Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of Russia’s most popular tabloid newspapers, published an article last week telling female victims of domestic violence to be ‘proud of their bruises’.
Sounds like a sick joke, something an inexperienced stand-up comedian might spend the rest of their career apologising for. Horrifically, it’s not.
‘For years, women who have been smacked around by their husbands have found solace in the rather hypocritical proverb, ‘If he beats you, it means he loves you!’’ wrote journalist Yaroslav Korobatov.
‘However, a new scientific study is giving women with irascible husbands new grounds to be proud of their bruises, insofar as women who are beaten, biologists confirm, have a valuable advantage: they're more likely to give birth to boys!’ [as translated by The Independent]
His comments were made ahead of this week’s controversial news that Vladimir Putin has signed an amendment to a law limiting the penalties imposed on people who commit domestic abuse. Now, people who beat their children or spouses are punishable by just 15 days in prison, or a mere fine, as long as the results of their violence are limited to bleeding or bruising (no broken bones) and they don’t do it more than once a year.
Previously, such a crime would have been punishable by up to two years in prison. Now, it’s a virtual tap on the hand.
I find it difficult to articulate the rage I feel at knowing this. It has been estimated that every 40 minutes, a woman in Russia dies as a result of domestic abuse; I cannot imagine what this law amendment will mean for countless women there.
Humans are supposedly more intellectually sophisticated than we have ever been before, so how it’s possible that the largest country in ‘our’ world could pass such a law with so little opposition, beggar’s belief.
Literally, what planet are we on?
Of course, we like to think we’re safe here in the cosy, caring West because such acceptance of abuse could never happen here. We do lots to prevent violence against women, don’t we? We verbally condemn it, outright oppose it. And we create laws to stop it. And ooh, we consume ‘romantic’ literature and make ‘romantic’ movies glorifying it too, ones which turn the act into the ultimate signal of a couple’s adventurous sex life...
Hang on a minute, what? That’s another sick joke, surely…
Enter: the Fifty Shades trilogy.
(Or Fifty Shades of Utter S--t as I like to call it.)
The E.L. James tale of Anastasia Steele – a twenty-something virgin graduate – and Christian Grey – a billionaire with a penchant for S&M – took the world by storm when the first novel in the ‘love story’ was published in 2011. And it continued to take the world by storm, when the second and third novels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, were published in 2012.
Granted, I’ve only read the first book – Fifty Shades of Grey – but frankly, that was all I needed to read. Because the story of a man who tries to force a young woman he supposedly loves into being a ‘submissive’ to his ‘dominant’, goes against everything I – as a feminist and HUMAN – stand for. Add in a ‘playroom’ also known as the ‘Red Room of Pain’, and a moment where the hero beats his lover with a belt... and that’s where I feel my blood boiling and decide to throw the book under the sofa and cling, desperately, to the nearest cushion for comfort.
Over 125 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey have been sold worldwide so far. That’s a lot of people interested in the sexual practises it describes, which – to be clear – involve dominance and submission, sadism, masochism and bondage. I have nothing against people experimenting in the bedroom. If both parties willingly consent, it is no one’s business what couples choose to do behind closed doors.
But the type of ‘consent’ described in Fifty Shades of Utter S--t is not how I’d define ‘consent’. Anastasia didn’t so much volunteer to be beaten with a belt in the final moments of the first novel, as she did ‘give in’ to the wishes of her lover. She wanted to see ‘how bad’ signing Grey’s stupid ‘contract’ could get. She did it to get close to the man she loved.
I have never had to make any such concessions for anyone. But there are thousands of women out there who have – women who repeatedly put up with violence perpetrated by their partners in the name of love.
Fifty Shades supports such a dynamic.
I don’t care that I haven’t finished the tale to discover, perhaps, Christian Grey reforms and becomes Mr Goody Two-Shoes Dogs B-llocks, because the Fifty Shades trilogy – and the film franchise – validates the very worst type of relationship; one centred on violence, dressed as love.
‘If he beats you, it means he loves you’.
In my view, Fifty Shades puts out this message.
You couldn’t get me to a viewing of Fifty Shades Darker, not if you dragged me there.