As soon as I heard about E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, I knew I’d probably end up reading it. I tend to go to the those “bandwagon books” (The Hunger Games, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and so on) kicking and screaming, but I’m somehow always convinced to read them.
I bought Fifty Shades of Grey when I went into the town bookstore to get a book for one of my students. I’d heard about it, of course, and figured it was as good a time as any to read it. I read that book with a mixture of fascination and disgust, and I’m pretty sure my family was disgusted with me. I kept commenting on how skeeved out I was by it, and my mother would say, “Then why the hell are you still reading it?”
And then I lost all credibility when I got the subsequent books (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed) on my Nook. Why, you might ask, if I was not exactly enjoying the experience? Well, I wanted to know what happened.
Which is really stupid if you think about it; after all, I’ve read the Twilight books, and Fifty Shades began life as Twilight fanfiction. What that means, just so you know, is that you can do this:
Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey is the story of an innocent young woman named Bella Swann/Anastasia Steele who somehow attracts the attention of a gorgeous, rich young man named Edward Cullen/Christian Grey who lives with his adoptive family. Edward/Christian is not as perfect as he appears, though; there is something about him that could be potentially fatal to Bella/Ana: he is a vampire/obsessed with S&M. There are several twists and turns, of course (notably Bella’s/Ana’s longtime friend, Jacob/Jose, who develops romantic feelings for her that lead to awkwardness with Edward/Christian), but they ultimately end up together after Bella/Ana changes herself to become a true part of Edward’s/Christian’s dark world, and they all live happily every after.
But that isn’t really my problem … I mean, to some degree, you can do that with many stories. As one of my wise English professors once said, “There are only five original stories in the world. The rest is in the details.” And, to be fair, this book was never billed as fine literature.
Nope, my beef with Fifty Shades is the misogyny present therein. A small sampling …
1. A woman should not have to change herself to fit into the idea of a man’s perfection.
I’m not talking about the S&M so much, either.
Ana is chastised repeatedly for going out with her friends without Christian’s …
… permission until she pretty much stops, trades in the funky and unique car she drove (an antique Volkswagen Beetle) for a brand new European import that Christian bought her, completely changes the way she dresses and acts, and so on.
She was pretty vapid and dull before meeting Christian Grey, but becoming just what he wants her to be? Sad.
2. The idea that a “perfect” man will come sweep a deserving young woman off her feet.
Christian Grey is billed as a “business tycoon” (in his mid-twenties, and it didn’t come from family money). He is gorgeous, intelligent, and can do everything from flying helicopters and airplanes to choosing the perfect wine to go with any meal to buying the company that Ana works at to further his control over her because he thinks it would be a good investment.
3. “Sisters before misters” goes by the wayside.
Ana’s best friend and college roommate, the intrepid and model-gorgeous Kate Kavanagh, is at first excited that her virginal pal has met a guy. She’s even pretty stoked that the guy is the Christian Grey … until she meets him, that is, and is concerned by the level of control he has over Ana. She also blames Christian for how unhappy and depressed Ana seems and is appalled when Ana confesses some of Christian’s proclivities to her … swearing her to secrecy, of course.
But all of this goes by the wayside when she meets, screws, and falls in love with (in one night, apparently) Christian’s big, brawny, not-that-bright-but-nice brother Elliot (and yes, if you’re wondering, Elliot essentially is Emmett Cullen from Twilight).
4. When the going gets tough, wait for a man to come save the day?
At the risk of scene spoiling, I’ll leave this one to your imagination (unless you’ve read the Twilight series, in which case you can probably make some pretty good guesses).
Suffice it to say that Ana’s complete inability to protect herself, choosing instead to wait for Christian to come save the day, is just depressing.
5. Fifty Shades of Grey is being billed as “mommy porn”.
By the second book, I was skipping the sex scenes entirely; there was a dull sameness to them that got very old (and, as I’ve already mentioned, I was by that point just interested in finding out what happened at the end … the “red room of pain” was of absolutely no interest to me).
I’ve read better sex scenes in mainstream literature, for one thing (and in Penthouse … I respectfully disagree with my colleague, Nicole Breanne, on this one).
And the idea that women are utterly fascinated by this because it’s … I don’t know, somehow freeing to them? I call bullshit. If women want to read sexually exciting stuff, there’s lots of out there–better written and more … well, more exciting. Implying that we aren’t aware of that … grrrrr.
I could go on about the clunky writing (I think my eight-year-old writes better dialogue than E.L. James), the fact that Ana Steele is one of the dullest characters ever written, the whole go-where-he-leads thing (a couple of weeks ago, I would have connected this to Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise … funny how that works), and the utter absurdity of what passes for plot lines, but these books have been written about quite extensively (I would argue that more people have written about them than have actually read all three of them, in fact).
I’ll leave it at this, then …
Have you read any or all of these books? What did you think? And am I being too hard on E.L. here?