What 'Fifty Shades' tells us about sexuality
A worn and predictable narrative holds no answers for those seeking true intimacy, writes BREDA O'BRIEN
THE SCENE: a bookshop in a rural town. The announcement: “Today we have a three-for-two offer for children which includes wooden jigsaws. And for yourself, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – exciting, liberating, and totally addictive. The perfect holiday read.”
The feeling: a strong desire to retch. The perfect holiday read will allow you to enjoy such immortal prose as “No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why. Is it his looks? His civility? Wealth? Power?”
More importantly, at Anastasia’s third meeting with him, Christian Grey buys cable ties, rope and masking tape, which sounds to me horribly like something Ted Bundy might have stocked up on at the weekend.
Guess it must be that prudish, puritanical, pleasure-hating Catholic thing, but the only response it evokes in me is a strong desire to scream, “Run! Get out of there, girl!”
If Christian Grey were real (as opposed to a self-made billionaire who never does any work) and Anastasia were not a cheap copy of Bella from Twilight, but someone you cared about, you would be worried sick that the next thing you would hear about her is that her dismembered body was discovered on waste ground.
There are some wonderful and hilariously sarcastic reviews online. (I particularly recommend Cassandra Parkin’s “Adventures In Trash: Fifty Things That Annoy Me About Fifty Shades Of Grey”. iti.ms/QyCvWm). It is so funny that you could almost forget the depressing fact that many women’s sex lives are apparently so dire, that reading Fifty Shades improves things.
If you skip the sex, which is easy if you just read every seventh page after he first beats her – a very worn and predictable narrative emerges. Innocent, virginal young woman manages to attract world-weary, wealthy, sophisticated man who inexplicably is besotted by her but won’t admit it. He takes care of her every need and she eventually marries the control freak. Worn, predictable, and utterly scary, because the new twist is that women’s alleged liberation leads us straight to putting up with abuse.
The internet takes you to strange places, including to the online home of Tracy Clark-Flory, full-time sex reporter for Salon. (Gosh, in my day, people were just reporters. Whatever next? Degrees designed to qualify you for such an exalted role?)
But guess what? Tracy faked her orgasms until she was 27. “Raised on online porn,” she felt bad about taking too long, so became a virtuoso at faking it. Then, she discovers she loves a guy called Steve, and everything changes. Love makes it possible for her to experience really great sex. What an unexpected development.
The sexual revolution was supposed to achieve this? Sex reporters who fake orgasms so as not to inconvenience men, and the fastest-selling novel being about an ingenue who gets beaten and abused, and is so turned on by it that she can’t keep her hands off the obsessively controlling man who dishes out the punishment?