One of my biggest pet peeves is when people, who know nothing about something, feel the need to comment negatively on it. So, when I began seeing comments on my FaceBook feed saying, ‘I would never read this book, but…’ that then went on to thoroughly bash something they just admitted they knew nothing about, I felt the need to do some investigating. First I read the reviews, many of which started with, ‘I have not read the book, but… here’s my uneducated opinion…’ (OK I added a bit there.) Since the reviews were mixed, and not helpful, and, since, surprisingly, the BDSM crowd also had problems with the book, I decided to see for myself what the fuss was about. Here’s what I found:
- Christian Grey is admittedly a very disturbed man. In fact, the book is called 50 Shades of Grey because he repeatedly says he is “50 shade of f’d up.”
- Why is Christian 50 shades of messed up? Because he has severe attachment issues due to a history of abuse. Christian’s birth mother was a cocaine addict and prostitute. Christian frequently did not have food and had to take care of her. He was also abused by at least one man, leaving cigarette burns on his back and chest. When he was four years old she died, leaving him in the apartment with her dead body for days. When her pimp found her, he called the police, then left Christian there with the body until help arrived. He was adopted by a great family, but could not stand to be touched and did not talk for 2 years. Because he craved touch, but could not allow anyone to touch him appropriately, he fought and was kicked out of more than one school. At 15 (as often happens to abused children) another predator found him and introduced him to the BDSM lifestyle. He became her submissive and, because she taught him to behave properly, and thus improved his life, he thought this was a wonderful relationship. This lasted 6 years, until her husband found out, beat her severely and divorced her. Christian then entered into 3 month agreements with women who were already in this lifestyle, who looked like his birth mother (another messed up issue), where he was the dominant in the relationship. His adoptive parents knew nothing about this and thought he was gay, since he did not date. Christian sees a psychiatrist once a week, as he has throughout his childhood.
- Ana is 21 and Christian is 26. Ana is a virgin, just graduating college, with a mother who is married to husband #4. Christian is a billionaire who dropped out of college to start his own business. He employs 40,000 people, takes his responsibilities very seriously and has no friends, except the woman who introduced him to BDSM.
- Ana is the first girl Christian has ever been interested in having a real relationship with. Since it is all he knows, he tries to introduce her to a BDSM lifestyle. He believes that her being his submissive allows him to protect, teach and take care of her. One of his main issues is making sure she eats regularly (likely because he did not always have enough to eat as a child).
- Ana never signs the contract to be his submissive. When she asks him to show him how bad a punishment could be, he does. She hates it and breaks up with him. He is devastated and does not understand why she is upset since she could have used her ‘safe word’ at any time to stop it. (Which he explained to her before hand.) Christian does not understand that normal relationships do not have ‘safe words.’
- Christian does not try to isolate her from her friends. Christian is jealous and possessive-true, but the people he has trouble with, he has reason to have trouble with.
First there is Paul, Ana’s employer’s brother who has been told no, but needs to hang on Ana even though she is clearly uncomfortable with it.
Then there is Jose. The first time Christian sees Jose he is trying to kiss Ana even though Ana is clearly saying no and pushing him away. They are both drunk. While Christian and Ana do drink frequently, Christian is against Ana overindulging. Jose turns out to be an ok guy who had one bad night and Christian learns to tolerate this friendship, even allowing Jose to stay in their apartment when he visits.
Ana’s second boss is also a problem. There are rumors of sexual harassment, which Christian warns Ana about. He is right. The boss accosts Ana, she defends herself, and he is fired. He then spends the rest of the book trying to kill Christian, Ana and Christian’s family. Christian also buys the company Ana works for in an attempt to protect her.
Christian does try to stop Ana from going to a bar with her friend Kate, and suggests they go to their apartment instead because someone is trying to kill Ana and the apartment is more secure. (Ana does not obey, goes to the bar, and ironically the killer is in the apartment. Christian points out that in splitting the security detail, Ana placed the security team in danger as well.)
While Christian is definitely controlling, he does make some valid points…. His biggest problem is that he acts without talking to Ana first, and does not give her information she needs to make wise decisions in his attempt not to worry her—which she frequently yells at him about.
- The BDSM lifestyle is itself not made to be glamorous (though the kinky sex is). The other person who tries to kill Christian, Ana and herself is an ex-submissive of Christians who clearly has issues. Christian also realizes he was abused at 15 by the woman who introduced him to BDSM when he hears her side of the story as Ana confronts her. Christian’s adoptive mother also overhears and is very upset. The woman is a family friend. Christian breaks ties with the woman eventually as he processes all of this.
8.While Christian and Ana do try many things from the BDSM lifestyle, they never enter into a dominant/submissive agreement. Ana refuses to have the word ‘obey’ in her wedding vows and frequently reminds Christian that she never promised to obey him.
- Christian removes all the things from his apartment that are repugnant to Ana (most of which involve physical punishment) and leaves only those things she approves of. Ana does consent to everything sexual, as well as being tied up and lightly spanked. (She is able to tie him up and spank him as well.) After they are married, when a set of handcuffs leaves red marks on her skin, Christian is very upset with himself. Ana also speaks with his psychiatrist who approves of their relationship and assured her that Christian does not ‘need’ to hurt her and is not a sadist before she consents to marry him, though it is clear that she has already decided to do so.
- Everything leads to sex, and Ana realizes that sex is a coping mechanism for Christian. It is a way to avoid the argument and a way to assure himself that she will not leave him.
- Admittedly, everything leads to sex, there is a lot of sex and it is thoroughly described. As an older married woman I began to wonder that Ana didn’t get sore, and began to say, ‘really?’ Truth be told I have never found an elevator that exciting (probably because I had seven kids fighting to press the buttons in it) and I could not see becoming aroused while someone is chasing me in an attempt to kill me, but maybe that’s just me…
- In the end they are happily married with two children. Christian has overcome some of his issues, but they still have a varied sex life that does include light spankings. (Not that we needed to know this…) Christian also allows his adoptive family to touch him, and finally believes that they do love him.
While this is not a story we would want any of our children to live through, it does bring up some valid questions we should be exploring:
- The author points out that Christian wedding vows contain the word ‘obey’ in only the woman’s vow. If you believe in male headship, when does male authority change from a women’s responsibility to obey her husband and become controlling and emotionally abusive? (Do not cop out and say ‘when he hits her.’ We all know that abusive behavior can be more than just physical, and Christian is abusive in his control of Ana even when he is not physically hurting her. He also is only doing things in her best interests, because he loves her, yet we can all recognize in his character that there is something not right…)
- What can Christian couples do sexually in a marriage, and what can they not do? Ana consents to everything they engage in, yet many Christians still are upset by some of the sex-play- so where is the line?
- What is porn? Can married Christians read a book like this for pleasure? Where is the line that changes this from a story about a man with reactive attachment disorder that is learning to have a relationship and a book that should not be read?
- Who is un-marriable? Clearly Ana should have waited to have a physical relationship with Christian and/or marry him until he was doing a little better psychologically- but where is that line? Ana was lucky that things turned out as well as they did; many are not so lucky. But, the truth is that none of us are perfect, or without our issues when we marry, what criteria can we use to teach our daughters when to say no?
- Why are millions of American women drawn to a story about a man with severe emotional problems? What does this say about the state of our relationships?
BTW- the BDSM community (or at least those who objected on line) dislike the book because Ana and Christian do not have a signed agreement, Ana does not fully understand what Christian wants from her (she is too naive to be approached for this relationship), they do not use their safe words etc. The BDSM community does not consider this a ‘good’ relationship either, and does not believe it is a fair representation of their lifestyle. In condemning this book, it is one of the few times you will see Christians and BDSM n the same page, for admittedly different reasons.