Did I really just read that? That was my initial reaction after I read the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series. Everybody was talking about it, it was trending in all the charts, and I just had to know what the fascination was. And we all love a good love story right? As I began reading, I immediately took to Ana, a student like me I at once understood her naivety. She was intrigued by this mystery man and of course so was every avid reader on the planet. But as the book, and eventually the series continued, I was deeply troubled by many of the not so blatant undertones in the book.
“…we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship.”
The whole idea that a man was able to dictate the way a woman dresses, eats and spends her free time really stuck with me. As a society, we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship. I had many discussions about the book and people always said “but she has a choice!”
Do you really believe that any woman would choose to be treated in such a way? Yes, everybody has their preferences but when you take away all the superficial aspects, and look just at Ana, can you relate to her on a human aspect? She wants to be loved, and she will do anything she can to try and make this man love her. Clearly, she doesn’t realise what she is in for, and is hurt physically and emotionally through the course of the story. I felt that E L James created a very stereotypical idea of Ana, whereby she becomes dependant on a man’s love, even when she leaves him she cannot stay away, she is clumsy and needs’ to be ‘looked after’. When I read it, I was willing Ana to be stronger, to leave him, but of course that never happened.
And if you look at real life abusive relationships, women often believe that the man loves them, despite years of suffering abuse. In the end his character does change, but the fact remains that he is still a controlling man that clearly has issues. It is my personal belief that if any person loves another, they would not do anything to harm them. In the first book towards the end, there is a belt whipping scene which epitomises the abusive nature of this relationship, and highlights the growing concern that Ana has for her wellbeing. Every woman deserves to feel safe, without concerns for her own safety when she is in a relationship, and that is the message that James should have been promoting.
The most shocking aspect of the whole thing was the way the 50 shades phenomenon took off in the media, it fast became a trend. Everybody wanted to have a man like ‘Christian’, and although a huge part of the story is about sex, the things that really troubled me was the ongoing lack of freedom and choices that Ana had. People wanted to be ‘dominated’. And in a world where freedom of expression is celebrated, I really don’t think we should be accepting a book that promotes anything less.
“As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.”
Christian had a troubled past, and the cause for his control issues stems from a neighbour having a relationship with him when he was a young teen. If we read a news article of a 15/16 year old boy engaging in a sexual relationship with an older neighbour we would immediately think grooming or sexual abuse. Yet, at no point in the trilogy, does James suggest anything of the sort. And for me, that is deeply worrying. In real life, a man with such high levels of emotional trauma would need psychological help and counselling. And if James wanted to write a book about a troubled man she should have done it responsibly, rather than making him take out his aggression and problems on vulnerable young women. As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.