In light of Fifty Shades Darker infesting theatres, I figured it was time to repost this 2014 article in which I explain, at some length, just how fucked up and abusive this franchise is.
CN for sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse; stalking; fake BDSM; Fifty Shades shit; gaslighting; casual ableism in quotes and links.
Let me tell you how I got acquainted with some of the worst books on the market:
It was an odd time. I’d just spent over a month intensively critiquing creationist earth science texts, and that triggers depression after so many chapters. One begins to lose all hope for humanity. The end of summer loomed. B and I had a rather serious falling out. So there I was, mopey and miserable and wishing the world could just stop for a while.
I don’t remember what I was reading, but there was a link to Jenny Trout’s blog in the comments. And she had done to the Fifty Shades trilogy what I’m doing to Christianist textbooks. I’d been hearing for years how bloody awful the Fifty Shades of Grey books were, how they glorified abuse, how fake the BDSM was, and how terrible the writing was. I’d heard it from enough people whose opinion I trust that I hadn’t wasted my time attempting to read the bloody things. But now there’s gonna be a movie, and about nine trillion people think this shit’s the cat’s pajamas and ever-so-good for their looove lives, so maybe it would be a good idea to find out a bit more about it. And here was a brilliant, funny, and feminist writer who’d read and reported on them so I didn’t have to. It was like Cliffs Notes, with brutal honesty and snark.
Now, I should’ve been working, but I really couldn’t. And a day off wouldn’t hurt. And I read this:
Ana flushes way too much. I’m going to throw this out there right now. At the end of one paragraph, her face flames. There is a line of dialogue, and then the beginning of the next paragraph, she goes crimson. I get the distinct impression that she’s a Humboldt Squid in a dress, flashing red like a broken neon sign.
And I decided, “Fuck it. In bed, all day, with Jenny Trout’s MST3King of FSOG. That’s me.”
That day became a week. And it didn’t end with Jenny.
I couldn’t stop. I mean, this shit was far worse than I’d expected. Dude, I’ve read The Gift of Fear. I’ve delved into forensic psychology. And every section Jenny quoted screamed, “This asshole will murder you!” Have you ever read one of those signs-of-an-abusive-relationship dealios? Like Jenny pointed out in her Chapter 14 recap, this supposedly epic romance between Ana Steele and Christian Grey waves all the red flags:
When I first finished reading it, I thought it was funny, because how could anyone not understand that this isn’t a good relationship? But stuff stops being hilarious when a social worker sends you all her red flag charts and you realize that the book you just read is being held up as a romantic ideal by women all over the nation.
Yet this is the fucked-up “romance” that had the local adult stores filling their walls with BDSM-lite crap themed around FSOG, and people were raving about how seexxxy it was, and none of the fans seemed to realize this isn’t kink, it’s bloody domestic abuse. Shit’s not romantic, people, it’s rape culture, complete with rape.
And we don’t need to be telling women that this is what true love with a side of BDSM is. Jesus. It makes me wonder how many women are trapped in physically, sexually, verbally, and emotionally abusive relationships right now, pretending they’re wonderful because E.L. James says this is perfect love. It makes me wonder how many women are dead because they mistook red flags for roses, because of these books.
Someone asked recently why I “hate” on the readers who liked this series. I don’t “hate” them. I’m just pissed off at them for making excuses for this blatant anti-female, anti-sex propaganda that tells women that kink is only for fucked up people, and if their guy is physically and emotionally abusive, they’re just not loving him hard enough. And you know, I don’t feel like I need to be particularly nice to women who want to further that message in our culture, just like I wouldn’t be nice to Paul Ryan if he emailed me asking why I just can’t be more civil about his policies regarding abortion. Because I can’t, because if you’re civil and nice about this shit, people take it as tacit agreement with whatever fucked up thing they’re trying to say.
I ran Christian Grey through Gavin de Becker & Associates’ Risk Evaluation Test. Based on his actions in the first book, he got a) 8 out of 10 for risk and b) a 154 out of 200 for quality of the assessment. (It could have been higher, but he did not own a handgun or share children with Ana. Both of these things will become factors in the next two books, so Ana’s situation will only become worse.)
Now, I don’t know how bad 154 is (though a risk of 8 out of 10 sounds pretty bad)…but de Becker & Associates kept imploring me to call the police on this (unnamed) controlling, manipulative, lying, abusive stalker-rapist and get his nameless victim to safety and shelter IMMEDIATELY. They pegged him as unstable, violent, rigid, and completely unable to deal with anything that challenged his viewpoint or the way that he saw himself. Interestingly, they said that people like him rarely kept jobs for long; any crisis at work or challenge from a co-worker or rival would reduce him to a state of rage. He simply wouldn’t be able to cope with any opposition. They also said that he had many traits shared by serial rapists and serial killers. And they found his frequent drinking to be a sign that he was becoming less and less stable.
Does that give you a general idea?
When your romantic hero is the kind of person Gavin de Becker’s MOSAIC program tells you to call the police over, then you should know you’ve mistaken love for murderous psychopathy somewhere, and you maybe oughtta backtrack.
“… if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern.”
Several of these signals. As in “three or four.” Three or four of thirty reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder indicates that there is reason to be worried. The victim is in serious danger.
Twenty-four Twenty-five popped up in the relationship of Christian Grey and Ana Steele.
This is not a relationship. It is a murder waiting to happen.
Woman after woman in the reviews I read said the romantic hero extraordinaire reminded them of their abusive asshole exes:
Really, though this whole thing pisses me off for more than just the slave vs. submissive thing and you just kind of pointed out why. Because James, undoubtedly, would defend that mistake with the fact that she is an ignorant cockmonkey and just didn’t know. After all, I’ve seen people defend their love of the book with, “Well, I didn’t know that BDSM wasn’t like that, so it’s okay that it’s not accurately portrayed because I don’t know the difference.” No, it’s the fact that Gaston is getting her to crave sex and orgasms and actually manipulating her into believing that only he can give them to her and that the only way he’ll keep giving them to her is if she’ll agree to all of his demands. Wanna know why that is so off-pissing for me and why it makes me want to book a flight to England so that I might personally kick this bitch’s ass?
Because that is exactly what my ex-boyfriend did to me.
I was sexually naïve and innocent, very young, and he was the one who gave me my first orgasm. He got me hooked on them, and then proceeded to convince me that only he could do it, and that I couldn’t bring myself to orgasm. He conditioned me. And after he was done with that, he convinced me that I owed all kinds of sex back to him because, after all, he was doing that great favor to me and I couldn’t do it myself! Gaston is doing exactly what my ex-boyfriend did to me. The ex-boyfriend who abused me on every conceivable level: sexually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. The ex-boyfriend who had such a bad effect on me I wound up in a mental hospital because of him because I wanted to kill myself when it was all over and I realized that I’d just been abused for seven years and thought that I’d ruined my life, because of the time he found me.
*sneering* So, James, so far you remind Ket, Gehayi, and I very strongly of our exes, to the point that it both enrages and upsets us. Christian Grey is pretty much a nice little combination of all of our exes, taking all of their worst aspects and bundling them together into one absolutely foul and loathsome abomination of a character, and then you dump a lot of money on him and make him hot because, well, that makes it all better.
I’m not gonna bother trying to find a picture, GIF, or video that would best encompass just how much I despise you, getting rich off of this. Because there isn’t one. It just makes me feel used and dirty, like you’re publishing the worst chapter of my life and calling it True Love and making millions from it.
Fuck you, and fuck your fanbase. Yes, fuck the fanbase too. Because they agree with you. Because all of them, by saying it is romantic and True Love and wonderful, are by default saying that what happened to me, Gehayi, and Ket wasn’t rape and abuse.
Fuck. You. All.
When your epic romance is triggering abuse survivors to this extent, you’re doing romance wrong. But we’ve been doing it wrong for a long time, haven’t we?
Those of you who have been reading the sporkings for a while know that I’m an editor, and that many of the things I edit are romances. Now, I have MAJOR issues with rape, stalking and controlling another person against his or her will being presented as romantic. All of these things are rife in the romance genre and I HATE that, because people are idiots and will believe that if an author SAYS it is romantic, the author must be right.
I’m an oddball in that I will tell the author that X is not acceptable and that we don’t want to send the message that rape and stalking are signs of love. But all too often, both are sugar-coated, so that you read about a man being “overwhelmed with passion” and “taking” a woman as she vainly tries to fight him off, or about a boy stalking someone he has exchanged one word with: “Hello.” And if you repeat something often enough, people begin to believe that is not only the way that it is, but the way that it SHOULD be.
This kind of drivel—which, fortunately, is not the only thing written in the genre but is far too common—causes damage. It tells women that stalking is love, that rape is love, that physical and mental degradation which they loathe and want no part of are love. It’s just the man’s way, and they need to accept that.
It is a vile, contemptible, anti-woman message and the fact that this piece of shit, like most romance novels, was written by a woman just makes the message that much worse.
The fact that I have a couple of friends in the BDSM lifestyle and that their information directly contradicts, oh, THE ENTIRE BOOK, plus the fact that the Suethor couldn’t be arsed to do one scrap of research is just the rancid icing on a very ugly cake.
This is dangerous bullshit, and it needs to stop. We need far less Fifty Shades, and far more Boss trilogies, not to mention our own Greta Christina’s Bending. We need real kinky (and vanilla) love that respects and requires enthusiastic consent. We need truly strong female leads, not glorified doormats. We need series that don’t trigger domestic abuse victims into creating a blog ring to document all the ways this fucked-up shit glorifies violence.
All of the above issues in FSOG are horrible enough. More than enough to torpedo the series. But even setting that aside, there’s the fact that James got so very much about BDSM wrong. Completely, dangerously wrong. Want to know how it should have been done? Read The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Please, please read it, or download the ebook for a mere dollar, and mark up your copy with copious highlights and notes, before jumping into a BDSM relationship because this asinine series got you curious about kink.
Two strikes. Strike three: the atrociously-bad writing. Jenny Trout and sporkers Gehayi and Ket do magnificent jobs showing the endless errors. James’s grammar is awful, words don’t mean things, the prose is so purple it’s urple, the comma is abused as badly as the female lead, and the bits of plot that sneaked in are tiny and broken things. On top of all that, the research wasn’t done for pretty much anything. Most of the characters are so cardboard you could box up an entire Barnes and Noble with them. The female lead was a shallow chit who was so sexually repressed she used “down there” as a euphemism for her genitals. The male lead was a violent shallow shit who thought rape was an appropriate response to a woman’s defiance. The writing was so glaringly awful, it makes Twilight look like a masterpiece.
And speaking of Twilight… here’s a fairly comprehensive list of what James ripped off from Stephanie Meyer. Remember, this dreck started as Twilight fanfic. She changed a few details, but she basically put a wig on a pig and called it a pony. Not. So.
It nearly finished off my will to live, knowing this crap not only got published, but found such a vast market of willing suckers. And I’m not the only one who has found themselves massively changed:
Just for reference, when I started reading these books I was a church-goer. Now I’m an atheist. I’m not saying they’ve destroyed my faith in God all on their own, I’m just suggesting they may have been a contributing factor.
*shudder* And to think these horrible books are actually responsible for something positive…
Thanks to sporkings and spankings by incredibly talented people, plus the Boss trilogy, I survived. And I have plenty to shake FSOG fans with. And it brought B and I back together – there’s no bonding experience quite like commiserating over awful writing. And I learned a lot about my own sexuality, and am a lot less reluctant to discuss it. Excellent people have wrested some good from this unmitigated horror, and I’ve benefited from their wisdom.
I hope they’ve also given you some gifts. And I hope more than a few of you are now prepared to patiently explain to those who gush about the movie just what this story is actually glorifying, thus preventing some very foolish mistakes by enamored fans.