50 Shades of Sexy but Not Safe

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, ladies around the world are anticipating to be showered with romantic gestures. This year, however, there’s something else women all over the country are looking forward to on V-day: the release of the movie adaptation novel of the infamous, 50 Shades of Grey.

Now before I get into the nitty gritty parts, I just want to clarify that I have tried reading all of the books in the 50 Shades of Grey series. I was however, unable to finish them all due to my frustration over the extremely poor writing quality which made it difficult not to skip over some areas. But I have read enough to feel the need to express my opinions about the book and upcoming movie.

Lets Start off With the Pros:

Hailed as the book that launched a thousand orgasms, this novel has got women everywhere discovering and expressing their sexuality. This is great news since it has always been a “grey” (get it?) area for women regarding sexuality. It is more acceptable for men to voice their sexual desires because it is considered to be masculine and so “male sexual expression remains much more widely accepted than female sexual expression.” Women have been portrayed as less active when it comes to desiring sex, or criticized when they are sexual, so it’s truly a fresh breath of air to see so many women voice their opinions about what they truly desire. In fact, the book has been heralded with reviving sex lives, giving women a newfound fervor for exploration. 

Although 50 Shades of Grey is definitely not the first of its kind (erotica novels have been around for decades), it is the first of its kind to become a mainstream headliner. The popular acceptance of this type of genre is what makes this book a game changer. It opens up the once hushed about erotica world for women and creates an acceptable environment so that women no longer have to feel embarrassed or ashamed at embracing such topics.

I’m glad that 50 Shades of Grey has turned the tides for a change in a world where most sexualized content is catered towards men or has a male approach to sexuality. The novel has indeed set into motion a new wave of change but unfotunately, there are some downsides to this tantalizing story.

Moving on to the Cons:

The book has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, proof that the people who bought it — mostly women — are intrigued by the power dynamics involved in BDSM. Which can be a great thing to explore! Except, however, it is a far cry from true BDSM.

Professional dominatrixes like Mistress Trinity have loudly expressed their displeasure at the novel, stating; “It’s just a bad Harlequin romance novel that reinforces anti-feminist stereotypes of gender in a conventional and conservative story between a controlling man and an amenable girl…True BDSM is a consensual role-play experience where both parties negotiate and agree to act out specific erotic desires in a safe context. There are a variety of activities, fantasies, and fetishes that are explored, but there are specific rules in place to keep things safe, sane, and consensual, or risk aware.”

In general, 50 Shades of Grey perpetuates the harmful message that a controlling, possessive, and abusive relationship is the romantic ideal for women. There are many instances strewn across the series in which Ana’s relationship with Grey showcases dangerous signs of an unhealthy relationship. Wanting to please Christian includes subjecting herself to verbal and emotional abuse from him, because any time she tries to stand up to him — which isn’t often — he berates her, guilt trips her and beats her down verbally until she apologizes and submits to him.

Our culture has seen a radical shift of ideals moving away from traditional gender roles and Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect antithetical example. Early marriage, having a baby even when neither of the partners are ready, and submission to one’s husband as the head of the household are all aspects of life that feminists and progressive thinkers have worked to move beyond.

So although sexual practices like BDSM may be attractive to some people and should be healthily explored, it should not be confused with the characteristics of an unhealthy relationship. I sincerely hope that the Christian Grey ideal of romance is not one that will be perpetuated throughout our culture. With the wave of popularity 50 Shades has gained, it is more important now more than ever before to educate people on what creates the foundation for an ultimately healthy and happy relationship. “We live in a culture that is largely obsessed with sex, but it’s actually quite hard to talk about individual sexual expression. The conversation gets even harder and murkier, and communicating honestly about these issues often involves risk-taking.” A healthy relationship should include trust, honesty, respect, compassion, equality and many more positive characteristics. The best way to achieve that is through open, honest dialogue that leads to healthy relationships of two equal partners. That, in my opinion, is sexier than anything that Mr. Grey can dish out.

In short, should you go ahead and read or watch 50 Shades of Grey? Yes, why not (I actually might watch it with a few of my girlfriends for fun)! It’s sexy and enjoyable in some aspects and it could ignite a fiery passion within you. Should you go and find yourself a real-life Christian Grey? Probably not.

Additional Resources:

Jenny Li was a NWHN Intern in Spring 2015.

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