If you haven't noticed yet, I've been doing Off Topic Tuesdays for a while now. On Off Topic Tuesday, I write about life beyond day planners and efficiency posts.
Today's topic, like last week's one about Submissive Wives, comes from my interactions with the blog community. (Confession: It looks like I posted that on a Thursday. For someone who writes about scheduling, I am kind of awful at it!)
WARNING: This post is PG-13. Usually, everything that I write is completely family-friendly, so I feel compelled to let you know that today's post contains adult subject matter. Also, this review contains some spoilers about the content of the story Fifty Shades of Grey.
Right now, there is a big trend in the blog world to review Fifty Shades of Grey, the book by E L James and the movie that was recently released, and to tell people not to read it.
My issue with the reviews?
Most of the people reviewing have not read the book or watched the movie!
I don't mind the advice that one should or shouldn't read based on religious belief or the level of violence in the film. Truly, Fifty Shades is not appropriate for all audiences.
But the advice is sometimes being given along with inaccuracies about the book and movie, and that is unfair to readers.
I wanted to offer a different perspective. I think people should make the decision to read/watch or not do so based on actual information, rather than conjecture about what the book might be about.
For the most part, I'll talk about the story itself, but I will make distinctions between the book and the movie where appropriate.
Is Fifty Shades soft-core pornography?
Fifty Shades (the book) is only slightly more graphic than the average historical romance novel. The words for actions and body parts are more crass and modern, but the actual story doesn't contain that much more sex than my mom's Harlequins.
In the movie, there is a lot of implied sex and nudity. There is no actual penetration. The actors use a lot of crass language.
The book is a cross between romance (usually story-driven) and erotica (usually sex scene-driven).
If your religious or personal beliefs allow you to read about sex, it's fine to read. If your moral standards mean that you don't read about sex or sex outside of marriage, this is not the book for you.
If erotica doesn't bother you, you'll likely find this book pretty light-weight reading.
On the other hand, the only thing that keeps the movie from being soft-core pornography is the lack of actual penetration. There is full frontal nudity of the female, and almost full frontal nudity of the male. I'm frankly surprised that it got an R rating instead of NC-17.
Disclaimer: There is a lot of personal bias here, as I am more comfortable with graphic description in writing than I am in pictures.
No humans were disrobed in the making of the book. Many humans were disrobed in the making of the movie.
No humans were touched in the making of the story. Many humans (okay, two and perhaps some body doubles) were touched in the making of the movie.
Even if you decide that the book is fine, the addition of actual human beings disrobing, touching, and simulating sex acts might bother you in the movie.
If NC-17 level sex in movies doesn't bother you, you are fine to watch the movie. If it bothers you to see actual humans in sexual positions or without clothing, or if religious or ethical beliefs forbid you from watching such things, the movie is not for you.
Is Fifty Shades violent?
Yes, Fifty Shades is violent. In the book and in the movie, there are spankings, whipping with implements like belts, and restraint.
In addition to watching Fifty Shades last weekend, I watched a PG-13 movie called "Jupiter Ascending." It had much MORE violence than Fifty Shades.
Unless you've been a victim of violence or really cannot tolerate any violence at all, the book and movie are fine. Violence is part of the storyline, and getting past violence, including flashbacks to child abuse, is a real part of the story.
The book and movie, unlike the portrayal by many bloggers, is NOT about violence, but about healing from a violent past. This is an important clarification, and one missed by those who have not actually read the story.
Of course, if you are an abuse victim, the early parts of the series will be hard to read and watch. Abuse victims, due to their own history and reasonable sensitivities, probably should avoid Fifty Shades.
Is Fifty Shades oppressive to women?
I don't think so.
The woman in this story clearly holds the power and shapes the nature of the relationship, even though the man, at first, wants to be in control. He offers her a contract laying out all the ways he will control her. She refuses and builds a relationship on her terms, not his.
The woman never has sex or sexual contact without consent. She is never raped, despite reports to the contrary. There is clear (and even written) communication about what constitutes consent or lack of consent, and she is clear that she wants to do everything that they do together.
There is a scene where, while sleeping, the man is touched in a way that he did not want. He is touched where scars from being abused as a child are present. I've never seen a blogger post about the non-consensual touching of the male. It really bothered me, though, so I note it here.
The woman in the story is whipped with a belt once. She has all the power to stop the act, and she chooses not to stop it. The man, of course, also has all the power to stop the act, as he is the one doing the violent act, and he doesn't stop it. They both clearly regret the moment. This is probably the most difficult scene to read and watch.
As they both regret their actions, they subsequently change, in a real and permanent way. The scene that is the hardest to watch is a pivotal point in the plot and getting past that moment is a crucial point in character development.
Unfortunately, the change doesn't begin until the second book and movie.
Most abusers never change. We all understand that. But in this book, the man does change. The woman chooses not to be a victim. There is a lot of positive strength in the characters.
Most people in real life do things that seemed appropriate at the moment, and are later regretted. As young adults, most people make mistakes. In that way, this book reflects real life. People do things that are stupid because they are young, unsure of themselves, and bad at wise decision-making.
The belt scene is one of those things.
In all good stories, there is a point of evil or bad that allows the characters to grow and fight the bad. That the bad is, in this case, internalized in a broken man who needs to grow and become better, does not oppress women.
Men who abuse women do oppress women. But this book is not about abuse of the woman, as nothing happens without the consent of the woman. That important distinction between abuse of women and a mutually satisfying relationship is lost in most reviews that I have read on-line.
As I noted above, the book is about an abused man, and his journey to not pass on that abuse. The woman in the story is young, and makes the same sorts of stupid mistakes that many make when they are young and inexperienced, but she is not a victim.
Is Fifty Shades for You?
To be frank, Fifty Shades is poorly written in the first novel of the trilogy. And make no mistake...it is a trilogy and to enjoy the story, you need to get through the horrid writing in the first book and read completely through all three books. That said, it is a solid, sensitive story and very thought-provoking.
The movie is visually stunning, but it's difficult to watch so much nudity and violence on screen.
If you are religiously or ethically opposed to erotica or soft core porn, do NOT read or watch Fifty Shades.
If violence is difficult for you to stomach, do NOT read or watch Fifty Shades.
If you are the victim of abuse, you might want to avoid Fifty Shades.
For the rest of you, it is all about personal taste. But at least you can now make that decision knowing the truth about the content.