People are getting their knickers in a right old twist about Fifty Shades of Grey again, aren’t they?
My favourite Fifty Shades anecdote was from when the book started to filter into charity shops. I was in Age Concern, looking for treasure when a very elderly lady came in and started scouring the book shelves. She saw a copy of Fifty Shades and pounced. She read the back greedily, looked up and saw me watching her and said: ‘I’m having this for my husband. It’s just the sort of thing he loves.’
I bet he does.
I did wonder if his obituary followed close on the heels:
Albert Smith passed on at the age of 86 last Thursday, trussed up like a chicken in the spare room. His wife, coming back from the bathroom where she was having trouble lacing her basque, found him dangling from the wardrobe wearing his Y-fronts as a blindfold.
She was quoted as saying: ‘It’s how he would have wanted to go.’
The latest brou ha ha is down to the recent release of the film.
I confess that I have read all three books, and blogged about them, but I have not seen the film, and I won’t be going to see it either. I won’t be going to see it, not because I disapprove, but because I really don’t think that it will make a particularly good film, and I’m not over enamoured of the lead actors. I think you have to be, a bit, if this kind of thing is going to work. If it had been made back in the day, when John Malkovich was all Liaisons Dangereuses, and he’d played Christian Grey I confess that I’d have been all over it like a rash.
I have read some articles which reject the film/book on the grounds that it is going to cause damage to women because it endorses the attitude that women are slaves and that men can punish women and that’s o.k. because women will still love them anyway as long as they’ve got a few million quid and a metre long penis that can do magic tricks. People who object to the film for these reasons say that it will cause domestic abuse figures to rise.
I take issue with this.
Firstly, I watched The Curse of the Were Rabbit with the children the other day. I have no intentions of branching into clay modelling, gardening or becoming wildly affected by the phases of the moon. I struggle with the idea that the majority of people do not have the wit to figure out the difference between fact and fiction. I know that SOME people will have issues with this, but those people are going to find a way to be utterly bananas regardless. There will always be a nutter on the bus. FACT.
Secondly, the books deal with a consensual relationship. It is made clear from the beginning that it is consensual. Both Ana and Christian WANT to behave as they do, and both enjoy what they do in the bedroom, and when he/she doesn’t, they stop. The childish, destructive and ridiculous ways they both behave out of the bedroom are mystifying, but then, so are most people’s relationships.
Thirdly, the entire concept of the BDSM lifestyle is based around consensual sex and as Christian explains to Ana, there are often contracts involved in which both parties lay out the terms of their relationship and make clear their boundaries. The contract is there to give both parties equality in a relationship that satisfies both parties. This is an explicit part of the book’s narrative.
I do not see what is punitive about this, except for the fact that Christian and Ana’s relationship evolves into one which is not actually a BDSM relationship at all, and in which both of them inflict hurt and pain in equal measures on each other in utterly dysfunctional and slappable ways, something which most BDSM people would utterly frown upon I’m sure. The damage Christian and Ana do to each other is not primarily bedroom shenanigans based however, and they both hurt each other. It’s not like Christian is the villain. Ana gives as good as she gets and in most cases, more.
We cannot argue that Ana is young and naive and Christian should know better, because yes, she is young and naive, but Christian, it explicitly explains, is damaged by his childhood and is, in his own way, utterly naive about how real, healthy relationships work. They are about equal on this front, and frankly deserve each other.
If anything I think there will be a rise in solicitors being asked to draw up kinky contracts on the back of this film, rather than a rise in the number of women willing to become sex slaves. Poor solicitors. I imagine a steep fall in polyester suit sales, and a sharp rise in lawyer sweats.
Fourthly, if you read the books you will see that it is Ana who has the control from the word go in this relationship, and Christian who is being led around like a prize winning pig. Ana never, ever does what she does not want to do. She breaks the bounds of the contract, she refuses point blank to do anything she doesn’t want to, she runs away whenever she’s had enough, she resets the terms of the relationship about every fifty pages and takes constant pleasure in deliberately disobeying Christian, even when she can see that what she is doing puts her in harm’s way. Frankly, if I were Christian, unless the sex had been so good it had rendered me blind and dumb for a week, I would have shot her by page 75.
She has Christian dancing through hoops the entire time. Christian postures, swaggers and styles it out, but Ana has the metaphorical whip hand despite his room full of toys and his luxury penthouse apartment.
Surely this kind of message, that you can behave exactly as you please and a man will walk over hot coals for you, is massively empowering for women? Or it would be, if Ana were not such a gigantic pain in the behind.
Talking of Les Liaisons Dangereuses as I was earlier, I think that if you want to see a film about the destructive and manipulative nature of sexuality and what erotic coercion can do to destroy the lives of young women, then this is a much more troubling and powerful film to watch.
Maybe we don’t think it is because this kind of sex looks more alluring in a powdered wig and knee breeches (I blame Colin Firth). Most things look less dangerous when you look at them in the rosy glow of ancient history, but if you took that story and modernised it, there would be a real case for placard waving, and I might even be on the picket line myself.