It seems impossible to get away from 50 Shades right now. I can’t go on Facebook, WordPress, to the supermarket, on the bus or train or sometimes even check my texts without hearing about or seeing the book. After I give the evidence/reasons for the claims I’ve made in the title of this post, I’ll copy/paste this conversation so you can get an idea of how I (and apparently some other people) feel about the trilogy:
Evidence that 50 Shades is all the things I claim it to be:
Anastasia is economically dependent; when she does get a career, Grey then buys out the company she works for, making himself her boss’s boss
Ana is virginal in direct contrast to the very experienced Christian who is such a playa that he has never spent the night or done ‘the girlfriend thing’
Christian’s kinkiness is explained as being a direct result of child abuse including sexual abuse, not just his sexuality. I.e. it is unnatural (he was not born with it) and pathological
Christian has a kink-shaming thing going on where tells his therapist that he thinks something is wrong with him (as the therapist explains to Ana)
Ana has a sex-shaming thing going on where she feels that it is surprising or wrong for a 21 year old to want to have sex.
Ana displays the classic traits of an enforcer (female enforcer of the double standard, see my post on ‘SM and the double standard’) by judging her flatmate Kate for sleeping with Elliott
Both protagonists are codependent and appear more interested in having some kind of little boy or sex slave to take care of than an actual sex partner or boyfriend/girlfriend
Christian is abusive, not a Dom. BIIIIIIG difference, James. BIG difference.
BDSM is linked to emotional damage by the title ’50 shades’ which corresponds to Christian’s assertion that he is “fifty shades of fucked-up” due to childhood abuse
Ana is a complete idiot, barely able to ‘research’ BDSM online without Christian’s guidance or find sex tips although she has a degree. Most kinky people were ‘researching’ BDSM online at age 12 or 13. (I started at 14 because we didn’t get internet access at home until I was 14, though my first attempt was at age 9 or 10 on a school computer).
Ana’s passivity, submissiveness and physical weakness are an antifeminist portrayal of women and, as she is well-educated, young, and not overweight, is completely unrealistic.
Ana is portrayed as having extreme physical weakness, i.e. taking four strokes of the crop is too much for her, sex exhausts her and a hand spanking is injurious to her physically (Christian has to use baby oil to soothe her) and emotionally (sje doesn’t want to repeat the experience).
The above portrayals also stigmatise BDSM as a very dangerous and harmful behaviour when actually this level of pain and exhaustion is very rare. Christian obviously was not paying attention/didn’t care (which is another disturbing aspect of this story).
Ana is not only a virgin but also asexual, having manifested no sexual desire before meeting Christian and exhibiting very little desire even after that. She has never masturnated. Even after being spanked she does not experience the spanking in a sexual way (either positively or negatively).
This asexuality is in direct contradistinction to Christian’s hypersexuality and extreme fetishes (no, I don’t think he is either of those – nor would I use ‘hypersexual’ on anyone who hasn’t been clinically diagnosed with nymphomania) but this is how James is presenting Christian. This contadistinction is just the double standard made more obvious and extreme.
Ana’s submissiveness and low self-esteem are portrayed as meaning that she is a natural submissive; similarly, Christian’s billionaire alpha male status mean that of course he is the dom. This stigmatises BDSM and is actually completely false. Sexual kinks and proclivities have no bearing on reality. Gays aren’t all effeminate, are they? Lesbians aren’t all butch, and cross-dressers only cross-dress sometimes. Transgender people can be gay or straight. ‘Tomboy’ girls and sensitive boys don’t grow up to be gay.(As a child I wore boys’ clothes/shoes and refused to wear skirts, dresses or play with Barbie dolls. A family ‘friend’ told my mother I was “a homosexual”.Now I love style and am so feminine that I’m prostituting myself; I love sex and men.)There aren’t any rules. If anything, powerful individuals are more likely to be subs because it’s relaxing for them.
Ana expresses disappointment that she was not raped while asleep by Christian, and questions her attractiveness because of this.
Ana is one-dimensional, superficial, whiny, has low-self esteem, lets herself be abused, has no confidence, possesses a very conservative view of sex, is sexually repressed, doesn’t know how to use the internet, and is stupid. (All unrealistic traits in a young educated American woman).
Female drinking and partying is presented as dangerous, with Ana being sick and having to be rescued by Christian and taken to a hotel
Christian exhibits the traits of a stalker and is overprotective; he buys her a new car because her old one is potentially dangerous (how? Are all poor peoples’ cars dangerous?) and takes her to a hotel when she is drunk instead of just taking her home. Also, he didn’t have to trace her call; she was just feeling sick from drinking too much, hasn’t that happened to nearly every 21 year old student? However, it is portrayed as deviant.
Christian’s character-specific skills are evident at all times (dominance, confidence, clear goals, persuasiveness, taking the initiative both in the bedroom and out of it, etc). As is the money that his skills got him. However, despite having a degree in English Literature, a part-time job, a possible insight into journalism through her friend Kate’s involvement with the student paper, as well as interviewing Christian, Ana’s skills and experience are never evident. She doesn’t even have any hobbies apart from reading classics (i.e. a hobby synonymous with her studies) or any goals, career plans or interests. Her CV must be pretty short.
Not only is Ana asexual, she has no actual goals or wishes for her relationship with Christian. She just does whatever he says
She is stupid enough to believe that a contract binding her to be a BDSM sex slave would be legally binding in the United States of America in 2011/2012
There is no sex for about half the book. This is not porn. It is not even erotica. If I was buying erotica (which I did, but it was far too mild so I didn’t like it much) I would not expect to read over 200 pages to get to the first sex scene. I’ll bet most Romance genre novels are more erotic than 50 Shades; after all, no self-respecting woman in 2012 is going to read romance novels that end ‘so we finally held hands AND kissed, AT THE SAME TIME! Phwooarr!!!! And rode off into the sunset.The End.’
There is no explanation given for Ana’s sex-repression or willingness to be raped while unconscious/asleep. It’s presented as the right way to think. Given that teens are reading it (it’s socially-acceptable porn, they can read it in school, of course they’re reading it) this is actually very harmful to society.
The message of these two things is that it is acceptable for men (even educated business professionals) to be so bestialy hypersexual that they cannot wait till the morning or even 1 second to wake up a woman and ask if she would like to have sex, but instead have to rape her while she is asleep, like a dog. However, it is totally unacceptable for a woman to want to have consensual protected sex with a hot billionaire in a potentially-committed relationship at above the average age of losing virginity.
Rape is portrayed as totally acceptable and to be expected if you are a female who gets drunk with her friends. (You’d deserve it, because girls shouldn’t drink. That was reckless and wild. Only boys get drunk.)
The lowest, most cowardly form of rape (raping the victim while they are drunkenly asleep so they’ll never know and you won’t be jailed; if they get pregnant they’ll never figure out how it happened or maybe not find out in time to get an abortion) is totally acceptable.
Ana’s reaction to suspecting that she has been raped (which in itself is paranoia) and subsequent reaction to not being raped is very stigmatising of rape victims and survivors. It suggests that they may have wanted it or not cared very much that they were raped.
Linking being a Dom and being a potential rapist is a misrepresentation of kinky individuals
The ridiculously large gap between the protagonists’ incomes/wealth is hardly conducive to feminism (or realistic)
The unswitchability and extremeness of the maledom and femsub roles is antifeminist; they could have been a malesub and domme which would be statistically more probable for a billionaire. Or one or both could be a switch.
Christian uses more pressure on Ana to get her to sign the contract than the average person would be comfortable with
Contracts aren’t often used by the BDSM community and contracts lasting as long as three months are rare. James has chosen the most ‘extreme’ example of BDSM (the Master/slave relationship) as opposed to much more common forms of BDSM like DD, being switches, doing it for fun, spanking as foreplay, or just doing it for fun sometimes to spice up a vanilla sex life (the most common form). And of course every nuance in between. (Should that be ‘every shade in between’? Ha, ha ha [despairing laugh]). By choosing this extreme form, James has rendered BDSM less acceptable to vanilla people and more scary, as they will assume that everyone who likes spanking is in a Christian/Ana relationship. Woop de doo.
Now, you can’t get any more anti-sex, anti-feminist and anti-kink than 50 Shades.
Excerpt from online conversation:
Me: 50 Shades of Grey is a conservative patriarchal fantasy. It may have been written as the poster child of sexual freedom. It may be being read as the promise of liberation. But it isn’t. It is antifeminist, slut-shaming, and stigmatises kinky people. The fact that lots of women ended up so sheltered that it took this badly-written travesty to make us explore our sexuality just shows how repressive and sex-negative our society really is.
David:There’s nothing sexually free about it. The main character feels guilty for having sex, and for wanting sex, and that’s presented as a good thing; the way to be. Also, I hate the way they try to justify the main male character enjoying BDSM- it’s the result of severe childhood abuse, as opposed just liking it. Urgh the trilogy is disgusting.
Me:omfg – TOTALLY. And she judges her flatmate too for sleeping with Elliot. The whole juxtaposition of virginal, vanilla Ana (who, unbelievably, seems practically to have never heard of BDSM) with Christian who’s such a slut that he’s never stayed the night with a girl, is very radically-conservative. (i say ‘slut’ ironically; i don’t believe in the concept of ‘slut’ – its just a patriarchal device to control women). Anyways, female drinking/partying is also degraded in the book, as is female sexual agency. Ana is economically dependent. Obv E L James has never tried BDSM, the descriptions are very unrealistic and OTT. And yeah, its verystigmatising, like all BDSM-ers were abused. Lots of abused ppl are into vanilla, maybe NOT liking BDSM is a result of abuse, James? And when she wakes up in the hotel room and is all, ‘why didn’t Christian rape me while I slept? I mustn’t be pretty enough for him’ is very disturbing.
Susan: Or maybe it’s just a book? That doesn’t have to have hidden antifeminist agendas? Maybe just a mediocre but slightly entertaining read? Just saying.
Me: Yeah I hear u, and I’m not saying it has a deliberate antifeminist ‘agenda’ – if anything, I think it was written to be sexy. What I’m annoyed about is that absolutely everyone thinks the book is feminist and helping to give us sexual freedom but it’s not. I can’t get away from hearing about how wonderful and freeing it is, whether its on Facebook or the media or just friends.And women being like ‘oh I never dared to try spanking until I read this book and found out I wasn’t a deviant’ and ‘this book gave me the courage to finally explore my sexuality and tell my hubby what turns me on at age 48’ is sad.
David: @Susan:- Even if it isn’t deliberate, it’s still ingrained. Also if you look up the author, especially taking a read of her Twitter, you’ll see she’s very set with gender roles and Man is Provider, Woman is Nurturer. Which isn’t exactly someone who makes for a great representative of sexual freedom. Also, remember it started life off as Twilight fanfiction. The only difference is the names were changed for publication. Twilight is a metaphor for no sex before marriage, being a subm issive wife before anything else (like being independent, going to college etc) and not having an abortion, no matter how much danger you put yourself in. All written by a devout Mormon.
Emma: A Brigham Young University graduate friend of mine described ‘Twilight’ as ‘Mormon porn’. There’s something in that, I suspect 🙂
Me: Isn’t it interesting how all the teen-aimed billion-pound movie/book franchises of the last decade have dealt with abstinence themes? Even Harry Potter hints at minimal sexual contact in the teen/young adult years and the characters end up married to their teenage boyfriends/girlfriends – Ron marries Hermione and Harry marries Ginny. And 50 Shades has a ‘wait until hot rich traditional gender-role guy’ as its moral. The franhises that were not abstinence themed (I Am number Four, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Hunger Games, LOTR etc) were either not aimed specifically at teens or aimed at teen boys. Whereas Twilight and 50 shades are aimed at women, and Harry Potter was aimed at teens of both genders.Vampires, witches and kinky sex are being tamed down and re-packaged in an abstinence-themed context for teenage girls and young women (judging by the characters’ ages, James probably intended to appeal to young women; it is the media who subsequently dubbed it ‘mommy porn’).
Emma: The Hunger Games is a genuine kids’ book, written by a classicist. Pretty much all of it is lifted from ancient Rome, one writer in particular. It’s well done, but the very different morality had to be dealt with carefully, and Collins does that. She can also write exceptionally well (as can Rowling). The trilogy is well worth a read. I don’t plan to read this 50 Shades book, not because I disapprove (I really don’t care what other people read; I’d rather they read than burn down their local Poundland or whatever), but because if I wish to read smut, I have my trusty classics major in hand 🙂