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Opening Conversations about 50 Shades of Grey

by Zero Tolerance Capacity Building Officer Liz Ely

The cultural phenomenon ‘50 shades of Grey’ has been hard to avoid in the last week. From the ubiquitous ‘lose control’ posters which adorn bus shelters across the country to Philip Schofield cheerfully discussing nipple clamps on ‘This Morning’, 50 Shades is everywhere.

The cultural phenomenon ‘50 shades of Grey’ has been hard to avoid in the last week. From the ubiquitous ‘lose control’ posters which adorn bus shelters across the country to Philip Schofield cheerfully discussing nipple clamps on ‘This Morning’, 50 Shades is everywhere.

It has also had a record breaking opening weekend, and will probably go on to be one of the highest grossing erotic movies of all time.  It is not without controversy, with women’s organisations across the country urging a boycott and asking women to donate the price of their cinema ticket to rape crisis centres.  These boycotts are not in response to the sexual content of the film; indeed many BDSM enthusiasts also have problems with the way it is represented in the film and books. 50 Shades of Grey shows what many of us recognise as an abusive relationship, featuring control and dominance of a more powerful man and a number of worrying tropes. These are outlined in detail by Alexis Bee in the blog ’50 Shades of Abuse’, which also offers a critical chapter by chapter reading of the text.

The film has an 18 certificate, but the omnipresence of the film’s promotion and cultural impact means that young people will be familiar with the story, regardless of the fact that they are not the target audience.   Under 18s will see this movie in cinemas (unless of course, cinemas have become much more vigilant than they were when I was younger), and soon torrents will be available to download giving anyone with broadband access to the film within minutes.  Many will have already have read the book, particularly young women, for whom this represents a socially acceptable exploration of sexuality. For those of us who work with young people, this presents a challenge and an opportunity to discuss what constitutes a healthy relationship.  50 Shades is a hot topic, and it is important that we use this to explore some of the tropes of the film and books. At Zero Tolerance we have put together a short exercise which you can use to discuss some of the problematic aspects of the film.  It uses a short card exercise about healthy and unhealthy relationships, and quotes from the book to promote discussion about whether or not Anna and Christian’s relationship is abusive.  It is designed to support young people to take a critical look at the media which surrounds us all. You can download the activity here. We appreciate feedback on the activity, particularly regarding the response of young people; if you have any comments don’t hesitate to email us at info@zerotolerance.org.uk

 
 

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