As a therapist who specializes in treating sexual addictions, I have both seen and studied the effects of the misrepresentation of sexuality through pornography. From young to old, our generation has unprecedented access to sexually explicit material, leading to increased addiction and damage socially, relationally, and sexually. Pornography’s messages are in opposition to healthy, connected relationship. Instead, “pornography promotes and eroticizes power imbalances, discrimination, disrespect, abuse, violence, voyeurism, objectification, and detachment” (The Social Costs of Pornography). These are not values that enhance our world. These messages demean and dehumanize. We have yet to experience the full ramifications of living in this porn-saturated era.
This Valentines Day, the controversial yet highly anticipated movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” hits theaters. While the movie achieved an “R” rating, that does not discount its pornographic plot. Just like other forms of pornography, this movie communicates messages of degradation, objectification, and abuse.
A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health in 2013 examined themes in Fifty Shades of Grey, with the help of abuse and sexual practice experts. The results revealed that the book has extensive instances of emotional abuse, sexual violence, and reactions by the victim (Anastasia) that are typical of abused women.
The conclusion of the study was this:
“Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence—one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.” (For more information, check out this article entitled “50 Shades of Domestic Violence”).
This movie is about relational dysfunction and romanticized violence. It is pornography, repackaged and glorified. As this tainted tidal wave looms before us, action is essential. We MUST do something.
What Can Be Done?
Many caring individuals and organizations oppose Fifty Shades of Grey for various reasons. But can we really do anything meaningful to resist this movie, limit its profits, or communicate to both Hollywood and our leaders that it is unwanted in our communities?
I believe we can.
The ground-breaking booklet called “A Guide to What One Person Can Do About Pornography” introduces the concept of citizens challenging and changing their community standards regarding pornography. A simplified explanation is this:
“In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that each community can set its own community standards. How are they set? It really is simple…If you want low community standards, be silent…If you want high community standards, speak up…The key phrase is “Silence is Acceptance”. If you see something you believe to be obscene and you are silent, you are, in reality, accepting it as a community standard…A community that makes it unprofitable for a business to [disperse] pornographic or obscene material will make great strides in establishing a standard of community non-acceptance for such material.”
In similar words, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
If you are with me in opposing the pornographic content and abusive attitudes presented in Fifty Shades of Grey, I invite you to consider the following specific actions that are strides forward in raising our local and national standards. These suggestions can be modified to protest any businesses that sell, rent, or disperse pornography in our communities and online.
1. Let Your Money Talk – I optimistically believe that theaters choosing to show Fifty Shades will respond to the withholding of profits. Refraining from seeing the movie is only the beginning. What I believe local theaters will notice is the loss of profits for all movies. Thus, I challenge you to consider refraining from giving your money to any theater that is choosing to side with Fifty Shades and its demeaning messages for the entire duration that the movie remains in those specific theaters. Instead, consider visiting only theaters where this movie is not being played. If enough concerned citizens participate, this shifting of funds can make a significant difference. For years, I have avoided gas stations and other local businesses that sell pornography, even when it meant paying a few more cents for gas or taking a detour. To me, it is essential that the funds that are allowed into my life do not funnel back into the porn industry.
2. Put it in Writing – In order for theaters to understand our motives, they must read our message. When theater management receive a physical or emailed letter detailing why we are refraining from giving them business, they can more clearly assess if showing Fifty Shades is worth it, both financially and ethically. Again, I’d like to optimistically believe that those who run these businesses are not intentionally seeking to perpetuate violent and destructive perspectives but are merely uninformed. Consider copying and personalizing the following letter and sending it to all local theaters in your area that are choosing to show Fifty Shades of Grey (for examples of letters to other businesses, advertisers, and letters to the editor, click here).
Dear Manager of _____ Theater,
It has come to my awareness that you are planning to show the upcoming movie “50 Shades of Grey” in your movie theater. As a concerned parent and citizen in our community, I believe that the messages in this movie glamorize sexual violence and dehumanize men and women.
A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health in 2013 examined themes in Fifty Shades of Grey, with the help of abuse and sexual practice experts. The results revealed that the book has extensive instances of emotional abuse, sexual violence, and reactions by the victim that are typical of abused women. The conclusion of the study was this:
“Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence—one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.”
I cannot in good conscience support any establishment that spreads messages such as this through the showing of Fifty Shades of Grey or movies like it. Pervasive pornography already has a stranglehold on our society and I believe this movie perpetuates messages that hurt all of us, especially the most vulnerable, our children.
For these reasons I am choosing to protest the decision to show this movie by refraining from attending your theater for as long as Fifty Shades is shown there. Instead, I will choose to support theaters that are not showing the movie. Additionally, I will donate my movie ticket money toward local domestic violence shelters and toward causes that perpetuate love, human worth, and healthy sexuality. This issue is so important to me that I am encouraging my family, friends, and others in my sphere of influence to do the same.
Please know that I do not have anything against you personally. I have enjoyed my movie-going experience at your theater in the past. I am only doing what I believe to be right; standing up for the good of our community and our world.
Should you make any changes in response to this letter or others like it, please let me know so that I can thank you publicly and commence attending your theater. Thank you for any consideration you give to this important issue.
Your Name and Title (if relevant)
3. Invest in the Good – As mentioned in the above letter, consider countering this movie’s messages by promoting healing and hope. There are countless possibilities. For one, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is leading a campaign called 50 Dollars Not 50 Shades, challenging potential movie-goers to give to local domestic violence shelters instead of paying to watch abuse on the silver-screen. Another option is stated in the above letter of protest; giving toward causes that perpetuate love, human worth, and healthy sexuality. This may mean seeking recovery, reconciliation, or romance. You decide.
4. Share This Article with Others – I have come across many great articles opposing Fifty Shades but I have not yet read one with a practical call to action like I am presenting here (if they are out there I’d love to know about them). If you resonate with this article, please share it with family, friends, fellow church members, recovery circles, pastors, leaders, and other pro-humanity organizations. Let’s not let differences in ideologies or theologies thwart our unified efforts in this cause. There are countless individuals in our communities who care for human decency and the betterment of our world. Personally, I am sharing this article everywhere I can think of….from Facebook to the Fresno Bee (newspaper). If you’ve caught the vision, please help spread the news.
5. Join the Movement – There are several amazing, knowledgeable, and well-equipped organizations that are already leading the charge in the Anti-Pornography Movement. If you feel a swell in your heart to join this mission, consider volunteering, giving, and spreading the word about these credible causes. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation and Fight the New Drug are among leading organizations working tirelessly to inform and inspire. They also seek to unveil the destructive messages inherent in Fifty Shades of Grey.
6. Persist – There will likely be more movies in the Fifty Shades series and, as always, we can count on the porn-industry and Hollywood pushing the limits of what we will tolerate in our communities. Media of all types is continuously dispersed that contributes to the dehumanization and severe objectification of others. Repeating this message is not only helpful, it is necessary. Perseverance will pay.
7. Believe – There are many success stories of people fighting pornography. Protesting by citizens has resulted in thousands of stores cancelling the sale of pornography. One massive victory against pornography occurred when the Australian Federation for the Family campaigned against Playboy for 17 years. Their national boycotting efforts in Australia led to the eventual cancellation of all advertising contracts of both Playboy and Penthouse and in 2001 Australian Playboy was closed permanently. Many passionate and caring people are actively standing up for human dignity in this area and their voices are making a difference. Ours will too.
The Boldness of Integrity
The primary purpose of writing this piece is not to change people’s minds about Fifty Shades of Grey. Sadly, many people are excited to see this film. Such is the world we live in. My main intention is to invoke the dormant passion in those who care about this issue, equipping them with effective tools I believe can make a difference.
We have a profound opportunity before us. As Brennan Manning powerfully penned, “It is a courageous determination to make unpopular decisions that are expressive of the truth of who we are.” This is one of many opportunities to stand against the cultural tides that glorify movies and messages that dehumanize and destroy. This is about adding action to our awareness.
In the book “If You Know Who You Are You Will Know What to Do,” Richard Greer writes that “living with integrity requires clarity of purpose, commitment to values, and then courage – the courage to live what we believe even at personal cost.” One Fifty Shades article by Tim Challies challenged readers with this clarifying question: “How can we hope to maintain integrity in the eyes of our brothers and sisters if we say we will help them battle sex trafficking in one moment but pay to enjoy scenes of violent sex in the next?” For anyone who believes in standing against the proliferation of pornography and sexual exploitation, this is a call to congruency. It is time to proceed in step with our values.
I beg the reader, please do NOT react to this film in a manner that contributes to the problem. If we’re fighting for human dignity, we must do it in a humane and dignified manner. Fighting violence with violence (or even disrespect) makes us hypocrites. Instead, what the world needs is courage and conviction balanced with care for others.
For those who have been impacted negatively by another’s choice to consume pornography or who are in recovery themselves, you are not disqualified from taking action. Often the wounded make the mightiest warriors. Your story will fuel your fervency.
Changing the World
“Is this the world you want? You’re making it, every day you’re alive” –Switchfoot
As always, we can expect many to disagree and misinterpret our mission as extremist and judgmental. Regardless, may we have the determination to draw deep on our courage, reminded of the inspirational people throughout history who have modeled this for us. For those who believe in coincidence, how ironic it is that current popular movies like “Selma” and “Unbroken” lead the way in the box office? The path has been prepared for us. May we utilize this powerful imagery to muster the boldness to move forward in perseverance, in the face of expected ridicule.
When we stand for what we believe in, I guarantee change will happen. It may or may not be in the form of social transformation but it undeniably will happen in each of us as we let ourselves be seen. In the words of Brene Brown, “The willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time.”
May we stand together, with courage and congruency, against “Shades of Grey” and other forms of pornography that engulf and entrap our world. May we model to our children how to act boldly in the face of injustice. May we do our part to challenge deteriorating community standards, creating a safer civilization for all of us. May we live with integrity, spreading messages of healthy sexuality, authentic connection, and the worth of all people.
The generations that follow will thank us.
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