I caught 50 Shades of Grey over the weekend and I think I’ve finally realised what’s wrong with it: it’s boring.
Christian is a cold, blank slate who wants to manage Anastasia’s eating, exercise and birth control and this is certainly problematic, as is the unrealistic and vanilla (despite its alleged S&M edginess) sex, though the film seeks to rectify this somewhat. This is nothing new: the patriarchy has been controlling women since the beginning of time and Christian is just the latest in a long line of fictional men from Big to Ruby Sparks to The Colour Purple to 50 Shades’ inspiration, The Twilight Saga, to do so.
Just some of the ways E.L. James’ hero upholds the patriarchy:
He won’t let Ana touch him because men act, women receive.
He doesn’t want Ana to call him by his name because that would signify equality in their relationship.
While Christian expresses bafflement and what could be described as disgust for Ana’s virginal state, it is a proxy for her innocence and pliability: a more experienced woman perhaps wouldn’t initially be so taken with the money, damage and a personality equivalent to a box of hair that make up Christian Grey.
As mentioned above, he won’t let her exert control over her own body: many women prefer other methods to taking hormonal birth control.
And too bad if you feel like a day off from the gym to eat junk food and veg in front of the TV; not on Christian’s watch.
It’s sad that female consumers are so starved for women-catered romance and erotica that they’re willing to buy the books in droves and flock to the cinema at the slightest hint of something that’s apparently made for them. (Granted, the film is many shades better than its source material, but it can only stray so far.)
Many women also experience such control in their own lives, with parents, partners and doctors dictating which birth control they should or shouldn’t be on; money, time and mouths to feed affecting which foods they should prepare and eat; social pressures influencing how often they’re to exercise; cultural and social mores mandating how to express their emotions, desire and sexuality; and the men they’re supposed to love and trust exerting physical and verbal abuse onto them. That the hordes of viewers throwing their money at this franchise haven’t yet picked up on how thoroughly non-revolutionary it is is baffling.
Ana hits the nail on the head when she asks Christian why he wants to hurt and change her. Don’t be fooled by his pleas that “she’s changing him”: with the amount of male-on-female violence in relationships in reality, nothing about Christian, his red room of pain and him wanting Ana to submit to him is fantastical, revolutionary, sexy or exciting.
So, in addition to 50 Shades being badly written and grossly misrepresenting BDSM, it’s just plain boring: audiences want to escape when they consume pop culture, not be met with yet another iteration of everything they’ve seen, read and heard before about sex and relationships.