The following article is reprinted with permission from Miriam Grossman, MD. It was originally published on her website miriamgrossmanmd.com.
The purpose of my Parent Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey is to provide the insights and tools parents need to protect their children from the idea that violence and humiliation can be erotic. In Part 1, I gave introductory information. In Part 2 and Part 3, I focused on the harm posed by this concept to young women.
Now I’m turning my attention to young men – teens, young adults, and tweens who hang out with older kids. As the film’s debut approaches, Universal Studio’s massive publicity campaign will reach your son as he stands in line at the grocery store or checks his email. You must speak with him about the movie’s warped ideas, before he starts to associate romance with handcuffs.
First let’s get one thing out of the way. Fifty Shades of Grey is pornography. The destructive nature of porn to the mind and heart is well documented. There’s enough information on this phenomenal site for several heart-to-heart conversations with your children.
It’s unlikely, I think, that your son will actually see the film, unless it’s to please his girlfriend. But unless you’ve managed to completely shelter him from our upside down world, he’ll hear about it. The ideas can still have a significant impact.
A young man wrote me:
My friends and I saw a level of excitement about this book like we’ve never seen before. Our girlfriends were almost obsessed with it, so we wanted to know, what’s the big deal?
We discovered that the book is not even well-written; its draw is the sexual fantasy. That in itself was difficult for some of us – what’s wrong with me that she has to fantasize about other scenarios?
But it got much worse. What’s the fantasy? Being completely controlled and intimidated by a man who ties her up and degrades her.
What? That’s what a woman dreams of? That’s what sold 100 million copies? What am I supposed to do – recreate that type of scene? I want to please her, but what if I’m not into that?
My whole life I was taught to be sensitive, caring, and respectful. I mean, women always insist that’s what they want in a man. I’m totally shocked and confused.
You don’t want your son to be perplexed about such an important issue. He must be absolutely clear that abuse of an intimate partner is never ok, under any circumstances. Otherwise, he could pay a high price. Just one incident could throw his life off track and destroy his dreams. Consider what happened to Canadian journalist Jian Ghomeshi.
Ideally, a discussion about a sensitive topic such as this takes place between a father, or father substitute, and son. But life is seldom ideal. A mom or other loving adult can also step up to the plate.
Just say it straight. Listen, don’t be fooled by all the hype around Fifty Shades of Grey and its glamorization of sadomasochism. An emotionally healthy woman does not want to be flogged! She wants to be cherished, not controlled. Protected, not stalked. She wants a ring and a wedding date, not handcuffs.
You know this is true, but he may not be sure. Tell him.
He may ask: If that’s the case, why are girls going crazy for the movie?
You can explain: Some girls (certainly not all) go crazy for Fifty Shades of Grey because of the completely made-up character called Christian Grey.
You see, the author was focused on one thing: making a lot of money. Apparently she didn’t mind if the ideas in her book can harm young people like you and destroy your dreams. Her eyes were on your wallet – she just wanted people to buy her book (and the movie studios just want you to buy a ticket).
You can’t make a lot of money by writing a romance about a sweet, beautiful girl and an abusive guy with no redeeming qualities. So the author cleverly blended some good qualities into the nasty character. She added some light, some truth, to the darkness and lies. And voila – meet Mr. Grey.
The truth is that a woman is drawn to healthy masculinity. The lie is she wants a man to control and abuse her.
The author convinces many readers that Christian has some healthy masculinity. For example, he is ambitious and accomplished. He is determined in his pursuit of Ana, there’s nothing wishy-washy about him. He wines and dines her, and protects Ana from creeps who hit on her. He seems to cherish her. He buys her a car. When Ana is drunk and vomits, he holds her hair back.
What a sweet guy – a sweet guy who every so often needs to handcuff her to the bedpost, and beat her with a belt.
Again, a healthy woman does not want to be beaten. A healthy woman wants her man to have some determination, ambition, strength, and the ability to protect and provide. For various reasons, those qualities are hard to find these days. When she discovers them in Christian Grey, she drools. For a few moments of make-believe, she parts with her money, buys the book and sees the movie.
So the danger of the story is in the blurring in Mr Grey of truth and lies, light and darkness. It’s all in the title – Fifty Shades of Grey – get it? Some things in life are nuanced, they are not black and white. But this is. Never be involved in a relationship that includes emotional or physical abuse.
That’s it. If you can give your son this insight, and he really internalizes it and knows it, that’s big. Congratulations!
A few other things to mention: A girl (or boy) may approach your son with a sadomasochistic relationship in mind. “Let’s see what it’s all about. Maybe you’ll like it.” He should run for the hills. (Even if she consents, the next day she could have him arrested.)
A girl may say, “A part of me is turned on by the idea”. Your son should know it’s an unhealthy part of her. She’d be wise to starve, not feed, it.
Explain to him the inconsistency between what many young women say they want in a man, and the choices they ultimately make. The inconsistency is not his problem, it’s hers, but it can lead to his heart being broken and other difficulties, like a pregnancy or STD. It’s wise to wait for someone who knows who she is and what she wants.
To conclude, the blend of chivalry and abuse in fictional Mr Grey is hazardous to our flesh and blood boys. We already have an epidemic of mistrust and misunderstanding between the sexes. Fifty Shades of Grey fuels the epidemic with high octane gas. Educate your son so he’s prepared for what’s coming.
Miriam Grossman, MD is a medical doctor with training in pediatrics and in the specialty of child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. She is also the author of Unprotected and You’re Teaching My Child WHAT?