“The books that the world call immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” -Oscar Wilde
Note: The phenomenon that is the erotic romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey”, written by British author E.L. James, has been at the center of heavy criticism by authors, journalists, literary organizations, and those in the general public ever since its release. The discussion around this controversial book has heated up once again because of a film adaptation to be released starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Before I begin, I’d just like to say that everyone has a right to their own opinion about the books that they read or choose not to read. The purpose of this post is NOT to state that everyone who does not like this book is wrong. I’m merely trying to point out some things I’ve noticed about the criticism of this novel, & the ways in which our society is interpreting the meaning of this story and these characters. I’d like to tell you what I think this book is- and what it isn’t. And you have every right to disagree with me.
But, remember this. Never apologize or feel ashamed for what you read… I certainly won’t.
I found myself picking up Fifty Shades one day out of curiosity – mainly because of all the hate it had been receiving, which was clearly making it wildly popular. I was interested to know what was so “horrible” about this book. It seemed people couldn’t get over it – almost as if they were personally offended/insulted by its content. It couldn’t be that scandalous, could it? All I kept hearing is that middle-aged women everywhere were foaming at the mouth to get their hands on the novel due to its erotic nature. But is that really why it was shooting to the tops of best seller lists and was the most talked about piece on the Internet? Certainly these suburban Moms had other outlets for exciting themselves and titillating their imaginations. What makes this story so special? I soon found out.
I’ll start by saying this – It is every woman’s fantasy. And to those who say it is not theirs, I’m sorry to break it to you… but you are lying to yourself.
First, there is HIM – Christian Grey. He is a brilliant characterization of a woman’ dream man. He’s tremendously wealthy, smart, capable, confident, and in control. He is a man who is clear about his needs and desires. He’s not ashamed of who he is and what he wants out of life and out of sex. The real fantasy begins when we find out he is a man with a haunted past. He has everything, but still feels empty. A sexy, powerful man with weaknesses.. perfect on the surface, yet so imperfect… a masculine figure that needs saving. What better combination could there be!?
Christian seems to be somewhat emotionally damaged. He is scared to let someone get too close to him; afraid of getting hurt and hurting someone else, too. This shows a more sensitive side that contrasts the persona he portrays in the office and most of all, in the bedroom. There is the element of control, but also of vulnerability. It is a recipe guaranteed to succeed. That… is smart writing. More credit to E.L. James for realizing audiences everywhere would identify with this storyline. We are extremely attracted to it because there is something so real about it all. It flows – there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on that keeps you involved. It all comes together perfectly: somehow, someway. It is the reason why millions couldn’t put the book down.
Anastasia Steele is a woman who we all picture ourselves to be. At least I do. James made sure that she was relatable, and someone we all wanted to root for. It very well could be me, actually. Her characterization, appearance-wise and in personality stuck me to be a woman very similar to myself – her story resonated with me. I know I’m not the only one. To be honest, I never thought there’d come a day where I would relate to a girl in a book like this, yet here I am.
She is sweet, somewhat plain, timid, and innocent. She doesn’t have much real world experience or many previous relationships. She’s a virgin, she’s untouched, and pure. You get the feeling that she wants to explore – she is desperate to leave her comfort zone, to learn things, to try things, & to fulfill everything she wants deep down in her heart. She’s ready to become the woman she wants to be. The only problem is she feels lost – she needs someone to guide her…. I wonder who could do that? “Mr.Grey will see you now.” Cue the erotica.
I expected something dirtier. I heard such awful things about the sex scenes – but as I flipped the pages and finished the book, I half-thought “That’s it? That’s what everyone was upset about!? Where’s the controversy?” For a minute there, I thought there may have been some pages of my book missing. I guess my expectations for the vulgarity of it all were so high that they let me down, ha! Not to say I was disappointed… but it wasn’t all that scandalous. Sure, there was some kinky stuff here and there, specifically the “red room” scenes. They allow us to run wild with our imaginations for a little while. Quite frankly, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
Sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism are explored. Christian occasionally ties Anastasia up, blindfolds her, amongst other things…putting her at his mercy. But is this truly shocking to people? If so, that shocks me. I don’t think you would be surprised to learn that people partake in these things on some level in their personal life – its called exploration, a very normal part of a healthy sexual relationship. Why is reading about it all that different? The erotica doesn’t overwhelm the entire book, and If you ask me, the public and critics have blown these aspects way out of proportion and made them into a much bigger deal than they actually are. More often, the two engage in romantic and passionate sex.. nothing extravagant, adventurous, or anything to gasp over. James made sure that there was a strong connection between these characters on a deeper level. It is just kinky enough to get all of America talking about it It’s perfect, right?
The controversy, scandal, & uproar following the release of this book and leading up to this movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It has garnered more criticism and talk than a lot of classic American literature and international best sellers. Why are people giving so much attention & concern to a novel they believe should be “in the garbage?” It has to be more than that, I thought. I was missing the big picture. And then the light bulb came on.
Let’s take a minute to think about some other avenues of pleasure people explore. Ah, the porn industry. It’s something that is now integrated into our society. People generally believe that for one’s own personal enjoyment, it’s perfectly normal and part of a healthy lifestyle. Since this is true, the same could be said for strip clubs, sex clubs, & places/activities of that nature.. the list goes on.
People don’t seem to be appalled by any of that – these things, which may have once been thought of as “immoral” or not to be spoken of have become a part of our lives. Yet individuals have the nerve to turn around and shame a book for discussing the same exact subjects, labeling it as “dangerous.” Why is this so? I have thought long and hard about it, and I may not have all the answers, but it makes a lot more sense to me now.
The words are written down – there they are, right in front of you. You’re not seeing it on a computer screen or in a dark, sweaty room. They’re staring at you… they’re vulgar, & scandalous. They are things you wouldn’t dare say out loud. But you can’t build up any walls. It’s just you, the book, and your own thoughts.
I believe a large part of the reason Fifty Shades received the criticism it did is because people are ashamed of themselves.. for picking up the book or even discussing it. They’re ashamed that people they know are reading it, everywhere. That the society they lived in has embraced this book, that it has become popular, that it is now being transferred from words on a page to being acted out on the big screen. It’s making everyone uncomfortable, and as a result, defensive. No one wants to read something that forces them come to terms with their own sexual desires and fantasies. People are frightened by these things – they refuse to acknowledge them and will attack anything and everything that’s going to bring them to the forefront. They’d rather push and shove them to a deep, dark corner of their mind in hopes they will never surface. This defense mechanism, of course, isn’t healthy. It’s a transfer of shame – from their own conscious to the society they are living in, to an author, & to a book. And I think that’s the most cowardly thing of all.
E.L. James has created an inner conflict in people who have read (or not read) this book… whether they love it or hate it. She has also created some conflict between us all. It taps into our minds – the parts we don’t really want to reveal, or share openly in broad daylight. It’s making America shift in their seats and roll their eyes every time the trailer comes on. Perhaps it’s a little too close to home for some people? Maybe Fifty Shades tell us a lot more about ourselves and our world than we think it does. Christian Grey refers to himself in the book as being “fifty shades of fucked up.” Maybe we all are, in a sense. And that’s okay. It’s life. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will have the truth.
Many have argued that the lifestyle and relationship depicted in this novel is psychologically damaging, anti-feminist, and promoting rape. These accusations are ignorant, unnecessary, and just plain untrue. The characters are both adults, choosing to partake in this lifestyle, and are completely responsible about it. Anastasia herself is under no obligation to continue doing these things for Mr. Grey. She can leave at any point, but we see this is something she wants for herself. There was a clear understanding of expectations from the beginning, & there were never any signs of a “dark” or “dangerous” environment. The ones who are throwing around these words are really just covering up – for the fantasies of women, and for the world that we all live in. It’s easy to put labels on things that we don’t want to face. It’s how we get rid of them, for the time being, at least. But it’s a cowardly route. Don’t you think it’s time we stop running and hiding?
I will say that all of this can be quite confusing and overwhelming for people to comprehend. I don’t know much about the world of BDSM, and if you knew me personally, you’d know I am pretty much the furthest person removed from that world, haha! But I do understand that true submission can only be achieved when a person feels comfortable and trusts the “dominant.” The idea of being able to really let go is somewhat appealing, very much to me, anyway. Why should I and other women who agree with me be judged and ridiculed for wanting something & admitting it? Is it just a little too much honesty?
To all the feminists out there who are coming out of every corner and crevice to shame Fifty Shades and all those who have enjoyed reading it – dominant/submissive behavior in the novel, and in any relationship for that matter, is not really anti-feminist at all. Yes, you heard me. In fact, one could argue that the person giving up the power (Anastasia in this case) is the one with it all – it is in her hands. Isn’t it powerful and brave of a woman to know what she really wants, and to act on it? I think so. Then what is making the blood of these feminists boil? Is it simply because a woman is surrendering to a man, that makes it so horrible? Maybe before these furious women come after E.L. James, & come after me, they should think about these things a little bit harder.
I’ve told you what I think this book is – now let me tell you what it isn’t. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not going to become a classic in American literature. It’s not going to change your life. It’s not all that well-written, and it’s not supposed to be.
But this book makes us think. Maybe more than we want it to. It’s a book for enjoyment, for pleasure, & for our imaginations – one of many things like that in our world today. Maybe it will inspire some of us to finally go after what we want, just like Anastasia and Christian did, & to not be afraid of our thoughts any longer.
To all the “haters”, I’ll leave you with this. Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest-selling paperback in history, & unlike the secret desires and wants that remain hidden in your heart, this is something that you must accept.
Written by: Bridget Maria Rose (https://afragileline.wordpress.com/)