Monday, March 16, 2015

Fifty Shades of No


I'm gonna talk about the thing.

I will say first off, I have not read the Fifty Shades books aside from excerpts, essays and blog posts. I have not seen the movie aside from clips.
But I feel like that's enough.

Ok, I get it.
Its hot and steamy and sometimes we all like a little fantasy to escape to.

The problem is in how this entire relationship is portrayed, and to whom this may be impressing upon.

First of all: Fifty Shades of Grey began it's life as Twilight fanfiction. You probably knew this by now, though surprisingly there are still people I talk to who don't know, or thought it was a rumour.
Master of the Universe took Edward and Bella out of the twilight books and gave them racy grown-up lives, seemingly based on the mildly disturbing vampire love-making scenes from Breaking Dawn.
Here's the thing with that... they're vampires.
Edward is in a sulk for two books about not being able to control his super masculine power and doesn't want to accidentally tear Bella limb from limb.
We excuse this because it's supernatural fantasy.
But when you take the situation out of the fantasy, there are some big problems.
I did read all the Twilight books, and I liked them at the time, but I also recognize how twisted Edward and Bella's relationship was, and how having a female 'heroine' do nothing but pine away after a 'flawless' male lead, isn't exactly the image of a healthy relationship.
And so now we have Fifty Shades of Grey, which houses characters in the real-world with these character traits.

Next: Books and movies are different. In books things can be left up to the imagination, and you get internal character dialogue that doesn't translate to movies well unless you have a constant voice-over narration. In the books you get the private doubts and fears, and hopes and dreams of the character at hand. In a movie a simple 'Ok' comes out, but in a book there may be two pages of internal dialogue and character development before that 'Ok' comes out.
Movies are also more engaging and accessible to a younger audience.
Yes, the Fifty Shades books are within child's reach at Walmart, but a kid is not going to stand in the aisle and read the whole thing. They're more likely to stumble upon clips or bootlegged copies online, or have them sent around by friends who think they should "check this out".

Which brings us to the BDSM (Bondage, dominance, sadomasochism) side of it all.
In a controlled, consenting, disciplined environment, there is nothing wrong with BDSM. To each their own.
The problem with the movie is that it doesn't really TEACH those rules... it just shows the actions. It doesn't go into the boring explanatory details about how proper tools and strict rules are mandatory or nothing happens. It doesn't tell you that usually the purpose of BDSM is to give the submissive some form of escape or pleasure, NOT the dominator. It's usually not even about sex at all. When the safe word is called (or in Ana's case, forgotten or made up) the game is over, no discussion (except if you are Mr. Grey, in which case it it sometimes taken as a signal to start trying harder...).
As adults we can kind of weed out for ourselves what's 'healthy' and what's not when seeing this relationship played out.

But it's when wildly popular R-rated movies become 'Challenge Accepted' to kids betting on who can get their hands on the goods first…problems happen.

A few weeks ago a high-school girl in the Philippines died.
I'll spare the details from the article, but she and her boyfriend thought it would be 'fun' to re-enact scenes from the movie.
But due to using improper tools, she died and he was arrested.

Around the same time a 19 year old University of Illinois student was charged for assault after allegedly trying to re-enact a scene from Fifty Shades.

A week ago an 11 year old British boy was asked to sit out of school activities when he showed up to his school's World Book Day dressed in a grey suit, with a handful of cable ties.
Though they make an interesting point about how people were also dressed as fictional serial killers, and how is that any better, the fact remains that your 11 year old kid shouldn't know enough about Fifty Shades of Grey or what the cable ties are for to want to go to school dressed as the manipulative lead character from this book.

Which is why (and here I go pushing more buttons) we NEED this new Ontario Sex-ed curriculum.

We've needed it since I was going through it.

And I don't mean that we need to teach kids about BDSM when they're in grade 2. And that's not at all what the curriculum teaches, despite the outcry of some internet people.

The curriculum (which isn't listed as the 'Sex-ed Curriculum', but is layered deep within the Health and Physical Education portion of the curriculum, which also extensively teaches about healthy bodies, lifestyles, and nutrition) merely spreads out the introduction of concepts over several years instead of not talking about it at all until after grade 6.

Below is a summary.

In Grade 1, as part of learning human biology, they are taught proper names for body parts.
Which, in all honestly, kids should know from the time they are 2.

Teacher prompt: “We talk about all body parts with respect. Why is it important to know about your own body, and use correct names for the parts of your body?” 
Student: “All parts of my body are a part of me, and I need to know how to take care of and talk about my own body. If I’m hurt or need help, and I know the right words, other people will know what I’m talking about.” 
In Grade 2 they learn about personal boundaries, standing up for yourself, and respect for others.

In Grade 3 they are asked to identify characteristics of healthy relationships, and discuss addictive behaviors, like reliance on sugar, food, alcohol, or nicotine. They are challenged to relate the things they see on TV or video games to real-life, and realize that violence and actions seen on screen are often unrealistic or unacceptable and have consequences.

Teacher prompt: “Consider different types of relationships – with friends, siblings, parents, other adults – and think about the kinds of behaviour that help to make those relationships healthier. What can you do if you are having problems with a relationship?” 
Student: “I can tell the person how I’m feeling, and we can try to work something out, or if we can’t solve the problem, we can just say we disagree. We could also try to get advice from someone else.” 
Teacher prompt: “When a family member is abusing alcohol, there is an impact on him or her, but there is also an impact on others. What impact does it have on others in the family?” 
Student: “People who abuse alcohol may not be able to take good care of their families. They may miss important events, spend money on alcohol that is needed for other things, or get involved in arguments. Sometimes emotional or physical abuse happens in families if someone is abusing alcohol.” 

In Grade 4 they discuss different forms of bullying and abuse, further discuss the dangers of smoking and alcohol based on their ingredients, and begin to discuss body changes during puberty.
Some people are freaking out over this, but the reality is kids on average are starting puberty earlier now than before. Being aware of these changes before they happen can help ease the panic and 'taboo' that can surround this topic.
This is also the grade that people believe 'sexting' is introduced. They do NOT use this word. It's embedded in a discussion about sharing things with people over electronic devices that are inappropriate. I believe the intention of this is not to say 'sexting is a thing', but to say that in an age of technology, the same rules about talking to strangers and keeping yourself safe apply.

Teacher prompt: “Advances in technology have greatly increased our ability to get and share information and to communicate and collaborate with each other. But these benefits also come with some risks and potential difficulties, such as a possible loss of privacy, addiction, increased sedentary behaviour, or exposure to people who ask you for sexual pictures or want you to share personal information. What are some things you should do to use this technology safely? How can you get help if you get into trouble?” 
Student: “I should make sure that an adult knows what I am doing when I’m using the computer, the Internet, or a cell phone, so I have someone who can help if needed. When I can, I should use a computer in a public space like a kitchen, living room, or library, instead of alone in my bedroom. I shouldn’t share my password or personal information. I should be aware that people are not always who they say they are online. I should close and delete pop-ups and spam messages without responding. If there’s a problem, I should stop right away and tell an adult instead of trying to solve the problem online. I should help my friends by reminding them of these tips.” 
In Grade 5 they further discuss the effects of alcohol on the body and contributing factors to who can be more effected. They learn the names for the parts of male and female reproductive systems WHICH IS ONLY ONE YEAR EARLIER THAN WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL. 20 YEARS AGO.
There is also a lot of focus on mental health and dealing with feelings of stress and anxiety during puberty and ways to help yourself or ask for help.
Bullying is further discussed in relation to understanding that every one is different and how racist, homophobic, sexist, or derogatory comments are inappropriate and hurtful.

Grade 6 (Which is, when I was in school, when we BEGAN discussing these topics. Suddenly introducing this stuff to giggly pre-teens with an air of anxiety coming from the teacher makes for a room full of kids who aren't taking things seriously, or for some kids the information comes too late.) is when the effects of illicit drugs are discussed, along with furthering discussions about healthy relationships, self-worth, and feelings of 'normalcy' in puberty. They re-touch on concepts of stereotyping and bullying.

"Human Development and Sexual Health C3.3 assess the effects of stereotypes, including homophobia and assumptions regarding gender roles and expectations, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, ethnicity or culture, mental health, and abilities, on an individual’s self-concept, social inclusion, and relationships with others, and propose appropriate ways of responding to and changing assumptions and stereotypes [PS, CT] "

In Grade 7 students talk about internet safety - not giving out passwords, addresses, full names, photos or phone numbers in a public domain. This is the FIRST AND ONLY REFERENCE I see to 'sexting'.
They again discuss mental health in relation to substance abuse.
They discuss STIs, ways you can contract them, pregnancy and intercourse, but also PROMOTE ABSTINENCE, for those who seem to feel they don't.

"Human Development and Sexual Health C1.3 explain the importance of having a shared understanding with a partner about the following: delaying sexual activity until they are older (e.g., choosing to abstain from any genital contact; choosing to abstain from having vaginal or anal intercourse; choosing to abstain from having oral-genital contact); the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent and how consent is communicated; and, in general, the need to communicate clearly with each other when making decisions about sexual activity in the relationship.
Teacher prompt: “The term abstinence can mean different things to different people. People can also have different understandings of what is meant by having or not having sex. Be clear in your own mind about what you are comfortable or uncomfortable with. Being able to talk about this with a partner is an important part of sexual health. Having sex can be an enjoyable experience and can be an important part of a close relationship when you are older. But having sex has risks too, including physical risks like sexually transmitted infections – which are common and which can hurt you – and getting pregnant when you don’t want to. What are some of the emotional considerations to think about?” 

Student: “It’s best to wait until you are older to have sex because you need to be emotionally ready, which includes being able to talk with your partner about how you feel, being prepared to talk about and use protection against STIs or pregnancy, and being prepared to handle the emotional ups and downs of a relationship, including the ending of a relationship, which can hurt a lot. Personal values, family values, and religious beliefs can influence how you think about sexuality and sexual activity. A person should not have sex if their partner is not ready or has not given consent, if they are feeling pressured, if they are unsure, or if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” 
Bullying is addressed again with focus on homophobic and racial slurs. Sexual harassment is addressed. Mental health, depression, sexual/gender identity and self-image issues are addressed.


In Grade 8 they expand on the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation. Abstinence, contraception and consent, in regards to sexual health are enforced. A further emphasis on mental health in regards to relationships and substance abuse.

From what I remember of grades 6-8, all these topics were introduced at once - the age you 'needed' the information
The only thing now is that we're encouraging acceptance, understanding, and safety at an earlier age, so these ideals can by applied to sexual health later in the curriculum.

The fact of the matter is, some kids get wrapped up in some horrible situations, and don't understand what's happening to them enough to get help. And even though we're not going to say outright to 6 year olds "if you're being abused or raped, tell someone!", the concepts of permission, consent, privacy, and emotional health will hopefully give them the tools they need to either get out of a bad situation, or build healthy future relationships.
Some kids really don't have a clue until grade 6/7 when some of these concepts used to be suddenly introduced for the first time.
Most kids, my school included, knew too much from un-reliable sources before healthy relationship ideals were taught in school. And that was BEFORE internet and cellphones being in everyone's pocket.
Kids know much more than they let on. They hear things. They see things. Their friends talk about things they saw on TV, even if it's shows you wouldn't let your own child watch.
I knew Simpsons quotes before I knew who The Simpsons were. This is like grade 3.

If you are the parent who wants to be the one to break the news to your kids, that's great. If you think the news is being broken to them too soon, you can talk to your school's principal and teachers about it. Every teacher can interpret the curriculum differently and still get the point across. When I was in school we had to have permission forms signed before this portion of our health classes. If that's still the case, then just don't sign the form, but PLEASE cover all of these topics somehow.
I'm ETERNALLY grateful that I had the option of having this taught in school and not having to deal with the 'embarrassment' of needing my parents to talk about things with me. And I think the feelings of embarrassment stemmed from not having certain topics normalized sooner, aside from schoolyard-talk.

THE POINT IS: Under-education on this subject can lead to poor decision making, based on things they see online or on TV.
Making a book like Fifty Shades in to a movie that is widely acclaimed/anticipated/advertised/hyped and isn't hidden from pre-teens, aside form the R rating (which kids have a way of getting around), is bound to have an effect on people. The more people say how bad it is, the more people will inevitably want to see for themselves.

People think that talking to kids about these types of things leads them to do these things. But if nobody talks to them about it, they will try to educate themselves and cluelessly end up getting hurt.

I think movie-makers and the media need to think twice about how manipulative relationships like this are idolized.

I think that kids should be able to form opinions about healthy relationships their whole lives, instead of having it flashed across a screen suddenly in grade 6.

I think that instead of scrambling to teach victims how to say no, we need to be putting more effort into teaching attackers how to listen.

Even a three-year-old can tell you that NO means NO.
And we need to make them also understand that ONLY 'YES' means 'Yes'.

1 comment:

  1. People keep asking if I'm going to see it. My answer is always no. For all of the reasons you stated.

    Very well written.