It is not okay

I have read many articles over the last week, decrying Fifty Shades of Grey as light entertainment, no more serious than porn films. As another example of how women will always judge other women for their choices, in this case reading and enjoying 50shades. As a publishing phenomenon that is really harming nobody, but opening up the way for more female erotica. I have read all this with a mounting frustration that I find hard to put into words. But I will do my best, dear Lee.

As a high school English teacher, a literature and gender studies graduate, as a lover of all books, I understand that no novel can be taken out of its context. It can not be removed from its societal history and background. I teach my pupils this in class.

So for the purposes of effective book reviewing, here is some social and cultural context that I think is vital to the reading of 50shades:

  • In any one year there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women by their partner or former partners in the UK alone. Thirteen million.
  • On average 2 women a week are killed by their partner or former partner. Two women a week.
  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence.
  • In 2007 stalking was the most commonly experienced type of ‘intimate violence’. Just under a quarter of all women have experienced stalking.
  • In the UK the police receive one call a minute relating to assistance for domestic violence. 89% of these calls are women being assaulted by men.
  • Less than 24% of domestic violence crime is reported to the police. Let me repeat that. Less than 24% is reported. Less than 24% yet they still receive 1 call a minute.

But here is the kicker. Here is the statistic that makes my job as a teacher to young people so difficult, and so important. Here is the statistic that demands ‘lighthearted’ best selling novels be held up against a burning light of deconstruction and analysis. Here is the statistic that suggests to me something is going very very wrong with our culture, with our expectations of equality and entertainment. This is the statistic that explains how a novel depicting an unhealthy and abusive relationship can become a best seller in the first place.

1 in 5 young men think abuse/violence against women is acceptable.
1 in 10 young women think abuse/violence against women is acceptable.*

Did you read that? Abuse/violence is acceptable? This is not okay with me.

So excuse me whilst I can’t just pass 50shades off as an amazing publishing phenomenon. Excuse me whilst it saddens me women would defend a novel that depicts such a unhealthy and abusive relationship. Excuse me for being sad and mad and angry beyond belief, that not only do people not seem to be able to spot an abusive relationship – but they are okay with an abusive relationship.

This is not okay. I am not okay with this. And I will write and talk and rage about this for as long as necessary. For as long as the police receive one call a minute. For as long as my pupils think it is acceptable for their fathers to hit their mothers. For as long as I live in a culture that tells me control is romantic and the norm for women.

I am not okay with this.

*All statistics taken from womensaid.org.