I can honestly say that this book gave me a lot to think about…like, what the hell is an inner goddess? Is it still abuse if an orgasm is involved? Has “fifty shades” always been an expression? Is a sex contract legally enforceable? How many people that I know have secret sex dungeons? Is it socially acceptable for me to read this book in public?
Overall, I felt that out of the 514 pages in this book, 73 were worth reading. For your convenience, I have listed all worthwhile pages here (Yes, they’re the dirty ones. You’re welcome):
So what were the remaining 441 pages about? Well, mostly Anastasia Steele (the craven virgin turned freak-in-the-sheets) entertaining mind-numbingly irritating dialogue between her subconscious and her “inner-goddess” (don’t get me started…ahem “my inner goddess is doing pole vaults.”), conducting constant and painstaking analysis of Christian Grey’s facial expressions, and biting her lower lip. In my opinion, this literary fluff is unnecessary, but I’m not afflicted with shame (a condition which I am to understand, is chronic in areas such as the Midwest, and the Bible belt). You see, an erotic novel has an extensive backstory for the same reason that a guy suggests coming back to his place to check out the view, have a glass of wine, admire his rare argyle sock collection, meet his neighbor’s salamander, etc. You both know that there is one reason and one reason only that you are ditching your BFFs at the club to check out a sexy stranger’s fish tank right before last call, but if he actually came right out and said “let’s go back to my place and have sex” most ladies would be offended by the presumption. In much the same way, E.L. James was forced to bury the sex scenes (which, let’s be honest, are the only reason that you shelled out $16 for this book…with the possible exception of wanting to prove that you are way more sexually knowledgeable and consequently way less shocked by this book than the rest of the mom-jeans wearing members of the Smalltown PTA) in non-sexual and largely inane context. If E.L. James had simply published a skimpy seventy-three page book jam-packed with steamy sex scenes, the Million Moms would undoubtedly have been burning her in effigy and staging a protest, instead of tucking dog-eared copies under their pillows at night. Instead, the emotional turmoil and ethical dilemmas experienced by Anastasia Steele provide the modest reader with the justification that they need to indulge in such off-color entertainment.
Bearing this in mind, I was not surprised that this novel developed such a fast following. However, I was more than a little surprised to hear it so frequently being touted as groundbreaking for women. Believe it or not, there is nothing groundbreaking about women being submissive; in fact historically it has kind of been the norm. So is this book really a beacon for the women’s sexual revolution? Let’s review, shall we? It starts off with Anastasia Steele: a sexually clueless, virginal girl-next-door from a broken home. Virginity caters toward the male fantasy (see my article: virgins don’t have sex swings). I have never heard a woman say that she would just love to re-lose her virginity, or that she is dying to bang a sexually inexperienced man. Point: men. We are then forced to endure approximately 120 pages of agony-inducing analysis (“I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated and my long list of faults goes on.”; “why would this beautiful, powerful, urbane man want to see me?”). While battling insecurities is an all too relatable topic for women, it does nothing to empower them. Soon after, the older, wiser, richer, and more experienced Christian Grey (read: father figure) “rips through [Anastasia’s] virginity.” Because nothing says feminism like daddy issues.
Christian then introduces Ana to his “wicked ways” by implementing corporal punishment when she dares to roll her eyes at him. Following her Catholic-school-style spanking, they engage in satisfying sex which he then tries to use as proof that being hit actually turns her on. This logic is clearly fallacious. If you ate a hamburger prior to having satisfying sex, would it follow that you are sexually aroused by beef? No (unless maybe you’re Ronald McDonald; that guy clearly has some perverse kind of crazy going on). The formerly stable Ana then quickly becomes unbalanced and overly emotional; crying basically all the time and falling victim to her own increasing anxiety regarding her “relationship” with Christian. Now that her emotional intelligence has been reduced to that of a temperamental child she is forced to rely on Christian for all of her emotional and sexual needs. Merely being useless without him though is not enough for Christian. He repeatedly says throughout the book that she is his, and that she belongs to him, to which Anastasia initially responds by saying that her subconscious is “doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his.” And with that, feminism was dead.
In conclusion, I feel that the curiosity and shame-free approach to sex which this book inspires should be embraced. However, I would caution against running out to get a flogger and riding crop. If you are to get anything out of this book (other than some restless nights) it should be the realization that it is important to be honest with yourself about your sexual wants and desires. A woman being able to freely and honestly express her sexual desires is groundbreaking. A woman submitting to a man who will then have his way with her is passé at best.
In the words of my dear friend: the interplay of sex and degradation is rarely black and white; there are many shades of grey in between…perhaps even fifty.