True Empowerment for Women (It Isn’t in 50 Shades of Any Particular Color)

true power

In the crashing and crushing wake of nuttiness that is Fifty Shades of Grey I am compelled to break from my usual format to address the one thing that bothers me most about these books and now the movie.  Here’s a hint, it’s not the sex, though I’m not a fan of that either. Don’t worry, this isn’t a book review.

There are a plethora of criticisms for this series and movie, and I have no intention of addressing them all because lots of people who are more informed than I have already done such a thorough job with them.  My biggest issue is the one word I see repeatedly popping up about it, “empowerment”.  There are many times throughout this series where the poor little protagonist puts up with whatever because it supposedly gives her a feeling of power.  I can’t begin to guess how the author hoodwinks her audience into thinking this is real, I do know that even the BDSM folks have spoken out against this book as blatantly disrespectful to women and their own lifestyle. Maybe that should tell us something.

I absolutely agree with women being empowered, but apparently not in the same way as someone who thinks that empowerment means blindfolding her and whipping her before sex.

My parents raised me to be independent, to be smart, and to be as powerful as my little 5′ 2″ body could be (mostly by using my brains. Mind control is a huge part of this equation).  Here are some of the things they did that I believe actually empowered me to choose well in relationships, to protect myself in potentially dangerous situations and to keep myself as safe as possible.

1. My dad taught me the difference between flattery and kindness, and between attraction and love.

If a guy constantly stares into your eyes, tells you that you’re hot (or even if they’ve learned to use the word beautiful), makes suggestive remarks, but never actually listens to anything you say, I’m gonna go out on a limb here.  That “one thing” your mom, or aunt or dad told you that men want … that guy’s after it.  He doesn’t love you.  He loves himself.  Run.

My dad gave my sister and I another gift in this regards … he built us up constantly.  He was always telling us how smart we were, how pretty we were, how much fun we were, how valuable we were to the world.  There is nothing like hearing those kinds of words from a man who expects nothing in return.  If you’re reading this, daddies take note.  Someone will compliment your daughters.  Someone will make them feel special.  The more special they already feel, the less likely they are to get into a relationship built on empty words.

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2. My mom taught me never ever to put up with abuse, of any kind, from a man.

Here’s how she did this.  One day mom was on the phone with a lady who was lamenting that her husband had pushed her.  She asked my mom if this was abuse.  “Yes, of course it is,” Mom responded.

“I thought so.  So, I told him that if he did it again, I’m leaving.”

“Right. You’re missing a key phrase though.  Tell him ‘I’m leaving, and I’ll be back with a baseball bat, to bash your head in.'”  Listening to this conversation and those words coming from perhaps the kindest and gentlest woman I’ve ever met, had a dramatic impact on me.

“Did you mean that?” I asked my mom when she had hung up.

“Of course I did. Do you think for one second that I would allow some jerk to push me? Don’t you dare put up with something like that!”

I haven’t ever come close to being pushed, hit or even tickled too harshly by a man, but it meant something to me to be reminded that I also have power in a relationship … and so does a baseball bat.

3. My mom and dad both taught me that I am not physically stronger than a man.

In light of my last point, this may sound contradictory, but let me explain.  In most cases, no matter how many special secret agent women on tv single-handedly beat six men to a pulp with their mad kickboxing skills, women are not physically stronger than men.  Calm down.  I’m not saying we’re not strong.  I do know women who may be stronger than some men they encounter, but I am not.  And I won’t be.  I’m not built that way.

So, I protect myself in other ways.  I don’t spend my time surrounded by men who would use their strength to do me harm.  I pay attention to my surroundings when I’m out by myself.  I try not to look distracted or vulnerable. And I made sure in the dating world that anyone who wanted to date me talked with my dad or brother first.  Call me old-fashioned, but no man has ever dared to pretend like they would hit me after meeting my dad or brother.  Also, now I’m pretty sure anyone who intended to harm me would take one look at my husband and think, “surely there are less painful ways to die.”  Again, these are the cases where your attacker or abuser is someone you know.  Not all attacks are avoidable, but so many times they are if we just use our heads.

4. My mom, dad, society and all of my life experience taught me that you can’t change someone just by being in a relationship with them.

I actually heard someone rebut an article against the abuses found in Fifty Shades by saying that Christian clearly had problems and Ana was trying to help him.  Christian had been abused by his mother and therefore wanted to hurt all women who looked like her.  Ana loved him through it all, (not sure “loved” is the right word for that), and eventually he came to love her too.  Pardon me while I run for a tissue.

Let’s just not.  Loving people who are damaged is basically what life is all about.  I’m totally for it.  Loving people so that they’ll change … not so much.  That’s not even a good premise for a friendship, let alone a dating or marriage relationship.  How much would you appreciate it to hear someone say, “I’m just loving you in the hopes that you’ll be better than you are right now.”  Geez.  Thanks a lot!

Also, a relationship isn’t supposed to replace therapy.  A girl told me once that it was okay if her boyfriend hit her because he was “really going through something” and she had taken psychology classes on how to deal with people like that.  I’m guessing I don’t have to spell out my reaction to this “logic”.  Wait, is that a baseball bat I see swinging toward his head?

Of course your life is up to you.  Read what you like, watch what you like.  I’m also not trying to change you.  Just don’t deceive yourself.  What you read and watch and the way it’s presented affects you.  It can change your mind in ways you wouldn’t believe.  30 years ago no one would have thought that a book or movie like Fifty Shades would ever hit main stream and sell jillions of copies and make women think it’s cool for a man to control their every move.

Please don’t believe this is a step toward empowerment.  Please don’t think that abuse is okay as long as the victim chooses it.  Please don’t allow yourself to be treated like garbage.  Let’s use our heads.  Let’s find true power.  Let’s pray for the victims of abuse and not try to make it look sexy.  Completely your business.  I’m just sayin …