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Control is NOT love.
Girl meets boy and boy meets girl. She’s a 21-year-old senior at WSU Vancouver who is getting ready to graduate and is still a virgin. He’s a young, ambitious billionaire who owns his own company in Seattle. They meet in an unexpected fashion, fall in love and live happily ever after.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m referencing the relationship of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey from New York Times Bestellers’ list, Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E.L. James.
Before I get too far into this, let me address that I am not a prude in any way, shape, or form. I am aware of what the bondage/discipline and sadomasochism or sadism and masochism lifestyles entails. I don’t find it offensive and I’ve read erotic romance novels before on my own accord. My qualms with Fifty Shades of Grey do not lie with the BDSM itself. It’s the characters. My irritation lies with them and how their relationship works on a day-to-day basis.
Anastasia “Ana” Steele is shy yet intelligent girl. At the beginning of the trilogy, she says that she is a “pale, brown-haired young woman with blue eyes too big for her face.” She also says on multiple occasions that she is slim, pale and scruffy. In short, she’s insecure.
I think that some point in our lives, we are all insecure. But the constant degradation of the female protagonist is unnerving. Can we just end the pity party and move on?
Christian Grey is a 27-year-old billionaire who owns his own company; there is no board involved. He is fluent in French; he loves to fly helicopters and gliders; he has been playing the piano since he was six years old; and he is accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. Author E.L. James created a man who doesn’t exist; but is fantasized by women—and men—across the globe.
On the surface, James created a character with a status and lifestyle that most of us can never obtain. However, the author manages to bury any preconceived notions that readers may have developed on their own accord. It is revealed that Grey’s birth mother, Ella, was a drug addict—her drug of choice was cocaine—and a prostitute. Her pimp was abusive toward both her and Christian. Ella committed suicide when Christian was four years old.
During Christian’s younger years, he often had violent mood swings and turned to drinking. He attended therapy, however, he didn’t like his therapists.
When he was 15 years old, Christian took a landscaping job for his mother’s friend, Elena Lincoln. She seduced Christian and he lost his virginity to her. She introduced Christian to the BDSM lifestyle and she was the dominant in their relationship. Their affair carried on for six years.
After Ana meets Christian, the readers are aware that Ana finds him bossy. Even when she’s interviewing him for the school newspaper, she points out that he is a control freak and Christian simply responds, “Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele.”
Later on, while discussing the BDSM lifestyle, Christian lays out rules and a contract for Ana. In summary, she (the submissive) must obey instructions given by the dominant (Christian) without hesitation or reservation. The rules for the submissive range from getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep to eating from an approved list of foods to wearing clothes bought by the dominant, and many more.
In what way is this kind of behavior not considered controlling? Most who participate in the BDSM lifestyle do have some rules and safe words, but demands such as Christian Grey’s don’t exist.
There is nothing healthy about the relationship between Ana and Christian. The constant barrage of questions such as, “Where were you?” or “Who were you with?” and “What are you doing?” only prove Christian’s need for control. There is no equality between them outside of the bedroom. Christian sets the rules and then breaks them. He makes empty threats to Ana such as, “If you were mine, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday.” Socially, their relationship is toxic and includes multiple red flags for emotional and mental abuse. But sexually, there is a form of equality. Ana is the submissive, which means she holds some power over Christian, even if he is the dominant and therefore ultimately in charge. Some in the BDSM lifestyle say that the submissive and the dominant should be equal like yin and yang. It’s about trust and respecting the boundaries laid out by one other.
Christian’s need for control seems to overstep the boundaries on many occasions. He admitted that he had no interest in having a girlfriend; therefore, what Ana does when she isn’t with him shouldn’t be his concern. But Christian feels that in a way, he owns Ana. As revealed earlier in the book, Christian admits that he has a “…very singular, drive. I like control—of myself and those around me… I want to deserve to possess them, but yes, bottom line, I do [possess them].”
You would think that someone who came from an abusive past would not treat someone the same way. Some of you may argue that this is fiction but the reality is that there are relationships like Ana and Christian’s that exist and they are full of mental and/or emotional abuse.
Others might argue that fiction like Harry Potter can be just as “damaging” to its readers as Fifty Shades of Grey, but there is nothing wrong with dressing up in a robe and running around with a wand. Sure, imagination and creativity might get crushed, but no one gets hurt.
I understand that Ana and Christian’s relationship evolves in the second and third book: They really do fall in love, they get married and they have kids. But not every toxic relationship HAS a happy ending. What I “learned” from James (and from society) while reading Fifty Shades of Grey is that it’s okay to be self-loathing and approve of controlling behavior. Most importantly, I “learned” that people think it’s OK to remain in an abusive relationship in hopes that it ends well instead of both parties acknowledging that the relationship is unhealthy and calling it quits.
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