50 Shades of the NFL

I had every intention of staying away from anything controversial this week. Playing it nice and safe. It’s so much more fun. But then . . . all the news broke last week about domestic violence and how we must stop it and who is to blame and whatever shall we do?

And I remembered this piece I started writing a while ago and planned to use in February, when a certain movie gets released in theaters. But I think the time is now, not later.

See, here’s the thing. We condemn domestic abuse in all forms, which is absolutely right. We call it out in the NFL, and we should. But when we wring our hands and wonder how on earth we can stop it? When we point our fingers everywhere for blame? We’re ignoring the fact that it is part of our culture, and that’s where it has to start to end. And our culture includes—us. 

We can start to end it when we start to change what we accept as culturally OK.

Which is where that movie comes in. Fifty Shades of Grey. Aka, How to Abuse a Woman and Still Have Thousands of Other Women Swooning over You.

I’ve seen a lot of explanations for why women read the book and are excited to see the movie. 

It’s freeing. 
It’s sexy. 
It’s just a story, so there’s no harm. 
She changes him in the end, so it’s redemptive.

But what about when it’s not fiction? What about women for whom physical and emotional abuse, whether in the bedroom or the living room, because there is really no difference, is no breezy little story?

Here are some statistics on the harm:
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers.
  • One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States.
  • 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.
That means that for millions of women and children, this is not a fun piece of fiction. It’s their life. So here are the reasons I don’t plan to hand over money to the theaters this winter.

Because to millions of women, pain is not romantic.

Statistically, there are women sitting in our churches whose husbands/boyfriends physically, emotionally, or verbally abuse them. They are there. They are silent. And every time they hear another woman talk about how “sexy” or romantic it is to read about Christian Grey dominating his girl, they’re a little more silent. They live that life. It’s not romantic, or glamorous, or safe. They are afraid, always.

Then they see us imply that they can change that man (they used to dream that, too) and that he’s really exciting when he behaves this way, and they die a little more. We feel genuine compassion for these women and offer help and prayer. But it only confuses them when they know we find their real life great fictional entertainment.

Because our daughters are watching.

How about we prefer this fantasy for
their future?

Bad boy fantasies aren’t uncommon among girls. Why do they say yes to dating the boy they know isn’t good for them? One of the most common reasons girls go ahead and date that bad boy is that they want to be able to change him. They’ll feel powerful and redemptive, and that feels good. They’ll be like Anna, and we’re telling them that’s great. That it works. If it works in fiction, it will work for them, right?

That’s the fantasy. But fantasy it is. A lot of young girls have this fantasy. They don’t end up with the hot guy and the thrilling life. Girls who take this route find themselves abused, stalked, and threatened by the bad boy they believed they would change. Too often, they end up dead. 

Dominating a young woman is a sociopath pattern of behavior that nearly always ends in at best entrapment they can’t leave for fear of retribution and at worst death at the hands of that man. It’s cold, hard statistics, not fiction. The myth of “I can change him” truly kills girls. That’s not redemptive entertainment.

A formerly abused woman tells her story:

During my first semester of college, I dated a young man who tried to control whom I talked to and what friends I could have. When he got drunk – which was often – he called me “a stupid whore,” he threatened me with physical violence, and he pushed me. Afterward, he would cry in my arms, tell me that he was broken, and beg me to help him. I didn’t stay, not forever, but I did stay for a while, because I loved him, because I wanted it to work out, because his emotional vulnerability made me feel more responsible for his emotional well-being than my own. Mine is not an unusual story. Ours are not isolated incidents.”

Can we look our daughter in the eye, or a niece, little sister, best friend’s daughter, and imagine her choosing to be with a man like this? Tell me you didn’t turn away and cringe. Please, stop telling her that it’s OK to give up your dignity and safety because a man is attractive and you feel good being his personal Messiah. It never ends well outside of fiction.

Because our husbands need to know they’re enough.

Think about it a minute. When a woman bids her husband goodbye and heads out to the theater, consider what he’s feeling. You know, that man you promised to honor through everything life throws at you? Sorry, dude. You’re not exciting enough. You’re not good enough. You’re just not . . . enough.

Real Supermen? They do dishes. There is nothing sexier
than a man doing dishes.
In real life, a husband may work long hours, have dirt or grease under his fingernails, and forget about the baby spitup on his sleeve. He gets tired, cranky, and sick. In real life, there aren’t very many men with no real work to do, good looks that never get messed by playing with the kids or sweating through a car repair, and enough money to give a woman anything she desires.

Most husbands are normal, average guys trying to do their best for their wives and keep their wedding vows in good and bad. Don’t tell them that’s not good enough. Ladies, that’s as good as it gets. That’s amazing. That’s a blessing from God, and don’t forget it.
It’s not only the NFL culture that turns a blind eye to domestic violence. It’s our culture as a whole when we take the same real thing that happened in a elevator and put it in a bedroom story and call it entertainment. It’s not harmless. It’s not fiction. And it’s totally our call whether we want our daughters to believe the myth or not. I choose not.