I’ve been meaning to blog about Fifty Shades since I succumbed to the hype and read it (borrowed, not bought).
I disliked it. Not because it’s appallingly badly written (which it is) or because the storyline hangs together like an icicle hanging off a salted roof on a swelteringly hot day (which it does) or because the characters have all the appeal of wet mould (they do). I’m not one of those who was disappointed by a steamy, kinky, sexy novel which contains very little in the way of steam, kink or sex (about three sex scenes, one of which contains the deeply unerotic image of him fishing her tampon out).
No, what I thought was crappy about it was that it’s marketed as this terribly progressive book for the modern woman, but its gender attitudes are straight out of the 1970s. Here’s the storyline: girl meets boy, boy likes girl, girl does not like boy, girl says no to things, boy does them anyway, she falls for him as a result. I’m not calling Christian Grey a rapist. But he does ignore her almost every time she says no to him, which is quite frequent, and this only fuels her attraction to him.
Does this sound familiar? It’s the storyline of every single Mills & Boon I’ve ever read (and as a teenager I read lots of them). It’s the storyline of quite a few movies – remember the last scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Where the heroine stamps away and the hero actually uses a bullwhip to rein her, literally, back in, whereupon she melts into his arms? It’s the storyline of Twilight, about which the less said the better. And now it’s the storyline of Fifty Shades.
The problem with this is that it perpetuates a culture in which “no” can mean “yes.” Where women don’t know their own silly little minds, and the man knows better than they what they want. Where protest can be overruled dismissively.
It doesn’t actually matter whether what Ana, the heroine of the books, is saying no to: whether it’s to gifts he gives her, or to being physically picked up and carried down the street, or to a relationship. The fact that he ignores her ‘no’ indicates that he does not respect her stated boundaries and is happy to overrule her to impose his own preferences. And the narrative of the book then validates this behaviour, by making her fall for him. Even at the end where she ditches him, we know he’ll be back, because he doesn’t respect a no.
This is not progressive erotica for the discerning-yet-saucy 21st century woman. It’s just another vat of tree pulp sacrificed to the canon of rape culture literature.