50 Shades of Nay: The Media’s Role in Romanticizing Abuse

by CrazyBrazy on April 23, 2017 - 4:10pm

            Whether it’s by a premium streaming service, television, online, or in theatres, people are consuming hours upon hours of television and film. These videos, episodes, series, and movies, are not always suited for all audiences. The question remains whether some should not be suited for any audience at all. Very few people would argue against the idea that domestic violence is wrong. The ethical dilemma lies in deciding whether these strong, hyper-masculine characters in the media are every man and woman’s dream, or are they actually romanticized abusers. The argument for these men and their relationships being seen ethically as good for all couples is dismissed by virtue ethics. Anger, jealousy, possessiveness, unkindness, wrath, lust, and many more traits associated with these hyper-masculine characters are all considered vices. Whilst the argument that romanticized abuse is wrong is supported by the virtues of spreading honesty to the public, a righteousness to protect those abused, a courtesy to those having dealt with abuse, and many others. Romanticized abuse is wrong, and leads to a mislead public. These abusers are clearly seen and modelled in the Fifty Shades (Universal Pictures) franchise, as well as pornography, which then aids in creating toxic relationships that are hard to leave.

            Christian Grey, and his love interest, Anastasia Steele hold an abusive relationship that is romanticized and fetishized. He disregards her wishes, forces himself upon her, and tracks her every move. “He is obsessed with her, […]  in a way that makes the [viewer] wish they were her. Here is a man who can have any woman he wants and he chose [her]. [The] average woman […] might be able to imagine herself finding her own Christian Grey” (Brockway). The fact that his approval is lusted after, even after disregarding her right to privacy and an opinion, is quite alarming. Anastasia’s disempowerment as a person and entrapment within the relationship is clearly seen when she begins to distance herself from her loved ones, and hides information about where she is to avoid the wrath of her lover (Brockway). This is clearly not the making of a healthy relationship, and to dream to be with or like a man like Christian Grey, is to wish to be a part of an abusive, controlling relationship. This being the summum bonum, teleogically speaking, it is immoral to continue to publicize these romanticized wrong-doers.

            Pornography is not representative of what sex truly is. The angles, scenes, positions, and dialogue are all meant to cater to the objectifying nature of the production. The moral ambiguousness of pornography does not lay solely on the rape scenes or fetishes of that sort. It lies in pornography itself. Even in the most regular of films, violence is romanticized. In the majority of scenes, men are in control, and women are simply there for their pleasure. The enhancements done to these women’s bodies, whether through surgery, or digitally create a false sense of beauty for the consumers. “The porn-brained man also pushes his woman into doing things she’s not very comfortable with, seeking to act out the exotic scenes he’s seen on film” (McKay, Brett & Kate). Paired with other forms of romanticized abuse, these situations may just appear to be normal. This poses a problem, as pornography begins to replace the true nature of sex. When pornography begins to intertwine itself within relationships, “the highly romanticized nature of [the] courtship encourages partners to stay together despite highly negative interaction patterns” (Lloyd 14). Meaning that even if one partner feels that they are not happy, they believe that what they are feeling is simply natural, and part of what a true relationship is like.

            It is easy to put the blame on the victims, in saying they should be aware of their situations and seek help. However, it is easier said than done. Any form of abuse takes a toll on the mind and soul. The abused begin to feel worthless. This is the case for “battered women [who] are characterized by ‘learned helplessness,’ where abused [women] begin to learn what is going to happen to them through the cycle of violence, but become unable or unwilling to leave an abusive [relationship]” (Bowlus, Audra J. & Shannon Seitz 1113). The media is definitely not solely to blame, but romanticizing these relationships aids in misinterpreting abuse as tough love. It poses a problem for those involved, and those who are looking in. If the media portrays an obsessive, jealous, and overprotective boyfriend as cute, a group of friends will not attempt to intervene as easily. If their friend would approach them, they could potentially tell them they are looking into it too much, and they should be grateful their boyfriend is that invested.

            The media plays a very influential role in society. Characters from film are praised and imitated. With movies like those from the Fifty Shades (Universal Pictures) franchise, this imitation poses a problem. The romanticized relationship between Christian and Anastasia is problematic as it pushes men to act like Christian in order to receive the attention from the women who seek to be with a man like that. This disregards the abuse he deals to his lover, and how he dehumanizes her through stalking and turns her into his possession. Pornography is also problematic as it glorifies and romanticizes violence, and alters its viewer’s perception of what sex should be like. Leading to relationships that revolve around this pornographic sex, in which at times, both parties are not completely comfortable with, but they teach themselves to be, since that is what is seen online. These relationships begin to become hard to leave, as a learned helplessness begins to teach women that despite the abusive nature, their relationship is not that bad. In order to protect the generations to come, the media should put an end to glorifying and romanticizing abusive relationships, and expose them for the true pain and suffering they cause. This would shed a light on the true nature of abusers, and aid in the fight against domestic violence.


Works Cited:

Bowlus, Audra J., and Shannon Seitz. “Domestic Violence, Employment, and Divorce.” International Economic Review, vol. 47, no. 4, 2006, pp. 1113–1149.,



Brockway, Laurie Sue. "'Fifty Shades of Grey' Romanticizes Abuse of Women, New Study Says." EverydayHealth.com. Everyday Health, 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.


Fifty Shades of Grey. By Sam Taylor-Wood, Michael De Luca, E. L. James, Dana Brunetti, and Kelly Marcel. Perf. Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, and Marcia Gay Harden. Universal Pictures, 2015.


Lloyd, Sally A. “The Darkside of Courtship: Violence and Sexual Exploitation.” Family Relations, vol. 40, no. 1, 1991, pp. 14–20., www.jstor.org/stable/585653.


McKay, Brett & Kate. "The Problem with Porn (and Relationships)." The Art of Manliness. N.p., 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.




Your article on the media’s portrayal of abuse was extremely captivating. I particularly appreciated that you cited credible experts and used concrete examples to make your point; however, I believe that your article would have benefitted from analysis through a gendered lens. Specifically, references to the Sex Wars would add historical context to the issues that you discuss.
If you were not already aware, the Sex Wars were debates that took place during the seventies and eighties, during which feminists argued about the nature of pornography. Some anti-porn feminists argued that pornography depicted women as submissive and promoted rape culture. Conversely, others, dubbed sex-positive feminists, agreed that pornography was flawed, but asserted that it had a right to exist. Ultimately, sex-positive feminists won the debate by heavily leaning on the notion that censorship, in any form, violates free speech.
By referring to this influential debate in your article, you could draw parallels between the pornography debate and your discussion of the media’s portrayal of sexual abuse. I noticed that, throughout your writing, you tend to point out the flaws in pornography. Researching anti-porn feminists could provide you with more context and more information to back up your stance. Furthermore, informing yourself about sex-positive feminism could lend itself to the nuance of your article, if you choose to update it. Ultimately, I strongly encourage you to research the Sex Wars. Providing historical context will inevitably add a sense of veracity to your claim that the media should stop glorifying abuse. I have linked below a few articles to get you started and I hope that you branch out from there.

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