SMC: 50 Shades Of Grey? No Thanks!!

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This was written in 2012 when 50 Shades Of Grey was at the height of its popularity. The thoughts that drove me to write it are still relevant now, regarding both the book and the movie.

However, as a known advocate of free speech I refuse to call for it to be banned. Instead I will suggest that people who object to the film/book and its presentation of the subject matter (there is nothing wrong with BDSM, but there is everything wrong with presenting an abusive relationship as being the same thing as BDSM) check out the $50 not 50 Shades campaign.

No I will not be reading 50 Shades Of Grey.

I am cutting the article here for both trigger-potential reasons and for spoiler reasons, which I don’t often do. However I will also say this:

This is not recommended reading for people who are avid and devoted fans of the book. If you read this and get upset after my warning, I will consider you to have no more sense than the mosquito in ‘Bug’s Life’ who couldn’t resist the light and got zapped. Go back to your book and enjoy reading about Christian and Ana. I guaranteed you’ll enjoy it more and life’s too short for much else.

So, yes, I will not be reading the book. I have read snippets. Those are minutes of my life which I will not get back.

In the last year I read Jane Eyre, Kushiel’s Dart and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Having read the precis and character summary for Christian Grey, I have to say that he does not strike me as being anywhere near as attractive as Edward Fairfax Rochester, Anafiel Delaunay, Melisande Shahrizai or Oliver Mellors. Mr Rochester is rich and moody and dominant – the archetypical Victorian Bad Boy next to Heathcliff. Anafiel is also rich, beautiful, powerful and influential. He also specialises in training courtesans (adepts) for BDSM purposes. Melisande is one of the most depraved sexual characters I have ever encountered, but I feel safe fantasising about her since she has a sacred respect for the right to say no, even during sexual torture. And Oliver Mellors – …. well, let’s just say I read that book for the first time at 13 and that forged some of my preferences for life in the type of man that I find attractive.

I’m afraid some screwed up city boy with an expensive collection of sex toys and control issues doesn’t really do it for me after encountering those characters.

And Anastasia Steele strikes me, from the extracts I have read, as being irritating and repetitive – traits that I did not have to put up with in Jane Eyre – a model of self reliance and self assuredness who refuses to back down in the face of Rochester’s influence, wealth and status, even though he has complete control over her living arrangements and salary. Then there’s the delightful Phedre no Delaunay, an actual independent woman who chooses all the messes she ends up in, including her sadistic and predatory clients and her independent lovers. And finally there is  Constance Chatterley, who flouts the conventions and laws of marriage because she is desperate to experience physical sensation and claim a whole life. Again – all powerful and strong minded women.

I find it hard to believe that a sexually inexperienced and naive virgin,especially one who has spend 4 years reading and researching quality literature, like the examples I have just mentioned,would sacrifice her self control and self respect to be some rich twat’s play thing. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. I read fantasy and sci fi but that’s a little too out there for me to believe.

And I have no intention of reading the whole book if the extracts alone made me cringe. Even the positive review that I read noted that Ana’s repeated phrases made him want to reach into the book and strangle her.

Also … Christian is, from what I understand from the available wiki, a severely damaged and traumatised creature who needs a lot of therapy – but that seems to get overlooked because he’s rich and successful and handsome. That… distresses me, somehow.

My Boy is an abuse survivor who has been in and out of therapy for years and ain’t done yet. But he doesn’t desire to treat women like shit. On the contrary, he has immense respect for women, both as people and for me particularly as a sexual partner.

I don’t like the idea that it’s ok for abuse to turn people into sadistic controlling figures if they’re rich and handsome. The rules on how to treat people should not be different based on how pretty/wealthy you are.

And also … this finally crystallised for me today, I have a major problem with a mindset which is being spread by the popular discussion of this book.

It’s this idea that women secretly want and like violence in their men.

Now don’t get me wrong – I know BDSM can be a ‘thing’ for some people, friends have indulged in it and it’s not exactly the first time I’ve encountered the idea. Hell, go read Kushiel’s Dart – some of Melisande’s stuff would make even Christian Grey blush. If people choose that, then that’s fine and really none of anyone else’s business.

But this book is being discussed and tittered over and winked over and giggled over by women who would never in a million years be interested in somebody’s slave.

How do I know this? Well some of them are my students. They ask if I’ve read it, I say no, they giggle. I ask them, fairly bluntly now because I’m getting tired of this repeated conversation, if they actually want any of that stuff to happen to them. They look shocked, as if I’ve said something appalling. ‘Oh no…’ says one of them. ‘It’s fun to read about but I wouldn’t want to DO  any of that. That’s just wrong.’

So we have a disparity between what women are expressing a preference for and what they’re actually comfortable enacting/partaking in. A marked one, given that it is made fairly clear that Christian is a depraved and sadistic fuck even in the sections I’ve read online. And this actually really bothers me. Because we’re not talking about genuine women’s desires here. We’re talking about a cloudy illusion which is created, masked by wealth and beauty which are beyond the ken of the vast majority of us.

It is a fantasy, yes. But the number of pseudo-bullshit semi-feminism articles that I sieved through online trying to find some info on this book without actually donating money to such a thing made me cringe. This isn’t about real life desires or opening up taboos for discussion. Most women don’t want this. It’s as much a fantasy as Christian’s wealth.

But these articles are making out like this book has finally unmasked the mystery of What Women Want, what they’ve secretly wanted all along and haven’t had the brains in their pretty little heads to ask for.

The idea that women are naive and don’t really know what they want but are turned on by the idea of violence in sex is an attitude that feminism has worked REALLY GODDAMN HARD to overcome in the last 50 years and yet here we are plunging back into a literary fad where a woman responds to the whims of a sadist as her master and a man is shown to have a track record of treating women like objectified possessions because his wealth and status allow him to do so.


Yes I know she leaves him at the end of the first book. But she goes back for another 2 books. And from what I understand marries him. That makes my skin crawl. The message here is not one of empowerment. It’s of powerlessness. Voluntary powerlessness.

Also, as a final reason why this damn book has got my back up this week…

A snippet of conversation overheard this week also made my skin creep.

“The wife’s all over that 50 shades shit book. ‘Parrently it’s all about some rich twat smacking the shit out of some virgin, and she gets off on it.”

“Well if that’s what she likes, give her what she likes…”

*Cue filthy misogynist laughter*

Shudder. Just …. shudder.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe I’ve missed the point. Maybe it’s me. I don’t know.

All I *do* know is that I won’t be reading this book because I have encountered too much stuff around it that makes me highly uncomfortable and even the good stuff is likely to leave me dissatisfied. And it felt good to write all of that down when it is beyond me to explain it in words to people who ask and I find myself resorting to a pathetic ‘it’s not really my thing’ as a substitute explanation.

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