I get it. Fifty Shades of Grey is a quasi-pornographic movie.


I’ve read the links saturating my feed, and I agree that the movie glamorizes and normalizes demeaning/dangerous activity, perpetuates stereotypes and demolishes too many moral and behavioral standards to list here. I support those who stand against it.
Without diluting any of the above, I’d like to point out a discrepancy that few seem to be acknowledging.
Here’s what gives me pause about this fresh outrage, as righteous as it is. The use of graphic images is not new. Movies that go way over the line are not a recent fad. TV shows with wildly explicit scenes are not an emerging trend. Pornography in XXX theaters, readily available online and dumbed down to an R rating for popular consumption, like Fifty Shades… We’ve seen it all before.
But where are the feverish articles attacking those? Where are the tisks and head-shakes and demands and threats? Where is the collective outcry from The Church?

Double Standard

Can it be that the reason for the uproar is that this time WOMEN are lining up to get advanced tickets?


WOMEN are fueling the anticipation.


WOMEN are planning group outings on opening night. (Pedis and BDSM, anyone?)


WOMEN are driving the hoopla over this phenomenon.


The Fifty Shades of Outrage displayed on social media and elsewhere goes so far beyond what we’ve shown for other pseudo-pornographic fare that it begs an obvious question: Why?


The most obvious answer scares me. “Because WOMEN are going quick-pulsed and wobble-kneed over this one.”

We understand that our masculine counterparts are sexual moths who can’t help but be burned by the flame of indecent materials. We almost excuse it, right? Poor things. Helpless primates. (Sarcasm.) But women being attracted to graphic content…? Inconceivable. Unacceptable.

Here’s the problem: by our disproportionate outcry, we in the Christian culture are subconsciously conveying that WOMEN seeking out indecent content are so much more disgusting than MEN doing the same.

The message we send with our selective displeasure, even implicitly, is that sexual materials aimed solely at WOMEN are a greater shame than those designed for mixed or male audiences. We’re saying that audiences of female BDSM fans deserve more scorn and judgment than male audiences entering porn stores, watching (often sexually-exploited) women online or just “being boys.”


Our gender-determined outrage is harming our women…and it’s not a new trend.
But it’s not too late to change the discourse.


Let’s stop telling our girls that it’s worse for them to have sex than for boys to have sex.


Let’s stop telling our girls that it’s worse for them to be sexually provocative than for men to be sexually inappropriate.


Let’s stop telling our girls that pornography that caters to them is worse than pornography that caters to men.


Let’s stop telling them that they’re more disgusting for consuming graphic sexual materials than men who do the same are.


Let’s stop telling our girls that they must be asexual while boys can’t help but be hypersexual.

It only perpetuates the shaming. It emphasizes the lie that when women behave in a sexual way, even as a movie audience, it’s so much more revolting than when men do.


And that’s something we must begin to change.


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If we’re going to discuss the harm of a woman-targeting movie like Fifty Shades of Grey, let’s also be honest enough to talk about the sexual content of materials aimed at a broader spectrum of our population. Dramas like Game of Thrones, Masters of Sex and Californication. Sitcoms like Two and a Half Men and Girls. Music videos like Anaconda and Booty. Live performances like Miley’s and Rihanna’s at the MTV Awards. Erotic images in video games. “Romantic rape” in romance novels. Full female nudity in countless movies in which male nudity is “more tastefully presented” or altogether absent… Where are the picket lines and social media campaigns against these excesses?


Let’s be just as upset about all of these, shall we? There are important discussions needing to happen about pornography and social justice. Pornography and healthy relationships. Pornography and self-image. Pornography and social decay.


We need to explore and expose the lures and the consequences.


But let’s do it in a gender-unbiased and gender-inclusive way, without shaming women and excusing men. It’s a lot harder than merely saying, “Ladies, don’t go see Fifty Shades of Grey—it’s gross and demeaning and you’ll probably go to hell.”


It can actually be uniting, redemptive and transformative too.



Porn and the Anti-Trafficking Generation

Hope and Hymens: How the Church Fails at Sex Talk

Sacred Sexuality: Being Single, Celibate and Fully Sexual



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  1. Ok, points taken and I agree…. mostly. I think the outrage is not just that women are attracted, but that Christian women are not only attracted, but claiming that this will somehow help their marriages.
    Surely the divide has been there all along, but this issue is bringing it out in the open. Those women whose hearts are set on the Lord and have good teaching to guide them, and those women who either are 1) just cultural Christians (go to church, can talk like they know all things Christian but really have not understood what it is to know the Lord personally) or 2) do have a relationship with God through Christ but have had really poor or absent teaching to know His ways.
    It is my theory that just like many other social issues that wash over us, this one involving what we put in our minds and BDSM in particular has come to an open discussion involving this book/movie. I remember being warned against wasting my time and being led astray by Harlequin romances or soap operas, but the world has changed so fast that what is relevant may not be being addressed from the pulpit or in teaching to women.
    Maybe this is a gracious wake-up call from the Lord to the church, exposing the level of immaturity that has gone unnoticed? Could it be that the church in the U.S. has deceived herself as to her level of commitment and surrender to Him, and He is calling us back to Himself through even this?
    I don’t see hypocrisy in the Christian outraged response to 50 Shades as much as I see surprise and panic. I think it’s time to double down on good teaching and solid discipleship.
    Laura, observing from India

  2. At first I felt like the articles I’ve read about 50… don’t come across as an uproar. Nor did I get the impression that they imply that there’s something worse when females are drawn to porn.
    I’ve read many articles about the damage that porn in general does to relationships and healthy sexuality. I was encouraged to see a secular article recently in GQ online that affirms growing research affirming the destructive outcomes of porn. And I’m recalling the times that David Lohnes got up at BFA and shared with a crowd of men about his struggle with addiction to porn. It’s a big problem (even addition) that I’ve prayed through with teens, twenty-somethings, and mature missionaries.
    So I feel that there’s a lot out there raising the issue of the problem, and much of it seems focused on the visible forms of porn, which tends to be a bigger problem among guys than girls (though I hear that is changing too).
    My impression from the articles about 50… is that it is raising an issue that has not been getting enough press in Christian circles… It’s not so much about the movie, which will probably appeal to guys as much as girls who feed on porn. I think it’s more about the popularity of the book, and how written porn may be affecting females as much as visual porn has been affecting males. I don’t see nearly as many Christian articles written about the non-visual forms of porn, so it still seems that more attention is being given to the visual forms, focusing on the weakness of my gender. The ‘uproar’ about 50… may be a good step in bringing more balance into the arena of Christian warnings against an expanded view of porn.
    Keep up the excellent posts!

  3. Hmm. Fair enough. The issue you bring up is important, and double standard should be addressed. I thought the reaction against Shades wasn’t as targeted as you seem to. I agree with Wolf’s first post. The hype about shades is all over the place, far more than I have ever seen for any other movie/TV show with this much explicit material (or so I hear, I have not read the book). Game of Thrones, as an example, is a show I have avoided for a similar reason, but I never saw it get the attention from media and others that Shades is getting. The same goes for the other TV shows you mentioned. I have heard the names, but not nearly as much as Shades. I think its the pervasiveness that is being reacted against. However, I will reiterate that your point about the issue of gender equality with respect to sexuality is one that needs to be addressed.

  4. Hi Michele – I get your point, and I think it’s well made. I have not been following what the critics say – but, in my opinion, it’s the male domination and permissible sexual violence that makes 50 Shades different than the “accepted porn” in our everyday media. At the core of the book is a virginal woman submitting herself to the fantasies of a powerful, experienced male. It’s the lie that choosing mindless submission will bring you pleasure and happiness. And it encourages women to give more power to men who are already seeking to control (abusers). And the idea that you can have men who respect your value as a woman in the public eye, and that part of “respecting” you in private is via BDSM.
    So I would say the outrage is not so much over the fact that women enjoy porn – but the fact that women are flocking to this story of a woman being pulled into a dangerous relationship – as if that is something to be emulated.

  5. I agree, Michèle, but would just point out the difference between “Shades” and the porn watched by guys: “Shades” is being sold openly and almost celebrated with practically no stigma attached to it outside very conservative and some feminist circles. That is why the reaction from these circles is so strong and outraged: NOT because it is aimed at women readers, but because it is so “mainstream”.
    I was working in the book trade decades ago when “The Story of O” and “Emanuelle” were similar mainstream publishing phenomena. I was not an evangelical Christian then, so don’t have any awareness of the reaction in those circles, but conservative Catholics in Austria were up in arms against these books, as well — and they were targeted at men.
    So I think the outrage is motivated as much by the mainstreaming of these books as it is by who the target audience is; and from the feminist side, by the message of female submission to males as desirable and romantic which these books (Shades and its sequels as well as the earlier books I mentioned) promote.

  6. Given some of the response this article has received, I want to clarify the scope of what I’ve written. I absolutely support those who have pointed out the demeaning and regressive (let alone offensive) sexual content of the book/movie. There has been enough written on the topic that there’s no need for me to add my voice to the broad “anti-shades” movement happening on social media and elsewhere. Instead,I wanted to point out a significant inconsistency regarding our response to this piece of female-driven trash when we let so much more slide in other forums. BDSM is gleefully depicted in all kinds of mass-media without the response this movie has gotten. Yes, it has a lot to do with the popularity of the book, but still…we need to be careful that our “selective outrage” doesn’t send the wrong message.

  7. […] It’s not just the big news stories, either. I see it in churches, particularly with sexual issues. It’s somehow perceived as worse for a female to be sexually active outside marriage, look at porn, do sexting, or seek out sexually inappropriate materials (as do all the women reading or viewing Fifty Shades of Grey, as Michele Phoenix points out). […]

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