May 29, 2012

Why Twihards Shouldn’t Be Reading Fifty Shades. ~ Cassandra Smith

A college student’s perspective on Fifty Shades of Grey.

Kate’s article (and Waylon’s article), talk about how a lot of moms or middle-aged women are reading this book as a guilty pleasure. I’m a senior in college, and I’ve noticed a lot of my friends (Twilight fans included) are also talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. For example, the phrase “Laters, baby,” often repeated throughout the book, is becoming a commonly used saying on my Facebook mini-feed.

I have to say that the novel initially captured my attention because I felt that I could relate to Ana, the main character.

Anastasia Steele graduates college near the beginning of the novel. She also has a thing for books and famous literary characters. I definitely understand how this type of woman may be attracted to a powerful man like Christian Grey. Then again, what girl my age wouldn’t be attracted to a mysteriously dark and staggeringly handsome 27-year-old self-made billionaire with his own jet?

But what worries me is that as I look around the blogosphere, I see a lot of women worshipping Christian Grey like he’s some kind of Greek sex god, the way Ana does in the novel.

“I fell in love with Christian Grey just as I did Edward Cullen,” one person commented on hollywire.com.

I’m worried that women my age and younger may be looking to this book as inspiration for an exciting sexual adventure. Christian Grey is not like Edward Cullen; while you’re never going to meet your very own compassionate vampire, you might actually meet someone like Christian Grey. And that might not be a good thing. I’m also worried idolizing Christian and Ana’s relationship may reinforce the idea that you can change or “fix” a psychologically damaged man by staying with him.

That line of thinking can have disasterous consequences; it’s the same line of thinking battered women use.

As Ana embarks on her relationship with Christian, her immaturity is exposed. This girl has zero experience with romance and sex; she’s an insecure virgin. Christian has also never experienced a “romantic” relationship, but that’s because he’s been too busy tying up and punishing his various “submissives” in his “Red Room of Pain.” So, what we have is two characters, both inexperienced in a companionate type of romance, trying to negotiate a romantic relationship.

To summarize, Ana wants what she’s read about in her books; a storybook love affair full of compassion and mutual commitment. As author E.L. James puts it, she “wants more.” Christian tells Ana up front he does not do “vanilla” sex and that she should not fall in love with him. Christian also won’t let Ana touch him because of serious psychological problems he incurred as a child (which are never fully explained until the third book I’m told).

Christian tells Ana more than once that these psychological traumas he endured as a young child are the reason why he wants to hurt Ana during sex and after (only if she fails to be submissive or breaks one of the “rules” of the relationship).

At this point, I stopped liking the story.

To be clear, it’s not the BDSM lifestyle or practices that I didn’t like. I’ve read a lot about deviant sex as a sociology major, and I get that people can and do enter into these types of situations and relationships in a safe and healthy way, as consenting adults.

I also can kind of wrap my head around the thrill of being submissive to your lover during sex. There is definitely something about a man taking control that is just plain sexy.

But what weirds me out is that Ana clearly does not want this type of relationship. Christian uses his sex appeal and her naivete to get her to agree to things I doubt she would have ever sought out on her own. I don’t see true consent or submission here; I see a young girl willing to do anything to hold onto the first person she fell in love with.

What started for me as an intriguing look at kinky sex soon turned into a creepy story about a violent, psychological wreck and a naïve, lovesick puppy.

Overall, I do understand why people my age are into this series. Some of the sex scenes are pretty damn hot. I just don’t like that Christian puts Ana through intense emotional and physical harm before she explicitly agrees to his terms for their relationship, and that he directly attributes the desire to do harm to past trauma that he has obviously not worked out in therapy or spiritual practice.

That being said, if middle-aged mommies want to spice up their day with a poorly written romance novel, I think they should go for it. I only hope younger women who read this book do not get the idea the this is a healthy type of relationship that just anyone can jump into.

Bottom line: Just because a rich older guy is really sexy and says he loves you does not mean you should sign a contract allowing him to put clamps on your genitals.


Cassandra Smith is an editorial intern at elephant journal.  She is a fifth generation Colorado native who believes dance has the potential to liberate human consciousness from its cultural prison.  Cassandra formerly trained at Boston Ballet and is currently a senior at University of Colorado Boulder studying journalism, sociology and philosophy. Read her blog at cassandralanesmith.com.


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