Some of the most ardent sexists I've met have been women who don't even recognize it. This worries me deeply because women influence each other greatly and when you have a woman unknowingly, happily stating that others should be submissive to their husbands, it's suddenly so much harder to argue.
this (funny story, the review from Amazon this post uses was the final straw and convinced me I had to read this book. You win, Amazon reviewer). I have the feeling that if this book had been written by a man, people would be decrying it as the most sexist thing to hit bookshelves in years. But it's written by a woman, a woman who's never published a book before. A woman who, as the bio describes, put her dreams of writing "on hold to focus on her family and her career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey." And suddenly critiquing this book becomes so much harder.
So please, Ms. James, keep in mind that this is nothing personal. I don't mean to call you a sexist (as I've never met you, never heard you talk, never even read an interview with you), but I find your writing extraordinarily sexist. I don't want to judge a person I've never met and I separate the writer from the writing; one's craft is not a direct judgement of one's character. But the themes of this book a little over a hundred pages in has got me deeply worried and I worry for the image it presents to women.
So what's my beef with it? Here we go (and, oh yeah, SPOILERS AHEAD, BIG TIME):
"Romantically, though, I've never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity - I'm too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated, my long list of faults go on. So I have always been the one to rebuff any would-be admirers. There was that one guy in my chemistry class who liked me, but no one has ever sparked my interest - no one except Christian Damn Grey. Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and Jose Rodrigues, though I'm sure neither of them has been found sobbing alone in dark places. Perhaps I just need a good cry."(51)This brings me to:
"Sometimes I wonder if there's something wrong with me. Perhaps I've spent too long in the company of literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high. But in reality, nobody's ever made me feel like that." (24)As for what her ideals are, it's never exactly expressed. Really, if she's looking for a Mr. Darcy-eque man, she's probably not be asking for too much. But given her shallow character, this is never explored. And her literary interest seems to be a lot more...well...
Anyway, the point is, I've read enough of it to know what happens between Tess and Alec D'Uberville. And then this happens in Fifty Shades, after Christian Grey sends Ana a first edition of the book and a quote from it:
"This quote - Tess says it to her mother after Alec D'Uberville has his wicked way with her."Ana, as a literature major, you should know. I believe what he might be saying is: I WANT TO RAPE YOU. Because, you know, THAT'S WHAT ALEC DOES TO TESS. Or did you not finish the book either? (And "wicked way" might be the worst allusion to rape I have ever heard).
"I know," Kate muses. "What is he trying to say?"
"I don't know..." (55)
Not good? A bit not good, yeah.
And then this part came along:
As I sit, I'm struck by the fact I feel like Tess Dubeyfield looking at the new house that belongs to the notorious Alec D'Uberville. The thought makes me smile...May I remind you, ALEC D'UBERVILLE RAPED TESS. This is NOT okay. AT ALL.
"...I could hold you to impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec d'Uberville," he murmurs, and his eyes flash dark and dangerous.
"If there are only two choices, I'll take the debasement," I whisper, gazing at him. (95)
Which brings me finally to:
4) Christian Grey: The appeal of this man is an absolute mystery. So what if he's hot. These are the things that come out of his mouth:
"I'm used to getting my own way, Anastasia," he murmurs. "In all things." (44)You know, I'm starting to think Ana isn't so picky after all. I'd rather be alone than date a cad who has things like this coming out of his mouth. I don't care how much of an emotional wreck he might turn out to be (because, if he's anything like Twilight's Edward, he's going to have emotional issues hidden under the surface). This sort of behavior is terribly dangerous. And thus:
"Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women sentient and receptive," he says dryly. (66)
"Well, if you were mine, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday." (67)
"If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don't, I shall punish you, and you will learn." (100)
"Why the fuck didn't you tell me?" he growls. (108) [upon discovering Ana is still a virgin]
5) S&M and abuse are completely separate things: I don't know much about S&M/BDSM/etc. However, I think the quote from page 67 shown above is definitely NOT alluding to any sort of fetishism but outright abuse. He describes his focus on such apparent S&M as all about his pleasure ("to please me" pg 100) rather than about both of their pleasures (which, from what I know about S&M, is the real focus). His rules and regulations for Ana are even appalling: a specific diet, ascribing to a workout program with a personal trainer, not getting involved with any other relationships while with Christian. This is beyond any sort of fetishism; this is absolute control over nearly every aspect of Ana's life. And yet the only problem she seems to have with it is getting free clothes and the amount of time she has to work out. But then, when Christian takes her home after she spent the night at his apartment, her reaction is:
I belatedly realize he's not asked me where I live - yet he knows. But then he sent the books; of course he knows where I live. What able, cell phone-tracking helicopter-owning stalker wouldn't? (82)You know, if the guy you just spent the night with totally knows where you live because he's stalking you, YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN'T BE SEEING HIM. And the fact that he likes to hurt women "depresses me" (100). Only depression? Not fear? Anxiety? The fact that maybe you should learn some judo and karate in case things get absolutely mental? But, there's a problem with my opinion because I'm not ascribing to this thought (which brings me to my final point):
6) I'd do anything for you - even that: Ana admits she would do anything to be with Christian. Anything. She goes through intense beauty tending:
Under Kate's tireless and frankly intrusive instruction, my legs and underarms are shaved to perfection, my eyebrows plucked, and I am buffed all over. It has been a most unpleasant experience. But she assures me that this is what men expect these days. (85)(Quick note on this line - assuming that this is what men expect. This is something I have a serious problem with. There is no one way women are supposed to look; why continue this line of thought?)
Ana also signs over her rights to her diet, workout routine, and what sort of bodily hair she can have. (107)
Modern Love post? This is worse; way worse. Because what I've gotten from this book so far basically says it's okay to be abused and raped as long as it's by someone you really love, who apparently really loves you. And this scares me. Really, really scares me more than anything I've ever encountered. I'm truly hoping the rest of the book will change this vibe, but I have feeling that won't be the case. I understand that this erotica and that the characters are not going to be incredibly complex. This is also Ms. James' first book and I understand only too well the courage it takes to write. I don't expect her book to be perfect; nothing I've written ever has or ever will be. I've refrained from making comments on her writing style as, for her first book, that seems a bit harsh. But I really, truly do have a problem with the message I'm getting from it. It worries me that a writer or a reader might have never even thought about what appears on the page, that things that seems so blatantly sexist to me might seem as nothing more than an intense romance to another reader. And while I believe that books should be interpreted in a multitude of ways, this... this is just so wrong. This seems to normalize abuse, obsession, weak women, and domination of women.
Maybe it gets better. I hope so. But dear God, I haven't even gotten to a sex scene yet...
Thanks, Jim. Thanks for that terrifying possibility.
Note: All citations are from Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Vintage Books 2012.