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

Via elephant journal
on May 29, 2012
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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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16 Responses to “Why Twihards Shouldn’t Be Reading Fifty Shades. ~ Cassandra Smith”

  1. this is the best one line summary I've yet to read about this book! "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." Loved to hear from the younger women on this odd phenomenon. Stay tuned for my "literay" take, coming to a blog near you.

  2. guest says:

    The story is sexy..to a point..but not realistic when it comes to this type of "relationship". Yes, agreements are made and yes, contracts have been known to be drawn up and signed, but Im a tiny bit appalled that the idea of kinky sex is somehow always related to some emotional/psychological abuse as Im aware and many others are aware, lots of people play at kink and dont have the psychological damage Mr Grey seems to have. Both characters are damaged..and what is sad is that although Ana is very strong, I doubt many girls with her experience level would be capable of walking away from the first man that she fell in love with that easily. She fell in love because he made her feel a certain way that no one ever had before..not because of who he is. The story could have been much better written for sure.

  3. "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."

    Perfect! Yeah, I think whether you're college age or mom-age or anywhere in between, you can do a lot better than either this book or seeking out a guy like Christian Grey!

  4. dianelopez06 says:

    I just love the way you explain! It very bold and honest! And this is what i want writers to be! Thanks for this review. 🙂

  5. ha! says:

    well…technically twihards already did: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifty_Shades_of_Grey

  6. cassandralanesmith says:

    Thanks so much! I'd love to read your blog when it's finished!

  7. cassandralanesmith says:

    Yes, I totally agree! Thanks for reading!

  8. cassandralanesmith says:

    Thanks, Kate! I loved your article too and how you talked about the fairy tale element…the problem is that Christian is not Prince Charming!

  9. cassandralanesmith says:

    Thank you so much for reading!

  10. cassandralanesmith says:

    Yeah, I had read it started as a Twilight fan-fiction. I just think Christian and Cullen are two very different characters and should not be worshipped in the same way by teenagers and young adults. Thank you for reading and for your comment!

  11. Yes—I think women (and men sometimes) get sucked into Beauty & the Beast and think that a-holes will magically transform because of the "right" person…nope.

  12. […] Why Twihards Shouldn’t Be Reading Fifty Shades. ~Cassandra Smith […]

  13. KarenK says:

    It is interesting how popular this kind of stories are nowadays, and how the "heros" become references to women.
    I agree on the fact that both characters (Christian and Ana) are messed up, one more than the other, and that leads them to end up in that kind of relationship.
    Thanks for this article. I really enjoyed it. Great analysis! 🙂

  14. Jen says:

    I began reading 50 shades when it was a ‘fan-fiction’. I gave up reading it by the 10th chapter, I know shame on me for even making it that far. I was appalled to where to story was going. Yes, I agree with other comments that you can have some fun in the bedroom with your partner, but this novel doesn’t start with two people already in love and in a relationship. No, it starts with two messed up people who really don’t know the meaning of love. And I’m very surprised that so many women want this? What happened to books that had true romance? So for that I won’t or would ever read 50 Shades. But hey, to each their own, right?

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  16. saramuzzammil says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. Perfectly sums up the grave errors in the plot.

    Also, please let's not call it a novel. It's too poorly written to be considered a work of literature.