Tuesday, August 12, 2014

50 Shades of It's a Book!

A severely abused child is rescued and raised by kind and caring adoptive parents. Despite years of love and therapy the child suffers, as most victims of abuse do, from low self esteem, feelings of inadequacy and a need to be in control. By chance he meets a woman who shows him an unconventional way to deal with his anger and helps him to channel is energy into something more positive.

With the woman's help he becomes successful in business but continues to struggle emotionally, until a new woman walks into his life. One who challenges the way he has been dealing with his past and forces him to confront his demons. She turns his life on end when she helps him to confront the demons of his past and shows him that he can be loved - truly loved - which helps him learn to love in return.

This is how I read 50 Shades of Gray, the series of books has recently become the center of a lot of attention due to the movie adaptation being publicized. There are many people who are now warning against the movie for a variety of reasons.

Some say it romanticizes domestic violence. I don't see that. The male lead, Christian Gray, does hit Anastasia but he doesn't beat her in anger. The hitting is part of how he was taught to control and process his own abuse. It's also part of an arrangement between two adults who sit and discuss all aspects of the situation first. He also struggles with trying to control her, which is plot point of the book. He was taught that if he's in control then he can't be hurt again. She challenges his need for control and they learn to compromise. In moments of high anxiety he reverts to what he knows - control.

Some object to the portrayal of BDSM within in the book. Those not in the lifestyle object because it appears to be about violence. Those in the lifestyle object because it doesn't portray the lifestyle accurately. The reality is that the BDSM community has several layers and subgroups and while some are very violent, many others have more to do with role playing then anything else. The difference between BDSM and abuse is consent and control. If there is no consent, or no control, then it's abuse.

Some object to the general level of violence and cast Christian as an evil person. The problem here is that most books of this genre are written with a male lead who becomes violent at some point, usually to prove his love or save the female lead from someone else. 50 Shades of Gray is no different. A few examples from books not in this series.

Beating up an ex boyfriend that was trying to rape the female lead.
Beating up an ex boyfriend that was trying to kill the female lead.
Punching the man who slept with the male lead's wife, now dead, when he flirted with the female lead.
Killing the female lead's stalker/rapist.

On an interesting note all of these are much more violent then anything Christian Gray does in the books. In contrast Anastasia turns out to be more violent.

The most important thing to remember about this book is that Christian Gray and Anastasia Steele are characters in a fictional romance book. The books were never meant to be a primer on child abuse, domestic abuse, BDSM or violence. And while it's good that people are talking about those topics, because they are important, it's not good that the focus of these conversations is not about how to help the victims or find real solutions but rather how to keep people from going to see a movie or read a book