Fifty Shades of Grey and Feminism?

I guess you have all heard about the latest book craze to hit us. Fifty Shades is a trilogy written by E.L. James that has sold out faster than Twilight and Harry Potter. Now that is quite something. I must confess, that I have read the trilogy, and like everyone else, read it in record time.

The books have attracted much praise and also much criticism. Granted, the writing is often poor, repetitive and unimaginative, but the storyline is great. Despite having an English degree, I am not a literature snob and any book that gets people reading is great by my standards. What is intriguing me however, is why exactly we are all so drawn into this book and these characters?

The main character Christian Grey is a gorgeous, uber wealthy man. He is aloof, bossy – to the extreme – and very controlling. In most senses he is a ‘traditional’ man. He brings home the bacon, looks good and takes care of his girl (albeit in a very controlling way). We are sucked in by this man, but doesn’t this go against everything us women have been fighting for in the past century? We have fought for equal opportunities, for the right not to be dominated by men, to earn our own money and to not be seen as sexual objects by sexual deviants. Why are we then so drawn to this masculine stereotype we have worked so hard to become emancipated from?

There are echoes of this man in other popular works. Edward in Twilight is rich, secular, controlling – to a stalker like extreme and desires his woman so much he wants to eat her. Whilst his sexual desire is replaced with a more base hungry desire, this is merely an metaphor for his sexual deviancy.   Richard Gere’s character Edward in Pretty Woman is also this way, mega rich, controlling, and he wants Vivian at his beck and call, on his terms. There are countless more examples.

The women in all these tales try to assert their independence. Bella manages to get Edward to control his insatiable hunger for her, and eventually she is turned to become like him. Anastasia exerts her independence over Grey, maintaining a job of her own and only succumbing to the sexual moves SHE wants to. Vivian gets her prince charming, as Edward changes his viewpoint and takes her as a girlfriend and not a mistress.

These stories are romantic and inspiring. We women love a strong man, but we also like to be able to control him. We want the rich powerful husband, but we only want him to use this power when we decide it is ok. These stories suck us in like fairy tales, but fairy tales is exactly what they are. The outcomes in these cases are so unrealistic that they do a disservice to womankind, but only in so far as we let ourselves believe in them.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, especially given the recent shock news that Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are to divorce. If the papers are to be believed, this is due to his controlling behaviour, and Katie’s wish to withdraw her daughter from the influence of his equally controlling religion. Here we might find the true life wreckage of such a relationship. Tom is gorgeous, rich, powerful, and it all must have been very attractive for Katie. She probably sensed that he was controlling, but thought that she would be able to change him, but how wrong she had been. He started to restrict her acting roles, forced her into religious programmes she wasn’t interested in, dictated her friends, and the way she must behave. Thank goodness Katie came to her senses before he could control their daughter to the same extent. The reality is that attractive as these men are, rich, powerful, good looking men don’t change, because they don’t need to. In fact, most people do not change. It is never wise to go into a relationship thinking that you can change it, that you can take the good bits and leave the bad, it doesn’t work like that.

So, Fifty Shades is a great story, and yes, I did momentarily wish I was marrying Christian Grey, and then I remembered back to a time when I had a controlling boyfriend, and just how unpleasant that was. So I will stick with my poorer, less good looking (not much though), less sexually deviant husband, and enjoy the fact that I can do what I like.

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