Before you read further, you should know:
- I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey. As an ardent egalitarian and Jesus feminist, I vigilantly began reading on a mission to get to the dark heart of this whole Grey phenomenon.
- Unexpectedly, I was somewhat compelled by it.
- I stopped reading because I was actually starting to enjoy it.
- I also didn’t particularly want to read about the painful stuff.
- I dislike people who write about books they’ve never read.
- By that standard, I’m not entirely convinced I should have written this post.
- However, I guess I am 33% more qualified to write about Fifty Shades than most Christian bloggers.
If any of this irritates you too much to continue reading, I totally understand. Cheers! :)
I’m guessing your newsfeed has already been blown up about this book-turned-movie. You probably read enough articles and posts to know how risque Fifty is. You likely know some of the NSFW details from the book’s extreme BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochistic) elements.
I believe the real danger of Fifty Shades, however, is less in the sexually explicit material–which is a dime a dozen in Hollywood–but in the glorification of causing women pain.
Hopefully, no one would openly make light of domestic abuse or advocate the type of “punishment” Christian Grey dishes out. Then this begs the question: why would millions of women, strangely including grandmothers and conservatives, find their own degradation attractive enough to keep turning the pages of Fifty Shades?
What do women see in Anastasia Steele that they wanted to emulate? What do they see in the abusive Grey that they deem worthy of worship?
Despite its many flaws, the book has a bizarrely seductive pull to it; somehow I found myself sympathizing with Anastasia and developing a curiosity about Christian.
Like I said, I only read a third of the book. I didn’t stop, however, because it was so poorly written or too sexual: I stopped because it was so utterly intoxicating.
Thankfully, I put the book down before too much of the weird stuff happened–that is if you don’t consider Christian pinning Ana’s cellphone, stalking her, asking her to sign a nondisclosure contract, or taking her virginity only moments after showing her his “Red Room of Pain” weird.
Not exactly the kind of stuff that usually makes an ideal Valentine’s Day film…
Still, as violently opposed to every ounce of the book as I should have been, I was somehow enticed. When I realized how much I really wanted to keep reading, I knew it was time to put the book down.
The marketing of this franchise could be partially to blame. Christian’s money and infinite resources give the book covers and movie trailers a ritzy vibe. Accompanied by an incredibly well-done and decently mild soundtrack (that I admittedly haven’t stopped listening to), advertisers brought a glamorous Gatsby attitude to a film about control and subjugation.
Honestly, I think Fifty Shades plays into something so engrained into our cultural mindsets that we are almost blind to it: sadly, our society still views relationships through a patriarchal lens.
If you are unfamiliar with this terminology, patriarchy is the strong bias toward male leadership prominent in almost every culture throughout almost all of human history.
It’s the notion that being a man makes one physically and emotionally stronger and therefore more apt to control a kingdom, an organization, a people group, or a woman.
And even though many of us have become aware of this form of prejudice that is sooooo prevalent in our religions, our governments, and our overarching cultural narratives, this belief system still sometimes subtly creeps into even the most justice-minded consciousness.
Why? Because, despite the leaps and bounds into mainstream opinion that feminism has recently made, sexism is absolutely everywhere. From our history books to our sacred texts, from the private sector to male-dominated legislatures, and from pulpits to the blogosphere, misogyny and objectification and inequality are pervasive.
To be honest, I’m not sure why Fifty Shades shocked so many people as the trilogy is the logical end of a patriarchal society and the systematically unequal treatment of women.
Many clergy and places of worship who demonize Fifty Shades are just as guilty of perpetuating a weak view of women–theology that paints women as dependent on and submissive to men. In some Christian traditions, female leadership potential is frequently limited in relationships and in ministry using scripture.
We’ve been taught that it is noble for men to lead relationships and that it is romantic for women to submit. This ideology doesn’t sound exceptionally dangerous in theoretical terms, but in the hands of broken and selfish humans, non-mutual submission teachings can easily be abused.
However, manipulation doesn’t have to look as grandiose as Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain or as institutionalized as gender discrimination in the Church. Sometimes it is much more subtle…and even consensual.
Fifty Shades supporters have argued that the series isn’t necessarily degrading to women because Ana consents (she literally signs an agreement) to her role as the “Submissive.”
But just because a relationship is consensual doesn’t make it healthy. Someone can consent to being demeaned, used, or taken advantage of, and that isn’t sexual liberation.
It’s time that we start rejecting the whole dominant/submissive false dichotomy. Relationship isn’t about competition, ya’ll. Real love IS NOT overbearing, unequal, partial, hierarchical, one-sided, demanding, possessive, exploitive, or belittling.
Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t be nearly as successful if people like you and me never felt lonely or unwanted or misunderstood or distant from the people we love. The sexual brokenness that leads us to use or be used by someone is simply rooted in the need to be loved and wanted, and in this case, it has led millions to idealize a fictional sadist.
Chains and whips definitely don’t excite me, but feeling powerful and feeling desired does, so who I am to cast the first stone?
What if I am Christian (the controller)? What if I am Anastasia (the controlled)? Too often I have used others for my own selfish gain or compensated for my insecurities by allowing someone to give me a false sense of worth.
We’re spending so much time criticizing these literary characters, but I don’t think the Church is examining our own hearts and truly seeing the sexual dysfunction that has been overlooked or justified in our lives.
Basically I stopped reading the book because I was too overwhelmed by my own dark capacity to manipulate or be manipulated. Maybe the path forward is in seeing potential for similar depravity within our own lives and deciding to stand for equality instead.
P.S. This (click here) is BY FAR the best piece I’ve read on Fifty Shades. Gets at the heart of why this series might be so interesting to folks, going all the way back to Edward and Bella.