I am not here to complain about the erotica that exists within the pages of Fifty Shades of Grey. I'm not here to argue that the writing is average, that the vocabulary is limited and repetitive or that the romance is overdone, melodramatic and tedious. I have no problem with those things.
What I am mad about, however, and what I will complain about is the lead protagonist Christian Grey. He is not a hero. He is not a misunderstood, romantic Heathcliff who needs to be tamed by the right woman. He is controlling, abusive and manipulative - which would be fine if he were the villain of the story. But he’s not; he is glorified. And he is dangerous.
He is portrayed as the lover to end all lovers, a powerful, sexy man who yields to no one, who has women's underwear fleeing their bodies at the mere sight of him, while he hurts and humiliates them.
That is why I take this book personally, why I wish no one would read it and why I wish its author wouldn’t make a cent from it.
For those of you who have not read Fifty Shades this is the story: Anastasia Steele has just finished university. She is 21, smart, beautiful (of course) and a virgin. She meets Christian by chance and they have crazy chemistry upon laying eyes on each other. Christian is a self-made millionaire, at the ripe old age of 27. He is into Bondage Discipline Sado-Masochism and all of his "relationships" are agreements solidified in legal contracts between him and his chosen submissive.
There are strictly no emotions involved, it's just sex. Rough, belittling, animal sex. At the first sign of emotional attachment from either party the contract is terminated and Christian moves on to new prey. He enters into a similar agreement with naive Ana, but before long they are madly in love and in a proper relationship. Soon they get engaged, then they get married and then they live side by side in their pornographic lifestyle trying to make things work.
BDSM is a form of sex. Bondage and discipline refer the tying up and control of a partner, the use of pain as a means of pleasure. Sado, as in sadism, taking pleasure from inflicting pain, masochism, taking pleasure from your own pain. Usually, one partner is the dominant and one is the submissive, but occasionally couples switch roles depending on their own desires.
When performed in an agreement of mutual trust and respect, it can be extremely pleasurable. In a healthy BDSM relationship, both partners are fully informed on the subject so as to be aware of what they are consenting to. They use safe words, and they receive sexual gratification from their partner's pleasure as well as their own.
Not in Fifty Shades however. Christian uses BDSM as a form of discipline for Anastasia's "misbehaviour". She misbehaves regularly; she has male friends, she drinks, she works, and every now and then she even disagrees with Christian. All of this is met with glares, thunderous tantrums and threats.
Christian’s control and punishment extends way beyond the bedroom. He manipulates Ana's life, from where she goes and who she sees, to what she is permitted to wear and what he will allow her to say. He monitors her whereabouts at all times, and takes extreme offence when her opinion differs from his.
After their first meeting, Christian locates Ana’s place of work - a hardware store - and goes in under the guise of making a purchase. After securing her servitude in-store, there are a few minutes of non to subtle flirtation and loaded sexual tension. They enjoy each other. Then, a male friend arrives and gives Ana a hug. Bad move.
Christian's entire demeanour changes instantly. His body language becomes angry, his face changes and he gives her a very distinct cold shoulder. A confident woman might dismiss it as unreasonable behaviour and never bother about him again. But Ana is worried, and experiences the first inkling of fear. “His tone is clipped and cool. Damn…have I offended him?”
It is the beginning of Christian's intimidation and control. He tracks her via her mobile phone, he lectures her, he admonishes her. Ana expresses some frustration at his antics “Part of me wants to say that if I want to get drunk every night like this, then it's my decision and nothing to do with him - but I'm not brave enough.”
This manipulative pattern – she does something he doesn’t like, he threatens her, and she rushes to appease him – continues.
"You. Are. Mine."
"I want to punish you.”
And he does. Physically and psychologically Christian punishes Ana, and she punishes herself too. “Oh, the look on his face when I left. I was so cruel. Will he forgive me? I am going to lose him.
Their relationship is marked by jealousy, abuse and control, and it is hailed as a beautiful romance.
Officially classified as a "provocative romance", Fifty Shades of Grey has, at the time of writing, sold over 100 million copies, been published in over 50 languages and earned E.L. James over $95 million, excluding Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
With the movie set for release today, the money continues to roll in, and the message about abuse, intimidation, isolation and stalking continues.
It's okay, because he loves you. He did it because you asked for it. You are not his equal. You will do as you’re told. Give in if you want to keep him. And never, ever talk back.
How dismaying that a book that celebrates such a dangerous dynamic has hit such a chord.
Corina Thorose is a Melbourne based editor.
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