Before taking a trip across the country, I posted on Facebook asking for recommendations for pleasure reading.  I got several recommendations for the Fifty Shades Trilogy: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed 3-volume Boxed Set by E. L. James.

“I read all three and they get better each time” recommended one friend.  “Fifty Shades!!!  On the second and can’t wait until the third!” said another.  “I loved the the 50 Shades Trilogy.  Erotic parts, yes – but I saw it more as a romance/fantasy” advised someone else.  I Googled it, and it sounded like perfect light reading for those long plane rides and waits in the airport.  I like a titillating, erotic, romance novel as much as the next girl….or so I thought.

I got the first book and started it before even leaving for the trip.  Upon seeing me reading it, my son exclaimed “Mom, that’s porn!”  I related this in the comments under the original post on Facebook and was advised by more than one person that there was a great love story mixed in with all the hype.  I was not far into the book at that point, and, while the main male character was into bondage and submissives, it was not what I would consider pornography.

After finishing the first book on the initial leg of the flight across the country, I was mad that I had wasted my time reading this bull shit, but some part of me also kind of liked reading this bull shit.  I was in the airport with a 3 hour layover and nothing to read; so I bought the second book at the expensive airport shop.  After finishing the second book, I wanted to write a scathing blog about the series right then.  However, I figured that I should, at least, read the third book to be fair, to be informed, and to see where the story and characters went.

The books follow the romance of Christian Grey and Anastacia Steele.  Christian is a dashing, twenty something, gazillionaire, who is a tortured soul because of harsh early childhood which left him orphaned and mentally as well as physically scarred.  He was adopted by a very affluent, educated, loving couple.  A bored, married, female friend of the couple decided to make Christian her sexual submissive while he was a handsome teenager doing yard work for her.

Anastacia Steele is a demure, clumsy, awkwardly dressed yet naturally stunning college senior with a perfect  figure (I cannot recall her working out once in the books) who interviews Grey for an article in the college paper.  Upon her stumbling into his office, he is apparently so smitten with her totally irresistible ways that he asks his super sleuth on staff to get the details on her.  He, then, arranges to just happen into the hardware store where she worked to buy a few bondage accessories, like cable ties, tape and rope.  The books detail their tumultuous romance and subsequent marriage.

Christian originally sets out to make Anastacia his sexual submissive and, while she does initially entertain the idea, reads the rules and tries to play the part, she finds that it is just not in her nature to be very good at it because it requires obedience outside of the bedroom too.  Early on, she risks a spanking any time she rolls her eyes, talks to another man, disobeys an instruction or otherwise arbitrarily angers the controlling Christian.

All throughout the books Anastacia spends a lot of time trying to predict and anticipate Christian’s reactions, thoughts, and moods.  Anastacia is happy and her “inner goddess does an arabesque” when Christian is happy with her and things are going well.  In all fairness, her inner goddess looks sternly over her half-moon glasses  questioning Anastascia’s decisions and actions when they seem to be not in her best interest.  She does this a lot.

Their relationship is based on ownership of of the other person, control, assuming, and reacting.  It is the typical “bad boy turns into a prince charming who rescues the maiden who turns out to be a beautiful princess” fairy tale.

Anastacia, who was a virgin when they met, is able to make Christian, a man who has been into “kinky fuckery” for years, explode in ecstasy with just a few minutes of her novice, vanilla skills.  Just the sight of Anastacia biting her lip drives Christian wild with uncontrollable desire.  Come on, really?!?  Similarly, Anastacia always climaxes multiple times in a single sex session (without getting too explicit) with very little effort.  It would be absolutely wonderful if only it was that easy!

While I do know that the books are fiction and were never meant to stand up to the litmus test of reality, it makes me sad and mad that these are best sellers because women  STILL like to buy into, fantasize and dream about these same old lies…then get disappointed when real life doesn’t look anything like this.  To glorify the type of relationship depicted in these books continues to promote unhealthy, unrealistic ideas about what constitutes a healthy, happy, loving relationship, sex, and life.  These distorted stereotypes, with which we are inundated everywhere we turn, seep into our brains and become part of our beliefs and norms subconsciously if not consciously and become the standard by which people judge themselves and their lives unless they make the conscious decision to do differently.

In all fairness, the story, over the trilogy, does portray Christian healing his psychological wounds, becoming more trusting and less controlling, even letting go of the kinky stuff for the most part, because of his authentic love and caring for Anastacia while she does come into her own, kind of, and finds some self esteem and the ability to assert herself.

Begrudgingly, I have to admit that when Christian dropped to one knee in the boat house filled with twinkly lights and flowers and asked Anastacia to marry him that I teared up.  Also, during many of the sex scenes, I got all tingly.  This, too, made me mad.  I felt like my own body was betraying me!  My guess is that, even though my head knows better, these illusory ideas, which were instilled in me most of my life, were deeply ingrained and are still there on some level.

All in all, the trilogy was entertaining, light, mindless reading, but I did find it to be a ridiculously insulting depiction of a modern, healthy female and relationship.

Some giggles for you:

14 Comments

  1. Timbre Thompson Reply

    I like this page “The Best Brain Possible” and most of the articles in it. However, I think that you article surely tastes of bitterness. I am an educated woman in a very loving, happy marriage. I do not have unrealistic fantasies of what a relationship should be because of these books. The only thing this book promoted for me was a healthy romp in the hay. As a matter a fact, when I was done with the first one, my husband went out and bought me the following two books strictly because of the enjoyment he was getting from them. I find it disgusting that as a writer, you have nothing better to do with your time then to bash someone else works. From what I am reading here, the truth is that you enjoyed the books and are just afraid to admit it. I feel as though more modern healthy females like E.L. James, should express themselves, however them deem fit. In spite of people like you who make yourself feel better by criticizing others.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Timbre, thank you for your thoughts. I commend you for being an educated woman in a happy marriage. You, obviously, are aware enough to read these books simply for pleasure and the zing they gave you and your husband while making the conscious discernment between healthy reality and pure fantasy. You had the wisdom and wherewithal to use the books as a healthy tool within your own relationship. Smart woman. However, a lot of women do not have this discernment.

      I do not understand why you are “disgusted” and chose to take this post as a personal affront to you. I am entitled to my opinion just as you are to yours. I respect your right to yours, and E.L. Jame’s right to express herself in the books. I applaud her for that.

  2. Susan Rowland Reply

    Thank you so much for writing what you did.

    I read part of the first book on my Kindle and put it down in disgust. When it comes to indulgence in S & M, I quit. It didn’t thrill or excite me at all. I stopped with the hitting and that stupid contract. Women actually get turned on by this?

    I’m an unashamed feminist. I don’t get thrilled about men on bended knee, holding a with a ring. Ok, if the man shows me the key to my own solar powered art studio that he helped me build, I might get a tingle.

    In my 50’s I went to back to college to earn my BA to work with abused children. As an artist, writer, and psychologist I know firsthand about abuse. I am a a survivor of domestic abuse, and that is what the book is about…perversion and narcissim-with a victim. Who would want THEIR daughter to get turned on by hitting? Not me.

    Consenting adults …and yada yada…I get it. There is too much real life abuse going on for me to read about more and to even suggest getting excited over some weirdo’s BS behavior, and a woman’s temptation to get paid for submitting.

    The abusive personality knows just how to groom, manipulate, buy, charm, and steal your personal power. Yes, 50 Shades is selling -but so what? I can’t support it. I’m supporting the fight to end child abuse and human trafficking. I’m supporting education and validation of our children.

    Erotic doesn’t have to be about abuse or hitting. Sorry for being redundant but I was appalled.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Susan, thank you for commenting. You made me smile with the image of a man offering you the key to your own solar powered art studio. 🙂 I can also think of a lot of things that would make me tear up rather than an engagement ring!

      Thank you for pointing out something I did not even mention. The book glamorizes abuse and even turns it into something that can eventually be sexy? I, too, get the consenting adults and all that. It still makes me sad that women would allow this in real life and like to read about it so much that these books are best sellers. It can only promote the idea. I like your declaration that erotic does not have to be about abuse. Well said.

  3. I’m more interested in reading reviews of these books than in reading the books themselves. BDSM stuff is in no way sexy or mentally stimulating to me, because of my own past as an abuse survivor. I get irritated around overly controlling people. Why would I want to read about a rationalized, justified, kinda sorta master-slave relationship? I realize some women are stimulated by this sort of submission fantasy, and if that’s where they are at in their own process of consciousness-raising I can accept it, but I sure wouldn’t want to date one.

    It is interesting to examine them in light of the history of BDSM novels. The Marquis de Sade’s novels inspired the man who was the lover of the pseudonymous author of “The Story of O”, which in turn inspired Just Jaeckin, the writer-director of “Emmanuelle” to adapt it for film, and all of these fed somehow eventually into “Twilight”. “Fifty Shades” started out as Twilight fan fiction before James removed the vampires, leaving the central relationship. To me it’s a 225 year process of literary devolution.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I knew you would comment on this one, Mikey. I can imagine that, to many, this stuff is not sexy or appealing because of the same reason. I feel that this kind of literature only further promotes this type of behavior as acceptable. I fully recognize that what people do in their own bedrooms is their business and their right, but I have to wonder if people, especially women, would allow this or think it was sexy if they truly get to a healthy place within themselves. I don’t really know. I can see where even healthy individuals could enjoy this stuff knowing full well it is just play. To each his own.

      That is interesting about the history of BDSM novels. (Perhaps a blog for you?) It cheapens the trilogy and takes it down a notch even more for me to know that it was originally written with vampires for the Twilight audience.

  4. Thanks for the book review! I think I heard enough in the film clips to get the general idea. Including the clips was a terrific add to the blog, and gave me a good laugh!

    Erotic fantasy has been around for ages, but it seems that this triology is bringing it more out into the open. I believe it is good to get these smoldering rags out into the general public’s awareness so we can have discussions like these! Is it harmless fantasy, or sick and twisted porn? Do we stifle the creative rights of others with our outmoded Puritan moral ethic, or does this type of product actually cause harm to our society?

    These are all valid questions. I have not read the books, so my opinion will not be about Fifty Shades specifically. But my opinion is that this type of fantasy fiction tends to form an obsessive reality in our mental/emotional bodies that can become difficult to control. It is certainly not for everyone. I noted that readers of the books found themselves somewhat addicted to the material, and followed this compulsion to buy the additional volumes. Why is that?

    One theory is that our mental/emotional/physical bodies are obsessive by nature. It is this obsessive quality in them that keeps them intact and functioning. So the obsessive quality is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but when we feed our bodies with unhealthy foods, this leads to unhealthy food cravings and addictions. Likewise, when we feed our emotional and mental bodies with junk food, we run into the same problem.

    You can see this type of physical addiction with foods like salt, sugar, fats, alchohol, nicotine, and so on, and also with sex. Health care professionals have found that it is best to eliminate unhealthy food choices as much as possible to avoid the food cravings that take over the will power of the individual and lead to illness. People do not often consider this, but there are emotional and mental addictions as well.

    What we feed ourselves in terms of enterainment has an extremely powerful role in our lives. Everyone must decide for themselves what they can handle, what improves their lives and what causes unhealthy patterns. Sharing your findings with others is what helps us learn and grow!

    In my personal habits I have found that eliminating addictive foods gives me more energy, better weight management and overall better emotional and mental stamina. I have also found that eliminating emotional junk foods such as movies, television, and books that do not promote healthy emotions has also improved my life. Including good food for my mental health such as inspirational entertainment and meditation is also part of my routine.

    In the end, everyone has the right to choose and live with the consequences of their choices. Twinkies or broccoli? You decide.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Debbie, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I do not believe it is right to stifle or in any other way try to limit the creative rights of others. This type of literature, in my humble opinion, has its rightful place and audience just as much as any other.

      I like your quote:”What we feed ourselves in terms of entertainment has an extremely powerful role in our lives.” I guess my biggest concern lies in this truth. What does it say about us as a society that books with this type of portrayal of the relationship between men and women and the balance of power between them and their roles and lives as independent individuals? If we had healthier baselines for these things in society, this type of stuff would never be as popular as it is in the first place. If it did not do well, people would not write this stuff. It is a chicken and egg question. Every part has some responsibility in contributing to the negative cycle.

      It is just like the Twinkies or broccoli question you raise and all the other addictive, bad-for-you stuff. If there was no demand for Twinkies, no one would make them. People have to start making better choices for themselves and opting for the broccoli!

  5. I find it interesting how controversial this series is. I’ve only read the first book, but it was more out of curiosity so I could understand what everyone was going on about. My hubby bought it and was rather disgusted with it. It didn’t change our sex life, nor would I ever be into the stuff this guy was. That was a turn off. I guess Anastasia really loved him to make the effort to try things his way but I know I would have been out of there in a heartbeat. I was happy that she never signed that contract. But of course the book left me hanging and I’m debating whether to buy the next on or not.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for weighing in on the series. I have mixed emotions about it as indicated in the blog. There were parts of me that liked it and parts of me that were totally offended by it. I think I bought the next books to find out what happened, and I figured I should before writing a blog.

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    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for your support. As you can see in the comments, I got mixed reactions to this post. I do not expect or need everyone to agree with me. Just my take on it.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Ernesto, many thanks! 🙂 While I do not expect or need people to agree with my opinions, I would hope that the thoughts expressed here spur others to think and question for themselves.

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