Archive for the ‘abusive relationships’ Category

Fifty Shades of Assault and Battery: There’s Heat in the Beat

June 15, 2012

I became curious about the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James while in London where it was the subject of billboard advertisements everywhere. Londoners seem to place more importance on reading than us here in North America, although as it turns out they are no less seduced by smut as this work of “literature” proves. On return to Canada I spotted women everywhere with this book in hand, and started to hear snippets about it in eavesdropped conversations and even in the news, where it has been dubbed “mommy porn” due to it’s graphic sex scenes and popularity among middle aged women.

I enjoy reading. While I have varied taste in books, I like to think that a common thread between my favorites is that they are all at least somewhat thought-provoking, serve to conjur up emotion in the reader, and are well written. But I will admit I have read and even enjoyed my fair share of  fluff. Sometimes you just have to rest your mind, and get out of your head a little bit. A cheesy, tasteless or tawdry novel is like the literary version of reality TV but better. The characters look however you imagine them to, they don’t all speak at once, and you don’t need to wait until next week to tune in. Also like reality TV, you are often embarrassed to admit you are a fan. I borrowed the Twilight trilogy from a friend, thus avoiding that embarrassing purchase. Unfortunately I was not so lucky with The Hunger Games. Although I muttered something about the books (the last 2 of which I bought at the same time to avoid humiliation three times) “being for my niece”, I’m sure it was pretty clear by my “Team Peeta” button this was not the case. “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic” were ebook purchases, the greatest invention ever for concealing kitschy novels. And the “Gossip Girl” novel? Stolen from my fiancee. He purchased it from an airport bookstore to read on a plane. Sorry honey, the cat’s out of the bag. But I digress. The point is, my curiosity as well as my desire for a mindless and entertaining book to read on the plane back to Vancouver after my sister’s wedding trumped the potential mortification that would ensue had anyone I knew seen me buy the book in question, and I finally purchased and read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Now, I have never read a romance novel before, and I wouldn’t call this a romance novel in the same sense that I imagine the books I see older blue-haired women reading, with Fabio on the cover kissing beautiful women in flowing dresses surrounded by gardens of roses. The books with names like “Stolen Kisses” or A Midnight Adventure”. I wouldn’t exactly call it “porn” either, but there is a lot of sex in the book. I don’t want to rehash the whole plot, but basically girl (Anastasia) meets boy (Christian). She’s a virgin, he’s into S&M. He wants her to be his little pet, or submissive as they call it in the book. He even wants her to sign some contract to the same effect. She isn’t so sure. They have sex. About a million times. She’s uncomfortable with his sadistic sexual tendencies. She tries to get to know him but he won’t let her because he’s had a bad childhood. Because of his dominant tendancies he tries to control her. She resists. Eventually it doesn’t work, they break up and in the end they are both heartbroken. Cliffhanger which makes reader want to read second book of trilogy. Which I of course do. And then the third.

I have read several reviews of this trilogy. Most focus on the sex. Apparently sex in books is very controversial. You can turn on HBO and basically watch two people having intercourse, but god forbid we read about it in a book. I have gathered that one of the main issues is that some libraries are carrying the book and the concern is that children could get a hold of it. First of all, wouldn’t the libraries have some type of policy that adult materials be checked out by adults only? Secondly, shouldn’t parents have at least some involvement in their children’s lives here? When I was a young child, I wasn’t fleeting off to the library on my own. Furthermore, my parents were aware of what I was reading, watching on TV, listening to on my ghetto blaster (ah, the old days), and who I was talking to on the phone. When I was old enough to go to the library by myself, I was a teenager. And believe me, teenagers today have seen a lot more shocking things than they could read about in this book, no matter what Sarah Palin tells you. Other critics claim the book is “unrealistic” in terms of the amount and, ahem, ‘quality’ of her sexual encounters. While unlike some, I have not counted the number of orgasms in the trilogy (in fact by the end I was skipping the repetitive sex scenes altogether) I agree the numbers are outstanding. But it is a work of fiction. Furthermore, how interesting would a book be that read: (Spoiler alert! Excerpt from book:)”How he’s making me feel that familiar pull deep in my belly, tightening, quickening. NO…and my traitorous body explodes in an intense, body shattering…” (my alternate ending) “Shit!!! Baby, are you done already?” Many women love the book. They claim it is erotic, and that it is empowering to women because it was written by a woman. Uh huh. Never mind the fact that the protagonist is a young virgin who is being controlled by a dominating man who likes to spank her and “punish her” when she doesn’t “obey” him. She talks a lot to her “inner goddess” and refuses to quit her job so clearly she’s a strong woman. While it would seem men would enjoy the book, apparently not so. While Christian Grey is clearly dominant within the relationship, he is still extremely attentive and aims to please in the bedroom, and this doesn’t sit well with the men out there. It places undue pressure on them from the scores of female readers who want their own Christian Grey, sexual god and orgasm wizard.

These are all valid criticisms. But I can’t help but but be puzzled that people seem to be missing the biggest elephant in the room when appraising this book. Sure it is often noted (as it is in the book) that Christian Grey is ‘a little obsessive’ or ‘stalkerish’. But as I read the book, all I could think was “Get out! Get out now!!” This is an abusive relationship if I have ever seen one. All the red flags are there, and this girl, while being portrayed as intelligent and strong, just isn’t seeing them. Or worse, she is, but she is choosing to ignore them. Is there a worse message that a female writer could send to a predominantly female target audience? Anastasia continually forgives and excuses Christian’s bad behavior because of his troubled past. She allows him to avoid facing his past, his temper and his control issues by using sex to pacify and distract her. She makes excuses for him to others and herself, explaining his abusive behavior away as a need to protect her. If you disagree with me, look at the criteria.

You may be in an abusive relationship if he or she:

1) Is jealous or possessive toward you.  Check.
2)Tries to control you by being very bossy or demanding.  Double check.
3)Tries to isolate you by demanding you cut off social contacts and friendships.  Yup. Got angry when she didn’t tell him she was going to visit mom. Doesn’t like her going out with friends.
4)Is violent and / or loses his or her temper quickly.  Yes
5)Pressures you sexually, demands sexual activities you are not comfortable with.  I believe this is premise of book.
6)Abuses drugs or alcohol.  This may be a stretch, but seems to glurp wine/champagne entire book.
7)Claims you are responsible for his or her emotional state. (This is a core diagnostic criteria for Codependency.)  A favorite phrase is “Oh Anastasia, what are you doing to me?”
8)Blames you when he or she mistreats you.  See above
9)Has a history of bad relationships.  Yes
10)Your family and friends have warned you about the person or told you that they are concerned for your safety or emotional well being.  Best friend Kate warns her.
11)You frequently worry about how he or she will react to things you say or do.  She constantly worries about how mad he will be.
12)Makes “jokes” that shame, humiliate, demean or embarrass you, weather privately or around family and friends.  Not applicable. He never makes jokes.
13)Your partner grew up witnessing an abusive parental relationship, and/or was abused as a child.  Yes.
14)Your partner “rages” when they feel hurt, shame, fear or loss of control.  Yes.
15)Both parties in abusive relationships may develop or progress in drug or alcohol dependence in a (dysfunctional) attempt to cope with the pain.  4th book??
16)You leave and then return to your partner repeatedly, against the advice of your friends, family and loved ones.  Once so far.
17)You have trouble ending the relationship, even though you know inside it’s the right thing to do.  She’s too dumb to know it’s the right thing to do. She’s 21. And she thinks they’re soul mates.
(Courtesy of http://www.recovery-man.com)

Well there we have it. I once watched a movie called Boxing Helena. It was about a surgeon who was so obsessed with a woman that when he couldn’t have her he amputated her limbs and literally put her in a box in his gigantic house. I once dated a man who made me feel like I was living in a box. At first I found his attentiveness flattering. Then his constant questioning of where I was going and who I was going with, his checking up on me and jealous outbursts were smothering. When he followed me out for dinner with a good male friend it was over the top. When I finally broke up with him and he locked me in his car, drove 100 miles an hour to a deserted location and threatened to kill me it was downright terrifying. I’m lucky I’m here. Many women are not. So when I read a book like this that casually dismisses dangerous behavior I find it frightening. There is no shame in enjoying the book for what it is. Overlook all the other flaws. But keep this one in the back of your mind. This book is a work of fiction. In the book, the characters live happily ever after. In reality, they would not. So if you or anyone you know is in a relationship like this, please help them get out. Even if the man is gorgeous and rich and gives her an orgasm every time he touches her.