About a month ago, I decided to pick up 50 Shades, interested in the book I had heard so much about.
I read this book in about a week. And you know, there’s definitely some books that you read in a week because you just cannot put them down. Then, there’s some books you read in a week because you just want to move on to the next one. This book fell into the latter category for me.
I know that there’s been tons of people who’ve raved about this book, but personally, I found it to not only be problematic, but also poorly written and the ‘romance’ angle felt lame. But let’s begin where all things start: at the beginning.
*warning: spoilers headed your way*
Anastasia Steele is a young, almost college grad, who meets Christian Grey by accident – she interviews Christian in her friend’s place as a favor. Somehow, in their first hour long interaction, which spans a total of FOUR pages, and covers about FOUR topics, he becomes extremely intrigued in her. Ok, fine – most romance novels begin in some unrealistic way similar to this.
Besides having to speak at Anastasia’s graduation ceremony, Christian lives in such a different world from her that I immediately began to wonder how the author was going to drive them back together. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wonder too long – he found her place of work and in about a day showed up and bought some (kinky) ropes from her. And this is kind of where it all begins – the weird dom/sub relationship (that never actually materializes), the problematic comments, and the ultimate flattening of every character.
Within about a day of knowing each other, Christian gets Anastasia a laptop, so he can stay in touch with her at all times, and keeps a creepily close eye on her. In fact, throughout the book, he often times tracks her (or stalks her, as I see it) and Anastasia, for some reason, thinks it’s awfully romantic of him to care so much. Uhm, Anastasia, this man is stalking you, it’s not romantic, and you should probably never interact with him again.
Another thing that comes up rather quickly is Christian’s rule that he will not be touched. So in a few words, he can do with Anastasia as he pleases, including tying her up, but she cannot even have the ~privilege~ of touching him. And if she tries, he either storms off angrily, or ‘punishes’ her (another concept which just pissed me off). Though he does agree to opening up at one point, he tells her that he only will if he’s allowed to f*** her (because he doesn’t seem to believe in the words ‘sex’, ‘making love’ or ‘sleeping together’), which is just abusive in it of itself. Under no circumstance is a relationship in which you need to have sex in order to get your partner to talk a healthy one.
Here’s another scene that’s not only disturbing, but extremely cringey to even think about. They’re both in the bathroom, about to take a bath or something, and she gets naked. Obviously, you know they’re about to have sex, but WAIT, she has a tampon in. So what does he do that’s apparently very ~sensual~ and ~erotic~? He rips her tampon out, and says something about the fact that periods don’t disturb him. Well, isn’t that special? (if you don’t get that reference) I didn’t realize that the person who was bleeding from their womb because they didn’t get pregnant and is probably suffering from cramps was actually Christian. Oh wait, it isn’t. Are period gross? Sure. But I think I can say that because I am a woman, and I have to endure them. If a man were to tell me my period doesn’t disturb him, he’d get a straight kick to the curb. Not only is it not his place to comment on it, but he also doesn’t get to decide it disturbs him. It’s not his body, and it’s not exactly something we can eliminate, so how’s about you don’t make dumb comments. Not to mention the fact he ripped her tampon out. Who does that?
Now, we get to my biggest concern with this book, and the reason I had to literally put it down and walk away from it so as not to throw it against a tree. At some point in their two-week relationship, Anastasia meets Christian’s family. He, the relentless sex addict, tries to fondle her under the table during dinner, and she, likes a normal person, refuses him, several times. This scene happened so quickly that honestly, I didn’t even notice it. However, Christian then takes it upon himself to drag Anastasia on some house tour after, and obviously shoves his tongue down her throat as soon as they get to an alone space.
He, for some reason, is angry during this kiss, but Anastasia also feels some kind of love. Instead of asking him what the hell he was doing (or thinking, since she ~never~ knows what he’s thinking), she tells him she doesn’t think she should be punished for not wanting him at the dinner table. She kind of begs him not to, and he says he wouldn’t punish her because no one had ever said “no” to him before, and it really turned him on.
Take a minute to let that sink in. Because the next thing they do is have some kind of sex.
She said no, and instead of respecting her wishes, he instead was turned on and decided to, in his words, “f*** her.” No is no is no. There is no way around that. Her lack of consent at the table should not have been a moment to get hard. Rather, it should’ve been a moment he backed off and respected her wishes, because consent comes first and foremost. Not only do I find it hard to believe no one ever said no to him, especially because he’s into really weird, niche, kinky sex, but the anger I felt at his reaction to her denial is hard to describe. How was this line ever accepted, let alone continue being printed? Are we not in a society that values consent, that understands a woman’s limits and desires are more important than a boner?
I could’ve forgiven the book, written it off as a bad book I just didn’t enjoy. But that line was enough to stop letting me see straight, and to struggle with the idea that any part of the book is reconcilable anymore.
If you’ve made it this far, I want to make just one last point. In a real sub/dom relationship, consent from both parties is vital. Anastasia continually makes a point to say that she doesn’t love the type of sex Christian is into, but is willing to try it if only it will make him happy. She’s afraid of being hurt, and is not turned on by the thought of pain, like Christian seems to be. People enter these relationships, in part, because they like the power play and subs tend to actually enjoy the pain. Anastasia was clearly not there for herself and her enjoyment – she was there to satisfy a white man who had never been denied anything in his entire life. And that, at the root, is the issue the story faces.
As a woman, I cringe to think about this story, and everything it means when translated to daily life. It not only confirms the white, patriarchal system around us, but it even tries to romanticize it, with a silly little girl who falls head over heels for a man who always gets his way. This is not the story, or characters, we should be interacting with. Why aren’t the fad books everyone reads about powerful women role models, like Wangari Maathai and her memoir Unbowed? Why don’t we spend more time reading books about our minds, like Blink, or fantasy novels that actually inspire young men and women, like the Mortal Instruments?
I know, sometimes, these kinds of books are fun to read, and they don’t require too much brain power. But they’re also powerful messages we send to our generation, as well as the ones that come after us, and if we don’t make sure that at least the very simple idea of consent is a must, then what kind of future are we really paving the path for?