This erotic fiction bestseller tells the story of the intense sexual relationship between the bookish and innocent Ana Steele and the rich, elusive bachelor, Christian Grey. Sound familiar? That’s because it is, says F-Word writer Holly Combe.
love interest.From commercial dating services tantalisingly claiming to offer the chance to “Find your very own Mr Grey” to articles declaring that “Surrender is a feminist dream,” there’s no denying the buzz surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey and its masterful
From all the hype, you’d think the set-up was groundbreaking but, aside from the much-talked-about BDSM element of Ana and Christian’s relationship, there’s not much deviation from the so-called sexual “norm” going on here.
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The characters seem to be straight out of Mills and Boon. For example, Ana is a 21 year old college senior whose sexuality has apparently been lying dormant until the arrival of Christian in her life. Meanwhile, Christian (or Grey as he is often known) is already a CEO at 27, as well as being an experienced and dominant lover. Oh and, in case you weren’t swooning already, he’s had a pilot’s licence for four years.
Ana challenges Grey in their e-mail exchanges but is generally gooey in his presence. It’s traditional romance as we know it but with cable ties, riding crops and Blackberrys.
Right from the start, the insufferable Mr. Grey ticks off a variety of macho clichés, trotting out pompous statements such as “I make decisions based on logic and facts” (impressive!) and creepy ones like “You seem nervous around men”.
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He stares at Ana a lot: whether in amusement, regarding her intently or smiling “like he’s privy to some big secret”.
It’s also interesting to note that Grey won’t even let Ana pay for a cheap meal at a breakfast restaurant and asks “Are you trying to completely emasculate me?”.
I get the impression that, as a modern woman apparently in need of respite from all that independence, I am meant to excitedly view overbearing dudes like Grey as a big deal. Well, I’m going to have to be brave and admit that he’s a turn-off and a crashing bore as far as I’m concerned. Reading about his apparently awe-inspiring ways brings out the heckler in me.
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To say there are fifty shades of Grey is somewhat pushing it.
It’s arguable that for Grey there are two shades: chivalrous gent and brute. Throw in the troubled past to add a touch of brooding and you can make that three. Again, all very familiar.
Even Grey himself makes it clear he has just two ways he can treat Ana: hold her to some impossibly high ideal or debase her completely. This seems a little limited.
Yes, it’s potentially the stuff of hetero-fantasies but it’s also the stuff of feminist frustration when chauvinists present the false choice of chivalry or rough treatment, even though it’s clear there are lots of women who don’t exactly dig either. And what about the many men who are capable of a variety of shades beyond these two rather sexist ones?
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There’s obviously nothing wrong with enjoying sexual submission so if Fifty Shades was just being talked about in the media as one possible female fantasy of many, all this wouldn’t matter a jot but, unfortunately, I keep hearing it being heralded as having somehow changed women’s perception of dating, men, relationships and sex.
Also, the book itself doesn’t exactly help when even Ana’s best friend Kate, with her “commanding manner” and formidable ways, nonetheless “melts” and appears “comely and “compliant” in the presence of a man she has taken to.
One possible myth-busting plus-point of the book is that Ana’s visual appreciation of her lover is heartily acknowledged. Even today, the view that women “just aren’t as visual” is tediously popular.
It’s no surprise that many women are responding positively to the sexy nature of the book and I learned on one friend’s Facebook page that the book is being sold with batteries alongside it in one of her local supermarkets. Indeed, the hype surrounding the book includes it being credited with an increase in sex-toy sales. Maybe such mainstreaming of masturbatory aids is progress? Or is that just a sign of the book’s status as the latest consumerist style-over-substance must-have? After all, satin wrist restraint sales are up. Make of that what you will.
So is the book good for women? On the face of it, anything with the potential to diffuse shame about consensual sex of any kind - be that BDSM, vanilla or whatever flavour happens to take your fancy- surely must be.
The problem is that a lot of the hype surrounding this book seems distinctly like yet more propaganda for squeezing women and men in their traditional places, regardless of kinks and preferences.
To be fair, E.L James may have simply wanted to bring her fantasies to life and allow women with similar ones to enjoy them. However, much of the way the book is being talked about seems to me like an attempt to put a new edgy spin on traditional roles, while implying they are somehow what women, as a whole, require. And that isn’t good for women at all.