50 Shades of Disappointment and Mild Nausea

Full disclosure from the beginning: I cannot stand 50 Shades of Grey. I will not purchase the books. I will not watch the movie. I will not listen to friends of mine with frankly questionable tastes in literature gush over anything 50 Shades related to me. I have read the first book, to my intense regret. Beyond that, I couldn’t force myself to read more, though I’ve read thorough plot summaries of the other books. But given the movie’s recent release, making a post on the franchise seems to be the thing to do, so here we go. Plus, if I have to see one more person on my Facebook newsfeed commenting about what a great romance it is, I might actually be physically ill.

Point blank, in addition to being, in my opinion, startlingly poorly written, 50 Shades depicts a wildly abusive relationship, and it is really concerning to me that it’s marketed as a romance with a sexy BDSM twist. 50 Shades is not BDSM. It is, at best, a male abuser disguising his abusive urges as BDSM. I don’t have a problem with BDSM in an of itself. What consenting adults do in their bedrooms is entirely their own business. “Consenting” is the key word there, and it’s what is sorely lacking from so much of 50 Shades. I’m just going to go through a few of the myriad issues I recall from my read of the first book. I’ll also have a supposedly-unbiased summary from elsewhere on the internet to help me make sure I don’t put in anything that I just imagined, or anything like that.

  1. Grey is a stalker. Really. There’s just no way around it. Ana has never seen him at her place of work before, and literally the same day she meets him, he shows up and buys a sketchy array of items (which I’m sure was meant to hint at the later “BDSM”, but for the record, at least some of those items would be bad choices for bondage because of the risk of them becoming too tight and doing damage, or other such issues). He sends her a package–did she ever give him her address? He comes to pick her up when she’s drunk, despite her never telling him where she was (and then that turns into another deeply troubling incident). More stalking follows in the next books, with such “loving” actions as purchasing her place of work in order to keep a closer eye on her even though she walked out on their relationship.
  2. The non-disclosure contract. It all kinds of unacceptable, and serves–more than anything–as assurance for Grey that Ana won’t voice her concerns or confusion or unease to anyone else. It effectively cuts her off from all of her support networks in regards to her dealings with Grey. It somehow isn’t enough for him that he’s already stalked her, manipulated her from the word “go”, and shown extremely possessive tendencies almost immediately after he met her. He needs to make sure that she keeps his behavior toward her a secret. Because he probably knows that it’s straight-up abuse.
  3. Ana doesn’t have a laptop or email address until the wonderfully-generous Grey gifts her with a laptop. What? She’s a college student. Many colleges these days require that you have a laptop. Every college requires an email address. Hell–they provide them! Honestly, this almost bothers me more than anything else in the book. I mean, seriously. I’ve had an email address since I was 10, and I can guarantee you that every single college student in the US has one. E.L. James seems to know about as much about technology as she does about BDSM (and, for that matter, as much as Ana knows about…anything at all). No email address.
  4. Ana’s inner goddess and her subconscious regularly party in her conscious mind. What? And she curses like an elementary school student, which is just really odd. I’m lumping these two together because they’re right up there with the laptop/email address thing
  5. Grey rapes Ana. There are multiple points in the book where Ana vocalizes that she does not like what Grey is doing, and he keeps going regardless. And there’s when he shows up in her apartment (stalking again…) after she breaks up with him (she was joking, but he had no way of knowing that; from his perspective, she rejected him) and despite her verbally saying “no” repeatedly, he has sex with her. Which is rape.
  6. Grey ignores Ana’s wishes and deliberately abuses her. Similar to the point above, but a bit more focused on the supposed BDSM. At one point, Grey asks Ana how she felt when he was hitting her. She tells him that she did not like it and says that she doesn’t want him to do it again. His response, in an actual, healthy BDSM relationship would be to discuss her feelings, respect them, and adjust accordingly in future play. Instead, he tells her, point-blank that she wasn’t meant to enjoy it. He continues to treat her similarly throughout the book. That is not BDSM. That is abuse. Knowing your partner does not enjoy being hurt and doing it anyway is not sexy, it is not kinky. It is physical abuse.
  7. Seriously, Grey hits almost every point on any “signs of an abusive partner” list you will find on any domestic abuse resource ever. That’s not love, that’s not kink. It’s just abuse.
  8. Grey knows damn good and well after their third meeting or so that Ana is unimaginably naive, inexperienced in just about everything, and obviously has no clue about BDSM. But he pursues her anyway, manipulates her, stalks her, puts her into sexual situations she is blatantly uncomfortable with knowing that she is uncomfortable with them, and shows zero regard for her consent/lack thereof

And this is being marketed and sold to massive numbers of people as a love story. Grey is being represented as a desirable boyfriend/lover/husband when he is, in fact, an entirely unrepentant abuser with no boundary issues. Ana is prey to him, and is treated as such.

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2 thoughts on “50 Shades of Disappointment and Mild Nausea

  1. The writing was competent and professional and well-edited. At least I saw no spelling or grammar errors. Also, what most people can’t seem to understand is that this is fiction. It’s a woman’s fantasy. A woman wrote it. A woman created Christian Grey. A woman created the scenes, the situations, the attitudes, and a lot of other women enjoy reading the book and obviously will enjoy the movie. Why in the world are people jumping all over this? This is not a documentary. It’s erotica.

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    • I saw enough errors to make me cringe, and the writing itself was…lacking. But you think differently, and that’s fine. You’re entitled to that.

      But what I cannot get behind is your idea that somehow because it’s fiction or because a woman wrote it, it’s exempt from criticism. Neither of those things matter to me in any relevant way in this discussion, and I feel that arguments like that serve only as attempts to derail serious discussion. The fact that so many women enjoy reading the book and will enjoy the movie matters very much, but for a different type of discussion than the one you intend; it certainly isn’t a logically-sound defense of the content of the books. I could similarly point to the masses of people who believe that The Amityville Horror is something that really happened, that aliens are real, or that the Twilight series is a literary masterpiece. A large number of people agreeing on a point does not make that point reasonable or valid. And, much like the gender of the author or the genre, mass enjoyment in no way makes something immune from criticism.

      I firmly believe that as writers, we have a certain degree of responsibility for our work. If you write a book about an abusive relationship, call it what it is. Don’t slap a bow on it and call it a love story. Writing does not exist in a vacuum, no matter what genre it is. We exist in a society where abusive behaviors are all too common in partners, and those same behaviors ARE frequently dismissed in the media as being “endearing” or “not that bad” or even “romantic”. They are not. I have trouble understanding people who don’t see why such a blatantly abusive relationship is being painted as and ACCEPTED AS a romantic one in society and popular culture.

      As for it “not being a documentary”…you’re right. But again, why does the genre exempt it from criticism? BDSM is already sorely misunderstood and misrepresented. People involved in BDSM communities are marginalized, their behaviors dismissed as “abuse” or “unhealthy” or even “mental illness” by people who do not understand or care to understand or accept others’ sexuality. So again, writers’ responsibility factors into this. Writers ought to know, perhaps better than anyone, that words do have an impact on those hearing or reading them. Perpetuating ignorance, particularly ignorance that already causes people to be hurt and/or marginalized is unacceptable.

      Anne Rice recently made some comments in favor of 50 Shades (and I have issues with her comments, both initially and her responses to people who countered her comments), so I’ll briefly compare her erotic work, her Sleeping Beauty series. It’s erotica, and it involves some pretty serious BDSM. There’s been virtually no outcry against that series, and it’s been around for over 30 years. Why? Because it doesn’t lie about what it is the way that 50 Shades does. It isn’t billed as some sweet romance with a kinky twist. It is what it is. It’s, as you say, fiction. It’s erotica. It is exactly what it says on the tin, unlike 50 Shades.

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