50 Shades of Grey

Caution: Slippery

Pretty, isn't it?

Pretty, isn’t it?

Even lovelier close up.

Even lovelier close up.

Now let’s change the angle. Same morning, same storm.

Ice encased trees, beautiful. The reality of walking and driving on those icy streets, something else entirely.

Ice encased trees, beautiful. The reality of navigating these icy streets, something else entirely.

No, I’m not really going to talk about the weather again. There’s a lot in the world of pop culture I haven’t read/seen/heard because it doesn’t catch my interest. 50 Shades of Grey? Uninteresting, I’ve passed tons of articles, tweets, posts, and discussions without so much as an I-wonder-what-the-fuss-is-about. But then I was on Twitter the other day and saw a link to this blog post. Women and domestic violence? This is interesting to me, worth talking about again.  So here I am, late to the 50 Shades party.  I wasn’t going to talk about and pass judgement on something I hadn’t read, so I downloaded and read the book.

Oy.

Some writers are more about the writing.  If the writing is beautiful enough, the characters richly drawn, I don’t actually care if the story has plot holes the size of Toledo, I’ll cry at the end because I’m sorry to close the book. If the story is excellent, I’ll quickly stop noticing excessive adjectives and dialogue tags, the occasional POV inconsistency, because entertaining stories are fun.  Escapism means never having to get out the red pen, after all.  Because this novel has sold a gazillion copies, I expected there to be a point where I would get sucked into the story. By page 15 I was certain all the writing wisdom I’ve ever read must be a trick to keep unpublished writers unpublished. This isn’t just seasoned with adverbs, it’s downright encrusted. By page 20 I was wondering why nobody was taking this poor girl to the ER, she had flushed and blushed so many times surely she was having a stroke.

By the time I was a quarter of the way through I was pissed off.  Recently I saw something online saying a positive aspect of the Fifty Shades phenomenon is that it opened a new world to women of a certain age.  (If you are one who believes this to be true, please do some homework and research the history of erotica.) In Walmart, woo hoo!   I didn’t think I cared if erotica is available next to the Charmin.  Go ahead and squeeze.

But I do care.  Because this is being touted as liberation (you, tender young thing, are really the one with the power since you’ve got a safe word–and once you’re uncuffed and ungagged you can go ahead and use it). Because you, beautiful young woman, can say no and leave the relationship anytime you want to–though our hero is likely to show up on your doorstep if you do–middle of the night and roommate be damned. Because this is being presented as a great love story.  Everyone knows real love involves stalking, right?  And if you use the word stalking two hundred times it’s definitely ok, hell, you can even laugh about it with your stalker.  Because nothing says I care about your well being like wanting to control what and when your partner eats. Oh, wait.  This is where we have sympathy for the hero, because it turns out he experienced real hunger as a child.  Plus, yanno, he’s handsome.  And rich.  Not just rich, uber-rich and powerful.  Before the age of thirty, so he can still get it up and fuck his partner “into submission” 10 times a night and another 8 times during the day.

I didn’t want to judge. Different strokes and all that. But in every scene where he hurts her, it’s presented as “not really” hurting her, because even though her mind said no, her body responded in a positive way, so she must like it.  And in every one of those scenes, I thought of the many instances where rape victims report feeling conflicted and wondering if they’re the guilty ones, because physiology is what it is, and sometimes the body responds.  This isn’t a story of sexual exploration, this is a story of abuse. When her friend/roommate is worried about her, and she’s afraid her roommate will say something to antagonize him, that’s a clear sign of an abusive relationship.

In the end, I think we’re supposed to admire her strength and brains.  Oh yes, of course she’s smart, we know this because she mentions having a high GPA thirty times. So smart that she finally realizes being hit with a belt really hurts–after she agrees to it, he’s done it, and she’s cried delicately on his shoulder. She’s so strong she walks away from him in the end (ok, she doesn’t quite walk away, she’s driven away by his driver/manservant/pimp who is so wonderful and discreet he never even mentions the instruments of torture in the so-called play room), and rejects his lifestyle, his lavish gifts, and his incredibly handsome face that has working class women everywhere fall immediately to their knees–while blushing, of course. This even though she isn’t incredibly rich.  She’s just an ordinary gal, who worked a part time job through college. Now she will have to suffer the pain of a three bedroom condo shared with her by her wealthy roommate, a college degree, the publishing job she wanted, and family and friends who love her but don’t stalk, humiliate, or physically hurt her.

For a little while, anyway.  Since this is actually book 1 of a trilogy, I assume they get back together.  Maybe he buys out her publishing house and shows her the joys of erotic asphyxiation while declaring his love. Or maybe the little subplot started at the end of the book, where he’s distracted by SOMETHING BIG, turns out to be something personal, and she comes back to support him through his time of need. Whatever.

I’m sad there are so many women who think this is a hot fantasy, because it makes me wonder how many will ignore early warning signs in their relationships.  This isn’t a small number of consenting adults engaging in whatever sexual activities they enjoy.  This is the mainstream, young women being told that it’s sexy to be controlled, stalking is fine as long as you label it, almost anything is ok in the name of love, and of course, just hang in there– because he’ll stop beating you eventually if you follow his rules. If you’re a really good girl, he’ll come to understand you love him enough to heal him with your magical vagina and deep throat skills. Then he won’t even need to beat you anymore. Except, of course, for when you ask him nicely.

Yeah, we need to talk about this, especially as the movie is about to be released in theaters.  Much like the first photos above, this story looks innocuous enough, until you look a bit closer.

Wake up, women! This isn’t sexy or romantic.  This is predatory behavior.