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The Colour of Love #NotGrey

by Sabrina Mahmood

@sabrina01m

Did I really just read that? That was my initial reaction after I read the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series. Everybody was talking about it, it was trending in all the charts, and I just had to know what the fascination was. And we all love a good love story right? As I began reading, I immediately took to Ana, a student like me I at once understood her naivety. She was intrigued by this mystery man and of course so was every avid reader on the planet. But as the book, and eventually the series continued, I was deeply troubled by many of the not so blatant undertones in the book.

“…we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship.”

Image by Jeffery: https://flic.kr/p/q5W7s8Image by Jeffery: https://flic.kr/p/q5W7s8

The whole idea that a man was able to dictate the way a woman dresses, eats and spends her free time really stuck with me. As a society, we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship. I had many discussions about the book and people always said “but she has a choice!”

'Fifty Shades of Grey' book cover

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book cover

Do you really believe that any woman would choose to be treated in such a way? Yes, everybody has their preferences but when you take away all the superficial aspects, and look just at Ana, can you relate to her on a human aspect? She wants to be loved, and she will do anything she can to try and make this man love her. Clearly, she doesn’t realise what she is in for, and is hurt physically and emotionally through the course of the story. I felt that E L James created a very stereotypical idea of Ana, whereby she becomes dependant on a man’s love, even when she leaves him she cannot stay away, she is clumsy and needs’ to be ‘looked after’. When I read it, I was willing Ana to be stronger, to leave him, but of course that never happened.

And if you look at real life abusive relationships, women often believe that the man loves them, despite years of suffering abuse. In the end his character does change, but the fact remains that he is still a controlling man that clearly has issues. It is my personal belief that if any person loves another, they would not do anything to harm them. In the first book towards the end, there is a belt whipping scene which epitomises the abusive nature of this relationship, and highlights the growing concern that  Ana has for her wellbeing. Every woman deserves to feel safe, without concerns for her own safety when she is in a relationship, and that is the message that James should have been promoting.

The most shocking aspect of the whole thing was the way the 50 shades phenomenon took off in the media, it fast became a trend. Everybody wanted to have a man like ‘Christian’, and although a huge part of the story is about sex, the things that really troubled me was the ongoing lack of freedom and choices that Ana had. People wanted to be ‘dominated’.  And in a world where freedom of expression is celebrated, I really don’t think we should be accepting a book that promotes anything less.

“As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.”

Christian had a troubled past, and the cause for his control issues stems from a neighbour having a relationship with him when he was a young teen. If we read a news article of a 15/16 year old boy engaging in a sexual relationship with an older neighbour we would immediately think grooming or sexual abuse. Yet, at no point in the trilogy, does James suggest anything of the sort. And for me, that is deeply worrying. In real life, a man with such high levels of emotional trauma would need psychological help and counselling. And if James wanted to write a book about a troubled man she should have done it responsibly, rather than making him take out his aggression and problems on vulnerable young women. As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Images credit: Jeffery and Wikipedia


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Talking Taboos #Porn

by Sabrina Mahmood

'Hot Girls Wanted' promotional poster

‘Hot Girls Wanted’ promotional poster

Yep.  You heard it. It’s time we all stopped blushing and avoiding the hugely important topic of porn. By chance I came across a documentary called ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ about how young women (aged 18/19/20) break into the amateur porn industry in America. It was scary but gave an insight  into the mindset of some of the young  women who wanted to ‘make it’, have ‘freedom away from home’ and ‘make money’. It’s a perfectly normal aspiration to want to be successful and to be known for something, and everybody is entitled to their own lifestyle choices. Let’s be totally honest, porn is never going to be eradicated, especially not in the digital age that we live in.

However, our approach to it needs to change. If we look at the girls in the documentary, they were looking for jobs through an online advertising site called ‘Craigslist’. The advert was entitled ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ and immediately drew their attention to a ‘new life in the city’. After a quick search on Google myself, I found the UK ‘Craigslist’ and went to the TV/film/radio section where the adverts, as in the documentary, are centred on adult film work. One push of the button and it is so easy to source work like this. Imagine young and vulnerable people who are looking to ‘make it big’ and they find adverts like this. Where are the regulations to safeguard people from exposure to these adverts and similar content? Surely if people wanted to find adult work, it should be posted within specific adult sites or adult job search engines, rather than the wider search engines.

“Where are the regulations to safeguard people from exposure to these adverts and similar content?”

Sex EducationTo break down some of the key issues from the documentary, one of the first things I noticed is that the young women believe sex is just a part of modern society and no longer has any value or meaning. And that’s where sex education  comes, our children are taught about the mechanics of sex and porn, but not the principles and values. If as a society we are so adamant for them to learn, let’s at least teach them the crucial things. When did we actually ever learn about the mechanics of a healthy and normal relationship both emotionally and physically? And the emotional connection between a couple or the huge amount of trust and respect involved? When did we have an understanding of a woman’s role in porn and subsequently a woman’s role in society? If we aren’t taught about respect, and if we aren’t shown it, we will never learn it or have it.

One of the young women was subjected to ‘facial abuse’ porn which uses sexual humiliation of the partner and physical violence towards them during sexual acts and involves forcing them to vomit. She said that ‘acting’ in scenes like this were ‘harmless’ as people were watching it on their screens rather than committing the acts in person. In the UK crime and statistics release from 2013/2014, the number of sexual offences recorded was ‘highest recorded’ in over ten years (64,205) http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/focus-on-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences–2013-14/index.html.

“One of the young women was subjected to ‘facial abuse’ porn which uses sexual humiliation of the partner and physical violence towards them during sexual acts and involves forcing them to vomit.”

So, evidence shows otherwise, when young people consume these violent and graphic portrayals of ‘normal’ sex, there is a greater chance of replicating the violence they have seen. In the Prevent Together report on impact of pornography on youth, results from meta-analysis show that there is a “significant overall relationship between pornography consumption and attitudes supporting violence against women”. And all of this is available freely by typing the word ‘porn’ into Google.

A hugely concerning issue raised in the documentary was the lack of protection for the women in terms of contraception and sexual health. Without the use of condoms, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS is significantly high. The young women in no way were warned of the dangers associated with their sex work and they were led to feel a false sense of security in the routine fortnightly testing for STIs. As with any job, health and safety issues should always be prioritised and there should be safeguarding protocols in place to allow these women sufficient training and education to understand the great risks they are face whilst performing sexual acts. As a society we have an obligation to protect our vulnerable women and girls regardless of the choices they make. Sadly they are often misinformed or coerced as shown in the documentary.

Some of the women discussed having breast enlargement as they also felt it was more desirable in the industry. On the other hand the documentary states that the word ‘teen’ is the most common one used in porn searches. So there are two main desirable pornographic ideals, a young under-developed female, and a woman with big breasts and a curvy figure. Both of these images cannot relate to real life women, who all vary in shape and size. When the viewers of porn are looking for gratification in these images, they become disillusioned with real life women and therefore real life sex. And isn’t it a horrific thought that grown men are increasingly looking to watch porn that involves young females?

It’s time we muster up the courage to speak up about the issues surrounding violence against women and girls every day. We need to be brave enough to challenge the abuse our young people endure in a culture created to view porn as a norm.  We must give appropriate and relevant sex education to our young people before they start seeking answers themselves on the all too familiar Google search box.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credits: ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ promotional poster; ‘Sex Education’;‘Girl with heads in hands’