Fifty Shades: A Series Review

My review deals with all three books. I just found it easier, at the time of writing, to talk about them as a whole rather than three separate entities. I’m reposting it here in 5 sections over 5 days, the original can be found here. This is one of the heftier reviews I’ve ever written! But also one of the more sombre. Rhi x

Here we go.

It is important to note, there is barely a description of either character in here. When all we know about the main characters is she has pale skin, dark hair and blue eyes, and he is ‘OMG so FUCKING HOT’ with unruly copper hair and grey eyes, we actually don’t really know anything. These characters are 100% empty vessels for every reader to pour their own fantasy into. We are never told about the shape of a face, or the imperfect aspects of either of them. They are just blank images. This is important. This right here partly explains why thousands of women are swooning after Mr Grey; an otherwise abusive, self hating, control freak, as though he were a god. They don’t need to know what he really looks like, or how his actions reinforce disturbing patriarchal constructs. They can just imagine him as their dream guy. Who’s really really good in bed. (Which, is a matter of opinion anyway. Let’s just say, I’m not particularly down with somebody RAMMING me repeatedly.)

1. Virgin vs. Whore: ‘I want to fuck your mouth!’
Of course Ana is a virgin. OF COURSE. She has to be for the crux of this story (if that is what we are calling this hot mess) to work. She had to be either a virgin or a whore, because that is all women ever are. She couldn’t ever have been a whore to win Christian’s love, there is only room for one person to have the sizeable baggage he brings with him, so she was always going to be a virgin.
A virgin of her choosing. Because she hadn’t found anyone to meet her high expectations of romantic love. As displayed to her through her love of the glorious works of Mr (original-woman-hater) Rochester or Heath(I’m-psychotic)Cliff.

As we all know girls thrive on romance. And boys thrive on sex. This is a construct that is perpetuated throughout society. Which is why men having lots of sexual experience is acceptable. Whereas girls who are sexually experienced must have something wrong with their romance gene.

But that isn’t really the reason she is a virgin. She is a virgin because it would be unheard of to have an experienced female in control of her sexual desires. She has to be trained by her super experienced, super large hunk of man meat. It is acceptable for him to be experienced, whilst it would whorish for her to be so.

I am not taking issue with this being a story that portrays a virgin. More power to Ana. I am taking issue at this novel perpetrating the patriarchal expectation that female virgin = innocent, but female experience = whore. Ana is so innocent she can barely refer to her female organs as anything other than “there”. Hee hee, giggle giggle.

As Christian experiences new things such as actually sleeping with a woman, taking her home to his parents, somebody daring to speak back to him; they are noted by him as ‘another first’. They are all largely emotionally related. Yet the Ana overwhelming firsts are all sexual, something Christian revels in, glad that ‘some fucker’ hasn’t touched her before him, and that he owns her body and soul. She would have been dirty property if any man had got there before him, obviously.

It is a double standard that is just as much at play today as it was 10, 20, 30, 40, 500 years ago. What gets my goat is books like this encourage it. Books like this make it normal for the man to have the experience and for the woman to want ‘hearts and flowers’. Ana only enjoys the sexual acts performed on/with her, because she believes she has feelings for Chrisian. She knows he’s messed up, but she loves him anyway. Would she participate in sex if she didn’t have an emotional connection? Probably not. Because she is the innocent, virginal maiden; saving herself for The One.

Advertisements

Rhi’s intro

There are many reasons I jumped at the chance to write this blog with Lee.
1) She is the best Australian I know and have never met.
2) She has become a good friend over the years and is always the person I turn to to snark about the latest YA novel.
3) Because this trilogy really holds far too many opportunities for snark to pass up.

But most importantly, because I believe as much as this series is good for a laugh, it is simultaneously terrifying. The popularity these ‘novels’ (and when we use that word on this blog we use it very loosely) have garnered have terrifying implications for the role of women within our society. They say things about relationships, expectations, rape culture, and misogyny that need to be looked at in closer detail.

As an English Literature Major (and currently a high school English teacher) part of this blog will be a great laugh. It will be written with the incredulity to the power of a thousand that this book was written, and got published, and is being touted as good work, let alone good erotica. I plan to recap the novels for those of you who can’t face reading them, and Lee has some outrageously witty notes on some of the most important chapters.

But most importantly as a Gender Studies minor, and proud feminist, the other part of this blog is really going to look at how this novel represents the insidious and scary realities of living in an unequal and frequently problematic society.

So strap in and come for the ride. It will most like end up being you and me reading this stuff, Lee! But boy, is going to be great.

You can read more from Rhian here.