Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).
Extra warnings: Swearing; me really pissed off about misogyny. Read at your own risk.
Welcome back for the first full blogging week of the new year. Let’s get things started by resuming the discussion on Fifty Shades, shall we?
At this point in the story, most rational people would have given up. The characters are not particularly interesting or deep, the writing is horrid, and even the smut is passable at best. Die-hard fans of Twilight (or Twilight fanfic) might cling to the story, but everyone else should have found something better to read by now. I have to admit, since I’m still reading it, that automatically lumps me in with the irrational set. On the other hand, I think I get a pass for recognizing this for what it is: A story about an abusive relationship dressed up in throbbing dicks, heaving bosoms, and mind-
numbing blowing orgasms.
Anyway, in today’s installment, Christian has taken Ana out for dinner to discuss the terms of the contract. It’s a lot of the same thing we’ve already seen—Ana whining, Christian wheedling, bad dialogue, and oddly-timed sexual arousal. But there was one thing that stuck out to me, so much that I had to read it repeatedly to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood.
When they have (sort of) finished with their meal, Ana decides to leave. I will be honest, this is the first time I actually like her. She stands up for herself, knowing that he is getting to her and she doesn’t want him to have that much control. Admittedly, I’m not sure I like the way she phrases it (she says, “If I stay here, in this room with him, he will fuck me”; good Lord, Ana, what are you, an inflatable sex toy?); it sounds like she feels like she isn’t consenting to the sex, or at least might not in the future. But I do applaud her for standing firm.
It’s what comes afterward that I find disturbing. Christian tries to persuade her to stay, and she explains that she has to think over what he’s said. First, he tries threatening her (“I could make you stay”). When she continues to say no, he says,
You know, when you fell into my office to interview me, you were all yes sir, no sir. I thought you were a natural born submissive. But quite frankly, Anastasia, I’m not sure you have a submissive bone in your delectable body.
You absolutely read that right. Christian Grey believes that a physical mishap and ordinary politeness are signs that a woman is submissive. That is not sexy or romantic.
That is disturbing.
There is no possible way that if a man had interviewed him and had tripped on the way in or shown respect in his speech that Christian would have seen that as “submissive.” I don’t care that this is fiction; the above is an example of a man who is controlling and misogynistic. The woman who wrote the book should absolutely have known better than to romanticize that attitude toward women.
I think the other thing that lies underneath Christian’s words is that he believes women should be submissive. He seems bothered by the fact that she isn’t. Women who appear to him to be outwardly “natural born submissives” but aren’t need to be taught how to be so. Implicit in the dialogue is the idea that what these women secretly all want is a man to take complete control. His intention is to make Ana into such a woman.
Unfortunately, this is merely a more extreme (and abusive) version of the way that most churches address wifely submission. Besides throwing around the word “biblical” as it relates to spousal interactions, there is a sense one gets from the church that what women really want is for their husbands to “man up” and be the authority in the home. Last week I read an absolutely terrible blog post about the subject, in the comments section of which several white, cis, straight men bemoaned “misandry.” (For the record, that’s not even a word; my spell checker is suggesting I change it to “Melinda.”) The big argument these men made was that “men and women are different” and that people recommending “biblical submission” are not misogynistic—but they gave no real evidence to back that up.
The thing is (and this is why Ms. James’ writing disturbs me so much), this is how a lot of people think. They do not understand that what makes the view of a woman as a “natural submissive” for being polite so wrong is that it cannot ever go the other way. What defines the parameters of misogyny is the fact that it is a top-down way of seeing women. Women who hate and fear men have been given reason to do so because men have taken advantage of their position of societal power.
There is a good reason why “misandry,” “reverse racism,” and “heterophobia” do not exist. The people who have been dominated, oppressed, and denied by those in power can’t produce those same conditions in the opposite direction. There is no way that, systemically, white, cis, straight men could be kept from jobs, paid less, or consistently raped, abused, and murdered by any of the people to whom they have done those things. Being angry and distrustful of men because (as a group) they have marginalized women (as a group) is not the same thing as believing women have a “proper” place in society and forcibly trying to keep them in it. If we women are angry, it’s with good cause. Maybe the reason we keep trying to shout over Teh Menz is because we are fucking sick and tired of being treated for real the way Christian treats Ana in Fifty Shades, only without the pretense of romance and hot sex (and even sometimes with it).
It’s time we stopped accepting the “cleaned up” version of Fifty Shades as the way men and women should interact, and it’s time for men to stop asking “What about us?” and start asking, “What can we do to change this?”*
*For the record, I realize that there are a lot of awesome men out there who really are working to make changes, or who simply live their lives in ways that honor others. Dudes, I love you for that, and keep up the good work. It means more to us than you probably know.