Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: My Thoughts

There's been quite a lot of buzz about the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James.

It's interesting because erotic fiction doesn't always make it into the mainstream critical circle, let alone into the hands of most mainstream readers.

Fifty Shades... obviously, has been different.

As you all know, I lean strongly to the feminist side of the femininity spectrum.  I'm for equality in all things.  I absolutely believe that we are currently living in a rape culture where victim blaming is rampant.  I still see the struggle for women to get the same jobs as men, to be treated in the same way, to be upheld as truly equal members of society.  I have serious issue with the fact that, as a woman, it is up to me to "make the right choices" when it comes to walking home at night or doing a trail run alone, rather than up to our society at large to say that rape is unacceptable and disgusting and I should be able to walk wherever I please without fear.

But there are things where I differ.

Things where my love for Jesus and my husband and my family trump the feminist party line. 

One of those things is when it comes to lust.

There are those feminists who feel that women should be able to express their sexuality just as much as men should.  Here I agree.  But there are also those feminists who believe that this means we should be able to put our bodies on display if we want to, sleep with multiple partners if we want to, watch porn if we want to, and generally behave as men behaving badly

That's not the kind of equality I'm looking for.

I'm looking for an equality that looks more like mutual respect.

In college and part of high school I hoped that men would look at me with lust in their eyes.  It meant attention, and that was what I craved.  It was good enough for me.  I thought lust was equatable with love, or at the very least "like".  Now I'm a little more aware of what that means.  Lust is never love.  Lust is undressing with your eyes.  It's masturbation when you're alone in your bedroom or in the shower with a certain person on campus in mind.  Lust is thinking about sex with that person with whom you don't have the emotional and mental relationship to back up the physical longings.  It's not love.

I have always had issues with lust.  Ever since I had an inkling about sexuality, lust has been a problem.  My having issues with lust and giving into those wants does not make me more of a woman.  Cheating on my husband mentally and emotionally is still cheating.  Looking through pictures of muscle bound actors covered in beads of sweat and feeling my heart-rate increase for kicks?  Still cheating.

I stopped watching romantic movies years ago because I always left the theatre feeling empty.  Feeling "why isn't my boyfriend like that" or "why isn't my husband like that" or "why don't men understand that".  I always left with all sorts of activated triggers about ex-boyfriends and handsome colleagues and the cute barista at Starbucks.  I didn't think about the fact that the writers were writing specifically to play on those places in my psyche.  To hold men up to an impossible standard - one they could never achieve.  That's not equality or respect.  In fact, it's the opposite of both.

I see this as porn for women, essentially.

And porn is something that feminists get all hot and bothered about.  A thing that Christians get all hot and bothered about:

It's degrading.  It's wrong.  The women in that industry are sick or needy or damaged.  Or whatever.  Some of us say "it's okay to watch it under these circumstances".  Or women and men should both watch porn and enjoy it in a healthy way.


It's porn.  When men watch it, we call them pigs.  We say they're struggling with an addiction. 

When our husbands have a cache on the computer filled with naked women we're enraged.

When we find Playboys under our son's bed or in our dad's closet we are mortified.

Because we feel cheated.  And cheap.  And we feel like we must not be good enough if they need this other thing to satisfy this part of them.  And it feels crappy.

And yet...

I see my women friends, who also claim Christ posting pictures of shirtless men on their facebook pages as "motivation".  Women who would be scandalized if some other women's husband posted a picture of some babe in a bikini.

And tons of women around me from all faiths and walks are filling their minds with Fifty Shades of Grey.

At the pool today I heard a woman recommending it to a friend: "It's SUCH a great book."

Bottom line?  It's porn.

I'm not writing this to pass judgement on you for reading it.  Maybe you can read it and feel nothing.  Maybe it doesn't affect you physically.  Maybe you don't get all hot and bothered reading eroticism.  Maybe you don't put the book down and wish your life were something else.  We are not all strong in the same areas.

Some of us, like me, can't watch a romantic comedy without bitterness.  And I certainly can't read Fifty Shades... without sinning.

A book like that is like poison for a person like me.  

And yep, I call myself a feminist.  I'm absolutely looking for equality.  But real equality.  Like in my marriage - I trust that my husband isn't looking at magazines with pictures of scantily clad women and wishing I were more like them later that night - because aside from the sin argument, it would make me feel crappy.  And when love somebody, you don't want them to feel crappy.  You want them to know you love them.  That's supposed to be clear.  And for my part, I'm staying away from anything that will make me wish he were something different than what he is. It's not about asserting my feminine independence or sexuality or anything else.  It's about the mutual understanding between me and the man I love that we won't intentionally do things to make the other person feel crappy.  Cause that's a big part of equality.  Love.  Respect.

If we all worked hard to stop making people of other genders feel crappy, equality wouldn't be an issue.

So...  all that said...  if you can read Fifty Shades of Grey without making someone feel crappy (including you in those moments after you put it down), go ahead and read it.  I've heard it's all the rage.  But if you can't, then don't.  Get your partner a sexy grey tie and work it out amongst yourselves.


Jackie said...

My issue with the book isn't that it's porn (which it is), it's that its written SO POORLY! The writing is just plain BAD. Like bad bad. I am writing poorly just trying to describe it, because it's that bad. Terrible. Truly embarrassing writing. I am annoyed that so many educated women are reading it and thinking that it's GOOD WRITING. IT'S NOT.

Sorry for my "shouty capitals" (as our heroine would say in 50 Shades), but it makes me super mad that such terrible writing (at the core, it's not too far above bad fanfiction with its lack of editing and horrid grammar) is mainstream and people are saying that it's good! HOLY COW IT'S NOT GOOD.

It's porn. Read porn if you want to. I'm not going to stop anyone from doing whatever they're doing. But stop calling it a "brilliant story". I've read it. I read a lot of really brilliant fiction. This is not one of them.

I'm sorry.
Rant complete.

Aside (and back on topic): I, personally, take no issue (emotionally or spiritually) with anyone exploring their sexuality in any way that fulfills them. If their exploration hurts someone (either themselves or their partner or their family in some way), that's what I take offense to.

I actually had a long conversation on a subway train home with a woman in her late 50's. She saw me reading on my Kindle and she asked if I had read 50 Shades. I said that I had only read the first two, and I stopped because I couldn't stand how terrible the writing was (obviously, I feel strongly about this.) She disagreed with me, saying that the writing was suitable for the type of book it was. I argued back that the main character gave me anxiety with her constant worrying and contemplating of her naval. She was a boring, annoying creature. And the woman disagreed again, saying that she read her as a confused young woman, just looking to find herself.


She also went into a long rant about the book empowering women to ask for what they want sexually etc etc, which, to a degree, I suppose I could agree with that, except that Ana NEVER ONCE asks for anything except a NORMAL RELATIONSHIP. Choices are handed to her and she handles them poorly. She allows herself to be beaten, and she struggles with guilt over her pleasure. I don't see empowerment there. I see abuse.

So I'm not going to talk about it anymore, because I'm just getting more frustrated.

and that's all I have to say about that.

C. Nimm said...

Normally I try to refrain from posting comments; my thoughts are my own and I prefer to keep them to myself.

This book is something I need to speak out on though.

Once I pick up a book, I will give it enough of my respect to finish it. I picked up Fifty Shades, and I sincerely wish I never did.

I agree with you that books like this do not promote respect or equality. As for porn? I couldn't even call it that. It was like mental abuse on paper.

The entire plot is focused around a young, bright college girl who loses her virginity to a BDSM punk. I call him a punk because he's all the things you would consider someone of that caliber. He treats her not only like a prostitue, but also as an object. I found myself shaking my head through every erotic scene, and cringing away from the text when he'd order her around. When Christian physically punishes Ana for expressing herself (she rolls her eyes) I knew there was no redemption for the plot.

I understand that some people are sexually driven by certain things, but the author of this book shows a girl, beyond naive, that DOESN'T enjoy his lifestyle and works to change herself to please him. What kind of message does this send to ANY woman? Please change yourself and embrace something that makes you feel physically and emotionally abused for the sake of ... what? Love? Is it love when he hits you? Forces you to obey his commands? Hide your thoughts and feelings?

There is one positive thing I got out of this book:

a better respect and appreciation for a partner who loves me as I am, and who allows me to do the same for him.

Missy said...

Jackie - I have heard as well that the writing is poor, but since I haven't read it, I don't have a right to comment. I have perused excerpts to get myself educated on the content - and it was enough to know what the book was about in general. I absolutely agree that you should be able to explore your sexuality in a way that fulfills you, and also agree that the issue is when it hurts you or someone else. If I'm leaving what I'm doing feeling ashamed, then it wasn't fulfilling (my take). Thanks so much for your comment :)

Missy said...

C. Thank you for your comments as well. I appreciate your dedication to reading a book you pick up. I feel very similarly. I've always respected your take on things, as you know, including literature - maybe especially literature, as you always seem a bit ahead of the curve on pop culture lit. I am SO glad that you gained respect and appreciation through reading :) How awesome to turn something on it's head! And yes - absolutely sad the way that I have read Christian treats Ana, and it scares me that there are memes going around calling this book a guidebook for men on how to treat women. I don't think for one minute that THAT was the author's intention - it seems clear to me that it's more of a Beauty and the Beast tale than a guidebook on wooing (though Belle was a bit more round in the character department?).

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