Fifty Shades May Not Be So Crazy

Hot, sexy, dangerous and … controversial. Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestselling novel by E L James, has been turning heads since it was first released in May of 2011. The story revolves around a young literature student, Anastasia Steele, who snags the attention of multimillionaire entrepreneur, Christian Grey. After the two discover their attraction to each other, they embark on a journey that has been causing controversy all over the U.S.

Christian Grey, a man of power, wealth and status, invites Anastasia into his world of BDSM (bondage, dominance and sadomasochism). Before Anastasia agrees to this arrangement, she must sign a contract, consenting to the treatment that her new lover is going to give her. Many of the acts that they perform together are outside the box of what is seen as a “normal” sex life, but the two agree to it.

Women all over the country have devoured the books, enjoying the vivid, erotic scenarios that comprise the plot, but researchers at the Ohio State University beg to differ with the book’s widespread acceptance. “Our research team was disturbed by the widespread popularity of the book given its glaring glamorization of violence against women. Our systematic analysis of the book sheds light on our society’s tolerance for violence against women.” Throughout the book, however, Anastasia does not seem to feel herself abused. She seems, in fact, to enjoy it. Alexis Conason, a researcher at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital says, “BDSM is characterized by a safe and playful arrangement between two consenting adult partners.” Through these carefully set guidelines, abuse is not supposed to be a part of the equation, yet some still see it that way.

The concern that this relationship could be seen as sexual abuse has much to do with the way Christian treats Anastasia within the context of the story. There are instances of him stalking her and showing up unexpectedly. This might be interpreted as an expression of extreme possessiveness, which some women find attractive.  Researchers who believe this is a sexually abusive relationship only see him intimidating and harming her – mentally and emotionally. An article in the Journal of Women’s Health claims “Anastasia becomes dis-empowered and entrapped in the relationship as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.”  Even though she is only 22, Anastasia is an adult, able to make decisions of whether or not she wants to participate Christian’s games. If she did not want to be involved with a man who followed her, she could have bowed out and not signed the contract, but she did.

It is a gross exaggeration to say Fifty Shades of Grey “is glamorizing violence against women.” It is a fictional romance novel. None of what happened in the book is real – even though it is based on real occurrences. This is a book that explores options. It attempts to uncover ideas which are normally hidden and almost always tabooed. Gavin De Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, discusses violence against women in situations such as rape. He says, “Some people say about rape, for example, do not resist, while others say always resist. Neither strategy is right for all situations, but one strategy is: Listen to your intuition.” Rape, a form of sexual abuse, is something that human intuition is able to interpret. Before Anastasia and Christian delved into their sexual relationship, he made sure she knew all of the “safe words,” which can be spoken at any time to stop the sexual activity if one partner becomes uncomfortable. If Anastasia was sexually abused, this fail-safe would not have existed. There would be nothing to stop Christian from what he was doing. The sexual act, in this case, was mutually agreed upon and energetically performed by both parties.

Linda Bloom agrees, “One of the significant messages offered in the trilogy is that two consensual adults who share a common understanding of the parameters of the limits of their sexual experience could greatly enhance the quality of that experience and, by extension, the quality of their relationship itself.” For two people to venture outside what is seen as the normal sex life, does not mean that they are being sexually abusive. Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance novel that is not only about sex, but about falling in love.

Another series about falling in love is the Twilight series, in which a vampire falls in love with a mortal girl. He follows her around and eventually, turns her into a vampire. There is no outrage at this. Girls went crazy for the bloodsucking lover much as housewives covet the multimillionaire bachelor. E L James, in fact, began her career writing fan fiction between Edward and Bella, the main characters in the Twilight series. Jeff Baker of The Oregonion says, “What started as “Twilight” fan fiction, written by Leonard and posted free on websites under the name Snowqueens Icedragon, turned into a worldwide cultural inferno.”

Fifty Shades of Grey unquestionably pushes boundaries, but does not promote or condemn sexual abuse.  It puts a twist on what a romance story is and charts a novel approach to finding one’s soulmate. Perhaps it also illustrates that there are as many different ways to fall in love as there are to interpret a work of fiction.


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