I hate being negative, I really do. But there are some things that you just can’t help speaking out about, because you know that it’s important, and you know that people are getting hurt. I suppose I feel a bit like Jeremiah did in Jeremiah 20:9, when not speaking made the word feel like it was burning inside of his bones. The burning inside of me isn’t coming because of impending physical destruction of a nation, but it is because of a very distressing topic that I want to revisit: erotica.
Specifically, 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve written about this before, and more people read that post than anything I’ve ever written. But there’s some scientific data that’s come through about it, and it shows how important a topic this is, not just regarding that specific book, but of the topic of erotica as a whole. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty.
Take a look at this headline, published in August: “Young adult women who read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher.”
Read it. I know you read it, but read it again. And again. Is it sinking in yet? Is it starting to at least? Good, because it needs to sink in before we’re ready to talk about this. The rhetoric that we have heard, time and time again, is that it doesn’t really affect people, and it’s just a story. Is it really just a story? Because it seems to me that it’s being linked to problems relating to women’s self-esteem and idea of self-worth.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time digging into that specific book, but let’s talk about erotica generally for a little bit, and how it relates to pornography. Contrary to the lies being circulated by Buzzfeed, pornography has been linked by academic studies to several unhealthy behaviors. For men who watch pornography, it makes them more likely to lose their job, fall into depression, and most importantly, have a degraded view of women. And what exactly are problems like verbal abuse and eating disorders related to? A degraded view of women. Both on the part of the one who inflicts verbal abuse, and in the view of the woman herself, as is the case when she develops an eating disorder.
We are consciously creating a culture in which women are continually degraded. We like to proclaim that women have come a long way in our society, and it’s true that women can vote, run for public office, and have jobs besides secretarial work, but our culture as a whole has not changed. While proclaiming “feminism,” the advancement of women, in politics and in the workplace, we continue to degrade and debase women as nothing more than sources of sensual pleasure.
Take, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not the woman that’s taking charge in that story. Instead, she is seduced and, in every sense of the word, dominated by this man. That’s not in a sexual way, but in an all-encompassing way. He dominates her life and makes all of the rules.
But, of course, it’s a good story (that’s sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell).
And if you think that the problem only exists in media that are labeled explicitly as pornography and erotica, you’re wrong. In nearly every modern action movie, there is a female character who only exists as sex appeal. That can be seen as far back as the Roger Moore James Bond movies (and virtually every Bond film since). James Bond is an action hero, but the girl? She’s just there for him to have sex with, so that you can see how desirable Bond is. But what about the girl? What does she want in a relationship? What does she want in life? What are her stakes in the story? It doesn’t matter. Because in all reality, her role is little more than that of a sex slave.
Erotica represents everything that is wrong with our culture when it comes to our attitudes toward women. It’s also noteworthy that the primary readers of erotica are women, not men, which ultimately means that these debased attitudes toward the value of women are not only developed by men who view pornography, but by women who read erotica as well—and that attitude inevitably leads to their views of themselves.
And if none of that convinces you of the danger of this kind of media, then this quote by Dr. Amy Bonomi, who led the study at Michigan State, should:
“We recognize that the depiction of violence against women in and of itself is not problematic, especially if the depiction attempts to shed serious light on the problem. The problem comes when the depiction reinforces the acceptance of the status quo, rather than challenging it.”