Trigger Warning for stalking, domestic abuse and child abuse.
Yeah, ok, everyone’s writing a blog post about Fiddy shades but whatever, I’m doing one too. So…deal with it.
What better way was there to celebrate Valentines Day than going to see everyone’s favourite typecast-as-the-hot-but-violent-misogynist underwear model Jamie Dornan get busy with some nipple clamps in RED ROOM OF PAIN (srsly?!) amirite?
Almost anything. Almost anything is better.
Ok so I read the book when it came out. And needless to say, it’s a bag o shite. It sounds like a fourteen year old wrote it. Well, not like the bits with the detailed shagging and the whips and all that, I suppose more the style than the content. “Style” is really an over-reach though, it’s like someone put all the words into a Standard Grade English writing exam online generator and went with every cliché it spat out. There’s a lot of painful long shots at ‘subtle’ metaphor, some laugh out loud attempts at those hard bits – The Descriptions – and the protagonist has this fucking horrendous ‘inner ballerina’ who is worryingly pervasive and does a lot of “spinning in joy”.
But no-one’s reading it for the prose riiiiiiight?! It’s all about the sexy sexy love story with the kinky kinkyness liberating the sex lives of yummy mummies and frustrated housewives in every suburban book club. Or something.
And now, there’s a film! Squeal! Go with your girlfriends and forget about your single woes! Mr Right is out there for you! And if you’re lucky, he’ll really secretly want to batter you but is so in love with you that he restrains himself! Swoon!
Needless to say, I won’t be paying (almost a tenner now *and* they’re doing away with Orange Wednesdays ffs) to see the film but unless they stray wildly from the oh-so-complicated plot of the book then I imagine it will be just as wretched.
Let me be absolutely clear though – my issues with 50SoG (get me) stretch far beyond the stylistic. With my serious hat now on, let me get to the crux of this post – 50SoG is bad for business. And when I say ‘business’ I mean humankind, most specifically, women. This is a book which is nothing but hateful misogynist bile, dressed up as some sort of unrequited love bullshit, and I take exceptional exception to this particular strand of the dreaded Chick Lit vortex.
“But why?!“ you cry. Well, where to start……
Well firstly, there’s the stalking. Ana meets Christian when she interviews him for being a “super hot”, young CEO of his own company and all-round golden boy. He’s fairly mean and intimidating and Ana pretty much reports back to her pal that he’s attractive but a massive cock. So far so nothing. Until, that is, he arrives completely unannounced at both her home and her work, turns up out of the blue and gets hella ragin’ when she almost snogs her pal Jose when she’s out on the bevvy, and starts sending her weirdly specific gifts. I’m guessing that the reader is supposed to find this wildly romantic, the idea that he’s developed this instant obsession with her and is doing everything within his power to invade her life and her personal spaces. But no, that’s not romantic – that’s stalking, a kind of deeply creepy manipulation and violently jealous behaviour which ruins the lives and mental health of so many women. At best they live in constant fear, at worst they meet with violence and sometimes death. Not romantic.
And it’s not over at the stalking either. Once he’s lured Ana in (because what woman doesn’t want a weird stalker in her life so long as he’s hot, right?) Christian essentially starts grooming her. He knows that there is a strong sexual attraction between them and Ana’s vulnerability and naivety are painfully clear. He uses this utterly to his advantage. He manipulates her sexually before casually dropping in that the only sexual relationship he will engage in is one which is BDSM. This is, of course, a perfectly legitimate sexual preference but in 50 Shades it is one which is clearly not on Ana’s pleasure agenda. BDSM is completely foreign to Ana, she is clearly not enticed but is reluctantly drawn in and dragged along through Christian’s slow sexual and emotional manipulation. Christian still takes her virginity under some candlelight and gentle kissing pretence before repeatedly using his “BDSM only” card as an emotional and sexual ultimatum.
This is so fucked up. The idea that this is somehow really sexy and lusty demonstrates everything that is wrong with so much of what is not only accepted by society but often actively promoted about male-female dynamics. 50 Shades started life as Twilight fan fiction and that influence is starkly clear. The premise of Twilight (the films at least, I can’t claim to have read the books) is one which is deeply disturbing – that it’s somehow incredibly sexy and beguiling if your boyfriend harbours a deep desire to hurt and maim you but that he doesn’t only because he loves you so much. I don’t need to give a violence against women 101 here to explain why that idea is so terrifying. That’s not loving, that’s not sexy – that’s abusive and coercive and there are real women living that reality every day, real women who are being picked apart and destroyed and sometimes killed. It saddens me to my core that Twilight is the 21st century love story being sold to young women, and men, when two out of three women who are murdered in the UK are done so at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.
If they hadn’t already thrown the book away in rage, I think this is the point at which any BDSM enthusiast worth their salt probably completely lost it. 50 Shades draws some fantastically broad links between being into BDSM and being an Incredibly Fucked Up Human Being, incapable of genuine love, affection and of generally not being a dick. BDSM is still a ‘sub-culture’ I guess and like every “group” of people I imagine there are some unpleasant characters involved, but it’s hardly an exclusive Freaky Freakshow where dominants are hunting down potential submissive prey and bullying them into a D/S relationship. No, because that is ABUSE, not a relationship. D/S relationships are by their very nature based on one party controlling the other but when done properly are done with respect, informed consent, and between two willing parties. So much of the chat about 50 Shades has been about its influence on ‘sexual liberation’ and sexual exploration – painfully ironic when all does is hinge on tired stereotypes and an ‘othering’ of the BDSM community.
As if this isn’t offensive enough, what’s even more worrying is the explanation offered for Christian’s “darkness” – child abuse, or, as Christian puts it, being brought into the world by a “crack whore”.
Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that child abuse is a bullshit reason for later life adversity and difficulties. Child abuse is a horrific reality which can have devastating (and often lifelong) psychological, social and physical repercussions. I don’t need to spell that out. However, creating such a broad and seemingly “obvious” link between being abused as a child and being what is essentially a cold, abusive, manipulative stalker as your dénouement – that’s not ok. Children who are abused are vulnerable enough without a society which perpetuates the myth that writes them off as fundamentally fucked up human beings who don’t stand a chance of ever being able to form genuine and healthy relationships.
What’s further damaging about this myth is that it bows, so seamlessly it almost feels intentional, to apologist-rhetoric. Again, it is clear that abuse is often cyclical and that being subjected to abuse as a child can make you more likely to engage in violent and abusive behaviour later in life. However, it is also an uncomfortable truth that this is a rhetoric which has been syphoned off and exaggerated by violent and sexual offenders as a guilt-free “explanation” for their actions. Accounts of child abuse are now such well-worn stories of these men and like so many systemic problems, it’s an explanation that society is a bit too keen to unquestioningly accept because it is easier to blame the actions of a few for the “creation” of abusers, than it is to take hard look at how our society as a whole perpetuates gendered violence and misogyny.
I know that I’m hardly first off the mark to make many of these criticisms of 50 Shades of Grey which E.L James, the book’s illustrious author, took a minute from rolling in dolla at the premier to scoff at because “if there wasn’t anything in it then so many women wouldn’t like it.” That to me is actually the saddest part, that women are still conditioned to subconsciously accept as everyday realities the threat of violence from men; the role of women as weak and vulnerable and naïve; the “attractive” male being the Alpha Male ; and as sexuality and sexual exploration as being something which women cannot be equal players. It’s scary, and sad, and real, and not something I’ll be paying a tenner to watch.
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