The Real Reason <em>Fifty Shades Of Grey</em> Is Sexist
I first heard about Fifty Shades of Grey on NPR when I was 15. It was the tail end of the story, and all that I could glean was the name, that it was an immensely popular work of fiction, and that it was particularly popular among the elderly in nursing homes. Priding myself in being a well-informed and well-read individual, I decided I should be reading this seemingly topical and influential book. I pranced into Barnes and Noble on my high horse, bragging to my friend about how I was buying a very popular book to enhance my personal literature collection. When I told her what the book was, she blushed and said her Mom wouldn’t let her read it.
"Why?" I asked, thoroughly confused.
"Because it’s… porn!" She replied.
This realization only made me more determined to buy the book, so I did. I had never before read an erotic novel or even set foot in that section of Barnes and Noble. My friend and I enjoyed reading the summaries of other erotic novels in husky and dramatic voices to each other. I told her that I was reading the book because for me, it was more comical than erotic. However, when I actually started reading it, I found it to be, above all else: captivating. It was like a king size bar of chocolate that wasn’t that great, but I wanted to eat it anyway. I knew the novel was supposed to be romantic, but I also knew that I would never want a relationship like the one Christian and Ana shared. The story was compelling, but the further I read, the more it seemed like Ana was powerless, and that she wasn’t benefiting from the relationship.
Looking back three years later, especially now that the movie is about to be released, I don’t find the depictions of unorthodox sexual practices in the novel offensive or wrong. I'm offended by the possessive behavior of Christian over Ana. In fact, the misogyny that insidiously permeates this novel generally has little to do with sex and is mostly evident in the scenes describing everything else about their relationship.
For example, the official movie trailer sums up the sexist portrayal of Ana as insecure and delicate, which is evident throughout the whole book. In the trailer, Ana refers to Christian as “really intimidating” suggesting that she feels inadequate when she is with him. When Christian asks Ana about herself she responds by saying, “There’s really not much to know about me, I mean look at me,” revealing her low self-esteem in just one line. Further along into the trailer, Ana tells Christian to “enlighten” her, suggesting that he is both more powerful and knowledgeable than she is. Although the trailer contains blatant innuendos, the majority of the shots are pedestrian interactions between Ana and Christian. These encounters portray Christian’s austerity and authority over Ana.
Even before Ana and Christian have sex in the novel, Christian is stringent and controlling. Ana first meets Christian to interview him for her school newspaper. On another occasion, they meet for coffee and Christian warns Ana to stay away from him. But then, she receives books from an anonymous source. Ana drunk dials Christian and asks if he sent her the books. Christian suspects that Ana is drunk and demands to know her location. Ana describes his tone as “dictatorial” and replies that he is “domineering." At this point in their relationship, Ana and Christian are acquaintances at best. I would find it odd and disturbing if someone I barely knew demanded to know my location. Before divulging his sexual preferences, Christian has begun to assert the dominant and submissive relationship. Having that type of relationship may not be degrading if it's completely consensual. But attempting to control another person, especially someone you barely know, is strange and oppressive.
Psychologists concluded that the behavior of Ana and Christian is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official definition of intimate partner violence. Ana frequently expresses her fear of Christian’s volatile moods. She suffers in the relationship, becoming socially isolated and even more insecure. Ana neglects to tell Christian about plans with her friends and family members to avoid upsetting him, which is a common tactic of women in abusive relationships.
While I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of expression and lack of censorship and do not think that Fifty Shades of Grey or any other book should be censored, I also strongly support an individual’s right to do what they want with their own body: and consent is essential to that right. Relationships between men of mystery and danger and vulnerable women in which consent is, at minimum, questionable are common in many movies, even movies that are PG. Fifty Shades of Grey perpetuates this harmful depiction of romance and love. Every relationship is different, but mutual respect is something that all couples should strive for, and something that movies should start depicting more often.
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