Fifty Shades of Horror

There’s been a lot of hype about 50 Shades of Grey, mostly centering around the steamy, explicit and kinky sex that goes on in the book. There’s been a lot of Christian posts about why this kind of sex and entertainment is unsuitable for a Christian woman, and I’m not going to repeat any of it here – I figure readers of this blog are intelligent and have either seen some of these posts or can figure it out on their own. But one of the major dangers that hasn’t been talked about until now is the danger it poses for young women who are unused to the world or to men and can be taken in by a smooth, slick appearance when the reality is dark and terrifying.

The book is written in a style that, like the Twilight books, appeals to teenage girls – it’s breathless, consumed with “love” for and obsession with the main male character and not much else about life, the universe, or anything else pervades it. And it’s got lots of explicit sex. Most of which is “vanilla” (as the book calls it) or normal sex between a man and a woman with no whips, chains, or gags in sight. And let me be up front here: yes, I’ve read the book. There is one, count it, exactly one scene of sado-masochistic sex. And it’s boring. Frankly, so is most of the book if you aren’t a teen obsessed with her latest crush.

But that teen breathless style is the book’s biggest danger, because this book, above anything else, is the story of an abusive (and I’m not talking about the kinky sex), manipulative, and extremely dangerous relationship. It’s written in a way that can fool innocent (and those who think they’re not so innocent) young women into idealizing this kind of man as their Prince Charming.

And if you think your daughter isn’t reading this stuff? Don’t be so sure. I’m willing to bet there are a lot of young, pious Orthodox women who are borrowing the book from their secular girlfriends, or from their girlfriend’s mothers (hopefully without either the knowledge or consent of those mothers), and devouring it.

Without going into a detailed account, which has already been done, extremely well, on another, secular blog, I’ll summarize.

Normal, healthy romantic relationships do not begin or continue with one prospective partner stalking the other. C. Grey (his first name is Christian – I cannot use that) stalks Anastasia. He shows up at her work, and she hasn’t told him where she works. He sends her expensive gifts when she hasn’t given him her address (and in fact before they are even in a relationship). He follows her about, texting her and showing up at a pub to haul her away (even when she tells him not to). He upgrades her flight seat (without being told what flight she’s on) and in several places, both of them admit that he is stalking her. While Ana does protest, she’s also touched and swayed by his “romantic” attentions. She sees the danger but seems helpless to back away, almost like a bird hypnotized by a snake.

Normal healthy romantic Orthodox Christian relationships seek to put the other first. In this fictional relationship, it’s made very clear time after time after time that Grey is not in the least interested in Anastasia’s needs, wants, or desires, in bed or out of it. He tells her again and again, it’s all about him, it’s about satisfying his needs, his desires, giving him pleasure. He violates her boundaries consistently, no matter how firmly she establishes them, and then manipulates her into feeling guilty that she’s denied him anything, that she’s upset him and that she’s caused him any distress.

Normal healthy romantic partners do not manipulate the other into doubting their self-worth in order to establish control and dominance over them. Grey consistently makes Anastasia doubt herself, feel guilty for doubting him or questioning his word, or even for daring to think her body and her mind are her own. He even gets her drunk in order to get her to agree to the kinky side of the relationship, and justifies it afterward by saying it was the only way to get her to “be honest” (a nasty play on the “in vino veritas” cliché). He eventually convinces Ana that she is nothing more than “an empty vessel, to be filled at his whim” and the author manages to make this feel legitimate!

Normal healthy romantic partners do not threaten to beat or spank their partners, nor do they follow through on those threats. These threats (and actions) are not part of the BDSM (Bondage/Dominance/Sado/Masochistic) part of the book, by the way. This is Grey punishing Ana for going against his wishes, for denying him what he wants, for acting like a normal, adult human being and living her own life. When she tells him she feels abused by the behaviour, he doesn’t apologize, or repent. He tells her to work through her feelings because “that’s what a submissive would do.” Remember, this wasn’t part of the kinky side of the relationship – this was a physical assault with no sex involved.

Normal healthy romantic relationships do not use sex for control, dominance, punishment and reward. I’m not referring here to the kinky stuff. Even the “vanilla” or normal sex in the book is anything but – Grey uses sex to satisfy his own needs, manipulate Anastasia, punish her and reward her, giving a young woman with no sexual experience an incredibly warped view of what sex between loving partners should be.

There’s more – there’s a lot more. If James had wanted to write a text-book case of an abusive relationship, she couldn’t have done it better than these series of books. But the danger is that Grey is rich, smooth talking, and preying on a young woman much like those the book is written to appeal to. Ana falls hard for him and since the book is written in first person, it’s hard not to fall into her mind-set and see him – and her – through her eyes: he the strong, romantic, no-nonsense firm and manly lover (with, yes, a kink she’s not exactly happy about but . . . she loves him! (Cue the treacly violins and the sarcasm here)); she the innocent (and she is – she’s a virgin both physically and romantically and in a worldly sense when she meets him), unworldly, naïve, clueless, and an undeserving-of-his-love waif who needs to be protected and disciplined, trained and punished for her misdeeds. Given some of the reactions to the book on the web by women who are definitely too young to be reading this, it’s appeal is almost impossible to resist. The danger is that these young, impressionable women will see in this book a twisted, damaging dangerous relationship and decide that this, actually, is what love and marriage are all about. If you talk about dangerous material and choices with your children, this is definitely a book you should talk about with your daughters, because I can guarantee you, if they haven’t read it, they’ve been given detailed descriptions of its contents.


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Bev. Cooke has been writing for publication since 1989. Her…
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