In case you haven’t been watching me mentally deteriorate in real time on Twitter, I recently decided to take on 50 Shades of Grey for two reasons. The main one was curiosity–like anything that gets hugely popular, I was wondering what all the hype was about. The other reason was so I could say, “But the writing is bad and it depicts an abusive relationship” with evidence to back it up other than, “Well, some people on Twitter and Tumblr said so.” I need to form my own opinion.
Obviously, that’s going just peachy.
Honestly, starting off wasn’t too bad. The writing wasn’t as bad as I was expecting–it’s certainly better than Twilight. The writer mostly just does a bunch of little things they teach you not to do in introductory writing classes, most notably lots of repetition and cliches. I’d be happy if I go the rest of my life without ever reading the word “clamber” again and if Christian Grey’s fingers are described as long one more fucking time I may rampage, plus it’s yet another story of a naive sexually inexperienced girl who’s never fallen for anyone until this super amazing hot rich dude with epic flaws, but all in all, these are small offenses that would be annoying in any book. I’m getting sick of Anastasia’s damn “inner goddess,” too, but I can appreciate its purpose in contrasting Ana’s logic with Ana’s sex drive.
All was actually going pretty well until Christian Grey revealed the extent of his sexual proclivities.
Now, I love sex. Really. I don’t need to tell you how much because I guarantee you do not care. And I don’t care about what other consenting people are into or what they do or how they do it. The problem is–especially considering 50 Shades has been criticized for being a horrible depiction of the BDSM lifestyle–that it toes this very fine line between fetishism between two consenting adults and some really fucked-up abusive shit.
Red flags started going off for me when Christian presents Ana with a contract. That would be all well and good to lay down the rules of what they will and won’t do, except it goes so far as to tell her what and when to eat, what to wear, and how often to exercise, including when she’s not with him. Once demands leave the bedroom, I feel you start to shift out of the realm of sex and fetishism–no matter how much Christian Grey pretends this is just about the sex and fetishism–and you move into the realm of being a controlling fuck. Now, at least Christian admits he’s controlling…but that’s a problem, too.
I’ve never given up on a book. I can’t do it. But I almost gave up on 50 Shades after Christian decided Ana needed punished because she rolled her eyes at him one too many times after he told her not to. Her punishment? 18 very hard, nasty spankings that left her sore and crying. The goal? To teach Ana to behave in a manner that Christian deems proper, to get her to change her behaviors so that she’s doing things Christian is okay with–to change her, even though when Ana asks if he’s trying to change her he insists that’s not it.
At this point, I feel like 50 Shades of Grey is basically presenting me with an abusive relationship and saying, “No, see, it’s okay because it’s part of a sexual fetish, and she consented to it!” No thanks. Any dude who admits that he is sexually aroused by controlling a woman and being physically violent to the point that she needs painkillers isn’t just into some fun BDSM anymore–he’s an abusive ass who’s using a fetish to justify it.
And then there’s the references to Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
What is pretty nice is I was coincidentally reading Tess and coming to the end around the same time I started 50 Shades . What’s not pretty nice is the comparisons at all, at least at the moment.
For starters, they’re being used very similarly to the way Twilight referenced Wuthering Heights. I think the main purpose is really just to make the book seem much more high-brow than it really is, but it also serves to take one couple in a modern romance and draw parallels to another in a classic. This is a problem because of major differences in book quality, obviously, but also because Twilight and 50 Shades both have problematic relationships masquerading as much more beautiful romances than they really are and–at least in part and with Twilight moreso than 50 Shades–they’re trying to use these classic romances, although no way is Tess a proper romance, to prove how wonderful they are. The problem is the people and circumstances in Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D’Urbervilles are terrible. It’s like referencing Romeo and Juliet in any romance movie or Taylor Swift song–it’s all well and good until you remember they were teenagers who decided to get married after only a brief time together in the middle of a family feud that required one faked death but ended in two suicides. Not so romantic, is it?
It’s been awhile since I read Wuthering Heights or Twilight, but from what I remember, Bella boasted a lot in Twilight about how she and Edward both considered it to be their favorite book, and she often compared them to hot-mess on-again-off-again couple Cathy and Heathcliff. The problem is Cathy is a spoiled little bitch, Heathcliff is a raging asshole, and they never actually get together proper because they just keep treating each other like shit the whole time until they both die. Obviously, this is a classic romance and all couples should aspire to have a love as deep as Heathcliff and Cathy.
50 Shades of Grey’s relationship to Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a little dicey at this point, just because I’m not done with 50 Shades so I don’t know how the references are used in the future, but unless Ana’s comparing Christian to Alec D’Urberville, they’re gonna piss me off. I do recommend reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles because it is pretty much amazing, but skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t and don’t want spoiled. It’s that good. But basically, Tess is like every show Discovery’s ID channel has every had combined. A young, somewhat naive Tess goes to work for a distant cousin and keeps shooting down his very persistent and aggressive romantic advances, so once night he rapes her. She leaves shortly after but is pregnant. When she has the baby, he’s very sick and ultimately dies, at which point Tess leaves again for work. There she meets Angel Clare, and they fall in love and it’s all well and good because Tess and Angel are both actually pretty awesome, except Tess has major guilt and such thanks to archaic views of rape except oh wait they’re not that archaic because women are still treated today the way Tess was at some points in the book, though that does make the book still relevant. Because of all this, Tess struggles with telling Angel about the rape and baby, especially when he keeps asking her to marry him. After some failed attempts, she tells him on the wedding night, and he’s pretty pissed she’s kept this from him and feels he’s been deceived and Tess isn’t the virtuous woman she claimed to be. He decides he needs some time to think, so he runs off to Brazil and Tess finds more work yet again. Unfortunately for her, she ends up in the same area as rapist cousin Alec and they see each other by chance, and he stalks her from then on. He convinces her Angel is never coming back for her, even though Angel meanwhile is starting to think he reacted way too harshly, and by the time Angel gets some balls and goes back for Tess, she’s shacking up with Alec because he’s a manipulative bastard and they already had a kid together, so why not? Tess gets so pissed at Alec when Angel shows up again that they fight and she stabs him then runs off with Angel, and they stay on the run for a bit until the cops find Tess. So, you see, this is not necessarily an example of a good, healthy relationship. Sure, you could argue that love wins in the end, but it takes a whole hellish mess to get there. And Angel may be flawed, but Christian Grey ain’t no Angel Clare.
Other little things get me, too–he’s so appalled by Ana’s car that he insists on buying her a new one and orders her not to drive the old one, not because it’s genuinely unsafe but because it’s just not up to his standards. This is probably supposed to be some grand, romantic gesture, especially since it seems to be a common tactic in romance involving rich dudes, but if my boyfriend was like, “Hey, your car blows, here’s this new one I bought you without any input from you whatsoever, I’ll hit you if you drive that piece of shit old one again,” I’d be pretty furious.
Oh, and I’m tired of the sex scenes, which I guess is a sign I’m not cut out for porn or erotica. Granted, it could be the terrible characters ruining it for me, but it’s already becoming gratuitous and I just don’t care. And I don’t know of any woman who can come as easily as Ana does. Ladies, if you’re expecting orgasms like that all the time, give up on that dream because that’s not how most of our bodies work.