E.L James' 50 Shades trilogy is as hated as it is successful. 50 Shades of Grey has been labeled as an icon of the downfall of society. This “worthless sack of bull” is apparently being pushed onto the mainstream, corrupting the minds of women and perpetuating the glorification of inequality and abuse. This fantasy is supposedly harmful and must be boycotted and banned. Yet society still welcomes with open arms the likes of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast into their homes. Society has no gripes with dressing their little girls up as Cinderella or Snow White. We call our daughters “princess.” The hypocrisy, though subtle at first, raises a plethora of concerns.
In The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives away her voice to be with a man she has met only once. She gives away something that empowers her with the ability to assert her own choices, opinions, and desires.
Cinderella proves her good character by being an all too eager doormat.
Snow White is hunted because of her beauty by the Queen and her liveliness can only be saved by the nonconsensual kiss of a passing white knight.
To call our daughters “Princess” is to instill an idea in them that they are royal. “Princess” grants one a sense of entitlement. And the thought of her one day finding her Prince Charming gives our daughters a powerless sense of idealism- yes, one day she will meet a man who is perfect for her and who will never hurt her. Forget her ability to grow, forget her ability to communicate, forget her powers of influence in a relationship. Our Princesses must sit pretty, wait, and then give their all to the perfect man who sweeps her off her feet and takes her away in a storm of love at first sight.
In the world of princesses, (with exceptions like Mulan, Fiona from Brave, and more modern tales), our Princesses either expect a man and their relationship to be an idealistic wave of magic, or as with Beauty and the Beast, our Princesses learn to grin and bear it, hoping that their monstrous and angry excuse for a partner will one day transform all thanks to their sweet demeanor and pureness.
These stories are all welcome into our households, yet we are pointing fingers and throwing stones at 50 Shades of Grey.
50 Shades of Grey isn’t a literary masterpiece. It includes many clichés, numerous face-palm inducing scenes, and technically far-from-perfect writing. 50 Shades never aimed to win a Pulitzer.
Unlike Disney fairytales, 50 Shades delivers a love story based on the power of choice and the power to be truthful and open about the desires that drive that choice. No sleep paralysis hinging on the actions of a stranger, no prince who manages to “fall in love” with a girl who can’t speak her mind, no perpetuated sense of entitlement, and no equating purity of character with degree of beauty.
50 Shades delivered a storyline heavy with a taboo sense of sexuality. A (arguably ill-conceived) version of BDSM that appealed to E.L. James (the writer, who wrote her own fantasy, who is a human and not some demon slut-whore attempting to poison society) was woven into a plot involving 2 characters that no one is glorifying. Ana is far too generous with the attention she feeds her strangely bespectacled inner goddess/diva/whatever, and Christian is a bipolar nymphomaniac with anger issues. Their flaws are fleshed out quite obviously, but at least they have flaws. These flaws also have the potential to speak to the readers, albeit very quietly and briefly. Maybe we have a little streak of sex addict in us, maybe we turn into distant, seething drama queens when we don't get what we want, maybe we feel odd being called beautiful and are tired of being hit on by our guy friends. This story is not built to serve as a symbolic mirror for soul searching.
I doubt any of the readers wants to marry a too-easily pissed off alpha, and no reader wants to be an overly apologetic and constantly lip gnawing sexual punching bag (take my reductionism with a grain of salt, please.) No one is glorifying either of the characters. No one sane is pondering a divorce or an affair in hopes of having constant sex with a man who is emotionally, 15 years old. So NO, your wife doesn't look at you and roll her eyes with disappointment because you aren't a billionaire with the sexual prowess of male Aphrodite. (Hint, she just wants you to see her as Aphrodite once in a while.) E.L. James' shared fantasy is not corrupting your marriage, and if it is, then your spouse is probably either ridiculously sexually deprived, unstable, or both.
Readers are hooked on the love going on between these 2 dysfunctional characters. The love is all consuming. It is a welcome route of escape from a possibly humdrum sexual life or a pick me up after a stressful day at work. Readers get a taste of what its like to have a fantasy so vivid and ongoing that its spanned 3 novels. The keyword is FANTASY. Yes, fantasy just like those fairytale films but fantasy that is consumed by adults who are much more adept at accepting and rejecting ideas and beliefs than children are.
People have dark fantasies, and 50 Shades of Grey was confirmation to many that they were not alone. Nothing is wrong with them; they are not twisted. Just like an embarrassing bodily function no one wants to talk about, the relief with knowing that many, many others also experience it is comforting.
The readers who seek out 50 Shades are doing so because they choose to. No one is force feeding them. The delighted readers are not force feeding anyone. There is no need to shame readers for enjoying an entertaining read for what it is. 50 Shades is being consumed by people old enough not to let someone else’s fantasy shape their expectations of the world. Thank God E.L. James made Christian so exceptionally unrealistic and volatile that no one would even want to set that expectation.
What the readers are empowered to expect is a more open experience of sexuality. Maybe they do want to be tied up, blindfolded, and fucked silly. The book portrays the experience consensually. The readers are also encouraged to seek out more focused sexual experiences. They want to be wanted the way Christian wants Ana. They want to feel so desirable to their partner that all their partner wants to do is satisfy them over and over again, ruthlessly. There is no demeaning of women in this book. If the sex is too rough, it is only because the only way that Christian knows how to deal with anger is to let it transcend through satisfying Ana. Aggressively satisfying a woman seems like a much better way to deal with anger than violent words and actions. The protagonist enjoys it, and NEWS FLASH, some real life people who are sane with healthy self esteems and personal boundaries like rough sex. Some people like a little pain in bed. That does not make them psycho- a brief understanding of nerve endings and neurotransmitters dissolves that theory. Doesn't matter if it makes you uncomfortable, some consenting adults love that stuff.
So, all the haters and naysayers, stop wasting your time and breath. Readers have enjoyed, are enjoying, and will continue to enjoy the 50 Shades Trilogy, and before you point any fingers and go on rampages of condemnation, ask yourself why. Also, ask yourself if you’ve even read the book in a non-angry and non-accusatory mood. Then tell me that it poses way more threat than feeding idealistic, watered down stories originally involving murder, rape, and heavy doses of female inferiority to children with very malleable belief systems. They even sing the songs! Oh, but those are only fairytales, right?
Didn’t like the book? Stop shaming those who did. Go sell your copy and donate the money to a women’s shelter if you’re so concerned with the treatment of women. Go volunteer with social work. Get off the fucking high horse and realize that demonizing this trilogy does nothing to help society.
Also, lay off Dakota Johnson. She’s probably cuter than you. Oh, and go google Jamie Dorner Calvin Klein ads before you complain. He is also probably cuter than you. Still wanna bitch? No one is forcing you to watch the movie.