When I was a child, I was taught that sex was about power. More importantly, I was taught that sex was about a power differential. My needs, wants and concerns were of no interest to my abuser. And “no” was never an acceptable response to my abuser’s desires. I internalized that message. I grew up expecting sex and relationships to be unhealthy. And I unknowingly searched that out. Abuse was familiar. It was what I knew.
The worst part wasn’t the abusive relationship. It was the internal belief systems that each relationship confirmed. I was convinced that the power differential was critical to an intimate relationship. And I was unable to be in a healthy relationship because of that. I even considered healthy relationships to be boring or unfulfilling. I saw them as fake. I thought there was no way people could genuinely care about each other. I thought the only passion that could exist in a relationship was abusive.
So, I moved from one abusive relationship to another. I dated men who were emotionally, physically and sexually abusive. I used to lock myself in the bedroom after my partner would drink because he would yell at me for hours. I married a man who added no value or income to the relationship, even after children were born, because I thought this was the best I could expect. And I told myself it was my choice. I made up excuses as to why these relationships worked for me. I acted as though I was empowered in the relationship and could leave at any time. And in a perfect world, I could have left at any time. In a perfect world, I would have left.
But I wasn’t as empowered as I thought. I was inundated with beliefs that I was not good enough for anything better. I believed that the only person I could attract would exhibit abusive behaviors. I was sure that nobody who could love me, would love me. And so I stayed. I stayed too long, until I didn’t stay, until I woke up, until I realized I wasn’t empowered in that relationship. It was just a mask, a façade that I wore for others.
I have been reading the posts about 50 Shades of Grey, the posts about how it is abuse. And I have also read many of the comments. They say the same thing. “But it’s the women who are reading it.” “But she made the choice to stay.” “But she made the choice to leave.” And those comments are factually correct, but they are missing something. The internalized abuse makes the external abuse seem like the only option, even the exciting option. The internalized abuse makes us want the unhealthy. It alters our cognitive functioning. And bad “choices” prevail.
So if we want to stop abuse, we also have to stop abusive conditioning in childhood, because stopping abuse is not only about stopping a perpetrator. It is about stopping the mindset of the victims that allow the abuse to happen, that expect the abuse to happen. And this is not victim-blaming. This is taking a culture and turning it on its head. This is changing the way we see the world by examining our approach to victims of abuse in childhood and adulthood. We need to stop the blaming and finger-pointing and start looking deeper. Where is this coming from? How are we making abuse acceptable in our society?
50 Shades of Grey glamorizes abuse, not because she doesn’t have a choice, but because she thinks she doesn’t. And it is dangerous, not because of the sex. I am not judging the sex. We all need healthy sex. It is dangerous because we are teaching women that it is ok to continue their abusive relationships in adulthood. We are teaching women that they don’t have to examine the affects of their abuse and work on empowering themselves. All they have to do is find the next abuser, the next bad situation that leaves them feeling like they are not worthy of love. This doesn’t break the cycle of gender-based violence in our culture. This perpetuates it. And that is not acceptable.