When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success, Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
I heard the hype around this book when it was first released, and I flipped through a copy to see what it was all about. I didn’t make it past page five before it was clear that this is not my kind of book. I put it back with no intention to pick it up again, until I heard that it sparked a public conversation about why this book is so popular, and that one of the reasons is because women secretly want to be dominated. Knowing this to *not* be true, I decided to read this book to see where people got this impression.
I want to say right off that I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to rant and bash it to pieces, either (I could be here all day listing the plot holes and improbabilities, but I’ve got better things to do). Specifically, I’m going to give an opinion on why I think this book garnered so much popularity, and why many books like it receive the same. There are some spoilers ahead, so read with caution.
Anastasia Steele has no self-esteem. She thinks she’s ordinary. She’s clumsy. She’s inexperienced. The list goes on. And yet, wealthy, handsome, charming, successful Christian Grey finds her interesting. He thinks she’s beautiful, and worthy of pursuit. I think this, more than anything, is what many women dream of. So many women out there have low self-esteem and think of themselves exactly how Ana thinks of herself. So, to have a hot, rich man telling them otherwise is irresistible.
But, there is no story if there’s no conflict, right? So, authors give their dream-guys flaws—some obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately, that often turns them into horrible human beings. The relationship between Ana and Christian is textbook abusive. Ana has conversation with herself about how Christian is so sweet and wonderful at times, and then other times he scares her. This is why people stay in abusive relationships, because it’s not all bad all of the time. There are good moments, too, and that’s what they cling to, making it near impossible to break the cycle. And, since the abused party has no self-esteem, they put everything on themselves to ‘fix’ the relationship, sometimes changing who they are in the process.
This is where stories like these get dangerous. Ana agrees to give up her individuality when she agrees to try Christian’s way, so she can try to give him what he needs. This is scary. If you have to change who you are in order to make someone happy, then you don’t belong with that person. Ultimately, she does decide to leave Christian—many have touted her for being strong and independent for doing this, but I don’t agree. She’s still stuck in that abusive mentality because she still believes she’s worthless for being unable to give him what he needs (total control). She’s still stuck in the cycle, she’ll fall into another abusive relationship, and she won’t know it until it’s too late. This happens again and again in the real world, and to have books romanticizing a relationship where one party feels scared is glorifying the abusive cycle. BTW, before anyone says that this is just fiction so let it go already, I invite you to read this article.
Anyway, I guess I feel that books like these are popular mostly because the heroine is someone who thinks she’s ordinary (or worse), but an extraordinary person sees someone worthwhile. The only way books like these will fall by the wayside is if we figure out how to empower these women and help them to see that they are wonderful and worthwhile on their own. They don’t need validation from anyone but themselves, and their lives don’t need to be defined by whether or not they have a significant other.
Just my opinion…