50 Shades of what’s wrong with our world!

Some of you might be surprised that I know what ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is about. In fairness, it would be pretty much impossible to be on social media and not be aware of the hype. You’d want to be living under a rock or in a convent! Well actually, yes, 50 Shades of Grey has even entered the convent. Rephrase, not literally… we haven’t read the books! At this stage, it seems that the world is going 50 Shades of Grey mad! There are advertisements everywhere, at bus-stops, cinemas making sure you book your tickets on Valentine’s Night when the movie will be released, merchandise (in some places, placed very inappropriately next to children’s items!), constant Facebook ads etc.   Critics have described the book as misogynistic, pornographic, exploitative, sexually violent, and anti-romance. I am guessing that the movie is going to be pretty much along the same lines. However, over the past few weeks we have had more and more prayer requests about this upcoming movie. People are worried. For many people now, it might seem like ‘just a film’, ‘a bit of fun’. It has been called ‘mommy porn’. Yet, it is setting standards for relationships, telling men, it is okay to dominate and play mental and emotional mind games with women. It tells women that you are liberated and a real feminist if you play the game because you can tame the damaged abuser. Yet, this is the so-called fairytale ending which ultimately is a nightmare finale.

Sometimes I have the opportunity to talk to some of the homeless people on our streets in Dublin. The stories that some of the women recount of why they are on the streets are disconcerting. The majority of them have been abused and in violent relationships. All the media hype about this movie brings up horrible memories for those who have lived in these abusive relationships. For those who are still entangled, it seems that the book/movie legitimises their suffering. To blur the line between consent and control especially when the other party in the relationship is vulnerable and very needy is outright abuse. We don’t have to look too far to look to how these kind of destructive relationships can end. A current high-profile case in Ireland which also occupies a lot of the sisters’ prayer intentions could easily read as something out of a sadomasochistic novel. I fear that in the coming years we will see more and more of these kind of cases because it is inevitable that a mentality can enter one’s psyche and then it becomes a cultural or social norm.  It is very disturbing that Hollywood is seeking to glamourise violence in this way and that it is okay to prey on women who are vulnerable and that genuinely seeking a relationship becomes warped so quickly. It is blatantly advocating violence on women.

Yesterday, in the Roman Catholic Church, the 8th of February has been declared the International Day Anti-Trafficking. The patroness of this day is a saint called Josephine Bakhita. She became a saint and a Canossian Sister who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan. When her captors asked for her name but she was too terrified to remember so they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate” in Arabic. Indeed, she was fortunate, because she got out of slavery but there are millions who don’t.Trafficking in human beings is an illegal industry estimated to affect 36 million people around the world and to generate $150 billion in annual profits. Let us be reminded of the words of Pope Francis: “We ought to recognize that we are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.” 

This very week, International Union of Superiors General (UISG) are meeting in Rome to discuss urgent issues in religious life throughout the world. One of these major issues is the violence which women throughout the world experience. Several sisters spoke of the torturous conditions in which their communities live out their missions. Women religious in the Middle East and in parts of Africa are particularly susceptible to violence and political upheaval. One of the sisters, Sister of St. Therese of the Infant of Jesus, Scholastique Empela Ankonele from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, offered a horrifying glimpse of her tortured and divided nation. Instability, especially in the eastern region of Congo, continues to cause immense suffering, including staggering mortality rates, mass displacement, as well as widespread sexual violence, often used as a weapon to terrorize and humiliate communities. You can read more about this story here.

Fifty Shades” sold over 100 million books worldwide and sadly has a huge following. It may look like a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario. However remember David won with his rock! It might sound ‘Father Ted-esque’ to boycott the movie but we are dealing with serious stuff here. The greatest lie of the devil is when he can convince us that something as dangerous as the dominance seen in 50 Shades is actually dressed up as a loving and romantic relationship. Control can never equal consent not matter how many frills and bows you put on it. Our main character bears the name "Christian". As Christians, we are temples of the Holy Spirit in virtue of our baptism into Christ. However 'Christian's' ways are not Christian. He also bears the surname “Grey”. There is a quote which reads: “Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.” There are some things that really are black or white, and not shades of grey. We need to say that Fifty Shades is the story of an abusive relationship and not a love story. We owe to all those men and women who suffer domestic violence to call things as they are. 

So this Valentine’s Day, if you are looking to celebrate…don’t go to the cinema to see ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. I have seen people on social media suggest that you give the money to a charity which works for survivors of domestic abuse. Spend some time listening to stories there and I tell you, you will not see any Cupid arrows. If you need to be convinced that you are loved unconditionally (not in a stalker Christian Grey fashion! ), it’s enough to open the Bible to 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind, love always trusts, love is not selfish.”