Over the last few years I’ve heard a lot of things about 50 Shades of Grey. From the “mommy porn” pros to the uber feminist cons. I will freely admit my overall impression was that it was trash and set a terrible example. I’d read that it was, in essence, a glossed up tale of stockholm syndrome full of rape and abuse. I could not believe that so many women out there were swooning over it. I felt this way because I was going by internet reviews by bloggers I liked and not from actually reading the books and forming my own opinion. And, since I routinely like to flagellate myself by reading the internet comments sections, I kept coming across the comment of, “If you feel that way, it is obvious you had not read them.” Well, we could not have my prejudice be that apparent now could we? There was nothing else to be done but to read them.
I envisioned being able to go back to said comments sections and use direct quotes to prove my predetermined agenda. I actually read them with the anticipation of getting to cry out, “Got’cha!” Let me insert here that I may seem to be exaggerating my prejudice against them but I’m not. As a feminist it was hard for me to reconcile a large portion of womanhood finding enjoyment out of books that I had heard were about violence against women. I have no problem now, saying how full of shit I was.
This is not going to be a critique on the books as a work of writing. Likewise I am not here to comment of the merits of the portrayal of BDSM and how accurate it may or may not be. I have not had the interest or inclination to research that so I leave any battling that needs to be done there to the better informed. This is merely a synopsis and my take on the overall relationship presented in the books.
At its heart, this is a love story. While there are copious sex scenes in varying degrees of description these to me were mere ornaments around the story used to illustrate Christians predilections vs being the substance of the books themselves. After reading these books I would argue that Ana and Christian are a couple offering more to the American public than many or most presented to us in mainstream media. If you have not yet read the books but plan to I warn you that past this point there are, “Spoilers Sweetie!”
Christian Grey was born to a “crack whore” and spent the first 5 plus years of his life hungry, neglected, and abused by a pimp. He was fast approaching that age where most psychologists agree that a child needs to have a healthy relationship with an adult of being cared for and built up before they have vast personality disorders that impact their ability to form healthy attachments for the rest of their lives. Needless to say he is adopted by the Grey’s who are the quintessential “power couple.”
An angry child and adolescent he seemed bound for prison or worse until he began a relationship with a friend of his parents. This woman introduced him to the BDSM lifestyle and taught him to channel his anger into more useful pursuits, namely the things that brought him to be and maintain being a successful businessman and entrepreneur. However, this relationship began when he was still a young teen, 15 or so years old, so it begs to question how much additional damage was done to his psyche. An adolescent has no business being involved in a sexual relationship with an adult solely based on the maturity differences alone. Taking into play his early childhood abuses and lack of self esteem, “Mrs. Robinson” further alienates him from trusting people and opening up by teaching him utter control. She inadvertently adds to his belief that no one would understand his life and he is worthy only of rejection.
Enter Anastasia Steele. A bright and intelligent college graduate on the verge of starting her first professional job in the real world. She meets Christian by covering for her sick friend for an interview in their college newspaper. She isn’t sure what to make of him and his personality at first. However, he doesn’t leave her waiting in anticipation long. Having signed a non-disclosure agreement Ana soon finds out what kind of relationship Christian is after, that of Dominant and Submissive. The first book basically goes through her thinking about it and agreeing to try.
Christian Grey at his core is a man recovering from abuse. Up until he meets Anastasia he has been a man who has found a way to live with the trauma of his early childhood in a fairly productive way. His sexual relationships, while in essence about his need to control, were all conducted with the full consent of both participants. Up to the point where both parties sign a contract agreeing to the term and limits of their relationship. While you may find that kind of relationship abhorrent and wrong it doesn’t change the fact that both parties were in agreement of the nature of the relationship and have the opportunity to end things the second they no longer agreeable. His relationship with Ana is different completely, starting with that she never signs a contract. This is where, I believe, the idea that there is non-consensual sex, or rape, in the books. Which I am sure you can agree, her verbal words and actual actions count more than a contract that wouldn’t stand up in court.
While they do partake in various scenarios of “kinky fuckery,” up to and including the use of objects like floggers, handcuffs, and blindfolds, there is no physical abuse. There is one time that Christian whips Ana but this is after she repeatedly asks him to test her limits and show her how bad it can get. Psychologically I think she was more testing herself to see how much she could take to better understand him. By this time she had already suspected some of the abuse of his past and was making the connections that his sexual lifestyle was as a means of trying to control his feelings about it. She finds that she can’t withstand that kind of treatment and breaks things off.
Of course they pick things back up again, we wouldn’t have books 2 and 3 if they didn’t. Now Christian’s actions can run the gamut of playing it cool to obsessive control. His control with regard to Ana is 100% about her safety. Ex. Forbidding her from traveling with her sleaze ball boss who most likely would have actually raped her. I use that example to illustrate that Christian’s controlling her almost universally ends up for her own good because it’s activated by dangers she can’t see but he does. Does this make controlling her right? Not in the least and had this been such a dominating aspect of his personality and one he refuses to address in therapy or in the ad nausium conversations with Ana herself I would say it it could be akin to emotional abuse in a relationship.
However, this isn’t the case. Again at his heart Christian is a victim and Ana is the saving grace. She shows him that letting go of control and letting someone in can sweeten life. Throughout the series the part of their relationship I admire most is their communication.
Yes, they fight. Loudly and often. But through it all they continuously reassure one another that they are committed and want to find a common ground. This aspect is something sorely lacking from our society. Ana and Christian don’t cut and run when the going gets tough. They dig in their heels and camp out preparing to talk it out. And I’m convinced that had the genders been reversed this conversation would never have come to be.
To end, I think that this work has gotten its bad reputation from people who have never bothered to read it, like myself. I for one am brave enough to admit I was wrong about it. The question now is, are you?