Fifty Shades of Rape Culture

Or, The Top Three Ways our Culture Promotes Rape

Please note: This post is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. I’m not going to be gentle in my terminology or my treatment of the subject. Please also note that I am well aware that men are raped too, but in this post I focus primarily on women victims.


fifty shadesI’ve been pondering writing a post about rape culture for a long time, but I hadn’t, because I know it’s going to cause a stir. People are going to get really mad at some of the things I have to say. People are going to disagree, and it’s going to be a hugely divisive issue.

I finally decided to go ahead and write it, because I think it’s something our culture needs to hear.

We hear all the time about “rape culture” and how it’s a problem in our society. Women are being date-raped with alarming frequency. Rapes on college campuses are on the rise. Worse, rapists often go without even being accused, let alone prosecuted for their crimes.

1. Here’s the first problem: Rape starts long before the rape happens.

Rape starts with the idea that women’s bodies exist for men’s pleasure.

It starts with men catcalling. It starts with men objectifying women’s bodies. It starts with men making comments about a woman’s body to their friends. It starts with men making comments to women about their bodies. It starts with men noticing a woman’s body parts instead of anything else about her.

A friend of mine works in sales. Her livelihood depends on how much she sells. One customer came in repeatedly, making frequent comments about her body, and asking intrusive questions about her personal life. When she took the matter to her boss who then talked to the customer, he had no idea that anything he had said or done was offensive.

What’s even more appalling is that her male coworkers said things like she was making too big of a deal out of it and she should do whatever it took to make the sale, and so on. Rather than punching the customer in the nose, they essentially told her she shouldn’t be offended by being harassed and she should put up with abuse in order to make a sale.

Social experiments like this one have been done revolving around the number of times women get catcalled or followed or endure harassment from men.

Victims are left feeling dirty and at fault for having been attacked, and they’re too ashamed to call out their rapists. If they do, many times they endure more shame. Furthermore, rape is increasingly hard to prove. It comes down to a lot of he said/she said, which makes proving that it was rape rather than consensual sex difficult or impossible.

THIS is where rape starts. It starts with men thinking it’s okay to get a woman to lower her inhibitions with alcohol. It starts with this idea that women’s bodies exist to please men and that men have a right to use women for their pleasure.

They don’t.

2. Here’s the second problem: We as a culture created rape culture when we created the sexual revolution.

One or two hundred years ago, a man never would have been able to get off rape charges by claiming “she wanted it.” It was generally assumed that she didn’t want it. That’s if the rapist even made it to trial without getting lynched by the woman’s family.

When chastity was valued, rape was assumed until proven otherwise, rather than the other way around. Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind was the focus of gossip and scandal and branded a reprobate when he refused to marry a girl he kept out after dark.

We as a culture have confused this issue by devaluing the sacredness of sex and of chastity.

“Well, women like it just as much as men.”

Yes. As they should. Sex should be beautiful and intimate and physically satisfying, and a husband should absolutely fulfill his wife’s needs.

“Well, it’s a double standard to say that women should be virginal and men don’t have to. Men are encouraged to have sex and it’s a point of pride every time they get laid, but when a woman does it, she’s considered a slut.”

Yes, it is a double standard. A completely unfair one. But instead of raising men’s standards, we’ve lowered women’s. We’ve reduced sex to a purely physical urge, thereby classifying all humans as little more than animals acting on instinct.

So by insisting that women and men are sexual beasts and there’s no reason they should be taught to control themselves, we have created a mindset that is inherently conducive to rape culture.

A rapist justifies his actions by saying a woman wants it because women keep insisting they do, that they’re as sexually ravenous as men. A rapist justifies his actions by saying a woman is asking for it because of her choice of clothing, because we have created a culture in which women are conditioned to draw ever more attention to their bodies by the way they dress. A rapist justifies slipping a drug into a woman’s drink because she’s already lowering her inhibitions by drinking.

Rapists get away with rape because we have taught men that women and their bodies are playthings.

3. Here’s the third problem: Books and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey perpetuate this degradation of sex and create a terrifyingly dangerous image of what romance “should” be.

Fifty Shades is not a romance; it’s a guide to abuse. It’s a completely typical cycle of a predator singling out a weaker woman, isolating her from friends and family who would be voices of reason in her life, and manipulating her into believing that what he’s doing to her is pleasurable.

In this story, the man manipulates the woman into signing a contract so he can then use her as he pleases. She essentially sells herself into slavery, and since she signed this contract, he gets to do whatever he wants to her.

He convinces her that when she says “no,” she doesn’t really mean it. He rapes her, over and over, until she develops a twisted sort of Stockholm syndrome, even believing that what he does is romantic and manly, and that she does want it.

Consent under duress is not consent. If a woman says “yes” because she’s been lied to, drugged, or fears for her safety, it is no less rape than if she was raped by force.

There are plenty of people who have written about this better than I could. There’s this article, by a supporter of BDSM who explains why Fifty Shades is abuse, not consensual BDSM, and this one that talks about how it promotes domestic abuse. Then there’s this one that shows that women who read Fifty Shades are more likely to be in abusive relationships. There’s this article of a real-life situation like the one portrayed in Fifty Shades. This one is fantastic, as it details fifty instances of abuse throughout the book. And this one and this one and this one and this one and this one call out Fifty Shades for the abusive pornography that it is.
Edit: This article and this one give perspective on what consensual BDSM is really like.

These all prove my point here: When we as women gush over something like Fifty Shades, we confuse men and add fuel to the fire of rape culture. When we idolize characters like Christian Grey, we send a message of tacit approval to those who would act as he does.

Manipulation, rape, and abuse is exactly what happens in Fifty Shades, yet the women of our culture are lapping it up. They’re swooning over this manly man and his strong, take-charge attitude. They’re fantasizing about a man who will tie them up and force them to do things they’ve never dreamed of. By supporting Fifty Shades, we as women are essentially telling men that doing these things is not only okay, it’s desirable.

Is it any wonder, then, that men are confused? That they don’t really know when no means no? That they think of women as playthings, existing only for their sexual pleasure?

Please, women. Stop and consider the double standard.

Don’t go see Fifty Shades of Grey. By doing so, you’re promoting a cultural devolution that essentially says it’s okay for a man to abuse and rape and dominate a woman. In direct opposition to the women’s rights movement that sought equality for women, this twisted offspring of the sexual revolution puts women again in a position of inferiority, treated as property, with no more value than her sexual usefulness. Rape culture begins here, with this idea that the height of romance is sexual gratification and a woman only exists for a man’s pleasure.

Edit: Between a discussion on Facebook and the input from a good friend, I’ve come to see that my post seems very one-sided. This is just one facet of a very multi-faceted issue. Above all, I don’t think men are to blame for this phenomenon. Women are just as much at fault for choosing to believe the lies perpetuated and to accept and even ask for them. I think the sexual revolution was extremely detrimental. Women pouring their money into this book/movie and believing the lie that sexual gratification=romance is AT LEAST as much of a problem as men abusing women, and I’m not just referring to sexual gratification for men. We (women) are contributing equally to the confusion by our double standards. We want to be respected, but we idolize an abuser. We want to be loved, but we confuse love with stalking. We want to belong, but we don’t want to wait until we find someone who wants to marry us. We want to be equal, but we glorify a relationship in which there is no equality, no balance.

About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

39 comments on “Fifty Shades of Rape Culture

  1. Hear, hear, Avily! Agree, whole-heartedly. And thanks for the links to other articles. I just talked with a friend yesterday about this. She pointed out that there’s all this outcry against Fifty Shades from people who haven’t even read it. She remembers the outcry against Pokemon and Harry Potter and wonders if people are getting upset over what they THINK the story is, rather than what’s actually there. Now I can share a link or two with her from people who have read it.

    • Teddi, there’s one I reference, the one that’s fifty instances of abuse, that is really, really detailed, and it’s written by a domestic abuse survivor. That one is great for sharing with someone who has that mindset.

  2. Thank you, Avily, for telling it like it is! I will be sharing your post on.

  3. Excellent article & I couldn’t agree more. Not only do I encourage others to protest this movie because it is opposite of where our cultural change is needed, I challenge men everywhere to step up and make a difference! Look up “Violence Against Women, it’s a Men’s Issue” by Jackson Katz some time when you have a chance. If you see something, say something…show some courage where it is needed.

  4. Thank you! Please, share away. It’s important for us to wake up and see what we’re doing to ourselves by promoting things like this.

  5. Our culture acts as if there were an evil mastermind out there somewhere who loves debasing human beings and gets a special kick out of persuading them, after he’s convinced them to do terrible things to each other, that such horrors are pleasure. (Of course, I’m using “as if” in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way…)

    My reason for point this out the way I did is while I am in complete agreement with you taking the focus you did, the other side of the coin is also true. Dominating and bullying women, to the point of rapine even, is not what God created men to be and is a degradation of true sexual fulfillment. It’s a corruption–a defilement–of true manhood.

    50 Shades of Gray–or I should say the idea behind it and not necessarily just that one book–debases men just as much as it does women.

    • One cannot cover in one post all that is wrong with this book, but yes, I totally agree. It corrupts what should be a beautiful form of intimacy and cheapens it, and men lose out as much as women do with this kind of mindset.

  6. Thanks, Avily. Valuable post and I agree with other comments that men experience a loss of soul, too, as they pursue the path of ’empty sex’. And sadly, misguided women now hunt men, just as women have been hunted. A new movie called Old Fashioned (http://www.oldfashionedmovie.com/) comes out on Valentine’s Day. It’s about a couple who follow a God-honoring courtship. A true antidote to the gross poison of 50 Shades. When the 50 Shades co-stars are disgusted by their cinematic roles, what does that tell us!

  7. Wow, really well-thought out and detailed article. I very much appreciate your links to some really good articles and resources. I didn’t read the books, but I did read the online synopses, and it occurred to me how much of the story fits with all of the abuse scenarios in the articles listed.

    And you’re right- this goes so far beyond the book itself, but with our culture and the objectification of women. Sex is a beautiful, sacred thing, and it makes me sad to see how we’ve made it so common.

  8. Well said, Avily. And let me take it one step further. While women have a “right” to drink with their date, getting completely drunk isn’t a wise choice. While she has the “right” to parade down the street in her string bikini and nothing else in an area known for creepy guys, it isn’t a wise choice. A woman has the “right” to tease a guy to the point of no return, but it isn’t a wise choice. What comes with our “rights” should be the common sense not to do certain things that we all know in our hearts will tell the males involved that it IS all right and then say no. We also have a responsibility. And sometimes those responsibilities come over our “rights”. And BTW, I have taught self-defense to women for 30 years and it’s the first thing that I teach.

    • I definitely considered making a similar point, but decided the content I had was enough for one post. Yes, men absolutely should be taught not to rape. However, there are evil men in the world. Just like if you left home for the weekend and left your doors unlocked, you shouldn’t be surprised to find you’ve been robbed, neither should you put yourself in a compromising situation. It’s not victim blaming, it’s women taking responsibility for their own safety and making wise choices.

  9. Part of it is, men are visual creatures, and women are tactile. So men respond to sights in a way they were designed to, and while they hopefully learn limits, women still need to be mindful of this difference and sensitive to it.

  10. I whole heartily agree, Avily. I hate that women haven’t come as far as they believe. Yes, we might have equal pay, but that’s about it. Women are still seen as sex objects and if a woman protests, she is called names, mostly by men. Women need to start a new revolution and say, enough!! I’m not a sex object, I’m a human being!!

    • Yes, exactly, and that’s what’s wrong with this. It’s essentially encouraging women to say, “Yes, I am just a sex object. Use me!”

  11. Too late…saw the premiere last night (and I enjoyed it)…and i never read the books…it’s consensual between two adults..she was not under duress to continue the relationship…some women enjoy this sort of sex (believe it or not) …everybody has their “fetishes” & everybody has a right to them without everyone making such a big issue about other people’s sexual preferences (there are other sexual delights other than missionary)…this is the same as people who are against same sex marriages because it doesn’t flow with “their” beliefs on marriage & love…everyone should just mind their own business & let everyone else lead their own life without being told what “not to go & watch”…”who to marry or who to love” …what gives anyone else the right to tell us what to do & what not to do? isn’t that trying to oppress or bully women into not going to see this movie?? There is this thing called “free will” & each one of us have it & don’t need other people trying to change our views…if you’re a grown woman & don’t know right from wrong yet & need critics & bloggers telling you….then you actually have bigger problems. And women do see men as sexual objects as well ….we do look at a man up & down when we first see them…we also are very visual creatures…i look forward to your review on MAGIC MIKE XXL!!

    • You’ll notice I never said anything about BDSM within a healthy relationship. I encourage you to read some of the other links I posted that go into more detail about the psychology of an abuser and the manipulation tactics and the mindset of someone who has been manipulated and abused. I think the sex and the BDSM itself is a nominal issue compared to the manipulation and abuse that is perpetuated in this particular story.

  12. “Yes, it is a double standard. A completely unfair one. But instead of raising men’s standards, we’ve lowered women’s.”

    Well said. Excellent article.

  13. This is the evolution of the sexual revolution that exploded in the 1960’s (it actually began in the early 1900’s). First it was free love – no marriage; the next generation it was no strings at all and no love, just sex; the following generation it was no strings, no love, “as a matter of fact I don’t even know your name” hooking up; but after awhile, even that wasn’t exciting anymore, so the current evolution of sexual freedom is exploration of sexual perversion – rape, sodomy, bondage, pain as an aphrodisiac. Women are the keepers of civilization; that is why ‘bride ships’ were sent to the Pacific Northwest when it was being settled — men needed wives to bring home, hearth and socialization to the frontier. Women had a civilizing influence everywhere they went — it was part of their purpose in society and in the world. But for the last 3/4 of a century, women have been denigrating that role, refusing to take it up and sneering at women who do — and so we have arrived at this twisted and perverted image of romance, manliness and sexual love. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world — it has always been true and always will be true. What sort of men will be shaped by that maternal hand in 2015? I am afraid to look.

  14. I think this is a very balanced article. Thank you for speaking up.

  15. THANK YOU for writing this!!! Perfection.

  16. I agree that ‘date rape’ is immeasurably more likely to happen given that we have downgraded marriage and created and tolerated a casual sex culture. It is instructive to hear the screams of the feminists and other leftists who created our ‘liberated’ post-Christian sex culture including mass single parenthood, easy divorce, pornography, perversion and abortion while they bemoan the low conviction rate for so called ‘date rape’. When a woman voluntarily goes home with a man, both of them drunk, both of them having had various past sexual encounters, and then makes an accusation afterwards, such an accusation (in the absence of physical evidence of violence) can by its nature never be corroborated. Making this equivalent to stranger rape at knife point is an abuse of language and the very process of reason.

    People like Germaine Greer, John Mortimer, Harriet Harman, Joan Bakewell and other sexual revolutionaries achieved their goals but now don’t like some of the side effects. They have a lot to answer for. No wonder the Muslims believe they have manifest destiny to replace our culture with theirs.

  17. Reblogged this on Mirtika Writes and commented:
    The movie will surely have lovely music, beautiful cinematography, gorgeous actors, and make this look like a dream. A rape and subjugation fantasy made to look lovely. It’s not. I beg you: don’t go to the cinema and support it. We decry an decry abuse. Let’s not support “prettified” abuse masquerading as a redemption tale. I love the Beauty and the Beast archetype, and it’s my favorite, even, for romance tales. I just would prefer “Beauty” doesn’t lose her sense of self or identity or even morality to save the Beast.

  18. Thank you so much for this article. You are right on in almost everything you’ve said here. Stay strong!

    • That was a really great perspective, thank you for sharing it! I absolutely agree with what she had to say. Another facet of this extremely complex issue. There are some really great statistics in there, as well, which we would all do well to take a closer look at.

  19. You were right about some things and wrong about others. First of all he didn’t trick her into doing anything the first paper she signed was just so she wouldn’t talk about his sex life because it was kinky and he is in the public eye. The second contract is simply to make sure everything is clear. He kept telling her if she doesn’t want to do any of the stuff she could leave if she wanted to. You were right about the alienation and was frustratingly controlling though. She however wasn’t manipulated into sleeping with him and reading the books she DID want to sleep with him she made this very clear before doing so and out of his presence. So don’t make the situation into something it isn’t. The rest of the article was well written though.

    • Thanks for stopping by!
      I understand your point about her knowing what she was getting into, and about wanting to have sex with him, but I think that’s exactly why this is dangerous. The emotional manipulation tactics he uses are classic of abusers. They draw you in, then push you away, woo you with gifts, then control every aspect of your life. They let you in, then push you away. Just because she wanted to have sex with him doesn’t mean the way he treated her wasn’t manipulative and abusive. And it’s also very clear that she was extremely uncomfortable with a lot of what he wanted, but didn’t want to say know and risk losing him, which is also a very classic sign of an abusive relationship.

  20. This is an eye-opening article. Great work!

  21. […] I am also guilty of this phenomenon. My post calling out Fifty Shades of Rape Culture got a record number of hits. And I wrote this one all about clicking on things, hoping people will […]

  22. […] Fifty Shades of Rape Culture — Avily Jerome […]

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