August 28, 2012
Is Fifty Shades of Grey so bad it should be burned?
Last week Clare Philipson, a director of a women’s refuge, urged people to gather copies of controversial book Fifty Shades of Grey to be burned on a bonfire on 5th November.
Clare is Director of Wearside Women in Need, a charity for victims of domestic violence, and she claims the sex scenes in the Fifty Shades are “misogynistic crap” and are abusive to the extent of being comparable to the crimes of serial killer Fred West.
So what exactly is Clare’s problem? It’s just harmless “mum porn” right?
For those of you who haven’t read the book (you can read a 30 second abridged version here) the heroine is Ana; a shy, 21-year-old literature student who has never so much as kissed another person or been aware of the existence of those “exciting new parts down below”.
She meets improbable 27-year-old sado-masochistic billionaire Christian Grey and he propositions to her that she sign a 20 page contract stating he can dominate every facet of her life from the hours that she sleeps to the food that she eats and all manner of other kinky business.
The contract states he wishes to gag, whip and use torture implements on her in his special red room of pain. A room, Clare Philipson argues, which has sinister similarities to the one Fred West had at 25 Cromwell Street.
When Christian Grey takes Ana’s virgininity he does heroically concede to give her “vanilla sex” the first time, rather than dragging her straight down into his torture chamber. Christian Grey is actually Prince Charming in disguise you see, a troubled man with deep psychological issues that just needs a nice, submissive girl to come along and love him. If she agrees to his dominant demands then there is always a chance he could form a real relationship with her. Maybe things could be different?
A few expensive gifts and helicopter rides later Christian introduces spanking into their sex life. Ana finds it very painful and also a little enjoyable. After the first spanking she weeps the whole night in pain and degradation. She finds the experience very upsetting and confusing.
What kind of message does this give out to young, impressionable women? Perhaps Clare Philipson has a point…
Christian Grey must have done something right though. A fan page on Facebook has over 315,000 “likes”, with women worldwide lusting after him. Fifty Shades of Grey is now the biggest selling book of all time and you cannot pass a book shop at the moment without huge displays of the trilogy winking at you through the window.
I have of course contributed to E.L. James’s mass fortune by buying the book myself. All the women in my office were talking about it and I did not want to be the only person who had not read it.
What surprised me the most, apart from the dreadful writing style, was how Christian Grey is portrayed as some kind of sex symbol.
I proposed the following to the other women in my office:
1. He is an average looking, elderly guy without much money
2. He stalks her
3. He has no friends
4. He patronises her
5. He has long-term psychological problems
6. He is a control freak
7. He is very arrogant
8. His mouth is constantly in a hard line
9. He wants to physically hurt her. Often.
Of course, I made that first point up. He is actually a young billionaire. I was just trying to illustrate to them that, if he was not a handsome, young billionaire he would not seem so much of a catch. In fact he would unequivocally be a complete wrong’un.
Most of the women eagerly jumped to his defence. Their arguments are:
“But all the sex is between two consensual adults”
Now I am no prude and what consensual adults get up to behind closed doors is their own business but it is clear throughout the novel that Ana wants Christian’s love and affection and feels pressured to acquiesce to his disturbing sexual demands in order to achieve this.
If Ana was the dominant one and Christian Grey the submissive then that would be a different story altogether and a far better read in my opinion.
“She enjoys the spanking”
I think it is worth noting that many sexual abuse victims “enjoyed” the abuse which only heightens the feelings of shame afterwards.
Yes Ana is an adult, yes the spanking was consensual, but she reports feeling very humiliated during and after her experiences. She often cries and is unable to confide in anybody about the details of her relationship with Christian Grey, not even to her mother or her best friend, both of whom she is close to.
“She does not accept his gifts – money is therefore not important to her”
This is a ridiculous argument considering she is often travelling in his helicopter and emailing him from the Mac book he bought for her.
“It’s not abusive, they fall in love, it’s a love story”
is their final argument before I am trumped with,
“How could you possibly understand? You are a lesbian.”
I cannot respond to that one as they are right, I am a lesbian and perhaps I do not understand. Perhaps Christian Grey is what every straight women dreams of and I simply do not get it. Clare Philipson is just one of the few in the minority like me who also “don’t get it”.
All I can say is I find it depressing that seemingly intelligent women would idolise a man like Christian Grey.
I respond to the notion, “It’s just harmless mum porn” with:
Would you be happy for your daughters to date Christian Grey? Is that the kind of man you would like your little girl to marry?
I doubt many of the mothers swooning over him would like to see him emotionally abuse, spank and torture their daughters.
I have two young nieces ages five and 14 and they may read the book one day. Perhaps the 14-year-old already has. It horrifies me that she could interpret Christian and Ana’s relationship as a positive role model for her future relationships and consider his behaviour to be normal and acceptable.
Clare Philipson’s burning will make little difference to Fifty Shades of Grey’s readership. There are well over 4 million copies in circulation and it’s available to read online for free. Sado-masochism is now mainstream.
Rather than censorship her actions are making an important statement; the theme in this book is not okay. Physically and emotionally abusing your young, naive partner is not okay. Pressuring women into sexual activities they are not comfortable with is not okay.
“We are not burning the Bible or a political philosophy, we are burning the depiction of an abusive man as a romantic hero.”
For this I salute her.
Sarah Schulman at Lesbian Lives 2013
Legendary queer activist Sarah Schulman has spoken out against the LGBT Center of New York City and its decision to ban her from a controversial book reading.
February 17, 2013