author – activist – faculty – mom
Let me begin by saying that, for the purposes of this blog, I am completely confident about my entitlement to have an opinion on books I haven’t read. Not that I am interested in evaluating the overall quality or literary merit of a work I haven’t read. I’m not here to judge literary merit or quality. Industry professionals know that everyone makes decisions about books without reading them. People read the jacket copy and decide whether or not to buy a book or not. Everyone has their personal tastes. I’m not reviewing books, but rather having a wider discussion of what comprises my personal tastes. I’m interested in evaluating compatibility between a given work and my own tastes, and for those whose tastes are similar to mine. Compatibility is personal; I don’t need to marry Rush Limbaugh to know we’re not a match. Sorry, Rush, please stop calling.
So, with the above disclaimer, about that Fifty Shades of Grey…
One of the things I find interesting about this novel that has themes of BDSM, is that the BDSM community is apparently upset about it, because the author is describing BDSM practices and allegedly doing a bad job of it. Here’s where the book shows promise, but ultimately fails my compatibility test. I like that the author is taking on something a little edgy, even though the BDSM community gave her an F on her homework. However, what seems cliche and predictable is the that there’s no complication in the power relationship between the two characters, Ana and Christian. She’s sexually naive and he’s experienced. She’s a regular person and he’s a billionaire. She’s a recent college grad and he’s established in the work world. She’s 22 and he’s 27 (for me at 45, a five year difference seems minor, but for young adults, this is a huge imbalance of experience and sense of personal power). Apparently, he gets her all turned on and then makes her sign a contract that she wont sue him if he really hurts her. And then, of course, she’s the submissive in the bedroom and he’s the dominant. I’m already falling asleep. Yes, I get it. He’s got all the power.
People talk about them as consenting adults, and chronologically, that’s true. But virgins have so little point of reference. Not only is he controlling her inside of the sexual experience, but he’s also controlling her narrative of pleasure. I can only imagine a real person in that situation. A woman without sexual experience outside of kink has no way to tell what part of the pleasure is about the kink and what isn’t. Another woman could think, “wow, it really turns me on when Christian stimulates my XXXXX with his XXXX when I’m handcuffed to the bed. Of course, I also got really turned on when my ex-boyfriend used to do that without any restraints, so clearly it’s not all about being tied up.
It doesn’t help to know that Fifty Shades… began as fan fiction for Twilight. Talk about power imbalance. She’s gonna die, but he’s immortal. She’s a virgin and he might kill her if he gets too turned on. She eats regular food, he might attack her and drink her blood. He goes around kicking ass and she lays there half dead looking helpless and pretty. You get the picture. My girl power! sensibilities need a little more agency for the female characters.
If you liked Fifty Shades… great! I just hope you weren’t a completely inexperienced reader, that you had read at least one book previously with a total badass female character. Just so you don’t think you absolutely need the woman in the story to be sexually dominated in order to enjoy the read.