50 Shades of….what, exactly?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you will have heard a little something about a certain book, 50 Shades of Grey.

You’ve heard the synopsis, right? Course you have, duh, but here it is again…

Virginal student Anastasia Steele meets handsome bazillionaire Christian Grey. Christian draws up a kinky contract that assigns Ana the role of submissive, and Christian, the dominant within the context of a BDSM relationship (though this often blurs with ‘real’ life). He can pretty much do whatever he wants. She draws the line at anal fisting. They have a lot of sex and Christian buys Ana lots of nice things to compensate for any shortcomings the relationship may have.


Throughout the book, Ana’s inner goddess is in turmoil…does he REALLY like her? Christian, on the other hand, just wants her to want to please him. Ana jizzes her head off every time Christian touches her yet cannot bring herself to say VAGINA, instead opting for DOWN THERE, or MY SEX, as in, ‘he touched my sex…’ Christian however, doesn’t make love, but ‘fucks hard’. Can she ever prove her worth?

Feminists are angry, lovers of ‘real’ literature incensed, BDSM lovers enraged (at the misrepresentation of BDSM, no less), and women all over the world are hopelessly in love with Mr Christian Grey. Even my 13 year old cousin ‘liked’ an ‘I love Christian Grey’ page on Facebook. I’m no Mary Whitehouse, but that is not cool.

Christian Grey has all the classic characteristics of a domestic abuse perpetrator, in my humble opinion, and here are some reasons why:

  1. He is very controlling
  2. He restricts Ana from seeing her friends/family
  3. He monitors her communication, i.e., bugging her phone and tracking her whereabouts
  4. He control what she wears, what she eats and how much she sleeps
  5. Ana constantly agonises over whether she is pleasing him/doing what she thinks he’d want
  6. Christian spanks Ana so hard in one scene, she requests painkillers; from what I can gather about BDSM, this is a situation that should not happen with safe words, an awareness of each other’s limits, (…mutual respect?) and so on
  7. Ana does not seem to enjoy the sex, rather, she tends to endure it to make Christian happy
  8. She thinks that she can ‘change’ him…

Newsflash Ana, you can’t change him. No matter how hard you try.

Christian is strong, Ana is weak. These perceptions are perpetuated not only by the use of language; Ana’s language in regards to her OWN BODY is infantilised (yet she’ll do ANYTHING except take a fist in the ass), Christian, is of course, the alpha male, however this is also indicated by the power play that exists between them as a couple. Outside of the bedroom, Christian has just as much control over Ana as when she’s getting thrashed across the nipples in Christian’s room of pain.

The fact that so many women across the globe idolise Grey is a sorry state of affairs, indeed.

The history of literature, as a slightly tenuous comparison point, has produced many a male tyrant:

Heathcliff, of Wuthering Heights fame, is a sadist who orchestrates the mental and physical destruction of all of those around him; Rochester, of Jane Eyre, locks his mad wife in the attic and despite being madly in love with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy wastes no time in reminding her of her place in the social hierarchy.

For anyone still labouring under the illusion that such characters could make ideal life partners, I recommend the essay on Wuthering Heights, written by Andrea Dworkin in 1987 (It can be found in Letters from a War Zone). 

Whilst I am not necessarily comparing classic literature (who decides?) with sexed-up fan fiction, I think the comparison regarding the characterisation of its male figures is valid. We are made to feel as though these dangerously flawed men are men that women should aspire to be with; after all, it’s all SOOOO ROMANTIC. Heart heart, kiss kiss.

50 Shades is exploitation masquerading as liberation. Do you feel liberated? Be honest now. Is the fact that EVERYONE  is talking about it a testament to its innate success and the pervasive attitudes it espouses?

50 Shades of Grey…good or bad for women? What do you think?



5 thoughts on “50 Shades of….what, exactly?

  1. Shona

    I’m getting back to you on this one! I haven’t read it yet, but I’m anticipating one hundred percent agreement…

  2. Silke

    I’ve often wondered why we tend to automatically assume that for anything to have commercial mass appeal, it has to be devoid of any artistic merit whatsoever and probably politically dubious as well – what does that say about our faith in democracy?! Unfortunately, the astounding success of 50 Shades of Tat would seem to confirm all of these assumptions. Granted, there might be a (somewhat feeble) argument to be made in favour of the Heathcliffs and Rocesters of this world on the grounds that they make far more interesting literary characters than the caring and considerate men all of us deserve. But firstly, my emphasis here is firmly on *literary*, i.e. fictional and not to be confused with real life, and secondly, maybe if there were more interesting female characters in our literature, authors could even get away with the occasional caring and considerate male character.

  3. Pingback: Banned books and forbidden reads… « Kat's Book Shelf

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