Screw it, I’m going to write a whole post on 50 Shades and why I hate this book so damn much.
Content warning: rape, sexual assault, bdsm, misogyny.
The movie is about to come out, starring actress who hasn’t had enough of a career to ruin as Ana Steele and Jamie Dornan, only slightly watering down his misogynistic serial killer role from “The Fall” as Christian Grey. Beyonce is doing the soundtrack! Sexy, right?
My issue with this book is not the sex. Not essentially, anyway. I have no beef with a sexy sex book being popular. Even a sexy sex book featuring chains and whips and all that Rhianna stuff. As long as my Mum doesn’t start reading it, I’m fine with it. I have an issue with the way sex is presented in this book. Western society already has a less than healthy attitude to sex and consent (rape someone, get two years in prison before a return to football!) as well as virginity and female sexuality. The way sex is presented in this book is so warped and damaging it amazes me it even got published. Seriously, Catcher in the Rye got banned and 50 Shades shot to the top of the bestseller without a problem?
Christian Grey is a sexy dominant CEO who has very particular sexual tastes which include having total control over his partner. Ana is a young innocent virginal sort who seems to know fuck all about anything including how to use a computer despite having just graduated from college what the hell…
Anyway I’m losing track. BDSM is a thing some people do, and as long as it’s between two consenting adults who know exactly what they’re doing its fine and groovy with me. But Christian Grey is more than just a “Dominant”, he’s a dick. Ok, let me be more eloquent and insightful (that’s totes why you’re on my blog right?). Christian Grey is patronising and controlling, not in a sexy way in a flat out abusive way. At the start of the book Ana gets drunk (for the first time! another thing she’s hopelessly and unrealistically naive about!) and Christian TRACKS HER PHONE and turns up to stop her from being assaulted by her friend and takes her back to his lair. House, I mean house. He blames her for nearly getting assaulted, as she was drunk. So far, so awful. Later, he gets pissy when she tells him she is a virgin later rather than sooner. As it happens it’s none of his damn business if she’s slept with the president (Kirsty MacColl reference!) or of she’s never even spoken to a guy before. Then comes the sex contract. Ugh. He offers to ‘negotiate’ with her, then ignores her genuine concerns and belittles her for not being down to get down on his terms.
It gets worse! He buys her a laptop, in the typical “you are now indebted to me” abuser tactic, and they email each other on it. She jokingly fake breaks up with him and guess what he does? He turns up to her house despite never having been given her address, and he rapes her. She explicitly says no, she tries to kick him off, she even tries to work out the easiest way to escape her room. He makes her feel like it’s her fault because he’s an abuser and then he leaves her and she starts crying. The book continues in this pattern. He intimidates her, belittles her and abuses her. This not a romance. This book is an exploration of domestic abuse.
All the red flags are there. I wouldn’t mind if the book picked apart the mentality of someone abused by a parter. It would actually be quite subversive and cool to start it off like a typical romance and slowly reveal to the heroine and the reader that it is in fact an abusive relationship. If Ana was slowly having to come to terms with the fact that Christian is a terrible person and she should in fact stay away from him (as he so angstily insisted in the start of the book), this would be a really important and groundbreaking piece of work. Instead it’s a romanticised story about straight up rape and abuse. It’s also massively popular. Swathes of people are obsessing over it, you can buy “keep calm and obey Mr Grey posters” and the world is just generally going to shit.
Those are my objections as a woman, a feminist and a human being with a functioning heart and brain. I have yet more objections as a writer and reader. Ernest Hemingway says that all you have to do to write is “Sit at a typewriter and bleed”. E.L James writes like she sat at a typewriter and drooled. Twilight was bland and occasionally cheesy, 50 shades is laugh out loud terrible. Here are some actual quotes:
“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”
“My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba.”
“I can tell from his accent that he’s British.”
“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”
“I thought it was chocolate hot fudge brownie sex that we had, with a cherry on top. But hey, what do I know?”
A bestseller everyone. It pains me as someone paying nine grand a year to be a better writer that such half baked rubbish is doing so well. Not even for myself and my own snobbish bitter-writer angst, but for every struggling author who’s ever agonised over the perfect metaphor or had an existential crisis and thought of themselves as the worst writer of all time. It’s painful to see a book with such bizzarely bad prose as 50 shades do so well. However I will try to look at the positives. If 50 shades can get a published trilogy and a movie deal, so can any crap I write. I may not be Margaret Atwood, but at least I will never ever be E.L James.