#20: Fifty Shades of Grey

fifty-shades-of-grey

It is rather tragic to think that with the end of the world fast approaching, we will lose centuries of insightful, challenging and extraordinary literature. Incredible books have the power to change the way we think – especially when we consider quotes like:

Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – a compelling way to represent empathy.

Victor Hugo, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, “A one-eyed man is much more incomplete than a blind man, for he knows what it is that’s lacking.” – an insightful idea about how the more we have the more we want, an extension of the “ignorance is bliss” notion.

Jane Austen, ‘Emma’, “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another!” – a beautiful way of reminding readers (me) that we can be loved, not in spite of, but because of our frog hands/shrek feet/rat head/lack of 5 inch box gap. And THAT is the most romantic sort of love.

And our all time favourite:

Virginia Woolf “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses, possessing the power of reflecting the figure of man at twice their natural size.” Ah, in the early 20th century it seems humanity finally understood the domination of man and the consequent subordination of women – what a pivotal moment.

Oh wait.

E. L. James, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, “Boy I sound angry. I am angry.”….wait. What?

“I’m hungry” Anastasia says, “Hungry for what” Christian replies, “Hungry for food” grins Anastasia. Ah, such an insight into….nup we got nothing.

One more try, one that doesn’t contain only monosyllabic words “I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”*

*Note: Her inner goddess is different from her subconscious.

**Note: After three books, still no idea what either of these are referring to. Possibly schizophrenic tendencies sustained through the intense assault she experiences throughout the trilogy. This is just speculation.

Just to make it clear, it is 2012, and women have fought against violence, for the vote, for equal pay, for the recognition of rape within marriage, for an education, to be leaders, and funnily enough (uh oh), to be writers. But, on page 168 of Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James recounts a contract between her two lovers:

“The dominant (Christian Grey) accepts the submissive (Anastasia Steele) as his, to own, control, dominate and discipline. The dominant may use the submissive’s body at any time he deems fit, sexually or otherwise. The dominant may discipline the submissive as necessary to ensure the submissive fully appreciates her role of subservience….” ok i think that’s enough. Since nothing in her book appears to be original, we speculate that this is probably drawn from a combination of a draft of slavery and some aspects of the sex trade.

But in Anastasia’s defence, she DID have some reservations to start with. Complete subordination, subservience, oppression, humiliation, degradation, and being treated worse than an animal, however, were not amongst them. It was more about the fisting because it might hurt. She didn’t have a problem with being gagged or bound (she finds these pretty hot really). So embarrassment is obviously not a feeling she is well acquainted with. That’s cool, pretty comfortable in her own body you might say. That’s errr…feminist? BUT NO, when the elusive Mr. Grey asks her when she’s got her period “Did you take your pill? Do you have cramps?” Anastasia replies “Yes” and reflects “How mortifying is this!” Hehe..he’s asking about my period! How gross!

Um…seriously. How mortifying is a butt plug.

We decided it would be a good social experiment to consider how we would respond to the contract outlined in Fifty Shades of Grey by Christian to Anastasia. This was the response:

“Why the fuck are you handing me a contract? How do you have my address? If you like me why do I need to sign anything? Why don’t you need to sign anything? When did you have time to put this together? Don’t you run a multi-million dollar business? This cannot seriously be a legally binding contract…if I showed this to anyone you would be convicted of sexual assault. Why do I need to be trained? Why is this so complicated? Why so many clauses? Why is this so impersonal? Why is my name not used? I don’t understand why you need to control my lifestyle and diet and health I just don’t get it, it doesn’t sound that fun. What about if I don’t want to hang out? What if I want to sit on my lounge with my dog and eat M&M’s? Where did you get this equipment? How can something so stupid be so official? Oh my God, is this a joke. This is actually the funniest thing I have ever seen. You’re not laughing. You’re looking kind of violent. I think I’ll just look for a new boyfriend who is not abusive and takes me to the movies and stuff…um okay.”

But instead Anastasia reflects on all the minor details and then second guesses – “Why am I even thinking about this?”. And the answer is – because, Anastasia, you’re a complete idiot. Evidenced by comments such as “my inner goddess bounces up and down like a small child waiting for ice cream”, and to Mr. Grey, “you have power over me. You know you do”. Well…you seriously considered signing a lengthy contract which explicitly delineated his power over you so don’t get all upset about it. Her safeword is popsicle. She refers to her vagina as “down there”. She constantly murmurs and obsessively bites her lip (a murmur is a soft, indistinct sound. Maybe a metaphor for how Anastasia is a soft, indistinct human being). She’s pathologically scared of being in trouble. This is the behaviour of a five year old. This woman does not have the mental capacity to sign a legally binding contract.

Problem #1000 with the book, is that Christian and Anastasia do not have a conversation about anything other than their relationship at that precise moment in time. Neither of them make a joke. Neither of them ever say anything interesting. Anastasia has absolutely no personality – except for falling over, being clumsy, helpless and stupid. Sometimes she doesn’t do what Christian tells her but then it gets her into all kinds of trouble and it turns out he was right. Silly Anastasia. When Christian describes her as “the most fascinating woman I know” the book ceases to make any sense, and it ultimately becomes clear that if this is now THE most popular book of all time, we are doomed, THANK GOD.

The problem extends beyond the book. The secondary issue is the women who defend the book, saying that these are primitive instincts and that despite all this annoying liberation stuff, women most of all desire to be dominated. For some reason there is a tendency to understand sexual desire as innate and natural, when in fact, it is just as socialised and learnt as the rest of our personal preferences. We didn’t pop out of the womb wearing a pair of heels (that would have hurt Mummy’s birth canal), applying a face of make up, wearing a Victoria’s Secret bra and shaving our legs, but they are currently part of our social existence. Females don’t find Fifty Shades of Grey to be erotic and sexy because it is speaking to some bloody carnal desire. People find it erotic because from the moment we popped out of that womb, we have learnt that in order to be sexually desirable we must be passive, vulnerable, and helpless. Sex is taught to us as an act performed by men onto women, so we learn to see being dominated as sexy, only because it is the only context in which we can be sexy. Hehe..sexy.

So, we know the world is ending when the highest selling book of all time has no storyline, is terribly written, has two main characters who have severe undiagnosed psychological disorders (my guess is psychopathy – Christian, and schizophrenia – Anastasia…who is this inner goddess :s), is full of expressions like ‘ah, crap!’, or in a particularly dramatic event ‘ah, double crap!’, uses the word subconscious in a completely illegitimate context, and takes approximately 3 pages for Anastasia to work out exactly what she is thinking, which then changes.

When zombie-aliens arrive on planet earth in just under three weeks, the piece of text they are most likely to find in the rubble of our deteriorated cities, is one where the page they turn to may well read: “My fingers are pruny”…”We should really get out of this shower”. They will laugh at how we wasted precious resources. Ah, double crap!

“LATERS, BABY” (infantilising language)

Our response: “Eugh, I’m not a baby I’m a fully grown woman with thoughts and feelings. I told you I wasn’t going to sign your stupid contract. If you approach me again I WILL call the police. You need to seek more intense psychological treatment than this Dr. Flynn character who discloses your clinical history to your girlfriend which is against the law…..Laters, dickhead!”

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2 thoughts on “#20: Fifty Shades of Grey

  1. LOVE THIS!

    Though I slightly disagree with the argument that sexuality is not congenital. Yes, it superficially manifests itself in correlation with societal trends (the box gap!). However other preferences such as homosexuality, are thought to be connate rather than acquired from the society. I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but foot fetishes are also believed to be similarly built into a person.

    I have yet to read any part of this book, though given what seems to be a delicately picked number of excerpts, I think I will save myself the nausea. This ‘contract’ distinctly reminds me of one “interesting encounter” from the testimonial section on the Salon Kitty’s website. I need to preface this by saying that I don’t frequent this establishment and I came across this through word of mouth! WARNING IT IS GRAPHIC! (http://salonkittys.com/sessions/interesting/83.shtml)

    At least this recount comes straight from the horses mouth without musings over the state of ones fingers and their inner god’s ability to do the merengue!!

    Interestingly, while reading all these crazy accounts with some horrified and amused friends, it became apparent that it is far more common for men to be the submissive party in these BDSM arrangements. I’m interested to know if this is a either primal instinct, a societal influence, or the consequence of adverse childhood circumstances.

    The fuzzy line between the sexually learned and unlearned is surely interesting! Though the world seems far more fascinated with how “pruny” Anastasia’s fingers are. Oh well.

    • I absolutely could not agree more! That is actually such a good point, I think I’m going to change the wording because upon re-reading it just then, I realised that “sexual preferences” infers that one’s heterosexuality/homosexuality is a matter of socialisation, which I do not believe to be the case at all. An individuals sexual disposition is, in my opinion, unequivocally innate, which is why steam blows from my ears when I hear people say that legalising gay marriage will result in more homosexuals (firstly, that simply would never happen, and secondly even if it did…I am still unable to see the problem).
      I would strongly suggest you do not read the book, as Clare and I believe we became significantly dumber by reading it haha.
      Wow, clicked on that link hahahaha. I much prefer this sort of recount to bloody Fifty Shades of Grey! And that is what frustrated me so much as well, sexuality can be expressed in such diverse ways and I don’t think that that E. L. James had much of an understanding of the BDSM culture at all. I thought that it would be about the woman as the dominant, because just like you said, I understood this relationship to be more prevalent in BDSM arrangements. But, it appears that E. L. James thought it best to perpetuate centuries of female subordination, because that would probably be more appealing to the broader readership (kill me). I personally think that people’s sexual fetishes or fantasies are learnt – although I know a lot of people disagree with me there. There is no biological reason why sex, in its most primal state, should evoke domination and subordination, with a woman being ‘fucked’ ‘screwed’ etc, as though she is a passive vessel. If sex is fundamentally reproductive (which is true to an extent, although most other species experiment with masturbation and sex for pleasure) then sex should still be ultimately a) consensual and b) mutual.
      But thank you so much for your response and so happy you are enjoying the blog! By the way I still listen to Ted talks which you introduced me to! And Ted (as in the dog) says thanks, and that he is Ben’s No. 1 Fan hehehe.
      xxxxxxx Jessie (Pollux)

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