49 Shades Too Many

…I caved, okay? From day one, or perhaps even before day one, there was only one book on my Never Ever Ever Going to Read List: Fifty Shades of Grey. But it was hard to ignore. Not because the plot seemed anything above sub par, or because of the shadow of a box-office-rattling movie, but simply because everyone loved it. That’s how I found myself doing what I like the least: hopping on the bandwagon. (But if it’s any consolation, I found these books an exception to sinning against the Eleventh Commandment of reading the PDFs online.)

The first book… not the worst thing in the world. At times it was amusing and entertaining, but that still couldn’t make up for the fact that the diction, attention to detail, and character/plot development were characteristic of a story written by a middle schooler. Yes, I know not every book can contain as much depth as Gatsby, but I still found myself ready to bash my head into the wall every time Ana, a grown woman, commentated having strange and usual sex with phrases such as “Holy cow!” Despite all of this, I could see why the trilogy gained such a following and success. Books become successful not so much because of their content, but because they succeed in reaching the audience for which they were written. Fifty Shades was written for washed out soccer moms whose only exposure to literature comes from their once a month book club meetings; so it’s clear why they would find a story like this “amazing,” having minimal exposure to quality literature. And thus, the empire was born.

Now, let’s jump to Fifty Shades Darker, which managed to entertain me to a lesser degree, and begin to test my patience. What this trilogy lacks BIG TIME is any type of serious plot development. It is cyclical to the point of being static. Ana leaves, two chapters later she comes back. Christian opens up about his life and you think finally we’re actually getting somewhere, but nope… the next line leaves him twice as closed off as he was to begin with. One step forward, five steps back. It makes sense when put it into perspective about how E.L. James was able to stretch a six-week relationship (Yes! It was only six weeks!) over three books and 1500+ pages.

Fifty Shades Freed is what broke me.

For every five people that love the series, you have one who hates it. The main reason, as I’ve gathered, is the idea that Christian and Ana’s relationship is abusive. In the first two books, I’ll admit I didn’t really see it. Granted, some of the sex is beyond unusual and borderline humiliating, but it’s always consensual.

What is abusive without a single shadow of a doubt is their relationship outside of the sex.

Now, imagine you’re Anastasia: naïve, inexperienced, and under the impression that you’re desperately in love. Then you have your Christian Grey: tall, dark, handsome, and, by his own account, “fifty shades of fucked up.” You can’t go out with your friends unless the outing has been pre-approved and security is in tow. Your free will means nothing because ultimately all choices will be made for you under the pretext of protection. The worst part of this is you think it’s what you actually want. Your tall, dark, and handsome husband manipulates you so heavily that you lose every concept of self. Well, Christian Grey, I agree that you are some shades of fucked up, but I’d argue that your estimate was a few hundred shades too few.

The amount of emotional abuse and manipulation dripping from this relationship left me sick to my stomach. You see, it follows a very basic pattern: Ana tries to “defy” her husband (and by defy, I REALLY mean she thinks for herself for a damn change); he gets mad and threatens her with punishment; her dwindling free will is able to push to the surface long enough for her to make her own decision; he explodes in his typical fashion; they fight; and finally, he uses sex as a means of apology to get her to forgive his manipulative ways and choose to stay with him. It’s textbook emotional abuse. Even Ana knows it!: “I do something you don’t like, and you think of some way to get back at me. Usually involving some of your kinky fuckery, which is either mind blowing or cruel.”

Some other addendums that I find hard to look past: 1) Christian hammers the idea into Ana’s head that she is his—“no one touches what’s mine”—all while keeping her far enough to question her permanence by coldly calling her “Mrs. Grey” more frequently than her first name. 2) In the first two books, while the relationship is still on the rocks and not secured, Christian tends to use “spank” in regards to punishment. But by the third, “beat” has taken its place. The discrepancy between their connotations is alarming. If some man, ANY man, very blatantly told me “I have the urge to beat the shit out of you,” he would be out the door before the words even finished leaving his mouth.

Every time I see a girl post a tweet about Christian Grey being “relationship goals” I lose just a little bit of hope. When older women who are unhappy in their safe and uneventful marriages fantasize about something as toxic as this, it feels as if something has been lost. When did emotional abuse become ignorable when great sex and excitement are involved? How can so many women blindly endorse and promote such CLEAR manipulation by a “sexy male figure” in conjunction to promoting an end to domestic violence? It’s because this has been glamorized. Another textbook case of abuse has fallen victim to Hollywood’s transformation to cover up what it truly stands for, and this will continue to happen until we form a united front to obliterate the idea that normal and healthy are boring, and abuse is justifiable if the glamour of it all remains.

Fifty Shades of Grey is not the first book of its kind, and it will certainly not be the last. The only thing we, not only as women, but as a society, can do to stop the subliminal promotion of emotional abuse is to refuse to turn a blind eye. For every five that love this series, I hope the one who hates it speaks loud enough to catch the attention of others. I hope we can find a way to let fiction lose its air of untruthfulness, and drag these stories into factual scenarios that occur too often every day. Let us raise and spread awareness, and continue until not a single woman deems this as fantasy and relationship goal worthy.   More than anything, I hope we can turn Hollywood’s glamorization of toxic, unhealthy, and abusive relationships on its head, one book at a time.

***Happy International Women’s Day! I hope this review was able to change your perspective on an issue that so many women (and men!) deal with on a daily basis. One abused is too many. Not just today, but everyday I encourage you to take a stand against domestic abuse.

4 thoughts on “49 Shades Too Many

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey (“Cinquenta Tons de Cinza” in its Portuguese translation) was a worldwide success. But I am absolutely sure I will not read it; the infinitesimally small probability that I did was annihilated by your excellent review. As I grew older, I have adopted this rule: if a book is in the top ten best-seller list do not read it. I reason that if it is in that list, then it appeals to the average reader (“the soccer moms”), therefore it must be just an average book. As time becomes shorter, one has to be more selective in one’s reading choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Grey: (Ironically) Short & to the Point « Nicole's Nine Cents

  3. I’ve always wondered if I should read books I don’t like just so that I can argue with people who do once I’ve finished. Really great post. From what you describe I don’t understand why anyone would want a relationship like that

    Liked by 2 people

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