- Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
- The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
Usually the same people who criticize Fifty Shades also target Twilight; primarily because in its earliest form Fifty Shades was supposedly Twilight fan-fiction, with parallels between the characters in both books. In Twilight, Edward is dangerous for Bella, of course! He's a VAMPIRE - you know, a fictional, violent, blood-sucking predator. But in the Saga there is never once any domestic violence (yes, he inadvertently bruises her when they have sex, but come on, he's a vampire, it's not real, please don't take yourselves so seriously). In fact, Bella punches Jacob in the face more times than she is ever hit herself. Edward is never abusive, he's at the top of the fucking food chain. It's like a bear dating a fish, or as Meyer more eloquently puts it; the lion falling in love with the lamb. Even so, Edward protects Bella, rather than treating her as prey. He saves her from James' vampire venom, and after the incident makes sure she is well guarded. Bella is always allowed to do what she wants, except where it will cause her harm. (I never thought I'd be defending Edward Cullen at eighteen years old. I was a Team Jacob, too.) I can summarise my thoughts on 'abuse' in this book quite quickly, because I think it is clear that this book is completely fictional and was never intended to be taken seriously.
One parallel comes in with the stalker-esque behaviour. As we all know, Edward (creepily) watches Bella while she sleeps, while in Fifty Shades Christian actually follows Ana around. On one occasion, he locates her by tracking her mobile phone. This does bother me a little, and leans, in my opinion, towards relationship abuse. Relationship abuse, by definition, is: a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviours used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner (www.stoprelationshipabuse.org). It can include physical and domestic abuse, but is mainly just verbal abuse and manipulating or controlling behaviour. You can take this quiz if you'd like to learn more about how a person would treat you during relationship abuse. Stalking can leave someone feeling threatened, and you should always feel safe within a relationship. Christian does display some quite manipulative character traits, and he requires that Ana signs a contract before their sexual relationship can begin. But even still, Ana has the power to sign it or not. (I'm going to steer away from the contract now though... it's a bit of a Grey area - hehe).
One poignant thing that I've been told by one of my friends about Fifty Shades is that the book and the film are not identical (when are they ever?) and that the film doesn't accurately depict the kind of relationship they have. In the book, Christian's exes all used to sleep beneath him, representing a hierarchy within the relationship; a clear divide between the male dominant and the female submissive. However, importantly (in the books, at least), Ana sleeps with Christian in his own bed. This is symbolic that 1) Ana is Christian's equal, despite the fact that sexually, the dominant and submissive traits are present in their BDSM relationship and 2) that Christian grows to love her romantically, more than any girlfriend he's had previously. Disappointingly, I'm told that Ana is never seen sleeping in Christian's bed during the film, which is a bit sketchy. It makes me think that the film-makers wouldn't mind portraying the relationship as more unhealthy than it is, just to make a profit. But while love is present in a relationship, it doesn't mean that it can't be abusive or unhealthy at all.
One thing I was constantly reminded to understand is that Christian had a problematic childhood and was abused himself at a young age, leaving him psychologically damaged. It's clear from how scarily attached he is to Ana that there's something not right there. Of course, abuse would have a long-lasting effect on anyone, but I do not think it excuses abusing other people. BDSM does not constitute abuse when it is consented to by both parties, if it is practised in the correct way, obviously, but BDSM is not the problem. I've seen a lot of people claim that he ignores the safe word once, but have so far found no evidence of this. As far as I know, he stops what he was doing as soon as he realises what Ana has said. They do have a very unhealthy, even abusive, relationship... physically, emotionally... just not sexually. Multiple times, Ana says she's scared that Christian might hit her when they're out of the bedroom, and that's just not cool. I don't think Christian Grey should be a 'role model' for other men. If you're reading this and you're still in any doubt, please read Alys' blog or 50 Shades of Regret, as they both provide many more examples than I just have.
What I've learned from this experience is that Fifty Shades of Grey is not for me at all. As for the effect it has on the public and 'impressionable' young women, that's up for debate. My opinion is that young girls aren't given enough credit and that they are more than able to make their own decisions on what they get involved in. When they say "I want a Christian Grey," yes they may be a tad misinformed but are they saying "ooh Jamie Dornan's a bit of alright" or "wow I really want someone to abuse me against my will". Come on guys, it's not the girls' fault - and anyway, they're usually more clever than they seem. I'm more worried about guys thinking it's acceptable to act like him (outside of the bedroom). One important thing to remember is that relationships like Christian and Ana's do exist, and I don't think E. L. James should be criticised for writing a book which has made people so aware of that and the issues that come with it. Grey is not a perfect character and I don't think he was intended to be. I think we should consider the possibility that she did want to incorporate relationship abuse into the book, simply because it exists and shouldn't be ignored. Abuse is not romance.