Fifty Shades of CrapA feminist perspective
Ariana Lorelle Guzman
For those who don’t know, Fifty Shades of Grey by British author E.L. James is an erotic novel which has maintained a spot on The New York Times bestseller list for several months. This pop culture phenomenon has captivated the masses with a sadomasochistic aspect that serves as an integral part of the novel. The role of the protagonist, a young woman, invokes a need to discuss the feminist ramifications of the novel.
At first glance, the premise of Fifty Shades seems like a recycled version of romantic-comedy films and romance novels of recent years. An older wealthy man seduces a young, inexperienced ingénue. The concept is hardly original. Both Julia Roberts and Katherine Heigel have played this role to perfection. What makes this novel unique is “the Playroom,” where male protagonist Christian Grey subjects his lover Anastasia Steele to both pleasure and pain. Steele is essentially reduced to being a sex slave. Her introduction to sex is one most are not depraved enough to imagine; Steele is spanked and roughed up by a man who claims he is bewitched by her.
Anastasia Steele, often referred to as Ana, is a twenty-one year old virgin on the precipice of graduating from college. Her character is smart, slightly neurotic, and prone to frequent blushing and bouts with inexplicable clumsiness. James paints her as the classically relatable girl-next- door. Ana’s conscience, dubbed her “inner goddess,” often speaks to her throughout the story, although it’s hard not to believe that her “inner goddess” fails her.
There are parallels between James’s novel and another popular book, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. In fact, Fifty Shades of Gray has its origins in James’s ‘Masters of the Universe,’ a Twilight fanfiction which has since been deleted. In both stories Ana Steele and Bella Swan are both involved in distant, tumultuous relationships with controlling older men. For instance, Christian tracks a drunk Ana at a bar by using the GPS on her cell phone. In Twilight, Edward watches Bella sleep, which is the epitome of disturbing. Both men dominate their lovers while expecting full compliance and obedience without questions. They’re rendered powerless and their relationships involve a form of domestic violence.
During the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminism was a new ideal. Strong female voices like Gloria Steinem spoke vigorously about women being equal to men and having roles outside of the home. Women could be more than wives and mothers: they could also have careers. A woman could have the choice to use contraception or perhaps obtain an abortion if pregnancy occurred. It was a revolutionary time where these ideas were radical. Today things have drastically changed. Women outnumber men in college classrooms. Wives frequently earn a larger income than their husbands. Women are working full-time while men are choosing to become the new stay-at- home parent.
However, novels like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight perpetuate unhealthy images of weak, co-dependent heroines. The women in these novels are frequently mistreated and manipulated. Christian and Edward both claim at one point in their respective novels that they cannot live without their lovers. Poor Ana and Belle just fall for it and continue to remain powerless in unloving relationships. From a feminist perspective, there should be more novels like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter which showcase strong, intelligent female leads. Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger often come to the rescue of their male counterparts. In this day and age, the damsel-in-distress archetype who always needs to be rescued is both harmful and painfully anachronistic.
Fifty Shades of Grey suffers from rudimentary and pedestrian writing with such gems as “Well, you get an A in oral skills” and “See how you taste. Suck. Suck hard, baby.” You can imagine what the rest is like. The writing is just plain awful and the graphic sex scenes are no excuse for this. I was not won over by the generous offers Grey gave Ana, as these gifts played a purpose. The laptop and Blackberry were ways in which Grey could keep tabs on Ana. The car was a way for Ana to visit Christian whenever he wanted. What is the difference between Ana and a high class prostitute? She gave sexual favors and received gifts in exchange. I can’t see much of a distinction.
Fifty Shades of Grey is just the latest in a string of hapless bestsellers setting women’s liberation back several decades. The novel is poorly written and showcases a disgusting, abusive relationship as some sort of fairy tale. Even worse, the author E.L. James is herself a woman. Is she perhaps not a feminist? Is she just clueless to the negative influence her novel has on the young women who read it? I find it to be a dangerous kind of message being promoted to the masses. Women have fought hard for too many years to be equal to men, only to have this trash turn them into weak and unstable stereotypes. I would not recommend this novel to anyone, especially women who might miss the point entirely and actually find this questionable garbage good.