50 Shades of Grey and Women as Objects of (Violent) Pleasure

Middle-aged women around the world are scarfing up copies of 50 Shades of Grey, a new trilogy of books that feature sex scenes complete with sado-masochism and bondage, which is sparking controversy everywhere from women’s circles to library clubs.

Nicknamed “mommy porn” because of its popularity among middle-aged women, 50 Shades of Grey was written by a London TV executive named E. L. James who was trying to mimic the success of the Twilight series when she wrote the first of the three-book series. Self-published as an e-book at first, it caught the attention of an Australian publisher when it hit 250,000 downloads.  Shortly thereafter, New York publisher Vintage bought the American publishing rights and now movie companies are vying for the rights to bring it to the silver screen.

In case you haven’t heard, these books are about a male character named Christian Grey, a rich, handsome young entrepreneur who sweeps a young virgin named Anastasia Steele off her feet. Steele, who is just graduated from college, is shown his “playroom” full of whips, ropes, and sex toys. He then asks her to begin a relationship in which she’s asked to sign a contract to become his slave. “The Dominant accepts the submissive as his, to own, control dominate and discipline,” the two agree, “for purpose of discipline [and]…for his own personal enjoyment.”

Both critics and supporters of the racy novels appear to agree on just two things – the books are poorly written and they’re chock full of porn.

One of the book’s most outspoken critics, relationship expert Dr. Drew Pinsky of HLN, says the treatment of Anastasia in these books is “abusive” and gave stern warnings to women who might get caught up in unrealistic fantasies about being dominated by a sexual sadist. These books are not about a love story between two consenting adults, he says, but are all about Christian exercising mind-control over his naive playmate.

The doctor explains that the bondage and sado-masochism in the book is not nearly as worrisome to him as the idea that women will think this kind of treatment is romantic rather than the rape that it is.

“Why women would pick this up as any sort of substitute for intimacy or any sort of model for a reasonable relationship, I find just sort of disturbing,” Pinsky told WTOP.com

“Maybe I have no business commenting on how women massage their fantasy life. Indeed I don’t. But as I look at this as a clinician, the idea that women look at this relationship as anything other than absolute, categorical, profound pathology is more than I can imagine.”

Author E. L. James

He points out that in the course of the book, it is discovered that Christian was indeed sexually abused. “And this is all him acting out his pathology as opposed to it being two consensual adults,” Pinsky says.

“I can’t emphasize enough the disturbing quality of this,” Pinsky says. “This is a woman who is naïve to these issues, and then is manipulated and exploited by a man who has a severe personality disorder and a sex addiction who is violent with her, it is just too much to be understood.”

One would think feminists would be outraged by this plotline, but they’re hailing the book as “empowering.”

“Though I understand, and deeply respect, the feminist threads of mistrust towards the erotica and porn industries (women are reduced to product, mistreated, objectified), I’ve always stood firmly on the ‘sex-positive feminist’ side of things,” writes Emile Spiegel, a feminist grad student, on Indiewire.com. “Sex is, of course, a fact of life– and any series whose very existence attests to the fact that women also have desires (desires that deserve to be serviced, no less!) is a step in the right direction.”

She prefers to focus on what the series represents rather than what it actually is – porn.

“Ultimately, the subject matter is potentially less interesting here than the fact of what this series represents– erotica for women that is now gone fairly mainstream. Yes, we need to think about the how and why and each work out for ourselves how we feel about the story, but can’t we first take a minute to be proud and happy that a female writer is having massive success forcing the world to reckon with female desire?”

Women such as author Laura Berman don’t like what the popularity of these novels is saying about the women’s movement.

“We had the women’s movement which really was about empowering women not to be submissive to men anymore. Now we’ve moved onto a new generation where women are more empowered than ever before, the glass ceiling has been broken and we have as much control as we want. And what are we longing for? A little bodice ripping,” Berman told NBC

From a Christian point of view, Julia Stronks J.D. Ph.D. of Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington says she teaches her students that sex, like everything else in the world, was created by God as a gift, but then was subject to the Fall.

“Through Christ’s sacrifice, though, we live in the knowledge that our sexuality has been redeemed, and we are free to explore it within the bounds of what God intends for human creatures,” Dr. Stronks writes.

Within this framework, there are three things that should trouble us about these books.

“First, the woman in the story agrees to the man’s rules of dominance in the relationship in part because she believes she will eventually be able to reach him and heal his troubled psyche. Friends who have suffered in abusive relationships tell me that this fantasy – that with sufficient love one can heal the abuser – is more damaging than we know. It shields abusers and keeps the abused in a bad situation.

“Second, the story depicts sex as something that men do to women: real men dominate and women crave it. Christians who believe that males and females both reflect God’s image have to talk more openly about what God’s design for sexual partnership might look like. . . 

“Third, the dominance fantasy is dangerous when we only understand part of the picture. A fantasy can be benign – it is not reality. But if people are reading these books to determine what women want then we have a serious problem. The submissive character in the book consents to the treatment she receives, but historically and legally the nature of consent has always been a complicated issue. When government statistics tell us that one in five American women has been or will be sexually assaulted, we do ourselves no favor by insisting that dominance fantasy and violence have no relationship to each other. We must at least explore the possibility.”

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®  http://www.womenofgrace.com

In The Pornography Epidemic: A Catholic Approach, Dr. Peter Kleponis explains how this “simple entertainment” can quickly turn into a dangerous and destructive addiction.

3 Response to “50 Shades of Grey and Women as Objects of (Violent) Pleasure

  1. Its so strange I was just having a rant about these books last night to a groupe of my girlfriends, one of whom has read the books enthusiastically, the rest of whom look forward to reading them. Im furious that women would fight for the right to vote and equal pay, then go and indulge in a book about women being submissive to a man who controlls her naive mind and convinces her to allow him to abuse her. “Oh but she’s trying to change him. She gives him what she wants in the hope that she’ll be the one to make him happy.” Give me a break. How exactly is that empowering for women if the man is the one with power over the woman? At one point one of my friends told me, “oh but the books are supposed to be so good that a lad I know picked up his wife from work (they’re newly weds) and she was so engrossed in the book she didnt even say helo to him. She just ignored him and continued to read the book in the car” as if that was a good argument for the book. Thats when I said those books are the devil’s work if a newly wedded wife would rather be captivated by this smut than aknowlege her loving new husband even when he’s been sweet enough to meet her after work. These books are sick and they’re convincing alot of women that its a possitive thing to be treated like garbage and you’ll never do any better for yourself than that if you have to tell yourself that its empowering to become someone else’s slave and you’re a strong independant woman because you choose to be submissive to a sadist who enjoys inflicting pain and harm upon you.
    Well written Susan Brinkmann. You said it all and more.

  2. Just like regular visual porn appeals to men, relationship porn appeals to women, and just like men’s porn reduces their ability to see perversion as wrong, female-directed porn does the same thing. I saw that the woman stitting next to me on a plane was reading this–who was, predictably, middle aged. Many women will read this brain-washing garbage just because the other women they know are reading it, or because so many other women around the country are reading it–people these days seem to just want to follow the biggest crowd they can find to help them decide what they should be putting into their heads–like idiots.

    Sex is the sort of thing that for some reason just tends to degrade, to gravitate to a lower level–and the recent 40 years or so shows exactly what the natural progression is for sex media–right straight into the toilet with barely a thing to slow it down. Child porn stats going through the roof, kids as young as 8 addicted to porn, teen boys not even wanting to ever marry, because their view of women is so degraded and skewed, married men leaving their wives and families in droves, and now middle aged women are group-fantasizing about being dominated by a sadist–what a crass, thoughtless, immature cuture we live in now, that seems to have no ability to see that this can’t possibly lead to any kind of a good future for any of us.

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