Hopefully, you’ve already decided that Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t worth your time. But since, as Christians, we’re called to engage the culture for Christ, it’ll be helpful for you to know a few things about it so that you can converse sensibly and convincingly with your friends and coworkers.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a best-selling trilogy of novels and now a Hollywood movie. The franchise is worth millions. But this poorly written “love” story is more than just a harmless novel for bored housewives. It is filled with subtle and not-so-subtle lies. Let’s look at five of them.
Lie #1: Violence is sexy.
If you know anything about Fifty Shades, you know it’s a story about a man and a woman, people from opposite worlds sexually speaking, who become infatuated with one another. The main character, Ana (who has the personality of a wet toothbrush), is largely innocent and inexperienced when it comes to sex. Christian, on the other hand, is a sexual psychopath, deeply mired in a world of bondage and sadomasochism.
Fans of Fifty Shades are quick to point out, “Look, Ana eventually tames Christian and leads him away from his emotionless world of sexual dominance. Just read the sequel books.” That may be, but it’s the eroticism in the books that has made them best-sellers. Whatever change Christian goes through in story arc, we can’t overlook the way his violent fantasies scar Ana. This is precisely how the first book ends: with Ana alone, crying on her bed because she has fallen for a man who she realizes is deeply disturbed.
This is, sadly, the trend of pornography, whether words, photos, or videos. A recent study of top-selling pornographic films found that nearly 90 percent of the scenes contain acts of physical aggression. In most of those scenes, women are portrayed as enjoying being dominated or punished. Now, if someone responds, “Yes, but being dominated and threatened is so much more exciting than faithful marital sex,” to me, that’s analogous the meth-head who thinks normal, un-high life is boring. In both cases I just want to extend sympathy.
Lie #2: Sexual brokenness is sexy.
For many women, Christian Grey seems like the epitome of female fantasy. He’s unbelievably wealthy. He worships the ground Ana walks on.
But Christian is also a terribly damaged individual who at age fifteen became involved in a dominant-submissive relationship with a female friend of his mother’s, a relationship he says has left him fifty shades messed up. And yet his resulting perverted obsessions are the very things that have made the books millions.
Can you imagine if the scenario was reversed? Picture a 15-year-old girl being coerced by a man her father’s age into a relationship in which she’s sexually dominated for years. Then picture that girl entering into one relationship after another of emotionless, violent sex. Is that woman’s state of mind something to celebrate, something men should fantasize about?
Lie #3: Women should put up with stalkers.
Many fans of these books will say, “Look how much Christian wants to be sure he has Ana’s consent. This book isn’t misogynistic, because Ana gives her full consent.”
First, consenting to being degraded doesn’t make being degraded any cooler.
Second, the book blurs the line between consent and control in the worst ways. At one point, Ana says, “Of course he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone-tracking, helicopter-owning stalker wouldn’t?”
The Journal of Women’s Health published an article showing that Ana is actually a victim of “intimate partner violence.” The study says the book shows emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction the couple has, including elements of stalking and intimidation.
Lie #4: Consent is secondary when lust is involved.
Christian is a billionaire with nearly unlimited wealth at his disposal, and he buys Ana extravagant gifts. One of these gifts is a first-edition copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. You may be thinking, “Big deal. He bought her a nice book. She’s a British literature major. What a lovely gift.”
But in the note that comes with the book, Christian writes, “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks.”
For those unfamiliar with Hardy’s novel, this is what the main character, Tess, says after being raped by her stalker in the woods. Right away Ana recognizes the quote from the book but doesn’t really think through its implications. It’s clear Christian wants Ana physically, and he will use whatever tricks he can to get her. Throughout the book, as their twisted romance unfolds, we see how Ana compares Christian to the villain of Hardy’s story.
Lie # 5: Pornography is morally acceptable.
The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey will help persuade people (including the young and morally uninformed) that pornography is okay. But, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. ”
Don’t be fooled. Fifty Shades of Grey is nothing but poorly written, violent pornography.
Matt Fradd is the author of the new book Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women who Turned from Porn to Purity.