave us men out of it…pretty pleaaaeese…with sugar on top.

    Like

    • I was responding to the myths of abuse perpetuated by Craig Gross within his email. He could have been writing about any book/film and I would have challenged it. I don’t think I’ve ever denied that women can be involved in oppression. Ever.

      Liked by 1 person

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