Spoiler Alert: this post talks in detail about Fifty Shades of Grey.
Disclaimer: This post is about a book, not really related to feminism, but we can take it there if you want in the comments.
Friends, what follows is what happens when you let upper class Manhattan socialites get a hold of erotica on their Kindles (god forbid anyone actually see the cover of a romance novel!), and tell their friends about it.
Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t exceptionally, or even cleverly, written, but it is a page turner and I’m not just talking about the sex scenes which appear about every four pages or so once the story really gets going. I honestly asked myself the entire time: what is the point here? What is the author trying to tell me? What am I missing? I analyzed the adjectives and scrutinized the imagery presented all in an exercise in futility. This book should not be as popular as it is.
Let’s start with some background:
Published originally by EL James (a female) as an e-book since 2009, the book has recently landed itself on the NY Times Bestseller List and has sold 10 million copies. The novel is being adapted to a movie with Angeline Jolie reportedly vying for a director position (no shit).
Fifty Shades is a flirt with escapism for the reader delivered via a toe-in-the-water dip into the world of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism). Word online is that the book started out as fan fiction based on Stephanie Meyer’s immortal Twilight couple Edward and Bella. The similarities are obvious. James adapts the storyline by introducing her version of Edward (Christian Grey) and Bella (Anastasia Steele) a few years later in their lives – he’s 27 and she’s 21 – and changing Edward’s whole “brooding super rich un-dead vampire with deep-running control issues thing” into Christian’s whole “brooding mega billionaire playboy with major control issues who loves to beat on the women he’s sexually interested in…thing”.
Oh it’s a trip, for real.
Afterall, aren’t we taught that BDSM sex styles belong to a culture of people who are dysfunctional? Honey, please don’t bring your ball and gag to the table, it makes the guests uncomfortable.
If this book were a real attempt at exposing a sexual taste and educating the masses, that would be fine – let’s all learn and make smart, sexy decisions for ourselves. But instead it’s a half-assed cotton candy glimpse into a complex sexual preference that leaves the reader confused. When she’s being consensually punished, Anastasia struggles with “is this right or wrong for me?” She admits, after a particularly graphic, excessively rough ass beating with a leather belt, that she only submits to Christian because it makes him happy. The truth is, it makes her fucking sad that he has to put her in pain to show any “love” towards her.
Our Ana sounds like a textbook case in abuse. She’s all low self-esteem and poor confidence, indulging in constant escapism via classic British novels, and thinking in that sickening “he only hurts me because he loves me” rationale. The trick is, Ana has grown up with a pretty uneventful childhood, escaped major trauma, and isn’t addicted to anything destructive, until she meets this fool. She’s a 21-year old virgin with poor body image who lives through the lives of centuries old fictional characters.
What’s the author’s point here? Why would a seemingly reclusive bookworm gravitate towards a playboy billionaire with a fetish for giving pain – especially when she doesn’t like receiving pain? I don’t, for one second, buy that it’s some pent-up unexplored sexual aggression or a delayed development. Ana’s weak and desperate character development is all the fault of her writer, and it’s obvious and annoying.
On their first real get-to-know-you date, Christian presents Ana with a non-disclosure agreement which she happily signs WITHOUT READING and then, graciously, gives her a tour of his “playroom” which she dubs, appropriately, the Red Room of Pain for its ceiling hooks, chains, whips, devices, leather, and entire bureau of BSDM accessories.
For their relationship to continue on any level Christian requires Ana to review and sign an additional contract whereby she hands over all her independent thoughts and submits, mind and body, to him. He decrees that she won’t look him in the eye, she will quietly accept the beatings (“the fear is in your mind!” he tells her), and he will have his way with her whenever, wherever, and however he wants provided she sets open-minded boundaries (Personal trainers 4 times per week, controlled diets, and oh yeah, how do you feel about fisting and butt plugs?). Yeah, Christian sounds like a real badass.
It’s too bad he’s just a maladjusted individual. I’m no expert, but Christian may be the worst dominator in the history of BDSM, or at least a serious frontin’ ass fronter about his domination experience. When it’s convenient for her, Ana plays submissive and kowtows to his rules – girlfriend got a good old-fashioned bare booty spanking for rolling her eyes at him – but for the most part, Ana calls the shots. She picks the battles she thinks she can win, and tests the waters of his thinly-veiled attempts at boundaries constantly, often without punishment. Hell, she usually has to ASK him to punish her! The submissive contract? She never signs. Christian is constantly experiencing “firsts” and being molded into Ana’s version of a relationship.
What the hell is the point?! This book is obviously not about BDSM. It’s not the tale of a fated love that struggles in the beginning but becomes a beautiful, mutual thing in the end. This book isn’t about good plot, originality, or interesting words. The author can’t even begin to describe actual anatomy other than referring to it as “down there”. The thing is I’m not sure what the hell this book is about. But if you happen to know, please enlighten me.
I can only think that this book has seen the light of day because a demographic out of the erotica norm grabbed a hold of it and technology has made it an easy way to disguise what is being read. Nobody will judge you for holding your Nook, but they will judge you if they see the infamous gray silk tie on the front.