Every other day, there is yet another story in The Guardian surrounding the controversy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It would appear the world is obsessed by the book. The latest news report is about a women’s refuge, which has deemed the bestselling ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy as “an instruction manual for an abusive individual to sexually torture a vulnerable young woman”. The erotic novel is claimed to “normalise abuse, degrade women and encourage sexual violence”, according to Clare Phillipson, who is the director of Wearside Women In Need. So passionate is her belief, she is urging people to burn their copies of the book on a bonfire, stating that, “Some of what happens in the book, Fred West did to victims in his cellar.”
And what if one owns the Kindle Edition? – Should one also throw their Kindle onto the bonfire?
With all the hype and controversy surrounding the book, I finally succumbed to speed-reading it. I was, after all, the only woman my age I know personally, who had categorically refused to read the book – based purely upon my passionate dislike of smutty “romance” novels, not to mention a book where the “heroine” is portrayed as weak. However, I realised that I was shunning a novel without having actually read it. Thus, it was only fair that I read the book before judging it, even though I had no real interest in reading the book.
And my verdict after reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’…? – I only wish I could unread it!
E. L. James’ book depicts the sexual relationship between the virginal college student, Anastasia Steele, and her obsessive love and sexual submission to Christian Grey, a handsome billionaire with a predilection for bondage and domination. He is a man whom she scarcely knows, and who briskly introduces her to his sexual fetishes and the contents of his “Red Room of Pain”.
The prose, to be quite frank, is shocking. For example:
“Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms… coming apart at the seams like the spin cycle of a washing machine, wow.”
Right… And how exactly does a washing machine come ‘apart at the seams’? In fact, how is an orgasm anything like the spin cycle of a washing machine? Yet, two ‘spin cycle’ orgasms are not enough, as Ana wants more. Grey has a really radical idea of how to spice things up…
‘”I’m going to take you from behind, Anastasia”, he murmurs…’
Fabulous… And, the “poetic” writing does not stop there:
“I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the meringue with some salsa moves.”
After yet another a sadomasochistic romp, I started to wonder if maybe the book should be renamed “Fifty Lays Per Day”. Naturally, the author had to bestow this additional literary nugget upon us:
“We lie there, panting together, waiting for our breathing to slow. He gently strokes my hair … Boy … I Survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought. My inner goddess is prostrate … well, at least she’s quiet.”
When there are so many fine writers, and interesting books and articles out there, one grudges wasting time reading such poorly written prose. As a result of reading this book, my “inner goddess” (to quote Ana’s words) was not so quiet, and did the “meringue” all the way to the metaphorical toilet! I subsequently decided that it is perhaps best if I give the rest of the trilogy a miss.
Despite my initial reluctance to read the book, and my subsequent distaste, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the fastest selling book since records began, and is the first ebook to sell more than one million copies. It makes me question if the female population have gone mad, or whether it is perhaps I who is the weird one for not succumbing to the latest hype. On the contrary, it would appear I’m not the only one.
A number of feminists have slammed the book, and yesterday’s news article in The Guardian summarised the book as being about:
‘A domestic violence perpetrator, taking someone who is less powerful, inexperienced, not entirely confident about the area of life she is being led into, and then spinning her a yarn. Then he starts doing absolutely horrific sexual things to her … He gradually moves her boundaries, normalising the violence against her. It’s the whole mythology that women want to be hurt’. In fact, the head of domestic violence charity, believes the book to be ‘a misogynistic handbook that peddles a dangerous message.’
However, what if the roles were reversed, and the heroine were a dominatrix, and Christian Grey were a sub? It makes me wonder if there would be the same level of controversy surrounding the topic of a sadomasochistic relationship raised by the book. I sometimes wonder if some women almost want to be victims. From a young age, girls are warned to “never talk to “strangers” – “strangers” usually meaning men who are unfamiliar to them. Thus, from a young age, females are almost brainwashed into feeling fearful of potentially being abused by men. It would appear that women almost subconsciously believe it is normal to be sexually inferior to men, and it is as though it almost becomes normal to complain about “subliminal messages” of abuse, or even go as far as being the victims of abuse. As a result, a number of innocent men can sometimes be deemed to be potential abusers, thus also making them just as much a victim of society as women. Ironically, research has shown that women can be just as, if not more violent, than men. Nevertheless, it is still a worry that this book may appeal to the inherent maternal instincts of certain young women, who may subconsciously, and naively believe the message portrayed in ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’; a message that suggests that if one loves a “broken man” enough, he will recover from his psychopathic tendencies. Sadly, it takes more than love to change a person’s psychology.
Despite the traditional theories of Krafft-Ebing and Freud, et al., it is important to understand that sadomasochistic relationships are not necessarily related to psychopathic tendencies. Although Christian Grey is depicted as a man with a troubled past, which has taken a toll on his mental state; in reality, research suggests there is no difference in mental health difficulties between those who practice BDSM, and the rest of the population. In fact, the findings of two studies at the Northern Illinois University into hormonal changes associated with Sadomasochistic activities suggest that it has the potential to bring consenting couples closer together, when combined with displays of caring and affection. (Brad Sagarin et al (2009)) http://www.niu.edu/user/tj0bjs1/papers/scclm09.pdf, http://pubget.com/paper/18563549 and http://pubget.com/paper/18563549
A study undertaken in 2006 by Cross and Matheson found no support for the traditional theories by Krafft-Ebing and Freud that sadomasochism is a mental illness. However, the study found that SM participants were overall more likely than non-SM respondents to report bisexual/homosexual orientations. Furthermore, sadomasochists were relatively more likely to be in ongoing relationships than the comparison group.(Patricia A. Cross PhD and Kim Matheson PhD in the book “Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures” (2006), published simultaneously as the Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 50, Nos. 2/3.)
Results from a research project by Dr. Pamela Connolly, et al., also reported that:
‘no evidence was found to support the notion that clinical disorders – including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsion – are more prevalent among the sample of individuals with BDSM interests than among members of the general population. Moreover, this sample did not show evidence of widespread PTSD, trauma-related phenomena, personality disturbances, psychological sadism or psychological masochism”, disorders in which the sufferer either derives pleasure out of genuine cruelty (not the play-acting kind) or compulsively seeks out harmful levels of pain. ”Similarly, no prominent themes were found in a series of profile analyses.’
‘There were, however, some exceptions to this general pattern, most notably the higher-than-average levels of nonspecific dissociative symptoms and narcissism in this sample. That said, this body of findings suggests that, contrary to longstanding assumptions in the psychoanalytic literature, there is very little support for the view that psychopathology underlies behavior.’
Incidentally, Arrow, the publisher of ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, has also defended the trilogy, describing it as “a work of romantic fiction which explores a consensual relationship between two willing adult participants”.
Should we therefore take the book as being nothing but a fictional account of an erotic love story? After all, women have the right to their personal fantasies and choice of erotic fiction, and if it opens doors to new arousal templates, helps people feel less judgmental of others, or helps women feel more secure about their secret sexual desires, then surely that is great. Or is it? – How does this effect men? Conversely, the book is not about sex; it is about power.
If “everyone is reading it”, what is it about the book that is so appealing? It would appear that its power lies in the way the book relates with the fantasies of women readers who secretly relish the opportunity to embody the role of the book’s protagonist, Ana, and her ability to surrender her will to her dominant lover. In submitting to her lover, Ana actually finds both love and happiness; and isn’t love and happiness the two things that every woman wants? Furthermore, the power often lies with the submissive partner. It would appear that most women like the idea of a dominant man who will be the one responsible for matters. One glance at the real world indicates that dominant men are not quite so powerful after all. I don’t suppose anybody’s safe-word is “banker”!
However, the underlying problem is what this book may have led men to believe about what women really want from their lover, especially as many men already feel uncertain as to what their role in society should be. There is now the issue of some men perhaps believing that they should behave like sadists, thinking that is what all women secretly fantasise about. I am sure the book has become mens’ idea of ‘Fifty Shades of Fear’. After all, if women want “equality”, only to suddenly want submission, then does that mean women have now changed their minds about wanting equality? Have they repealed what the feminists fought for, or does “equality” now mean men should also behave submissively when they spontaneously feel like it, or when a woman thinks a man should, or should men be “strong and dominant” at all times? It would appear that there is some confusion amongst the male population. I even witnessed the chap next to me reading the following article on the train: ‘So Do Women Really Want Us All To Be Sadists Now?’
Sadly, human beings really are like a herd of sheep. If something is popular, or in fashion, then everyone else will follow suit, even pretending to like something, rather than feel isolated for being the odd one out. So, fear not chaps, as not all women will genuinely want a sadist. At least you have it on good authority that the author of the article you are currently reading, most certainly does not!
More to the point, perhaps people should communicate more, and maybe if people tried behaving like decent human beings who treat others with respect, perhaps many of our insecurities and uncertainties about what our partners want, would diminish. As long as BDSM is a purely consensual act between a couple who both genuinely wish to engage in the act, and have mutually decided who will take on the role of dominant/submissive, and how far to take the act, then it is nobody else’s business to judge.