Firstly, I have to admit that I read 49 pages of the second book in this “erotic” trilogy – Fifty Shades Darker – so I have at least given it a shot and am not basing the below on hear-say. The second book was more available to me than the first so I thought I’d give the first few chapters a whirl to see if I might be interested in actually reading the series and picking myself up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. I can satisfactorily conclude that I will not be and more so, that I’m utterly shocked that this is a best seller.
I’m not even going to use the poor quality of writing and the insult that it is to the literary world as my argument in this case. However these factors are noteworthy and deserve mention. If you’re into reading about sex, there are thousands of books out there that are just as erotic, but at least include some skill when it comes to the actual writing style. If you don’t care about the literary merit then you can pick yourself up a copy of any old Mills and Boon rag and be none the wiser. The point here is that not only is not revolutionary in its graphic and detailed sex scenes, but it’s not even a good book?
But the reason why Fifty Shades of Grey is so problematic is that it has completely sexed up an abusive relationship. It’s the most typical Psychology 101 form of abuse – man is abused as a child, man does not overcome or cope with the violence inflicted on him, man repeats cycle. It doesn’t matter what “electricity” they feel between them or how madly in love our delightfully one-dimensional protagonist is, he dominates – in more ways than one – her to such an extent that she is intimidated, abused, controlled and overpowered. Just because he is honest about his “darker side” and the joy he feels in inflicting pain on her doesn’t make it any less so.
What is more alarming is that the sex scenes, designed to be erotic, blend into the abusive and violent scenes. One minute they are flirting and the next the poor girl is absolutely terrified of him. This is exactly what the problem was with Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. The reader goes from feeling sexually turned-on by a scene to suddenly disgusted by the gruesome and violent turn the narrative takes. The positive connotations of being turned on and feeling good during a sex scene should never bleed into violence, domination and abuse. It brings about completely conflicting desires and emotions and merges them into one, leaving the reader feeling rather confused at their own reactions. American Psycho displayed this far more starkly and while a great social dig at American consumerism, readers didn’t need the chapters and chapters and chapters to get the point.
I honestly believe that BDSM relationships, where there is a dominant and a subservient, can be played out far more safely and without those involved maintaining these roles in every aspect of their relationship. Fifty Shades of Grey is an example of how a woman can be crushed into subservience in every sphere of a relationship. The fact that there are some kinky scenes and some good, old healthy, liberating sex shouldn’t shadow this.
Perhaps I’ve completely missed the point and I’m very, very open to correction. All I could think when I read those pages was how glaringly obvious it was that an older and established man had completely captivated a much younger, shier woman and dominated her in every aspect – from the things she eats to the people she is friends with to the way that they have sex. To me it seems about much, much more than BDSM and yet we’re celebrating it? Or perhaps the author is trying to tell that exact story – where boundaries can get blurred – and it is the public that has missed the underlying message? I do doubt it though – I sneaked a look at the first few pages of the last book in the trilogy and it seems as though our protagonist marries the guy so I’m not so sure about this theory. Hey, but while we’re normalizing abusive relationships, Ana is such a good subservient, letting Christian order her food for her and dictating when she leaves a friend’s party even though E.L James has made it clear she doesn’t want to. Is it just me that finds this vomit-worthy?
In any case, I look forward to reading what others have to say on the topic.