A young, innocent and beautiful woman begins a stormy relationship with a wealthy man who stalks her, threatens her, verbally abuses her, separates her from her family and even hits her. However, she falls for the abuser, because she sees him as a man deformed by all the bad experiences suffered in life. She believes he can be transformed by her love. Despite the difficulties faced throughout their relationship, at the end the man is indeed transformed, the couple gets married and they live “happily ever after”.
Sounds familiar? This plot is very common in literature. In general terms, it is the plot of “Beauty and the Beast” in its various incarnations. And, generally speaking, is also the storyline of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. The difference is that the first version has dancing teacups while the second one is sexually explicit.
As expected, the release of the first commercial film based on “Fifty Shades” has prompted a boycott. However, the popularity of both the books and the movie has been such that leads us to conclude that the boycott has been a failure.
While I understand the reasons of those who speak out against “Fifty Shades”, in my opinion the first work is much more dangerous. Why? Because that fairy tale teaches boys to be abusive, girls to be submissive and society to tolerate violence in intimate relationships.
Still, I never kept my son or my two daughters from reading the book or seeing the films based on The Beauty and the Beast. Instead, I read the stories and watched movies with my family. However, after I did explain them why the values presented in the story were wrong.
Unfortunately, prohibitions do not work. If you tell a teenager not to read or watch something, he or she will find a way to access the forbidden material. It is best, therefore, to educate youth —always in a way adequate to their age— to understand that they must avoid codependent relationships where one party (usually the woman) suffers abuse stoically in order to “save” the abuser (usually the man).
All cultural products that follow this plot —from children’s stories to erotic novels— have a happy ending. The victim receives a great reward, i.e., true love provided by the wealthy partner, who has been transformed by sheer love.
However, in real life the “ingenue” —may she be called Bella, Anastasia Steele or Jane Doe— suffers immensely. Her story ends at an emergency ward, a hospital, a court, a women’s shelter, or a cemetery. I know because during my pastoral practice I have seen too many relationships that end in tragedy.
Like the woman who had cigarette burns on her arms because her partner used her as an ashtray; or the young woman whose boyfriend ran her over with a motorcycle; or the one whose husband falsely accuses her of being an adulteress in open court; or the woman who pleaded guilty to possession of illicit drugs in order to save her boyfriend from jail; or the one who ends up in a coffin because her husband strangled her.
Therefore, if we condemn Christian Grey, let us also condemn the Beast. In any case, the children’s story is far more dangerous.