A few years ago, my mother came home with something furtively huddled in her arms. I knew immediately what was happening; she was desecrating the household with a brand new copy of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. I refuse to forgive James for her disgraceful use of present tense prose, however I am distressed to see some people taking this book far too seriously.
Many accusations have been levied against the text. They range from the simply ludicrous—“The film thus subtly promotes paedophilia”—to the very serious. These I will be discussing in this article.
I risk being unoriginal in saying this, but rape is a severe and ungodly offence, so any accusations of rape must be treated with an appropriate degree of gravity. Accordingly, we should take the claims that Fifty Shades of Grey promotes or romanticises rape with great seriousness. However, the supposed depictions of rape that have been denounced in hundreds of publications do not maintain their integrity when scrutinised. One of the most frequently cited ‘rape scenes’ is when Christian, the wealthy and handsome BDSM enthusiast who seduces the protagonist Anastasia, ignores her protestations:
“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening right now.”
Any reasonable person would describe the scene as depicting rape. However, the four sentences preceding the above extract are often not presented, or forgotten:
He bends and starts undoing one of my sneakers. Oh no… no… my feet. No. I’ve just been running.
Read within the context, the rape claims become much less substantial. It appears that the accused was merely removing the shoes of the victim, who was fearful of the potential odour her bare feet might emit. I’ve never taken a girl’s shoes off for her, but I don’t think it would count as rape if I did, even if she didn’t want me to. So much for gross moral turpitude.
Another accusation levied against James’ novel is that it romantically portrays Christian stalking Anastasia. The evidence: not long after their first meeting, Christian ‘coincidentally’ meets her at the hardware store where she works. Predictably, Mr. Grey is there to procure masking tape, cable ties, and rope. A travesty of the literary variety, and not the sort accusers claim to have discovered.
Though it is somewhat unscrupulous behaviour to go out of your way to meet someone and pass it off as a coincidence, it’s far from unusual. I occasionally found my high school self taking a particularly long time to walk a certain stretch of hallway, knowing that a particular girl usually walked through the same hallway at that time. Was I a juvenile stalker? Few people have ever claimed attraction to be a rational experience, and it would be a great misdemeanour to criminalise one of the common follies of love.
In fact, Christian’s supposed stalking is quite uninteresting when you consider that Anastasia is very much infatuated with him:
My heart is pounding a frantic tattoo, and for some reason I’m blushing furiously under his steady scrutiny. I am utterly thrown by the sight of him standing before me. My memories of him did not do him justice. He’s not merely good-looking – he’s the epitome of male beauty, breathtaking, and he’s here.
Never mind what it means for a heart to pound a frantic tattoo, it is made distinctly clear that whatever attraction there is exists in both of them. Christian’s behaviour could just as easily be construed as an idiosyncratic demonstration of affection.
It is difficult to not find support for any viewpoint you seek when looking at a book-length text. The real skill lies in looking at a text and trying to find out what’s inside the text itself, instead of what is inside you. Next time you find yourself offended while reading a three-penny novel or watching a blockbuster, remember that it’s trying to entertain, or arouse, you, not teach you how to be a boyfriend.