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Men: Please Don't Be My Christian Grey

24/02/2015 15:13 GMT | Updated 26/04/2015 10:59 BST

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It's a tantalizing image: the slick, suave businessman, a figure of power and influence, enrapturing yet intimidating. Always in control, master of the boardroom... and the bedroom.

But it's just an image. Men, for the love of God, please don't be my Christian Grey.

A lot has been said recently about Fifty Shades of Grey and its portrayal of healthy relationships and sexuality. Many have said it glamorises abuse and sexual assault, with campaigns like the Fifty Shades is Domestic Abuse campaign, and Australian television presenter Lisa Wilkinson unabashedly declaring 'It's domestic violence dressed up as erotica'. Members of the BDSM community have more or less universally condemned the book as a dangerously inaccurate representation of their sexual practices.

I'd never want to shame or attack anyone who likes the books, but we need to be aware that the franchise categorically romanticises abuse. And we also need to be aware of how it frames masculinity.

We know what it says about women - that they should always follow the lead of their man. That they should be flattered by stalking, cell-phone tracking, harassment, rape, threats of violence, isolation from friends and family. That's hot, guys, not criminal! We know all that, and unsurprisingly, many think it's unforgiveable.

But what does it say about men? What messages are young boys gleaning from the franchise? Many of us are keenly looking to the world to tell us how to behave to behave, how to connect with others. So for boys of all ages, if they're interested in girls, what does it mean to be Christian, supposedly the man that makes women swoon the world over?

Fifty Shades of Grey tells men and boys that their worth is in how much money they have, and how much power they wield. That their value is in what jewellery they buy a woman, what brand their suit is, how many businesses they have, and how many helicopters they own. While women tend to be objectified by their bodies, here men are objectified by their wealth and power. Make no mistake: Christian Grey's personality is unsustainable without his status and prestige. Do you think that Ana would have fallen for Christian if he'd been flipping burgers? Unlikely.

In his article 'Five Terrors of Being a Man', Mark Greene explains how this stereotype of masculinity can hurt men: 'being the financial provider is the central role that many men assign themselves in relationships. This emphasis on providing money is often taken on by men in lieu of the more challenging task of developing crucial interpersonal capacities like emotional connectivity, empathy'. ... Sound like Christian? It's harmful for men to believe that financial success is what defines their masculinity - it implies that their hearts and personalities will never speak louder than their wallets, and will certainly never be enough to interest a woman.

The statistics back up the damage that this pressure can do. According to a report commissioned by the Campaign Against Living Miserably which surveyed 1,002 respondents, 80% of men aged 35-44 said their job was 'important' or 'very important' to their self-esteem, which is much higher than men and women of the same age. As well as this, 42% of men feel the pressure to be breadwinners, compared to 13% of women, and men between the ages of 25-34 and 45-54 were significantly more likely to 'agree' or 'strongly agree' that their partner would see them as less of a man if they lost their job. It's clear that earning money and being the financial provider for a family is crucial to the self-worth of many men, and films like Fifty Shades only serve to reinforce the idea that men are undesirable without cash.

Fifty Shades also tells boys that intimidation, control and an utter disregard for women's boundaries are the key to our hearts. Not respect, tenderness and vulnerability. It tells them that women don't want a kind, genuine person - that they want someone manipulative, someone hot and cold, who's constantly playing game. That they need to be always confident and in control, always the protector and never the protected. For many men, messages like this can stunt their ability to form healthy relationships, and crush their confidence in being open and genuine.

Analysing media stereotypes is generally seen as a woman's domain, but it's clear we need to get serious at unpicking what we're told about men. With only 53% of men speaking to someone about their depression compared with 73% of women, and male suicides accounting for 78% of all suicides in the UK, it's clear that gender stereotypes can cripple men just like women. As Greene says, 'Men are taught to hide their fears, collectively creating a cultural myth of male toughness [...] The suppression of wider ranges of male emotional expression becomes a source of intense internal stress for men, which in turn is expressed as anger or authoritarianism.' I'm not saying Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for this, but we need to broaden our conversation about masculinity: we need to question the images of the rich, controlling, emotionally-repressed alpha male presented as a vision of optimum masculinity.

There may be many women out there looking for their Christian Grey, but men, you can rest assured that I'm not one of them.