By Frances Thrush
Both the book series and the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” have been incredibly successful in their ability to both unite and separate the general populace of the United States. Feminist groups and the kink community (due to inaccurate portrayals of an actual BDSM relationship) lobby against it, religious groups respond with a resounding and decisive “no” and those who do not identify as strongly religious, feminist or otherwise attempt to navigate the awkward debates and strong emotions surrounding this story line. The books are so controversial that our university did not allow the bookstore to display or sell this book due to parental complaints.
My issue with “Fifty Shades” is not the type of sexual activity nor the frequency with which the characters practice it – though the film has no more nudity than “Titanic,” and no more sex scenes than “The Notebook” – but rather the flaws in the relationship.
For those of you who do not know, the book series was born from a particularly erotic strain of a “Twilight” fan fiction. The relationship between the two is obvious, with the male protagonists being basic carbon copies of each other. On one hand we have Edward Cullen, a 100-year-old vampire that stalks, invades the privacy of, and sexually manipulates (by not having sex) Bella into marrying him though she does not believe in marriage. On the other we have Christian Grey, a successful billionaire who stalks, invades the privacy of, and sexually manipulates (through sex) Ana to participate in a relationship devoid of romance in spite of her admitting to being a romantic person.
Both men play the piano and have too much control over the lives of their girlfriends/lovers/toys.
Ana and Bella are identical personalities: plain girls who attract rich, attractive stalkers who inspire some form of dependence on their behalf. When Edward and Bella break up she starts throwing herself off cliffs, riding motorcycles and generally endangering herself in order to feel Edward’s presence. In “Fifty Shades of Grey”, Ana is unable to feed herself after breaking up with Christian Grey in the first book, and the second book leaves us with an Ana who is no longer able to function, much like Bella without Edward.
These relationships are the true problem with both of these series. In these relationships the man is the subject and the woman is his possession. She is the object of his affection and his prize for winning her over is controlling her. Her prize? She gets to be his. As Christian tells Ana, “You’re mine now.”
This problem doesn’t only present itself verbally. In both of these relationships the women are forced to participate in the lifestyles of their billionaire stalkers. In return the men both . . . buy them things? Have sex with them? Look attractive and brood? Act overprotective because they are the only ones with the right to stalk them? None of these seem to be valid returns of affection.
Many might assume I’m being unfair. “Fifty Shades” is about sex, and in “Twilight,” the characters wait until marriage. If this is the justification you use to feel better about supporting the “Twilight” series, you’re wrong. The truth is, Edward withdrew sex and used it as a bargaining chip in order to manipulate. She didn’t want to get married; she didn’t believe in marriage.
We live in a time where this antiquated idea of a woman being obedient to her husband in exchange for faithfulness is seen for what it is: unfair. We understand that men are responsible for their own sexual or impure thoughts just as women are for theirs, and that a woman is more than an object upon which a man can shower affection. Our relationships strive to be equal: we understand that women have the same human dignity as men and do not exist to be dominated and owned.
Conversely, we now understand that men must also be pursued and are not required to display feats of masculinity in order to be worthy of respect and equality. Both the female and male protagonists in these novels are reduced to nothing more than sexual beings upon which antiquated gender roles have been enforced.
The problem with “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” is not the vampirism or BDSM. It is the blatant lack of equality and respect for the men and women involved.