I recently read the bestselling book in the world. Afterwards, I felt the need for a shower. My first reaction to Fifty Shades of Grey was, “I can’t believe such poorly-written drivel has garnered an international audience.” My second reaction was, “Oh my God, how do I keep my daughter from reading this kind of pornographic drivel?”
In truth, I don’t mind my daughter reading bad prose or even, when she’s old enough to understand it, erotica, but I do have a problem with her reading stories that celebrate and glorify men abusing women. Or, for that matter, anyone abusing anyone.
The novel, if you’ve been lucky enough to not hear about it, is the story of a young inexperienced virginal girl who is seduced by a wealthy gorgeous older man who can only get his rocks off by humiliating and enslaving her in his home dungeon. Yep, this is the book that has sold tens of millions of copies and that has caused a possibly correlating increase in the sales of rope. I read it because several women, whom I otherwise consider progressive, intelligent people, told me they love it.
I realize that it doesn’t necessarily mean these women go in for that sort of thing in real life. And if they do, that’s their business. I really don’t want to know what goes on in other people’s bedrooms (or basements, for that matter). But I worry about the message this book may be sending kids, especially teenage girls, whose ability to separate fiction from reality may be blurred.
If you have this book in your home, and you don’t think your teenagers hasn’t read parts of it on the sly, keep on living that life of denial. Like you didn’t know where your parents hid their copy of Joy of Sex or about the Playboys under the bed at your best friend’s house.
Back to the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades. My biggest issue is that the story is about a man who tries to control every aspect of a young woman’s life, from the food she eats to how often she exercises. Sure, she rebels — a little bit, but not enough, for my taste. The book is more about power than sex.
Fifty Shades of Grey was written as fan fiction of the Twilight series. That teen fiction trilogy traces the story of a young girl and her vampire boyfriend. It’s pretty insipid stuff, and the relationship between the two also revolves around a power play — this one between a super-strong immortal and his angsty inexperienced paramour. I hate that book, too. I let my daughter (she’s almost 14 years old) read the first Twilight book, but with the caveat that we’d talk about the relationships in the book afterwards. And we did. Her reaction? “Meh. All the Twilight girl cares about is having a boyfriend,” she said. Cool, she gets it, I thought, knowing, of course, that there often comes a time in every teenager’s life when pretty much all they can think about is having a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And I’ll deal with that when it happens — hopefully by talking about balance and respect. These are, I realize, more difficult concepts to grasp than punishment and abuse. Sigh.
I have children of both genders, and while my son is at the age where he covers his eyes every time anyone kisses, I want to make sure he, too, understands respect for others, in all relationships. When I was reading Fifty Shades I kept thinking how upset I’d be if my son felt the need to treat women in this manner. Flogging a young girl for rolling her eyes at him? If eye-rolling were a punishable sin, I wouldn’t have any skin left on my back. Of course, unlike the female character in Fifty Shades, I would’ve run as fast and far as possible at the first signs of a pathologically controlling personality. I mean Christian Grey (abuser) stalks Ms. Steele (abusee), as he calls her, in a really creepy way within minutes of meeting her. The guy needs a good talking to by law enforcement, and clearly, some good role modeling.
Which brings me to trying to answer the question of how we, as parents, show our kids what healthy relationships look like. My goal is to work toward being open with my kids about the challenges and advantages of loving someone, without acting on the occasional desire to punish them for their mistakes. Sure, couples fight, just as siblings do and parents and children do. But they don’t hit each other. They don’t physically abuse one another. They work not to verbally or emotionally abuse one another. At least, if they want to enjoy healthy, loving relationships.
I refuse to read any further in the Fifty Shades trilogy, although I hear that through the books, the young virgin calms the wounded beast that is her abuser, and distances him away from his fetish. Right. That happens in real life. The most important point I want my daughter to get is that’s rarely the case. If you’re in a relationship with an abuser, it’s not likely to stop — until you get out or die. This is serious, serious stuff, and for a book to make light of it really pisses me off.
On one hand, I’m all for a new era of less-repressed sexual energy, especially in America. But not at the cost of our daughters losing their self-respect and submitting to domineering power plays.
Now if only someone would write a realistic best-selling romance novel that’s readable and models healthy sex and relationship challenges that don’t revolve around who has the most power. That would be inspiring.