Julia K. Stronks
May 8, 2012
The Fifty Shades phenomenon is a chance to discuss what God’s design for sexual partnership might look like.
It's important to remember that 50 Shades of Grey was originally sold as Twilight fanfic (fiction written by fans further exploring favorite narratives).
The seeds of inspiration for this corrosive (and badly written) text come from the more subtle (though hardly subtle) dominance issues in Twilight.
These books celebrating the innocent girl who tries to save a controlling boyfriend with her pure love despite his ill-treatment seem to be among the worst models for young women exploring (and idealizing) relationships through fiction.
While I don't think these books are worth the time they take to read, I do think parents and adult friends should read them (or at least really detailed summaries) if they are being selected by the adolescents in their lives.
On a critical level, the book's root in fan fiction is easily seen- it reads like a cheap monthly romance novel. Granted, I've only read the free previews on Amazon of the 3 books, because I'm not masochistic enough to purchase this drivel. Even in the little I read, there are major issues involving domination in public (what consensual things that happen in the bedroom is between your marriage and God) and general abusiveness. If the girl were my friend, I would have told her she was crazy for being in this relationship, and would have been taking evidence for the day he finally kills her.
One thing that really struck me, just in the little I read, was Christian's relentless pursuit of the girl, and then his coveting of her, even after marriage. I think think people are missing that aspect of the story, the idea that a woman can be special enough to chase. In modern romance, IMHO, women are no longer made to feel truly special, truly worthwhile. There are so many images and pictures of perfect women in media and pornography to tempt our lovers, and we know that they do, based on the stats for porn use across the masculine board, including Christians. To be made to feel like she is the only woman on the planet in the eyes of her man is a special gift, and something many never feel.
People, including Christians, seems to think that because we believe in chastity( used in the Catholic sense to mean respect for the entirety of the person, not just no sex outside of marriage,) it means we can't talk about it all, lest we all become inflamed with lust. God created sex, so why should we be unable to talk about it in an appropriate manner?
The account of the Fall in Genesis speaks that the man will work hard for his living, and that woman would be under his shadow. The Fall destroyed the original partnership that God intended for us, and we are suffering in so many ways, even in little ways, like my husband and me arguing nightly over picking up clutter from the floor. We get glimpses of what Eden was like every once in awhile, but until the final redemption, we will continue to deal with the ramifications of Adam and Eve.
Thankfully, we've grown enough in our understanding of God and His world to be able to pinpoint the Fall in our lives, and to try to work beyond it.
Nice thought-provoker here, Julia. I particular like the question "Should Christians read these books?"
The answer here is the same as for any book: if the book is something I see myself discussing with another Christian (my wife, a friend, one of the pastors at church, a book club), then the book is likely fair game for my reading list. If I would not feel comfortable even acknowledging reading a book (let alone discussing its contents) with another Christian, then I probably should keep it off my list.
P.S. Jonalyn Fincher just did a marvelous piece on this book at her website, and (like your article at TC, Julia) it has helped me understand how Christian women are dealing with the issues represented in the book: http://soulation.org/jonalynblog/2012/05/sex-food-and-fifty-shades-of-gray.html
Appreciated the comments thus far. There is a solid book on marriage, relationships, roles and generally what we are doing as Christians in these places called, "Forever and Always: The Art of Intimacy" by Steve and Celestia Tracy. Much of what was covered in this article about what we as Christians should perhaps think about in regards to 50 Shades can be further supported in their book. It's worth everyone's time. Thanks for the solid thoughts here.
I appreciate Julia's three points on the 50 Shades phenomenon. I read and responded to 50 Shades a few weeks ago on my personal blog (http://hgscott.com/lets-talk-about-sex-and-sadism/). I especially appreciated Julia's point about fantasy. In regard to that point, I think it's safe to say that this isn't harmless fantasy because fantasy involves desire and what we desire either moves us towards or away from God.
A desire for a BDSM relationship is harmful in several ways: First, it diminishes the personhood of both men and women. Second, as Julia mentioned, it is a lie about sexuality that distorts what a healthy and holy sexuality looks like. Third, it dulls our conscience to real acts of violence against women. Fourth, since "Christian Gray" is a wounded individual and Ana tries to "fix" him, it allows women to fantasize (again) that ultimately, *she* is the savior that will "fix" an otherwise appealing man.
I don't think, as others have mentioned elsewhere, that Christian Gray is a "desirable" man. Take away his money and he is a weird guy working the counter at the local Pizza Hut. You know, the kind you'd run away from in a dark parking lot. Take away his looks, and he's Dominique Strauss-Kahn. If we look at it that way, it's not really the guy, or even the BDSM that women find so appealing; its the benjamins and the Abercrombie-Fitch appeal.
I think if it's opening up a conversation then yes, it's ok to read the book. You can't have the conversation without reading the book. That doesn't mean you have to read the book, but you can't make assumptions based on what is on TV, in newspapers and in a few lines of the book. Also, this is not the first or last book to bring up these issues.
There is a very clear line between wanting a Christian Grey in your fantasy and wanting him in your real life. This book alone is not going to confuse woman, woman who are already confused may continue down that path. BUT, this book might also open up the opportunity to have a conversation about controlling men and abuse in a place where they're not trying to defend their boyfriend.
Maybe we need to continue to totter from one extreme to another until we each find a balance.
* Lots of spoiler alerts *
First of all, I can tell that most of the responses here are from mere opinions and not people who really read the series.
There's 3 books - and a continuance of delving into the Male's character more deeply that is being currently written.
I'm a Christian female, married and am in the demographic of the age group for this book. I'm an avid reader, and go through anywhere from 4 - 6 novels a month. That being said, I think E.L. James is humble enough to admit what her tough critics say about her writing; remember people, she's fresh at this.
I think there's positive highlights. Mentions of prayer, Ana praying to God for Christian's safety, her suggestion of their attendance in Church, their marriage, and ultimately Christian's redemption from a tortured life.
The story, I think plays out excellently. It's a smooth, hard to put down read (I did all 3 novels in 1 week; Thursday - Thursday) The lifestyle Christian Grey (male character) has is ultimately linked to a life as a foster child, and from sexual abuse as a minor that lasted around 10 years. He's actively seeking therapy the entirety of the series. The 'submission' that is so controversial, I didn't find offensive because at any given time, the female character 'Ana' was warned that she needs to know, er, 'safe words' - or things she could verbally say to designate an ending of an activity. There's no oppression, or dominance that wasn't just erotic, really.
Christian Grey, ends up completely challenged and forced to change from a woman he's falling in love with - that's really frightened by the parameters of this relationship and what it holds for the future. He willingly, but it's very difficult, does so.
The negatives, are obviously what offends me in any text, film or ballad, and that's when they use Christ's name in vain. Unfortunately, there's a load of this and it's a little unforgiving in my book, and that's why I wouldn't ever recommend it. I defend it, purely out of people's ignorance when they bash the story, and ignorantly criticize it (in fairness) but have a struggle because I also know it stirs up trouble.
Christian Grey, is just, too perfect. Billionaire, Philanthropist, Sexy, Witty, Chivalrous, Single & attracted to your A-typical pale brunette. These things just aren't a reality, and I know psychologically we have issues differentiating what are real human characteristics and what aren't once we start getting so intimately involved with fictional characters and their 'lives'.
After reading the books, I do feel like I had to detox a little from this fantasy world.
I'm not sure what you mean 'It's important to remember that 50 Shades of Grey was originally sold as Twilight fanfic (fiction written by fans further exploring favorite narratives).'
- I think you mean, it's important to 'know'. However, this doesn't need to be said for people to understand the 50 Shades series, at all.
It's a thing of it's own genre, and just like everything else, is influenced by another.
Out of curiosity, I have a feeling you haven't read the series due to your 3rd paragraph about their relationship; the main conflict arises in the book when the female character leaves the male due to an encounter that pushed her too far and she realized she couldn't live the lifestyle. From there on out, mentally the male character is falling apart for the loss - and he changes. It's a long process (3 books) but - SPOILER alert, he changes. He's the way he was from sexual abuse, and I think the book brings to light a particular issue we have of sexual abuse in adolescents not only in the U.S., but everywhere.
Wonderful point Halee about taking away the worldy aspects.
I wrote about that too.
Checking out your blog!
my response to the 3 points made by the Christian article writer above:
1. Ana agrees to the set-up because, being the fictional character she is, she wants to. She doesn't agree to ANYthing she doesn't WANT. and Christian has NO interest in hurting her.
2. of course the story shows the man as Dominant. he is literally, a Dominant, seeking a Submissive. he knows this, Ana knows this. they both know most relationships are NOT like this.
3. huh? these books do not contribute to sexual assault. that is so far a stretch. it must have been hard for this article writer to come up with a 3rd objection so threw this one out there. but for the thinking minded person, this point does not fly. it raises the alarm in a reader who's never read the books, but it is a false alarm.
Thanks for all the interesting commentary here. I was in Boston last week doing a series of interviews with female professionals. At times, the topic of this book came up and some of the women I talked with asked whether I thought the books were pornography. I've read all three books and I think this is an interesting point. The Christian community comes down hard on men who watch porn--is this any different? If so, in what ways?
The defense of these books surprises me, being among Christians. Is it true that Christian women believe in saving a damaged man by compromising your virtue is okay? That feeding a man's abusive and controlling tendencies or submission to the point where a man distrustfully watches your every move is okay? I have accepted that a lot of women are like this. It's due to my aching suspicion that Christian women were bored with me because I didn't challenge their sexual boundaries or try to control them. That there is something somehow arousing about being the property of a powerful and preferably rich man.
Let me just pose this point; though I know it barely begins to cover all that is wrong here. If women truly want this lifestyle then the abuse and ownership of your person should be fully accepted. Sexual contracts in Christian-hood are meant to be permanent, your Mr. Gray is very forward about his expectations so you should expect nothing else.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (not in that order)...
(from someone who has actually read all three books)
THe Ugly: These books are explicit. Yes, Song of Solomon is explicit but these books are very, very explicit and as vividly erotic and kinky as a no picture book can be. Written porn so for Christians, porn is porn.
The Bad: Lots of premarital sex.
The Good: I did not have interest in the BDSM aspects and the books did not incite curiosity on it either. I think that for a large segment of women who have read the books (I've only talked with Christian women on this subject) there is an intense romantic component that is inexorably linked to intensely sexual strong sex drive.
There is not one Christian Married woman I know who's sex drive is unaffected by these books and none of the women (I'm talking about at least a dozen) has any interest in the BDSM aspects.
My understanding is that it makes it ok for wives to initiate, enjoy, even desire sex with their husbands. For many Christian women, raised with purity of mind and not just body, this is a taboo thing.
I don't know what to say. THe books are read on nooks and kindles and conversations are whispered in hushed tones. This, I know is not a good thing for any Christian because we are children of the light and don't slink in shadow.
Husbands are generally crazy happy and sex is no longer an issue in marriage. Men are physical and crave sexual intimacy as women crave emotional intimacy. The insanely increased sex drive in wives has resulted in husbands who are more emotionally conscientious and romantically attentive.
Again, I don't know about some things. I'm sure that some people go south (addiction, adultery, etc.) but I don't know anyone who has. I know of at least two impending divorces that are no more.
It certainly draws us closer to our husbands but Does it draw us closer to God?
I agree that most commenters have not read the books and are going by some second or third hand input. The comments about dominance are pretty much a moot point because the Character of Christian only feels he needs this control because of his childhood abuse and it is clearly stated that he gets to a point where love conquers all and he no longer needs this.
Also, as far as the comments about women and their abusers...in all fairness, she leaves him because she does not want him to even want to hurt her physically or emotionally.
As far as contributing to assault...I agree with Aimee Ruth Blue..Huh? There is no rape fantasy here. There is no assault fantasy either. To say something like this is to say that sex contributes to assault and that is ridiculous.
I think that your comments are the most truthful. I think as far as your point 2, it should be noted that the book clearly states this is a consequence of his extreme childhood abuse and he breaks free from needing it.
First of all. I would read it out of sheer curiosity. Is it a guide for 'healthy' sexual relations? Maybe not. Given the poor quality of writing, it's more like a 'chick-lit series w/a smut factor. Are people curious about this? YES> Why? Because 'sex' is a taboo subject in our society...the sheer mentioning....ooohhhh.. Come on people...Sex is a healthy part of life. W/o it, mostly everyone would not be here.
I firmly believe Christians should not be reading this book. I have not read it; but I have read enough reviews to get the idea. I am a blogger I wrote an article entitled, "Magic Mike" and "50 Shades of Perversion," Why Christians should steer Clear of this kind of "Entertainment."
As a Christian, indeed a Catholic woman, who has read this book, I can attest that there is much more to Fifty Shades of Grey than social commentary would have you believe. To make comments without reading the book, indeed without reading the trilogy, is to perpetuate the ignorant and misinformed criticisms that prevent people from receiving the true message of the book, just as the ignorant and misinformed criticism by non-Christians prevent people from receiving the true Christian message â€“ one of light and goodness and love. You may be surprised to hear that Christianity and this book are actually on the same side, attempting to share this same message.
First of all, let me dispel the myths: FSoG is not a glorification or even an accurate depiction of the BDSM lifestyle. It is not a celebration of violence against women, and it contains no rape or non-consensual sex. Indeed it champions monogamy and waiting for the right partner, as well as honest and open discussion of the needs and limits of both sexual partners in a healthy relationship. It also strongly condemns drug use, paedophilia and child abuse.
The book is essentially about a young man who is tormented by a dark past in which he was cruelly mistreated, who despite his overwhelming success in the business world, believes himself to be totally irredeemable and incapable of giving or receiving love. It is also about a young woman who has waited for the â€˜right manâ€™, only to find that the man she loves is far from perfect, and the challenge this presents in loving him unconditionally.
While some of the content of this book may offend our sensibilities as â€˜goodâ€™, clean-living Christian people, it is important to remember that as Christians we do not live in a bubble â€“ and while we may personally choose to live our lives a certain way, part of what we have been called to do is bear witness to all people, and to spread the message of love and goodness to everyone, regardless of how they choose to live their lives. In reading this book we are confronted with questions about our personal morality and how it affects the way we love others not just in our sexual relationship but in our calling to spread Christian love to the world. Do we love unconditionally, or do we pass moral judgement first and then withdraw our love from those who may need it the most?
Is Ana really a victim? Does her willingness to freely submit to Christian in a sexual context make her weak? In fact Ana shows remarkable courage and strength in waiting to find a man that she loves, in loving him despite his faults, in striving to see the good in him and helping him to see it in himself. She retains her free will throughout the story, challenges Christianâ€™s self-loathing and denial of affection, and refuses to submit completely to him, despite the threat of punishment. It is her unwillingness to give up her free will that continually challenges Christian to examine what he wants from the relationship, and to ultimately choose love.
Is Christian really undeserving of love? We can feel love and compassion for the tormented child, but what about the adult he becomes? Do his money and power and success make him unworthy of our Christian love and compassion? Does our Christian love only apply to those we feel superior to, or those we consider weak and lowly? Indeed, does the presence of open and honest sexuality lead us to judge this book by its cover, so to speak â€“ to dismiss it as â€˜filthâ€™ and therefore fail to see the good in it? What does that say about what we dismiss in the world as filth, and how does that limit our ability to love unconditionally as Jesus taught us?
The book challenges us to see the impossibility of imposing binaries on the human experience â€“ the opposites of good/evil, right/wrong, love/hate, light/dark are false constructs that limit our perception of a world that is actually made up of â€˜shades of greyâ€™. It is the use of words such as â€˜evilâ€™, â€˜wrongâ€™, â€˜hatredâ€™ and â€˜darknessâ€™ that allow us to withdraw our love from the world as we see fit, and it is this withdrawal of love that leads to depravation, poverty, despair, and ultimately to conflict, violence and war. If we are to truly spread the message that Jesus taught us, then we need to eliminate these words from our vocabulary and describe them more accurately as a lack of the light, love and goodness we have been asked by Jesus to give to the world â€“ without prejudice. It is then that we will see our true purpose.
I've always been anti 50 shades for many reasons but what troubled me was that - no matter how difficult, no matter how out of our comfort zone it is - I somehow realised that the Christian response to it couldn't be to just ignore it or simply dismiss it as porn.
I think Jesus would have gone head to head with it - as He had that knack of doing in all difficult situations - and engage with it on some level that glorified God's love over the 'love' portrayed in the series. I had no idea how to do this though and I like that Christian blogs and writers have tried to do so. The problem was always that - non believers - had no interest in this standpoint and I didn't have the skill to get over that wall.
I tweeted a lot about my opposition to it and someone sent me a link to a Christian fiction response that takes the original format of the book and then 'mirrors' it with a story about God's love taking in concepts like 'doulos' and salvation along the way. I've given it to some friends - the same ones that had no interest in Christian blog posts - and they've really been engaged and informed by it and have gone on to engage in real talks about faith underpinned by it. One is (tentatively) attending church.
For me that underpins that the key in the debate is - not to preach to one another about it - but to use it as a chance to outreach. The link - should anyone be interested is
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