What is this boycott really about and why should we be concerned?
Boycott is an emotive word isn’t it? It makes us feel like we are active in addressing something we see of concern. It’s a political statement, something that we voluntarily enter in to; a means of using our autonomy and choice. Socially and politically boycotts have allowed huge cultural and conscious changes; the late 1700’s saw a boycott of sugar connected to the slave trade which created powerful momentum in the abolition movement. Mohandas Gandhi’s inspired boycott of British produce in India. The 1980 boycott of the Moscow summer Olympics and the cricketing world’s boycott of South Africa during the apartheid regime were all significant moments of change in the way we see, consume in and participate in with the world at large.
And then there are the more community minded boycotts, those which are lead by a more grass roots movement, focusing on causes which carry interest, meaning and consequence to a specific group of people. This is where the boycott campaign fits, but just as with the globally political boycott grassroots boycotts have a starting place, a reason for action and a unified front to create the momentum needed for advocate for the boycott.
Not for a second am I questioning the reason for action of this campaign; I, at least am hoping, that there are not to many people who would choose to use violence against women as a means to other political and/or social agendas, and I am certainly not accusing the groups and individuals connected to the Fifty Shades boycott of any such a thing.
Violence against women is a social issue and one that needs to be addressed on all fronts. I believe that the conversations and criticism raised by interested parties about the storylines and characters in Fifty Shades of Grey are relevant to the wider conversation about Intimate Partner Violence.
What I wanted to do here is explore a little bit the organisations behind this boycott campaign. I did this more so for myself, I wanted to see where the momentum was coming from, I wanted to know a little bit more about where this all came from, and to say I wasn’t actually surprised was an understatement.
Let’s look at four of the major players in this campaign; the website Lifesitenews, Collective Shout (Australia) the London Abused Women’s Centre (UK) and The National Centre for Sexual Exploitation (US).
Lifesitenews (dot) com is the site behind the petition addressed to Hollywood executives at Universal pictures. The petition; which has (as of 10am this morning) over 60 thousand signatures, begins with “I am outraged that you have chosen Valentine’s Day to launch a movie that promotes misogyny, abuse and sado-masochism under the guise of romance”
What is Lifesite news?
Well the banner at the top of the web page should be telling enough; “LifePetitions is a community of grassroots activists seeking to create a Culture of Life and Family”
Lifesitenews is a Christian website that focuses on stories and issues that are appealing to a socially and politically conservative audience. Lifesitenews (dot) com is owned by The Campaign Life Coalition; a Canadian right winged, conservative, anti choice group.
It publishes pieces like:
This homophobic one arguing that Hallmarks choice of greeting cards featuring a same sex couples are “jeopardising its brand as a family-friendly company. Customers used to be able to trust Hallmark to produce quality products that were safe for all ages. Now parents will need to steer their kids from Hallmark’s secton of the greeting card aisle and away from its previously heartwarming movies for fear that they too will push homosexual messages”.
With a call to complain and boycott Hallmark.
And there is a whole host of anti choice pieces here, and finally this bizarre piece which claims “Many of the most common vaccines, for rubella and chicken pox for example, are grown in and then removed from cells descended from the cells of aborted fetuses”. HUH? I don’t know what else to say?
National Centre for Sexual Exploitation
Formally “Morality in media”
Established in the 1960’s and evolving into the National Centre for Sexual Exploitation only in the last few weeks was created as an interfaith organisation in New York “after grade school children were caught with hardcore pornography”. Since then the organisation has “initiated many successful obscenity prosecutions against major commercial interstate distributors of hardcore adult pornography” and continues to be an active force against pornography.
The London Abused Women’s Centre
While providing a much needed and valuable renounce to women in the UK (something that should not be minimised) the London Abused Women’s Centre; especially it’s executive director Megan Walker are staunch advocate for the “Nordic Model” for sex work.
For me this is a huge problem, again I don’t want to come across as demanding you agree with my position here, but the Nordic model is unfair, unsafe and removes all agency of sex workers.
No one denies we live in society in which women (men and children) are trafficked for sexual exploitation. No one denies there is a need to confront, head on, the depraved and abhorrent sex trade. Having one woman in sexual bondage is one woman to many, and while global statistics are not readily available due to the clandestine nature of the act, Amnesty International estimate the number of women being kept in modern day sexual slavery are in the millions.
However I live in a State where sex work is legal and regulated and do not support this Nordic Model at all.
Here are links to pieces for and against the model, I don’t know where you stand but I do think this is relevant here. For me one of the reasons I identify as ‘sex positive’ is that I come to sex in the abstract (sex and sexuality outside of my own lived experiences) from a place where I believe women. I do this because, for me, to ignore what they are saying would be inviting internalised misogyny into my social consciousness and this is something I actively try to avoid. When sex workers tell me that they do not need nor want rescuing then I trust that this is their truth; to do otherwise is to distrust them and distrusting women is a keystone to misogyny.
Collective Shout and Stop Porn Culture
I’d never heard of Stop Porn Culture before this, but I will declare I have met both Gail Dines of Stop Porn Culture and Melinda Tankard-Riest of Collective Shout: both of whom I see as ‘anti porn activists’. I have nothing personally against either of them, I find them to be articulate, passionate women; who just have a different point of view than I do.
As a mother I am constantly aware of the culture my daughter is living in, I see value in recognising the influence of raunch and porn. What I don’t see what Melinda and Gail see; a definable and measurable rightness and wrongness when it comes to what women choose to consume.
This and this both very emotive pieces written by Gail in 2013 and 2014 (so before this current boycott campaign) tell me a lot about where her motivation are coming from and a lot about the motivation for this campaign.
Far from being an objective pieces about a work of fiction and the valid and needed conversations around pop culture and even pornography, Gail chooses to reveal her entirely sex negative attitude; which can be summed up in this one paragraph …
“The most likely real-world ending of Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of black and blue. The awful truth in the real world is that women who partner with a Christian Grey often end up hightailing it to a battered women’s shelter with traumatized kids in tow. The less fortunate end up in graveyards”
Again, and this piece written by Gail was published on Melinda’s website, Gail argues that women who are victims; as she sees it, of a d/s relationships could never “live happily ever after with a man who dictates, in a written contract, what to eat and wear, and when to exercise, wax, and sleep. In my work, I meet many women who started out like our heroine, only to end up, a few years later, not in luxury homes, but running for their lives to a battered women’s shelter with a couple of equally terrified kids in tow. No happy ending here, either.
Now it would only take a few Google searches to see that things like, eating, exercising, waxing, sleeping (and clothing which seems to cause some of the most vocal outrage about what Christian asks of Ana) are commonly negotiated areas of control for women and men within a d/s relationship. I know they are for me and for the women and men that I know in healthy, functioning d/s relationships.
And this is where the problem fro me comes in to play;
I am a woman. What I’m not is one of “those women”. Those women seems to be the adjective that is being used within this #fiftyshadesisabuse endeavor to describe women who, in Gail’s words, will end up as abuse victims with their kids in a shelter.
This was taken from the London Abused Women’s Centre Facebook page.
This attitude is not okay, it’s one this to question a book; and FSOG gave me a lot to question and think about, but it’s a whole other to choose to lump a whole group of very real women in with, valid, criticisms of a film. To say women like me and the countless number of other women in “real life FSOG relationships” end up abused is wrong
There is a small but ever growing body of research available which suggests that the assumptions made in the above accounts are wrong. Reasearch such as Richters, De Visser, Rissel, Grulich and Smith (2008) and Wismeijier and van Assen (2013) tell us that women who are in real life FSOG relationships – healthy, functioning d/s relationships have measurable higher subjective well beings than a comparison group and that women who identify as submissive are no more or less likely to be victims of Intimate Partner Violence. If activists want to talk about real FSOG relationships let’s start with reality.
To try to argue the complexities of porn and sex here would be futile; there are books and websites dedicated to discussing both points of view, written by people with a lot more knowledge and conviction than me. If I am really honest here I don’t necessarily understand the labyrinth of social and political layering and the dichotomy that exists here. I wish porn and sex could be easily measured and judged as right and wrong no, if you will excuse the pun, shades of grey. But the realty isn’t that simple and I’m just not the right person to argue the complexity. What I do know is that there are too many points of arguments and statements made by those at the forefront of this campaign that I out and out reject and some; like the ones made by Gail Dines I take offence too,
As I mentioned at the beginning this isn’t a piece to tell you what to think, how to react or how you should be engaging with this boycott campaign. I truly do believe that there is a need to critically look at the way that Fifty Shades portrays relationships and in the wider conversations about pop culture. The are valid points being made; some I had thought of myself after reading the books and others that made me think about points I hadn’t considered before.
But the one thing that I can’t do, myself, is actively support something which was created and championed by organisations that are anti choice and sex negative.