50 Shades of Grey: France’s attitude towards sex and censorship falls short

Tumblr users 'remixed' 50SOG's posters to draw attention to elements of abuse. More here.
Tumblr users ‘remixed’ 50SOG’s posters to draw attention to elements of abuse. More here.

The much-anticipated, much-maligned soft-core smut-fest 50 Shades of Grey was released this in cinemas across the world this week. The controversial film as been mocked, criticised, denounced and even boycotted by some groups yet still managed to draw large global crowds despite the widespread backlash. The film, which depicts the unconventional sexual relations of protagonist Ana and the wealthy Mr. Grey, has also opened up the discussion of sexuality and abuse. Many argue that the sexual acts portrayed in 50SOG do not reflect authentic BDSM-type relationships and in fact are an accurate depiction of misogynist abuse. Those opposed to the film claim the treatment of protagonist Ana by Grey is standard abuse, exploiting the power gap between female and male. Manipulation, physical force, lies, emotional abuse and threats are all elements seen within the film that point to an abusive relationship. The main argue therefore that many against the film hold is that 50SOG helps normalise the culture of abuse, by portraying these issues as normal sexual acts, as opposed to something damaging and abusive. In France, further discussion was prompted after the country’s national film board issued a rating that meant children as young as 12 years old would be able to watch the film in cinemas. The film, based on the popular Twilight fanfiction of the same name, has been named one of the ‘steamiest’ films in recent years by a blog that keeps track of sex scenes in modern films. Where as the sex in question might only seem erotic to some as a cold shower in a monastery there is no denying that there is an abundance of it. The French reaction to this news was, of course, an overwhelming shrug of apathy. After all, when it comes to sex, France likes to think that it leads the way in progressive attitudes. How bad could it really be? Claims the culture that invented the ‘French kiss’. The French, in general, saw little problem in allowing children as young as twelve to watch sex scenes in this film – The majority of upset came from international media coverage instead. And while it is true that the French attitude towards allowing children to be aware of sex is much better than many other nations, there is a dangerous assumption in thinking that what 50SOG portrays is anything like the healthy and loving relationships of other films. Not many people in France would argue that censoring sex from children in their early teen years is right, and I completely agree. When many nations forbid teenagers from learning about sex through art, while portrayals of graphic violence, torture, gore and murder are much more commonplace, we must concede that the way in which we censor sensitive subjects is in need of repair. Yes, France’s approach in allowing children to learn about sex in this way is a good thing that helps young people develop a healthy attitude towards sex. However, the problem comes when young people are being shown portrayals of misogynistic abuse that is then presented to them as sex. In many cases, this would not be a huge problem. But in the case of 50SOG it is. When a film such as this has the mainstream appeal that it reaches millions of people across the world, its message is one that will be considered by many. It’s something that has previously happened in films that have managed to shape our public attitudes and a phenemenon discussed by Jenny Trout in her wonderful analysis on the film’s defenders. Essentially this problem is not some tiny threat hidden away in a dark corner of the internet – it is a global phenomenon that is helping people to accept that abusive attitudes towards women are not just to be accepted, but on some level that are to be celebrated, encouraged, perhaps even strived for. 50SOG is a horrible film for many reasons. But in this case the way in which is has the power to mold young people’s sexual attitudes is one of the most worrying. Censorship, in the majority I feel is wrong. But we must ask ourselves, when most adults seem unable to tell the difference between abuse and sex, how are children meant to know any better? France is right in the majority to promote a healthy attitude towards sex. But in this case their approach accidentally holds the potential to do much damage instead. *** Tom Ana is a Paris-based campaigner and blogger with an interest in human rights and LGBT issues. He is the editor of Euroclash!. You can follow him on Twitter here!


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