Is Fifty Shades for You? | Giftie Etcetera: Is Fifty Shades for You?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is Fifty Shades for You?

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.

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.

My verdict?

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 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.



Christine Cortese said...

Kristy, thanks for this review! I haven't read the books yet but I might after this. I really like your Off-Topic Tuesdays, too.

Unknown said...

"Healing from a violent past" is not quite what I would want to be saying about this book. I know a big hoopla about this book and movie is that it's trying to be BDSM and it's not doing it right. Because in BDSM there has to be a common respect and a common understanding - that nobody is actually "the leader" or what have you. But the book and the movie, from what I understand, don't really go over that, they just lay the framework that the man is the dom and the lady is the sub, and he can do whatever the heck he wants. Which, is probably how a lot of dom/sub relationships are set up, but it's also set upon respect and caring for the other individual. You have to be healthy on your own (mentally) in order to be a part of that kind of relationship well.
Also, safe words!!

Giftie Etcetera said...

Jessica - totally valid points. Honestly, I don't think of this book as a BDSM book because neither party is very good at BDSM.

VodkaSoyLatte said...

Okay, in full disclosure, I am a traditionally published author. These books irked the last nerve in me for all the reasons already covered ( I do believe this book promotes an unhealthy relationship and the BDSM community is furious). Additionally, FSoG is Twilight fanfic. EL James ripped Stephanie Meyers off. I write horror, and really couldn't care less about Twilight, but what most people don't get is that FSoG is an adult version of Twilight without the vampires. I am not opposed to fanfic... Until someone starts profiting from it. That's a dangerous line to walk.

It's also horribly, horribly written and should never have gone to print without a more serious editing pass.

Giftie Etcetera said...

Also a good point. I also think it's a little unfair to someone who reads Twilight as a "wholesome" book (because of the waiting for marriage aspect) and reads this thinking it is like Twilight. Yes, it is, in so many ways. But it's also completely different.

Now, I don't think people are likely to be blindsided since the movie came out. But I bet some people were blind-sided before!

I did try to keep my opinions about the content out of this review. I did not completely succeed. :) But I tried.

Unknown said...

I'd like to point out that 50 shades offended equally, those in the Church as well as those in the BDSM community. Hehehehe...that fact alone always makes me smile when I hear about it. No I haven't read the book nor seen the movie. It's porn for the masses. That statement betrays my whole outlook on life :-D

Giftie Etcetera said...

Definitely not for you, then, Houston Home School! :) But, really, it's not for you.

Know what inspired me to write this in the first place? A very evangelical relative asked me if she should read it. She thought it was a Christian romance novel. I don't know where she got that idea, but I stammered and blush and assured her that she would not enjoy it.

She said, "why not?"

And I didn't know what to say. My husband laughed and laughed at my discomfort. Grrr at him!

But it's true. It is not a book for the very religious conservative people. (I mean conservative in actions and lifestyle, not considering politics at all.) It's not a book for people in the BDSM scene since it does not depict a healthy BDSM relationship. It's not a book for people who love Twilight or hate Twilight or for people who despise the idea of ripping off someone else's storyline.

But a lot of people like it, so it is a book for some people. I hope this post helps the people on the edge decide if it is for them or not.

Anna said...

Thanks for your post. I have mostly seen posts about why the book is a bad thing, and it is interesting to get a balanced perspective. I wasn't planning to read the book, because I don't do soft porn/erotica, both for religious reasons and personal "ickiness" factors. Plus "bad writing" is painful to me. I have 100s of books on my want-to-read list, so I don't want to waste time on a book that is not well written, even if the story line or topic sounds good.
On the violence factor, I have trouble reading/watching violent things. I've always been a bit like that, and I partly chalk it up to an overly active imagination. Maybe I have too much trouble separating fact & fiction sometimes. Once I had kids, I couldn't read anything with kids being kidnapped, abused, etc. It would upset me, and since I mostly read to relax & escape reality, that doesn't work for me.
I've always heard about becoming desensitized to violence by seeing it in games/movies, but it really struck home a little over a year ago. Because of living in a remote place (jungle of Congo), I don't watch a lot of movies. Even the ones we have, I would usually rather read a chapter or two of a book, then sleep. When we were in the US, I was at a medical mission conference. At the beginning of one session there was a short film on persecution in the church, which showed some rebels going in and shooting up a church. It struck too close to home for me, as we had war across the river from us, and could hear shooting, and dealt with many casualties, etc.
I'm normally a very calm person, but I had what must have been a panic attack. I was shaking & sick, and didn't feel like I could stand up & leave. Obviously, I survived, but I think it was because my emotions couldn't separate the fiction/reality, even though my mind new the difference.
So, that's quite a bit of rambling, but I think my point is that I can understand how some people could have trouble with the violence in the film. I can watch something like James Bond no problem, but not something that mirrors a crisis I lived through. If someone has experienced even a slightly abusive relationship, this would be really hard to watch.

Anna said...

On the subject of change/redemption. I think we all want to believe that it is possible. And I do believe that people are rarely ever too far gone in a certain behavior to change. I know that there is some who would disagree, but I think there is always hope.

WellPlannedLife said...

Being a librarian, I want to weigh in on this. First, I have not read the books or seen the movie. Second, I do not want to read the books or see the movie, not so much because of the content but because I am almost always disappointed in books and movies that become a "thing" that people "just have to" read or see. I have never read a James Patterson book for this reason, nor do I ever plan to. (He is a librarian's worst nightmare, but that's another story for another day.) I did hear that the writing was horrible, and that alone makes me not want to read the book, regardless of content or story of erotica level.

For the record, I did start to read the Twilight books and felt the same about them -- I hated the first book, thought is wasn't well written and didn't like Bella's character. I stopped about 3/4 through the second book. Due to the comparisons between the two stories, I just won't even bother with Fifty Shades. This might be unfair or judgy, but that's just how I view it.

Not really knowing the entire story of Fifty Shades, I thank you Kristy for creating the most balanced review I have read about it in a long time, perhaps ever. I will say that I do love books that get people excited about books in general and excited about reading, regardless of content. Just because a book isn't for me, doesn't mean that it doesn't hold something valuable for someone else. Just like music and movies, it's all about what resonates with a person.

With that said, I can see and understand all sides of this debate. However, as was alluded to above, it is not entirely fair for people to be judging the story based on what they THINK it is, rather than what it truly is (though one can say I'm doing just that, but the truth is I just have no interest), and preaching about it from those assumptions.

Thank you for this post.

Robbie said...

I read the books. They were okay., actually they were more meh. The books were a quick easy read. I will probably watch the movie once it goes to the video. Like you I don't believe the books were written to represent the BDSM community. I highly doubt the author even did any research.

Anyhoo thanks for giving a different and balanced view point than so many opinions from people who have "heard" about the books or movies, but have not bothered to read or see the movie.

Katie @ Chalk it up to Better Luck said...

I only read the first book and I couldn't pick up the next ones because I couldn't get past the writing...but I found that the Character of Ana in the book was a totally different character than the one in the movie. And frankly, I liked the girl in the movie better. She seemed like a stronger character with a lot more depth than the one I read in the book. But I also think that people totally need to get over this!

Unknown said...

Thank you for this honest and frank review! I am one of those "didn't read/watch it, but I'll write about it anyway" bloggers- I'm religiously opposed to the erotica part. And opposed to romance novels, too. I wrote my post for CHRISTIAN women, but I got a few people riled up when they assumed I was saying something without actually reading my post. That's a whole different thing.

Anyway, thank you!

Vanessa said...

Never read the book and don't plan on watching the movie

Anne - Money Propeller said...

I'm going to completely sidestep the whole content debate and say THANK YOU for saying that it's horribly written. It's really bad writing!
If people want to read erotica, go find something else that's better written.

Anonymous said...

So glad you mentioned the "poorly written" part. I think that is one of the things, as a former romance novel addict, that bother's me the most. It is trash. Others wrote it better twenty years ago. There is nothing new about this book at all. I looked at the first page of it after a girlfriend said something and I was baffled at the attraction.
As for the controversy- I think it's porn for women like many romance novels are. If women don't want their men looking at porn, then have the same standards, and don't look at this. If people judge, judge fairly. - And Christian women, who should have some standard of morality, should not be looking at porn any more than they should be watching that show about that guy and his harem, I mean the Bachelor.

Great post. Controversy is good for the mind.

Dana. S. Via BoBs!

EnchantedExcurse said...

Very interesting post! I don't believe I will read the books or see the movie still. lol. Just not my type of book/movie. I did enjoy reading your review on it though.

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed to read you don’t think 50 Shades is oppressive to women. As a person who practices consensual BDSM (including occasionally consensual non-consent), I absolutely disagree that 50 Shades depicts a consensual, or healthy, relationship. One of the things many people have to learn, especially when first starting out, is the difference between fantasy and reality. In reality all people have boundaries, even if you fantasise about a dom being able to do whatever they want. Even outside of that we have a legal system which protects our human rights even if/when we won’t advocate for ourselves. To use an extreme example, a friend once declared while in the throes of new love that she loved her dom so much and he could do whatever he wanted, hell she’d be happy even if she wound up dead. Regardless of her thoughts that would still have been murder! (She calmed down again soon after.)
Yes we're making our fantasies come true, but still within the bounds of reality, and there *are* limits. What’s more, those limits will vary depending on how the sub is feeling. A responsible dom works hard to make sure they know where those lines are AND keeps checking that they haven’t shifted. The tedious passages about the contract between Christian and Ana are supposed to be a starting point for a more in-depth conversation but they’re never mentioned again. Further it’s clear she doesn’t really know what to think of any of it – this is where *informed* consent comes in and I don’t think she can give it because she hasn’t experienced it yet. Once she *does* experience it she starts to say she’s not comfortable. A decent dom would modify their activities based on her comfort levels; Christian doesn’t do this. Instead he tells her that a "proper” submissive would subsume her own desires to his – not true. Only if that's part of what that sub would find hot, not all subs do and it's certainly not a given. Pushing that sort of message on a newbie is a huge red flag and frankly IMO is right up there with emotional abuse, since he's basically saying that if she doesn't enjoy it then either a) it's her fault because she "should" and/or b) that he doesn't care.
I could go on and on, but this is already an essay. Suffice it to say that in the I'm involved in, if someone behaved the way Christian does in the books, they'd be ejected and told not to come back. Which is why it also disturbs me that he's with a virgin newbie because a more experienced sub would see through his bullsh!t and tell him exactly where to shove it. He's taking advantage of the fact that she doesn't know any better, and she never gets an opportunity to *learn* any better because he stalks her and won't leave her alone. Let me tell you, if someone I barely knew gifted me a new phone and it later turned out to be so that they could track where I was, I would find that creepy and disturbing, not romantic. I find it hard to believe that many women would feel the opposite.
And that's even before I get into any of my rants about how all of this is a terrible way to have portrayed a marginalised alternative culture that is already widely misunderstood. It feels to me a lot like an exercise in "haha look at the freaks" objectification rather than a sensitive portrayal of an alternative lifestyle. Jamie Dornan compounded this by making a point of telling reporters that after visiting a professional BDSM "dungeon" (just to watch, he emphasised that he just watched), that he "had to take a shower" before he could hold his partner or child again. He didn't *do* anything, so he's talking about mental/emotional "contamination" rather than physical dirt/sweat. Thanks for reinforcing the message to the media that what we do is so very disgusting, Jamie, and yet you're now the most well-known face of my lifestyle! Ugh!

(For reference I have read the books but not seen the film yet.)

Anonymous said...

My strongest objection to the story also was it's depiction of BDSM. The entire story seemed to suggest that there is something "broken" about anyone interested or fulfilled by BDSM. I actually thought the character of Ana did a fairly decent job of standing up for herself given her youth and inexperience, and as a friend mentioned, "FSOG is only considered romantic because the guy is a billionaire. If he lived in a trailer it would be a crime novel." However, keep in mind, that this is a work of fiction: it is a fantasy, and our fantasies don't always reflect what would be desired in reality.

Angelica said...

I want to thank you so much for writing this post, for it affects me deeply. Well-written and concisely you have expressed everything I've felt around the controvercy of this book, both in the media and my personal circle. There's no use in repeating what you have already said, but thank you for saying it. I will refer my people to your post the next time this subject comes up.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous you are so right that the only reason it's considered romantic is because he's rich! You've hit the nail on the head. If he'd taken her back to his trailer or even his squat and said 'I don't care that you don't want to have sex right now, I'm taking you anyway and if you fight I'm just going to tie you down' (which Christian does say to Ana at one point), no one would ever have considered it to be romantic, even with the context of BDSM. It really disturbs me that people could read that scene and say there's no rape in that book.