I have just watched the official trailer for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ the movie. It left me feeling confused, but prompted me finally to write this post.
As I mentioned previously, it was only recently that I finally managed to read this book. In the world of publishing, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a big deal. According to my favourite source of information, Wikipedia (besides my husband, of course), the three-part series has sold more than 100 million copies and is the fastest selling paper back of all time. These stats are insanely impressive and a sign that the books’ author, EL James, tapped directly into mainstream consciousness. In other words, for a lot of people, she got it just right.
Let’s be clear. I didn’t like the book. It bored, horrified and annoyed me. But it did open my eyes to the power of romance and its associated exquisite suspense for stories concerned with sexual relationships between – even if those stories are really only about the sex. This might sound obvious, but there are many, many examples of erotic fiction that don’t have a whiff of love about them but work.
However, for many people (by which I really mean for many women), the primal urge for sexual gratification is almost inseparable from the erotic thrill of romantic tension. I think this particularly applies to the excitement of being pursued by a man and of being singled out for pursuit because he thinks you are special – especially by a man who is gorgeous, aristocratic or, its modern-day equivalent, rich and/or famous. I believe these are core buttons for the female psyche – and oh did EL James press these buttons for her readers. And they lapped it up in their millions.
Christian Grey pursues, he singles out, he redefines himself because of the way he feels about Anastasia and, of course, he is a gorgeous, self-made billionaire. But it is all too much. The man is a unstoppable control freak; he is unrelenting and selfish, acting with little apparent thought for the welfare or well being of his romantic focus (Anastasia) unless it is in the context of how her harm could affect him.
Then there is the sex thing. Never have I read less exciting sex scenes. I was left so metaphorically flacid that I found myself skipping the sex bits because they were so boring – and that has NEVER happened to me before. NEVER. EVER. EVER. I just skipped them and read to the end of the novel, wondering how this train wreck of a relationship was going to be resolved. And frankly I was relieved with the way she concluded the story. It was the only thing that made sense. And I will not be going back for more Christian Grey madness.
There are plenty of better qualified commentators who have talked about the abuse and bullying that lies at the heart of the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. I could not better what they have said, but their arguments raise concerning issues. More worrying still, a recent article in the Independent suggests that women who read these books are more likely to be in abusive relationships. Dear G-d.
BDSM can be safe, healthy erotic pleasure for people who enjoy it. But the way in which Christian Grey works to extend his framework of control from the ‘Red Room’ to every aspect of his relationship with Anastasia was extremely disturbing. It was not about testing erotic boundaries, it was just about control. By exerting his numerous resources to contain and manipulate a woman who was clearly vulnerable, he revealed himself as grotesque and malevolent.
I understand the appeal of determined masculine pursuit; of strong, ‘manly’, driven men; of being singled out. I see the attraction of power, wealth and fame and I can see the erotic pull of powerlessness and vulnerability – but I don’t find abuse and excessive controlling attractive. Far from being attracted to the character of Christian Grey, I find him alarming. And I am disturbed that so many women have been drawn, indeed aroused, by a man with these personality traits. I am frightened by what it says about many relationships between men and women. But even more so, I am distressed about what it says about us as women. May HaShem protect us from ourselves.