Saturday, May 12, 2012

50 Shades of What?!

First of all, let me just say that I am in no way a prude. I totally read romance novels, even though I know most Christian circles label them as emotional porn. Maybe they're right, maybe they're not. Undecided on that so far.

Second, as an unabashed bookworm, I believe that there is complete validity to including graphic, violent, and uncomfortable passages in literature in order to prove a point, make a statement, show the true reality of something, or to further the story. Hunger Games for example. Graphic yes. But also restrained in how it was written, to show the value and sanctity of human life and how far a society could fall.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" however, is another kind of nut. I actually hadn't heard of it until a friend told me I had to read it. But then I started to see it everywhere. On the news, on TV, on the internet, hearing it in conversations...even in church :) So I bought the sucker.

Here's my brief take on this book and then I'll explain how it makes me think about marriage and being a woman:

In short the book is almost unredeemable. It's main characters are based off Bella and Edward of the Twilight saga. I find very few parallels though. "Fifty Shades" is 85% raw, nasty, demeaning, violent sex. The other 15% is so poorly written, it made my head hurt. I hate to trash a book, but this one really takes the cake. Twilight was poorly written, but this is fifty times worse. Or fifty shades. (I loved Twilight by the way, despite the writing. Stephanie Meyers' other novel "The Host" is fantastic and written beautifully!)

The one good part of this book is at the end where Ana walks away from Grey. She isn't the obsessive, self-effacing Bella, but stands up for herself and tells Grey that his sexual practices demonstrate an inability to love. Great! However, up until those last two pages, Miss Ana has found herself time and time again drawn into and mostly enjoying these bondage-type, dominating, demeaning encounters. The book does not have one or two sexual scenes to illustrate a point, it achingly describes every detail in a manner intended to arouse and titillate.

That's the issue. The man in these sexual encounters is the dominator. He has all the control. And women all over the country are eating this up! "Fifty Shades" is wildly popular and a New York Times Best Seller. The following clip from SNL literally sums it up:

* Hilariously funny, but kind of inappropriate. (Meaning I fell off the couch laughing)

So what is it about this book that women love? Why are singles, girlfriends, fiances, and wives all over the United States sucked into a book that is badly written and has a controlling man who likes to spank? (and that's when he's gentle)

I dunno! There has got to be something going on below the surface, because everything that women say they want, like equality in the workplace, home, finances, etc, is not in this book at all! Western society is doing it's damnedest to erase any kind of gender roles. Yet, here we are with a misogynistic, degrading novel and women can't put it down.

Recently Jake and I wrote an article for Relevant Magazine, that talked about extended adulthood. That more and more in Western society, both men and women are embracing adulthood later in life. Perhaps the popularity of "Fifty Shades" is a warped by-product of this trend? There is something innate in a woman, in my opinion, that longs for a man to be just like Grey. (Maybe minus the bondage? Or maybe plus the bondage? Sigh, I just don't know anymore.)

We want a man. And we want him to have his shit together. Grey is young, handsome, wildly successful, confident, established....(and a total savage in the bedroom). I think in a nation of adult male teenagers, "Fifty Shades" taps into unfulfilled desire. Women are over-worked, busy as hell, and shoulder the burden of being wives, mothers, career women, fully independent, successful, caring, emotionally well and whole human beings. It's a lot of pressure. And a book like "Fifty Shades" lets us feel wildly free for a moment. We can lose ourselves in a fake world, where we don't have to be all those things. We can let the man literally handle everything, all while he's totally obsessed with every little thing about us.

I'm not trying to make any kind of biblical "this is a man's role, this is a women's role" statement. Things are different now than they were in biblical times and gender equality is wonderful thing.

But, I do think that "Fifty Shades of Grey" hits a nerve in women. That perhaps there is some part of us that is disappointed and frankly exhausted from having to be a million and one different things. We would love to let go and have a man completely be in control, take care of everything and love us with the all-encompassing passionate love that only teenagers really feel.

Perhaps men need to grow up a bit. Perhaps women need to relax. Perhaps we all need to take a long, hard look at our unfulfilled desires and determine if there are healthy ways of achieving them.

In short, I think "Fifty Shades of Grey" is in many ways a social commentary. The question is, what does it really say about us all?


  1. Wow, this should be published in a mass-medium for all women (and men) to read. These are the best points I've read on gender issues in years, all with an intelligent perspective on a popular piece of fiction. Thank you for taking the time to think through this and distill your thoughts so poignantly, in a way that everyone can understand (and agree with, I'd venture to say). There is something here for everyone to learn from. I encourage you to see where else this can be published, or else share all over social media and the like! This is how our generation should be talking about gender issues, completely opposite of how the "mommy wars" are currently playing out, for example. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. thanks for this post! i love how you worded everything!! i mentioned you in a post i just did no the same subject: All Things with Purpose: 50 Shades of Compromise

  3. Thanks ladies! Your comments were so appreciated :)

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