50 Shades of Grey and domestic abuse

I’m going to do a series of blogs on some controversial elements of domestic abuse and BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism) in 50 Shades of Grey. Today I’m focusing on whether or not Anastasia Steele, the 21 year old virgin, actually consents to be battered. But does it matter? Either way, is she a victim of domestic abuse by Christian Grey, the 27 year old billionaire who is into BDSM? On the surface of it, doesn’t it sound ridiculous that somebody would freely and willingly consent to abuse? Surely a victim has to be ensnared, coerced or trapped in an abusive relationship. At the very least he/she would be in some sort of forced-choice situation. It certainly doesn’t sound like Steele is on a mission to find a batterer or a dom (dominant male in BDSM) when she interviews Grey for a school newspaper article. Over time, he makes it abundantly clear that he wants her to accept a BDSM relationship with him. It couldn’t be clearer; he even provides her with a lengthy contract to sign. Her response to this is very interesting: she doesn’t run, lose interest in him or sign the contract. Instead she tolerates him monitoring and trying to control what she eats. She allows him to spank her, him slapping her 18 times on the first occasion. But she doesn’t do these things with BDSM enjoyment of them; she rather dislikes them. Instead, she takes this abuse because she feels she has no choice if she wants to be involved with him. She also proceeds to accept a BDSM relationship with him. So, where does Steele stand in terms of her consent to being abused? She appears to grudgingly give nonverbal consent to it, without in any way being forced by Grey to do so. Now Steele and Grey are in a loaded situation. She is in a power struggle with him: she wants love and he wants BDSM. She doesn’t have the personal power to be able to negotiate a dating relationship with him. She’s stuck playing his game while she tries to work on her hidden agenda. This appears to be her forced-choice. Just like in real-life cases of domestic abuse, their anger and violence escalates. Steele rolls her eyes at Grey and he punishes her by spanking/whipping her with a belt six times. She can’t take the pain and sees no option but to leave him. He lets her go, but we know their relationship isn’t over; she’ll be back. So, we have to sum up to say Steele allows herself to be battered. However, in the minds of most people this is almost irrelevant. The general consensus seems to be that there’s something wrong when a person accepts abuse and it’s not his/her fault. As a result his/her consent should be ignored. And there’s even more wrong with an individual who perpetrates abuse; nothing he/she does or says can relieve him/her of the responsibility for harming another person.

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