Bizarre 'White Ribbon' 50 Shades of Grey fundraiser raises alarm


Jane Gilmore

A scene from 50 Shades of Grey.

A scene from 50 Shades of Grey.

On Monday, online event organiser Everbrite announced a screening of 50 Shades of Grey to raise funds for White Ribbon Australia. The event, to be held in South Yarra on Friday 13 February, was touted as "a great conversation starter for what is healthy versus what is abusive in relationships" on the promotion page.   

After it was widely criticised online, the public event became password-protected. But a cached screen shot of the event description shows the organiser obtained a fundraising registration number (#22135) from White Ribbon.

This was confirmed by a White Ribbon spokesman, who told Daily Life the organiser was no longer proceeding with the screening.

50 Shades of Grey film poster.

50 Shades of Grey film poster.

"It does not comply with White Ribbon Australia's fundraising policy, is therefore not endorsed and no funds will be raised in the name of White Ribbon," he said.


But the question remains: why did White Ribbon allow the event to be registered initially?

(Below: Event now password protected)

50 Shades of Grey wasn't just an appallingly badly written book, it was also a glorification of abusive, controlling, manipulative and violent relationships. And it was not consensual BDSM between two informed adults who clearly understand what they are agreeing to; it's a lionizing abuse by calling it erotica.

I've not been willing to mangle what few brain cells I have left by watching the movie, or even finishing the trilogy, but if you need convincing that 50 Shades is a celebration of abusive men, look no further than Emma Tofi's blog on the topic (TW for descriptions of abusive relationships and really really terrible writing).

Family violence is not a private matter anymore, over the last few years we have increasingly been talking about it as a problem for the whole community. In Victoria, Ken Lay in particular did some great work on bringing it into the public awareness. Even more importantly, Lay undertook genuinely effective action to ensure victims of family violence are able to report their abuse to police and have their reports taken seriously. And it worked: family violence incidents reported to Victoria Police increased by 43% between 2011 and 2013, charges laid increased by 113%.

Lay, among many others, also made the valid point that family violence is not a women's issue. Most (but not all) victims are women, and most (but not all) offenders are men. So most (but not all) of the change needs to come from men, not women. As I have said before, making a woman's issue of crime where the offenders are predominantly men is an implicit form of victim blaming. Women are not and can never be responsible for male violence.

So organisations like White Ribbon, which purportedly aim to address male violence as a male issue should get all the support and respect they need from people who want male violence curbed, right?

If only we could.

Clementine Ford wrote an excellent excoriation of the disturbing piece written by a White Ribbon ambassador. And of course, #notallambassadors, but why any of them? Why is White Ribbon so devaluing the principles they were allegedly created to uphold? Why is it discrediting the men who became ambassadors because they genuinely wanted to take a stand against male violence by including people like Tanveer Ahmed, who talks about a "cult of victimhood" in an article about family violence; and Tony Abbott, who's only actions have been to grab a photo op with Rosie Batty and remove funding from dozens of family violence prevention centres around Australia?

Dragging family violence out of the shadows is something that must happen if we are ever going to be able to curb it and offer genuine safety to its victims. But it is really helpful to pretend that a movie where even the actors said they were frightened and uncomfortable during filming is a "conversation starter"?

Presumably Dakota Johnson understood what was required of her when she signed up to play Anastasia Steele in the film, but these are some of the things she has said about filming it:

Vouge, Feb 2015:

I still can't look at it objectively or wrap my head around it. The parts of the movie that are difficult to watch were even more difficult—and emotionally taxing—to shoot."

Time, Feb 2015

Filming a sex scene is not a sensual or pleasurable environment. It's really hot—not in a steamy, sexual way. It's just sweaty and it's not very comfortable. And on top of that, my hands and legs were tied, and I was blindfolded, and I was being hit with this bizarre tool. ... It was emotionally taxing. At first I was like, 'Oh my God, this is the worst thing ever,' and then I was like, 'All right, let's get on with it.'

Jamie Dorman, who plays Christian, didn't sound much better:

US Weekly, Jan, 2015

Some of the Red Room stuff was uncomfortable. There were times when Dakota was not wearing much, and I had to do stuff to her that I'd never choose to do to a woman.

I have no idea what it is like to be an actor or the things you might have to do in search of success, but that all sounds pretty bad. Anyone who described their job in such a way would have me questioning the safety of their workplace and I'd be highly dubious about promoting the products of that workplace. But this is the movie chosen as a fundraising vehicle for White Ribbon, and they're ok with that? Seriously?

Yes, we unquestionably need to encourage public debate about abusive relationships. Yes, we need to support the people and organisations trying to address male violence. Yes, we especially need to take this conversation to men and get them involved in the solutions. All those things take time, money, effort and endless aching patience and maybe we do need to get more creative in how we find those resources. But whatever we need to do, we most definitely do need to promote, celebrate, condone or support the very behaviour we are trying to fight. Surely, it should be obvious that we don't need to do that.