The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has brought an onslaught of controversies once again. Criticism towards female objectification in the series’ second film, Fifty Shades Darker, has flooded the web, yet readers cannot get enough of it. With the latest film bringing in over $146 million (HK$1,133 million) in its global debut, it begs the question – Did the series redeem itself from its gender-related criticisms in the new movie? Barely.
The previous film ended on a bittersweet note when the protagonist Anastasia Steele left the male lead Christian Grey after feeling disgusted by his savage ways. Fifty Shades Darker – spoiler alert – is where Christian presents himself as a reformed man, not pushing Anastasia to do things she is uncomfortable with. However, as redeeming as that overview sounds, the series is still ladened with social and gender issues.
Degrading women into objects of sexual pleasure is a running theme throughout the Fifty Shades series, which works its way through Anastasia’s character. The movie, stringing itself upon naivety and cynicism, posits men as dominating predators who prey on women as their saviors. This is not only evident in Anastasia’s relationship with Christian, as her constant bad luck with other men also delineates the series’ objectification of women. From having an attempted rape by her boss to her good friend not understanding personal boundaries and consent.
Anastasia and Christian’s relationship reinforces the stereotypical sexist view of men and women – the rigid difference between masculinity and femininity. A study jointly published by researchers from the Ohio State University and the Michigan State University shows that readers of the series have a higher tendency to endorse “ambivalent, benevolent and hostile sexism.” Benevolent sexism is when a person sees women as things that should be cherished and protected by men, while hostile sexism is the objectification and negative view of women. These sexist attitudes in the Fifty Shades series have many social implications that are evident in rape culture around the world.
Hong Kong’s judicial and police systems have recently been accused of fueling a “victim-blaming culture,” which might be related to a drop in rape conviction rates, according to the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women. The organisation recently reported that rape conviction rates in Hong Kong dropped from 39.5 percent in 2014 to 18 percent in 2016, it also proposed improvements to the legal system so as to increase rape prosecution rates. The Fifty Shades of Grey series has opened up the conversation about normalization of gender issues and rape culture, hopefully, it would bring changes to how Hong Kong handles these issues.
Writer: Yu Lynn Tan
Editor: Vivian Lee
Copy Editor: Gene Lin
Online team: Zoe Law