Ugh. My spirit is vexed. I don't want to get all 'Sister Woo-Woo' but I can't think of any other way to say what it is I feel. I've written nothing but poetry for months, however, this morning I came across a blog post by Matt Walsh regarding the upcoming movie 50 Shades of Grey and while I agree with everything the author states, I think more could and should be added. It's not that my voice is so important or that I seek a platform to spread my own personal opinion but rather that I'm so disturbed I feel the need to 'write it out.' I'm saddened, even grieved, by just the existence of these books and I'm convinced that the conversation needs to be deepened because I think that what bothers me the most is that we're talking around what needs to be talked about. We may not be seeing what is actually wrong, not just with the content of these books but with our society.
I did develop an opinion on this series however long ago it was that the first one came out. A strong opinion. And, no, I haven't read the books. I could barely stomach reading the plot summary of each installment on Wikipedia. I did read excerpts from the book because I had read that the writing is terrible. Which it is.
So, I am bothered and I do have something to say. I don't want to come across judgmental and, in fact, I'd love it if I was able to argue my point without inserting my faith but that's not completely possible.
Although I do believe that these books are an example of principalities at work and while it does bother me that even Christian women are justifying their merit, I'm troubled at a deeper level.
Walsh makes four points in his article, entitled, "To the Women of America: 4 Reasons to Hate 50 Shades of Grey" and I concur with each. Walsh happens to be a ranter. He's not afraid of getting in his reader's face. He doesn't mince words. But surprisingly, as I read his article, I realized that if I were to rant about this book / movie I'd be ranting even more. But I don't want to rant. And I don't even really want to appeal to anyone. I just want to shed light on what exactly it is I find so disturbing about the popularity of this series and why it actually makes perfect sense that we've been drawn to it, despite the fact that the writing is beyond terrible.
And the writing is godawful. That alone frustrates me. It frustrates me that we've devolved as a nation so much that content (shock appeal, really) trumps style and skill. But, whatever. It's not shocking. I've heard that the average American reads only at a seventh or eight grade level. I was unable to verify that statement but the popularity of the 50 Shades books inclines me to believe that it's probably true. It also frustrates me that the publishers, no doubt, were well aware that the writing sucked but published anyway because they knew that the content would drive the sales. Again, no surprise. Still, the quality of the writing merely adds insult to injury.
The injury really lies in the content because the content is a clear attack on women. It's my feminist bent that's so riled up rather than my Christian convictions. Which is why I don't even want to speak to Christian women about it. I don't need to list a bunch of Bible verses to make my point. One would suffice:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. -Philippians 4:8 NASB
That was my primary reason for choosing not to read this series. My own personal Christian based reason. But Christians are entitled to their own convictions, their own choices and their own relationships with God so I'm choosing not to call out in judgement what any individual Christian woman chooses to 'dwell on.' That's their business. I also, for the most part, feel that what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is their business. I have to focus on myself and what feels right to me. I don't have time to get caught up in the legalities of other people's intimacies.
But looking to Feminism, then, rather than focusing on Christianity, I still don't find the answers I'm looking for. What I want to know is: What is so appealing about a book where the heroine chooses degradation and dominance? What attracts us to these books? If Feminism was working would we be lured by this kind of thing? How can we on the one hand have videos circulating like these: Britteney Conner's poem, "Consent"; Venessa Marco's poem; and this one on sexual objectification and then on the other hand be so strongly defensive of and captivated by something like 50 Shades? It seems rather inconsistent to me.
I've struggled all day with these words, put them down, returned. I've wondered if I shouldn't just write a poem about it and be done. But for some reason I've been compelled to keep at it. So, in thinking about these questions and looking at the subject in a number of different lights, I've formed a few answers for myself.
I think one reason for the inconsistencies I see is that we're afraid, as women, to admit what we want. Maybe we're not even sure anymore what we want. We think we want equality and that we want respect and then along comes 50 Shades and it flies off the shelves and this all goes out the window? And then instead of just admitting that our flesh is strangely turned on by smut we try and justify it. We tell ourselves that the heroine makes a choice for herself, that it's about the relationship of the characters rather than the sex, that the girl in the end becomes empowered. So, of course, we're not perpetuating rape culture and of course books like these have nothing whatsoever to do with atrocities like the rape of a fifteen year old girl photographed and spread on social media.
Yeah, something doesn't seem right, here. Both Feminism and femininity are under assault. And I think that the popularity of these books speaks to that and also points to what many women do want. A desire that both Feminists as well as women who would not consider themselves to be Feminists might be afraid to touch for different reasons.
While I consider myself a feminist, I am sure that most Feminists would not count me as one. In the political spectrum, I lie closer to Conservatism than I do to Liberalism. I consider myself a feminist on the grounds that I believe in equality for women. I believe that the Feminist Movement was good and necessary. We said we could do what we were already doing and more; that we could have it all. We proved that we could do what we were already doing and more. However, I also think we sacrificed certain things for the sake of other things and found that we cannot, in fact, have it all. And in the process, to some extent, we displaced men. Because this is how the pendulum swings. This is how these things go. We needed and we still need to fight for equality. I'm by no means saying we should have not begun the fight. Yet, I do want to point out that now we are in this place where women continue to speak out, women continue the fight to be heard, women continue to fight for their rights (however these rights happen to be individually interpreted) and this is good. But it seems to me that somewhere along the way we've become a bit confused. Everything has become skewed including the ideas that began our fight in the first place. We've 'progressed' to a point where it's become practically politically incorrect to insist that men 'be men' or to state what it is we want from men. While stating that we need nothing from men we're forgetting that we might want something from them.
Because here's a series where Anastasia -- the heroine (?) gets some version of the 'fairy tale ending,' right? She gets some version of a Prince Charming. The frog morphs in some way into a marriageable man, right? It's just a sexed-up, adult version of the lie most women have been buying into since our youth. Can we at least, collectively, admit that?
I, for one, believe that we do want something from men. Books like 50 Shades confirm this. If women weren't looking to be stimulated or offered something in some way by men, these books would not have been bestsellers. They wouldn't be basing a movie on these books. They'd be irrelevant. No, if we're being honest, these books give us some of what we want-- what many of us have been trying to deny for decades that we want.
So, what do we want from the male species? Do we even know anymore? Do we want to dominate or be dominated? I thought we just wanted equal standing. So, why are we castrating men on the one hand, portraying them as stupid and child-like in the media and then asking them to stand up in other arenas? What are we doing with our relatively new power? These are the questions I feel we need to answer for ourselves. These are the questions we need to ask. And it's okay if our answers differ. But the questions are valid.
Reading through the comments on Walsh's blog I was struck by the nature of quite a few of the dissenters. I read a lot of statements by people claiming that Walsh shouldn't speak on what he doesn't know about. He hasn't read the books so he can't understand how the two main characters' relationship develops. Develops into what? From the plot summaries it appears that Christian remains, at the very least, a narcissistic abuser with a hero-complex who continues to control Anastasia even once they're married. You don't need to have a degree in Psychology to understand that a. abusers don't change because they've fallen in love and b. that healthy relationships don't evolve out of unhealthy premises. They devolve.
There were also a lot of comments stating that Walsh should leave the subject alone because this is, after all, fiction. I will agree that yes, the idea that a sociopath can somehow become an amazing and loving husband is indeed pure fodder for story line.
Another line of reasoning that troubled me in these comments was the idea that Anastasia ends up empowered. For the love of God, people. One of two things happens in any abusive relationship. The victim either becomes empowered or they remain a victim. So, supposedly, Anastasia becomes empowered. Let's say that's true. She rises up somehow out of the midst of degradation and punishment and becomes a better version of herself. Why was she so unempowered in the first place? Why did she choose to enter a relationship of this nature? Why was she attracted to a man, who at first wants only to use her? Why was her self-esteem and her self-worth so low that this would be appealing at all?
This is where I feel the Feminists have failed their own call. This is where I feel like we're not asking the right questions. What is so appealing about a book where the heroine chooses degradation and dominance? Shouldn't we be able to raise girls into women with a high enough self-esteem, a strong enough sense of worth, empowerment enough already that they feel no need to travel down a dark path with dangerous men in order to find their own 'hard and soft lines?' Why can we not consistently send this message? As women? As Feminists? What attracts us about this book? Why do want to read about a character dabbling on the edges of cruelty and perversity to figure out that what she really wants, in the end, is love? Because we're afraid to say that's what we want. We're afraid to say that our feminine nature desires strength in a man.
I suppose that because I am a Christian I cannot fully separate my faith with my view of these books. As a Christian, I can't help but believe that through these books, the enemy is, once again, perverting something that God created as good into something harmful and twisted. Oldest trick in his book. And I'm not talking about sex, though clearly sex is perverted in these books. What I'm talking about is a woman's desire for a man to lead. And I realize that I need to tread carefully here. Many women who consider themselves Feminists would at this point ( if they hadn't earlier) vehemently disagree with me. So, I'll concentrate for a minute only on femininity and under the assumption that these books pervert that in some way.
I do believe that women were born with an innate desire to be submissive. I'm wary of using that word-- however, I think it's the correct word. I think that for the most part women want a leader; to be led. I do not think women are incapable of leading or that women need a man or need to be led. I'm saying that I believe deep down, when in a relationship, women desire to be protected, desire an example of strength, and desire leadership. Leadership, not dominance. But leadership from men sadly seems to be in short supply these days. So, Christian Grey enters the scene and he is some of what we want. He is a warped version of what we want. He provides much of what we're unwilling or afraid to admit that we want.
Meanwhile, we continue to stand strong on what we see as important issues in regard to how women are viewed. We've got videos circulating on social media that speak to true empowerment for women.... and then we have 50 Shades. So, essentially, we take two steps forward and twenty steps back. We say we want a voice, we want power, and then we say, wait, no we don't. We want a little bit of BDSM in the bedroom where the man's in charge. Cause that's hot. Why is it hot, ladies? I'll tell you why. Because the layer under the layer under the layer if we're willing to keep peeling is that we want more from men. We don't want to be responsible for the children and the household and the finances and men's delicate emotions, too. We want to share the responsibility. There's a difference. But we're soaring ahead of men at a higher rate than we ever have and that's great that we can accomplish all we've accomplished. I want us to continue soaring. But I also want men to keep up. It's as simple as that. And you do, too, or your desire for 50 shades wouldn't be so immense.