In a couple of weeks it will be Valentine’s Day!.  As a high school counselor, I am often visited by the devastated students who never receive a gift because they are not in a relationship or the other person just doesn’t get it. That often makes me reflect on my own experience with Valentine’s Day and, yes, I was one of the unfortunate teenagers who never received flowers or chocolates from an admirer on Valentine’s Day.  Every year, it was always the same group of girls who would get showered with roses, bears, balloons, and chocolates.  So to make myself feel better, I would immerse myself in one of my favorite romantic movies and pretend I was one of the characters in the film. The guy would sweep in and rescue me from my boring life and all the girls in my school would be insanely jealous (evil laugh)!! Overtime, I think these movies shaped my concept about romantic relationships, female sensuality, and human attraction. Also, I am not sure if this was the healthiest way to learn about relationships with the opposite sex and may have had a negative impact my self concept. So, let me share three movies that I believe had some impact on my self image from middle school to college.

1979 – Sooner or Later

This was the year that I finally got to wear mascara and shave my legs!  It is also around the time that I couldn’t wait for the ABC movie of the week to come on television.  That year, one movie really caught my attention. The movie was about a 13 year old girl who fell in love with a 17 year old boy.  In order to win his affection, the girl pretends to be a 16 year old high school student and the boy falls for it.  Although the girl gets caught up in her web of lies, the game of pretending to be older looked appealing to me!

1983 – The Thorn Birds

This television mini series was the second highest rated miniseries after “Roots”.  It told the story of a young Australian woman and her forbidden romance with a Roman Catholic Priest. Although the priest was in love with her, his ambition was to advance in his career.  Longing for a man she could not have, the young woman remained deeply committed to him even though his loyalties and obligations were elsewhere. This is the first time I was introduced to the concept of obsession in a relationship and how it could land you the man you desire.

1990 – Pretty Woman

 Who didn’t love Julia Roberts’ sassy attitude and her ability to take control of Richard Gere.  In fact, this low budget production was the top grossing movie of the year watched by more women than men. Although their relationship started as a business transaction, they eventually fall for each other.  At the end of the movie, Roberts is whisked off her feet by Gere and they live happily ever after.  As a young woman in college at the time, I bought into the fantasy that a good woman could change her man. The character of Vivian, even though she was a hooker, taught Edward the essentials of a happy life: taking time to relax, treating people fairly, and falling in loving a good woman. So, the myth was perpetuated that you can change your man as long as you are a good woman (okay, this myth doesn’t work).

Thankfully, as I matured, my ideas about romantic relationships changed.  I realized there was more to relationships than manipulation, chemistry, and changing someone to your specifications.  A relationship requires hard work, communication, boundaries, and mutual respect; however, I don’t think we do a good job of helping our girls understand the concepts of a healthy dating relationship. Unfortunately, the majority of our teens get their self concept from the romantic fantasies created by Hollywood, the music industry, and books.  Case in point, take the lyrics from the song S & M by the unintended poster child for dating violence, Rihanna.

Result of Rihanna’s Abuse
Love is great, love is fine (Oh oh oh oh oh)
Out the box, outta line (Oh oh oh oh oh)
The affliction of the feeling leaves me wanting more (Oh oh oh oh oh)
‘Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

In fact, Tom Sherak, Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences, confirms the theory that media is both a manifestation and driving force of  the ideals of our society.

Perpetuating the Hollywood Myth of Romance 

In 2011, a book was released online by a British author that set the internet on fire. The book was called Fifty Shades of Grey and has out sold the Harry Potter Series.  The book has been turned into a movie that will be released the day before Valentine’s Day with the subtitle, “Mr. Grey will see you now.” In fact, if you watch the trailer for the movie, you are given the idea that the movie is a love story with consensual sex between a handsome wealthy business man and a young, innocent college student. However, if you read the book, you will see that the relationship between the couple is anything than romantic and healthy.  The book gives us a peek into the attitude of Christian Grey and how he doesn’t believe in love.  He forms a business agreement with Ana Steele in which she will be available to him anytime, any place, and any where.  Normally, the heroine would run from a man like this, but not this modern character.  Since this series (yes, there are three books and subsequent movies) has become popular with moms and their daughters, there may be a huge shift in our culture as accepting unhealthy relationships as the new normal.

Glamorization of Violence Toward Women
Amy Bonomi, Professor at Michigan State University, firmly believes that the novels and upcoming movie glamorizes violence against women. She is specifically concerned about the cultural normalization of a potentially lethal practice called Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; and Sadism and Masochism. For those that regularly practice BDSM, they believe it is healthy to arrange a “yes, no, and

maybe” checklist of behaviors for each partner to follow when they agree to participate in this type of relationship. However, Christian defies the BDSM rules and goes off the grid by constructing his own rules about BDSM.  Bonomi found that only ten percent of the population were really aware of BDSM; however, since the book became popular, more people are talking about participating in this type of “kinky” lifestyle.

Christian and Ana’s Relationship: Is It Considered Dating Violence?

If you view the domestic violence checklist, you will notice there are some similarities between the behaviors that are considered violent and the relationship between Christian and Ana.

Excessive jealousy

Christian follows Ana to a nightclub where he sees her being kissed by one of her guy friends. Although they are not in a “relationship”, he gets mad at her and refuses to let her mention her friend in conversations.

Constantly checking in with you or making you check in with him.

Christian puts a GPS chip in Ana’s phone to check her every move.  He explains the reason for his checking on her constantly is his concern for her.  Also, he emails her constantly and gets upset when she doesn’t respond back immediately.


Ana signs a nondisclosure agreement before she finds out that she will be sexually submissive to Christian; therefore, she is unable to confide in anyone about their relationship or her growing concerns about the BDSM relationship.

Blames problems on his/her past.

Christian confides in Ana that he was seduced (aka molested) by his mom’s friend at 15 and had a six year relationship with her.  

Has a explosive temper.

Ana is always afraid she is going to do something to make Christian mad and tries hard to please him. 

Pressures you into sexual activity with which you are not comfortable.

Christian constantly pressures Ana to participate in BDSM and even buys her expensive gifts to make her feel that she owes him for his generosity.

Does not take responsibility for his/her own actions.

Ana feels that Christian is perfect (he is handsome, rich, and successful) and she must keep him happy.  When Christian gets mad at her, she feels she is the cause of the issue.

Examples of Domestic Violence from Fifty Shades of Grey

Some other disturbing facts from Fifty Shades include:

  • Ana feels the need to please Christian by allowing him to hit her as hard as he can. 
  • After inflicting physical pain, Christian gives Ana painkillers and rubs her down with ointment.
  • Christian tries to not only be Ana’s lover, but father figure by admonishing her for certain behaviors, providing for her physical needs, being protective, and threatening to punish her.
  • Ana falls in love with her abuser and feels that she can change him.

  • Even when Ana says no, Grey continues to force himself on her.
Does Fifty Shades Promote the Acceptance of Male Exploitation and Violence?
Susan Hawthorne has a belief that Fifty Shades of Grey is an anti-feminist piece of work that supports sexual colonization and male dominance. In 1979, Kathleen Berry defined and identified the practice of sexual colonization as domination of women socially, economically, and politically by their colonizers (men). Examples of sexual colonization in our society include: prostitution, domestic violence, and pornography. One example of sexual colonization in Fifty Shades of Grey includes Ana’s relationship with a man that has a significant power over her (she is poor/he is rich, he can beat her/she can’t touch him without permission, she must perform whenever he asks/she has no control over their physical intimacy). Could it be possible that today’s women, including celebrities, have a difficult time acknowledging the violent themes of Fifty Shades movie or the new “mom porn”?
Failure of Women to Stand Against Mom Porn

Oprah Winfrey has been a strong voice for the oppressed since she was introduced to television. Unfortunately, the OWN Network has embraced the Fifty Shades novel and its popularity among the middle class mom culture.  Lisa Ling, from the OWN Network, hosted a series on BDSM among average Americans and even failed to recognize sadomasochism as a mental disorder by the DSM. Another proponent of the series of books and movies is Dr. Logan Levkoff who debated Dr. Drew Pinsky on the innocence of the series.

Correlation Between Fifty Shades and Porn

The porn industry is a male dominated business and tends to direct the majority of its aggression toward women.  In a typical porn movie, women are subjected to slapping, choking, and gagging. The reaction of the female player is a sense of excitement and pleasure (remember the lyrics by Rihanna?).

In the documentary, Love and Sex in the Age of Pornography, the makers of the film traveled to Hungary and Los Angeles to interview workers in the sex industry.  In their interviews, many of the male workers indicated that they learned about sex by watching porn. Also, the women interviewed said they found many of their sexual encounters unpleasant, but they felt that it was important to please their partner. The attitudes of the actors in the porn industry resemble the characters in the Fifty Shades series.

Potential Impact on Teens

As Valentine Day approaches, many of my teen students and adult females are planning to see the movie. As a result of the book series and impending novel, I read that sex toy sales have exploded and there seems to be a growing acceptance of sadism as normal part of a relationship.  Eca Paz Taylor believes that many adult females will tend to recognize the dysfunction in the relationship between Ana and Christian, but she wonders if teens will recognize the abuse.  Taylor postulates that teen girls will identify with Ana and may fall prey to dating violence.  This month, before the movie

hits, it is important to teach students the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the signs of dating violence, and how to set up boundaries in their relationships.

Activities and Awareness:

If you are not sure where to get started, there are several resources you can use in your school.

First, consider downloading the the Dating Violence Awareness Kit. This kit has a quiz about healthy relationships, activities, facts, and additional resources to use during the year.

Next, think about participating in the Dating Violence Awareness Chat on Feb. 10th @ 8:30 PM EST hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution and the UnSlut Project.

Instead of spending money on the movie, urge your staff members to donate $10 to a domestic abuse shelter.

Good Point!

If you tweet like me, use the hashtag #50ShadesIsAbuse to share the posters with your followers.

Also, consider sharing with your staff and parents the list of companies that promote porn (even child porn).  These companies are considered the Dirty Dozen and the list blew me away.

If you need more education about porn culture, like me, check out the website, Stop Porn Culture. This website is sad, but eye-opening to me as a parent and educator!

Think about sharing this app with your students and parents about healthy relationships called Culture Reframed.

Last, check out these additional articles, resources, and information on this issue. Unfortunately, I don’t see this topic going away anytime soon.

Fifty Shades of Grey Condemned as a ‘Manual for Sexual Torture’

The Sad Truth About Fifty Shades Readers-Study from the University of Ohio

Jimmy Carter Speaks Out Against the Mistreatment of Women–  A man standing up for women around the world!

Your Brain on Porn – Effects of porn on the brain.

Porn is Not Sex Education – Great article

Seven Deadly Apps All Parents Should Know

CDC: Sexual Violence


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