A young Muslim man, Muhammad Hossain, has been charged with aggravated sexual assault on a fellow freshman female student, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Typical of Muslim men, right? — Abusive, dominating, controlling, barbaric, etc. Interestingly enough, this nineteen-year-old credits the inspiration for his actions to a charming and handsome white gentleman who stars in the latest blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey. Could the beautiful, brilliant Christian Grey really be a role model for such monstrosity?
The dichotomy we are presented with here is quite black and white (pun intended). Christian Grey, the male protagonist in the story Fifty Shades of Grey, is the emotionally and physically abusive lover of Anastasia Steele, an innocent and naïve virgin. She is intrigued by his need for power and control and is lured into a twisted love affair with the irresistible Grey. The story has become an American pop-culture phenomenon. In an interesting peek into the American psyche, we see a population transfixed on the erotic and sexy aspects of sexual domination and submission. Even more interesting is the specific demographic this kind of relationship seems to appeal to. According to LA Times, “nearly 70% of “Fifty Shades” moviegoers through Sunday [February 15, 2015] were female, and 58% of the audience was older than 25.” We have on the one hand, a white man named Christian on the silver screen who seems to be highly desired by middle-aged American women. On the other hand, we have a young Muslim man in the news who is despised by society, especially — and ironically — by those most enthralled by Christian Grey.
In no way does his defense of re-enacting scenes from Fifty Shades of Grey absolve Hossain of his crime. In claiming such, he is essentially admitting to engaging in abusive sex that dances on the line of sexual assault. Some may argue that Steele gave consent for all sexual acts between her and Grey — that she wanted it — therefore it’s kinky and hot and fun for all to watch. The Chicago Tribune quotes public defender Sandra Bennewitz speaking on behalf of Hossain saying, “He would say that it was consensual.” Hossain and the young woman he is charged of assaulting had been intimate once before, and on the night of the incident the young woman had willingly gone back to his dorm and removed her clothes. The description of what ensues includes Hossain binding the young woman, covering her eyes, and striking her with a belt. At that point, the young woman was crying and asked him to stop. Hossain continued to strike her.
There is much already written on the unhealthy aspects of Steele and Grey’s relationship, including strong critique from those who enjoy BDSM in their own sex lives. There is a lot of context provided in the book and the movie to imply that Steele submits to Grey’s violent control and possessiveness to make him happy even though she is uncomfortable with it. All Fifty Shades moviegoers can testify to watching Steele cry in pain as she keeps count of how many times Grey beats her with a belt.
Based on the very popular female reception of Grey and Steele’s romance, it may have occurred to an impressionistic male teen that women like, and secretly want, sexual abuse. In a society already permeated by rape culture — the college frat slogan “No means yes, yes means anal,” comes to mind — this kind of glorification is problematic. Aside from that, the double standard that is made apparent from this situation is equally disturbing.
As written in an online article by The Atlantic:
“According to 2013 data from an online survey of 1,075 adults by the Barna Group, a faith-focused polling firm, 9 percent of practicing Christian women in America have read at least the first book, which is roughly the same as the percentage of all women who have read Fifty Shades across the country.”
The “liberated” Christian women who want to save oppressed Muslim women from the abuse and sexual domination of Muslim men are the most avid readers of Fifty Shades. Why is complete submission to a man’s violently dominating sexual appetite so sexy when the couple is a white, Christian, hetero-normative couple? Color them brown and put a hijab on Ana Steele [don’t do it, Mia] and a beard on Christian Grey, what do you get? The stereotypical abusive Muslim man and submissive Muslim woman. Ta-Da. Double standard uncovered — a racialized double standard that allows for one presentation of abuse to be socially desirable and the Other to be socially unacceptable.
All forms of abuse should not be tolerated, including ideological ones that grant certain people unfair privilege over others. The implications of this are seen in our justice system where there exists unjust treatment of criminal acts based on race and socio-economic status (for example, “Affluenza” vs. Terrorist). This is so much bigger than the secret desires of white women. This phenomenon alludes to a not-so-secret bigotry that exists in our society, being played out via pop culture entertainment.
Image from Huffington Post