Without much ado…
Things which are troublesome about 50 Shades of Grey:
- The implication that dominant people are dominant both in and out of the bedroom:
Christian Grey is the consummate 24/7 Dom. There is no ON/OFF button– he is controlling, manipulative, dark, and masterful every moment of the day. In his business, his family life, his love life, Christian is in the driver’s seat. Now there’s nothing wrong with this mode of dominance, persay, but being that 50 Shades is one of the first books to bring BDSM into the limelight for the general public, I take the view that its cultural responsibility is to show as much discretion towards its subject matter as possible. There is no other D/s couple in 50 Shades (at least not the first book– I really couldn’t stomach the whole series), so Christian’s portrayal of dominance holds a lot of weight. By putting him at the farthest end of the spectrum, as a dominant who sublimates his own hardships, remains isolated, and controls situations inside and out of the bedroom, 50 Shades simplifies the complex varieties of dominance that exist in the BDSM community. There are highly insecure, shy, and vulnerable people who take on dominance in the bedroom. There are also very strong, confident doms that relinquish their controlling persona outside of the bedroom. We don’t see any of this in 50 Shades- only a very clearly delineated dichotomy of Strong, Successful and Dominant vs. Naive, Clumsy, and Submissive.
- Christian’s possessive, jealous regard for other men in Ana’s life
Regardless of who the love interest is, the way Christian reacts to men he sees as a threat to his monopoly on Ana’s affection (and he sees ALL
men as a threat) is totally out of line. By idolizing him, 50 Shades reinforces the idea that men should be possessive towards women, viewing them almost as property. It also erases the potential for homosexuality’s existence, for either Ana or Christian, as this jealous possessiveness is fiercely heterosexual. For instance, Ana’s male best friend Jose is instantly marked as a threat by Christian, and is the subject of constant tension during the book. But Kate, Ana’s roommate and female best, who exhibits a much greater degree of closeness to Ana, is never even mentioned as a concern, specifically because she’s a woman (and therefore not a sexual threat.)
- Ana’s obsession with “storybook-like” men
Ana has a yen for (in my opinion, rather maudlin, uninteresting) 19th century English literature. She idolizes men who have bizarre mood swings, who speak in cryptic quotes, and who frankly, cause a lot of drama. It reminds me of Thought Catalog’s “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl”
She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied.
Like in Thought Catalog, Ana cannot possibly be content with a mere mortal boyfriend– she needs the dramatic, sweeping climax of a storybook plot twist and the anguish of true love shunned by society that comes back at the last moment to save the day. While it makes for a great book, it’s pretty unhealthy in terms of a real relationship, which is, unfortunately, what draws her more and more to dark, brooding, difficult, enrapturing Christian Grey. ((also, an interesting metacommentary on realistic fiction…but we’ll save that for a literary blog, yes?))
- Further stigmatizing edge play like knife play, fire play, scat/urine play
I’m sorry, but why the fuck is it necessary to hate on edge play in a book about BDSM? Whatever, it’s not your kink, fine. But 50 Shades grabbed at such low hanging fruit with Christian’s “hard limits.” When the pair are going through Christian’s hard limits (including fire play, scat/piss play, etc), Ana self-narrates “Why would a sane person do those things?” This comment in particular struck me as unnecessarily hurtful. Especially when scat and piss play are already so stigmatized inside and outside the BDSM community, it seems just cruel and unnecessary to make them the subject of acrimony within the book, since they have absolutely no plot purpose.
- Perpetuates the idea that women bleed when they lose their virginity
This is pretty simple. It’s just not a thing 99% of the time. Especially when women in the Middle East are scared to death that their husbands will question their virginity because this myth hasn’t be eradicated, why do we need to perpetuate it?
Not familiar? I’ll break it down. *ahem* When a person with a vagina has sex for the first time, the understanding is that the penis “breaks” the seal of the hymen and a small amount of blood issues forth. Not so. First of all, the hymen is not a seal across the opening of the vagina, but a bit of tissue that covers a portion of the vaginal opening. This tissue is often pushed to the side by tampons, masturbation, or even general physical activity like swimming long before the person owning the vagina has sex. Therefore, most women do not bleed their first time because this tissue has already been pushed aside and the blood discharged. Again, there are women who lose their lives, their livelihoods, their marriages, and their social standing because people still believe this myth. Perpetuating the “all women bleed their first time” myth is one of my biggest pet peeves.
- The domineering, controlling aspect of casual conversation; the sense that Grey already owns and directs the people he interacts with and the conversations he participates in
The interesting thing about this observation is that I only find this behavior troubling specifically because Grey is a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered man. Coming from a place of incredible societal privilege, this nonchalant control and dominance over everyone he interacts with is a sinister reminder of the oppression that minorities of all varieties face. Christian has the ability to be confident, cocky, and domineering without a second thought because of the social cache he earns as a socially legitimate member of society. Were he a transgendered man, a black woman, a disabled queer man, a poor Hispanic lesbian—any combination of unprivileged identities, then perhaps his attitude could be re-contextualized and seen as a kind of strength coming out where it is warranted and should be celebrated.
But Grey is… The unspoken. The default. White. Able-bodied. Male. Straight. Cis-gendered. And that he is THE MOST POWERFUL CHARACTER in the book, the most cocky, the most admired character, is frustrating as fuck to anyone who has ever felt less than because of their identity.
That’s all for now, queer kids. Share your thoughts on the book in comments!