published Sunday, September 9th, 2012

First Things First: 50 shades of what?

Julie Baumgardner

Since the height of the women's movement, women have fought to not be viewed as just sexual objects. Women want to be seen as bright, capable of accomplishing great things and deserving of respect. For years, females of all ages have been taught the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

Enter "Fifty Shades of Grey." More than 30 million books have been sold to married women, college women, even young teen girls who are infatuated with it.

This is the story of Ana, a college student who is pursued by an older guy, Christian Grey. When Ana meets Christian, she is attracted to him but believes that he does not find her attractive. Through a series of events, Ana finds herself involved with Christian , who tells her that he wants to have sex with her, but she will need to sign a nondisclosure agreement forbidding her to discuss anything they do together. There is also a second contract -- one of dominance and submission with the understanding there will be no romantic relationship, only a sexual one. Christian is into bondage and discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM).

While Ana finds Christian intriguing, she is confused. He showers her with gifts and takes her to meet his family. Yet he wants to control what she eats, tell her what to wear, require her to obey his requests, does not allow her to touch him or look him in the eyes. Ana asks Christian to show her how extreme the BDSM could get, so he beats her with a belt.

Are you wondering why women are so taken with this novel? What about this plot helps women not to be seen as sexual objects? What message is this book sending about love? Would you be supportive of your daughter dating or marrying Christian Grey?

"I think women who are intrigued by this book have to ask themselves, what is it about this guy that appeals to you?" said Pam Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker. "Being willing to turn over the keys to your life to someone who wants to dominate and control you has a very high price tag."

Healthy, loving relationships are not defined by contracts forbidding conversation about the relationship nor do they treat one of the people in the relationship as less than the other. Healthy relationships are built on trust and support, mutual respect, nonthreatening behavior, negotiation, healthy boundaries and fairness.

Why would a woman offer herself to a man who makes it perfectly clear he only wants to dominate her and have sex with her?

"In many instances, women who are attracted to this Christian Grey kind of person are looking for safety and security," said Johnson. "At first it may be very appealing to have someone in your life who will take all the hard decisions away when things feel scary and out of control. However, you cannot mistake control over your life for a real love that is safe and secure."

Any relationship that dominates, degrades and fails to nourish and cherish is nothing more than a work of fiction. When a woman learns to first love herself for who she is, there is no room for shades of gray.

Email Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org.

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