Protesting 50 Shades of Grey for Promoting Violence Against Women, Day 1

by Sunsara Taylor | February 13, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Protesting 50 Shades of Grey

Photo: Special to

Last night, in New York City and Los Angeles, Stop Patriarchy staged our opening protests against the premiere of the film 50 Shades of Grey.

This film romanticizes, glamorizes, and eroticizes violence against women, stalking, abuse, degradation, and dehumanization of women. Here is just one excerpt from the books the film is based on:

“No,” I protest, kicking him off.

Christian replies, "If you struggle, I'll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you."

Grey, the absurdly unrealistic mega-billionaire stalker/abuser, then proceeds to have sex with Anastasia against her will. No, that is not “sexy.” That is sexual assault.

50 Shades romanticizes the story of Anastasia Steele, a young, painfully insecure, sexually inexperienced college student who is stalked, controlled, and alternately flattered and raged at by Grey. Steele is systematically broken down, taken way beyond her comfort zone, isolated from friends, and violated physically, emotionally, and through the denial of even a shred of privacy or personal autonomy. This is then packaged and sold on the big screen as “romance” and “true love.”

Check out what Rigel Kane in Revolution newspaper has to say about this here and read Stop Patriarchy's flier about it here.

How did people react to our protest?

Many thanked us:

Protesting 50 Shades of Grey

Protesting 50 Shades of Grey

Protesting 50 Shades of Grey

Photos: Special to

We hadn't even pulled out all our signs yet or really set up when the first person stopped. “I want one of those,” said a man, “I have daughters.” He made clear he wasn't one of those “purity ring” type fathers trying to suppress his teenage daughter's sexuality, he was deeply concerned about the way this story makes dangerous and abusive men look like they “just need to be loved enough.” He took extra fliers to share with his daughter and wife.

Overall, the most common response we got from people on the street was, “Thank you!” Many just reached out their hands for the flier as they thanked us, but some stopped to talk. A young Latino guy opened up about how three of the women he has dated have been raped. A Muslim couple was alarmed that the woman's younger sister was obsessed with the books and didn't understand how dangerous it is to date a guy like Grey. Two young Black women made their friends wait a long time for them as they joined in handing out flyers and yelling to passersby, “Everyone has a right to their opinion, but mine is 'Fuck 50 Shades!' Women are not objects!”

A lawyer who works at a shelter that assists women who have been sexually trafficked and families fleeing domestic abuse stopped. She wasn't familiar with the books but she knows deeply what women's lives look like when they are trapped in abuse. Abusers often seek out women who are just like Anastasia Steele, young, insecure, and thinking that a man's desire to control them is an expression of love. Too many women and girls don't know the signs of abuse, and now this film is romanticizing those signs, increasing the danger.

Several staff members of a local group that assists domestic abuse survivors showed up to join the protest. They had heard about it through social media. Also, a guy from Belgium stopped to pose with one of our signs. He said the film is being promoted like crazy among women's magazines there and was so happy to see women in this country standing up against it.

Among the audience...

Among those going to watch the movie (typically groups of female friends, also some dates), more people tried to avoid us. Many laughed uncomfortably and averted their eyes, but still a significant number took the flier. For most this seemed like the first time anyone had suggested to them that there is a problem with the film.

Given that the first showing last night didn't start until 8 pm (and how bitterly cold New York City is right now), we were not able to stick around and talk with people on their way out. But, tonight and tomorrow night we will be able to do so. So check back in for new reports tomorrow.

Among those who defended the film, “But it’s her choice”...

A few were snotty and defiantly defended the film. One snapped, “Its not rape, she consents.” Well, as you can see in the excerpt above, she does not always consent in the books. The books romanticize sex that is non-consensual and sex that is explicitly used as “punishment” for Steele's alleged wrongs.

But, just as importantly, the idea that everything short of rape should be upheld is just wrong. Things that degrade and abuse women should be opposed, and blockbuster films that distort and romanticize and promote that degradation as “empowerment” and “love” should be called out for the real damage they do.

Others argued, “But it’s her choice.” The premise of this argument, that anything a woman chooses to do should be upheld, is also wrong. Yes, consent matters enormously and sex that is not consensual (rape) should be against the law and should be punished (when the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). But, just because something is not—and should not be—against the law does not mean that it should be beyond critique and conscious struggle over what values and what view of women is being promoted.

The idea that controlling, dominating, humiliating, terrorizing, and hurting a woman is “erotic” flows from a world that systematically treats women as sex objects to be used and abused for the sexual pleasure of men. Men don't just develop these fantasies in a vacuum—they are subjected to a lifetime of ideological training through pornography that eroticizes the hatred and revenge against women and even the torture and humiliation of women. This combines with thousands of years of patriarchal tradition that teaches that women are only valuable as “helpmeets” to men, mothers to their children, or sexual objects/servants.

Women, too, do not develop their fantasies in a vacuum. They are bombarded their entire lives both by the overall pornified culture (including advertising, popular music, and mainstream television and film) and by propaganda that is directed specifically to them: fairy tales, romance novels, “how to please him” articles in women's magazines, and more. All these train women to feel shame about their own sexual desires and to identify “driving a man crazy with desire” as validation of their worth.

There is no denying that many women fantasize about men who control and dominate them—in and outside the bedroom. The enormous success of 50 Shades is a clear indication of that. But, there is also no denying that this fantasy is pushed on women and that it is—in real life—extremely dangerous. Every day, 3-4 women are killed by their “partners.” A woman is beaten in this country every 15 seconds. As many who work in domestic abuse shelters have pointed out, “In real life, women who fall in love with Christian Greys end up in abuse shelters and cemeteries.”

The fact is, the very things that have trained people of all genders to find the abuse and degradation and control of women “sexy” are the very things that give rise to a world in which women and very young girls are kidnapped, beaten, sold into sexual slavery, pimped out, abused, disrespected and discriminated against by the billions. You don't get one without the other.

Stay tuned and join in!

So, that is a taste of our first day out protesting 50 Shades of Grey. Tonight and Saturday we are staging protests in Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, and Seattle. If you are in these areas, join us. Elsewhere, stage your own protest—print off our flier and take it to your local theater—and let us know how it goes. Everyone: follow and retweet updates and photos from these protests at: @StopPatriarchy and @SunsaraTaylor.

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