After being bombarded by the media with information regarding E.L. James' sexy BDSM novel 50 Shades of Grey, I decided I should read it and see what all the fuss was about. Why was this book so important to our culture? What was its allure? Unfortunately, upon reading it, I became very disappointed with the culture that was so enamored with it.
First and foremost, I found 50 Shades of Grey to be insufferably boring. The writing was poor, and there wasn't much of a plot. I suppose the frequent sex scenes were supposed to compensate for the lack of plot, but they didn't. The sex scenes were equally dull, and laughably unrealistic.
The word choice was abysmal. Anastasia Steele, the protagonist, used phrases such as "holy hell”, “holy crap", “my breath hitched”, and “yummy” with irritating frequency. She constantly referenced her “subconscious” and her “inner goddess”. The subconscious was supposed to be the voice of reason. I couldn’t get past the fact that one’s subconscious is something that they are not entirely aware of instead of a facet of their personality that tells them to do things. The “inner goddess” was the part of Anastasia that was more sexually adventurous. The arguments between these two characters became downright exhausting.
Beyond the poor writing and the lack of plot structure, this book sends negative messages. Anastasia, the protagonist, is in no way a good role model, and Christian Grey, her love interest, is an unpleasant character. BDSM can exist within the context of loving and caring relationships. However, in Anastasia’s relationship with Christian, Christian is controlling, rude, and has serious intimacy issues, yet is depicted as sexy and sweet.
Furthermore, people with a proclivity towards BDSM are shown as having emotional issues, because Christian clearly has some hang-ups: he can’t be touched, he doesn’t like seeing food wasted, etc. The inference is that his preferences stem from these issues. Christian’s flaws are shown as endearing. If I were Anastasia, I would run for the hills once I discovered Christian’s tendencies. Not his BDSM tendencies, but his emotionally abusive tendencies.
It also sends the message that people can be changed, implying that if your lover has flaws that would ordinarily be a deal breaker, you should fix them instead of moving on. In 50 Shades of Grey, Anastasia is put off by Christian’s behavior, and wants him to abandon some of his BDSM practices and start becoming more emotionally intimate with her. Christian does this, and begins to date her, even though he was previously opposed to dating. Changing people is not as easy as it is in 5o Shades of Grey. When people have serious issues and do not treat you with respect, you should be compassionate, but you have no obligation to fix them. However, Anastasia’s relationship promotes this idea of changing people, and also implies that it is possible.
Why does 5o Shades of Grey appeal to so many people? Why are rising BDSM merchandise sales attributed to this book? Why are women quoted as saying that 50 Shades of Grey changed their marriage? Some sources assert that it is because women crave domination, especially in a world where they have more corporate responsibility. This idea is offensive. Some people have BDSM preferences, some do not. It has nothing to do with gender. However, the majority of the readers of 50 Shades of Grey are women. Why?
I believe that the American culture is sexually repressed. We see sex on TV and movies, but we censor it and we don’t talk openly about it. Women in this culture are expected to be sexually restrained, lest they risk being labeled promiscuous. Women found pornography disguised as a novel, and because of this disguise felt comfortable reading and discussing it. They started to have conversations with their friends that they weren’t comfortable having before. As the sex in 50 Shades of Grey is somewhat unorthodox for the average person, it appealed to people. It was different. It was daring. And women who were sick and tired of boring sex decided to spice things up.
However, 50 Shades of Grey does more that titillate; it sends harmful messages about relationships and the BDSM community. I’m all for sexual empowerment, but this book is the wrong way to go about it. We need a more accepting culture, not a poorly written novel.