I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey as it never sounded worth reading. Because of that I didn’t feel I had anything to add to the conversation beyond “abuse is bad” which we all know. (We do all know that, right?) I wasn’t even sure that much of the criticism leveled against it wasn’t a case of people being hypersensitive. A lot of that goes on these days. You only have to look at a list of banned books, lists that include titles like To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Finn, to know that there are a lot of people out there who are desperate to save society from itself because they think they know what’s best for everyone.
However, after reading this post about 50 Shades and the message it’s sending … and I confess I got less than halfway through the list before giving up in disgust… I recognize that nobody was being hypersensitive when they accused Christian Grey of being an abusive asshole. He’s worse than that, he’s a monster of selfishness and abuse. I don’t get why this piece of dreck is so popular. It’s not BDSM; calling it that does an enormous disservice to the BDSM community and its members,(Just so you know, I’m not one of them, so I have no horse in this race.) most of whom are scrupulous about consent from and respect for their partners. There are any number of wonderful writers who explore real BDSM in honest ways, and if that’s what you want, by all means seek it out, ask people, read reviews. But never make the mistake of thinking that 50 Shades has anything to do with real BDSM.
Back in the 70s when I was young and actually talking about stuff like this earnestly (like you do in your 20s) it was pretty commonly accepted that rape fantasies were appealing because they allowed women to be sexual without taking any of the responsibility. You can’t be blamed, even if you enjoy the sex. “It’s not my fault, he made me do it.” I think we can extend that idea to the kind of abuse found in 50 Shades. You have a guy who tells you what to do, who to do it with, who controls every facet of your life, and you don’t have to think, you don’t have to take any responsibility for your life because he’s doing it for you. (Yes, I know women do it too, but I’m going to go on saying “he” because ultimately we’re still talking about Christian Grey.) The problem with this is: Why are women not yet able to take both control of and responsibility for our own sexuality in the 21st Century?
Yes of course, young women of today still have to find their way into their own sexuality — every generation does –but I really believed that they began with a stronger sense of self than my generation did. And I believed that older generations of women would draw on their own experiences and mistakes to help make their younger sisters stronger, more independent, and more comfortable with their sexuality. But instead we get women like E. L. James — a woman who is only 10 years younger than I am which means more than old enough to know better — who takes a Twilight fanfic (go google “Edward Cullen abusive” Go on.) and makes Twilight worse by turning stalkery, abusive Edward into the nightmare that is Christian Grey.
I weep for young women. I do. They’re being sold the same damn bill of goods that their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers were sold. They’re being told that their sexuality is dangerous and must be controlled by a man. They’re being told that love is control, love is abuse, love is a man who will rape you for your own good and beat you if you object, that abuse is true love. Tell that to women who are routinely beaten by their husbands, women who have had to escape to shelters with their children, who have had to change their names or take out restraining orders.
Around the world there’s a war being waged against women, against allowing them control of their own bodies. In our own country there are people, some of them in positions of power, who want to parse “rape” to make it harmless as a handshake, or corrective of bad behavior. All of these people have a stake in making 50 Shades the cultural phenomenon that convinces young women that what they need is a man to teach them their place. 50 Shades isn’t a revolutionary or subversive book, it’s a book that supports the status quo. It’s business as usual. 50 Shades is a book that says women should be subordinate to men, a book that says that men have a right to control and abuse women for the woman’s own good.
I’m ashamed that it was a woman who wrote it.