This is a post I wish I didn’t have to write, as I wish that E L James’s Grey Trilogy did not exist. I’m even deeply concerned that by publishing this, I might be calling anyone’s attention to this disturbing, revolting piece of trash. After meeting Christian Grey I can only say that I am ashamed that this has been written by a woman, and that so many women have not only bought the books but also enjoyed them (some even fanatically). I can only call the success of the trilogy, which has outsold Harry Potter, a clear example of the slave mentality that feminism cannot eradicate. Men must be having a very loud laugh at our expense.
I vowed to myself that I would never spend a euro, not even a cent on either Meyer’s Twilight or James’s Grey. None of the Twilight books has materialised in my path, but Fifty Shades of Grey appeared recently on a bookshelf where I myself opened a book crossing space for the Department’s teachers and students. (Did someone leave it for me, I wonder?) So I took it home and yesterday I read the first half. This morning I have decided not to waste more time and after reading a handful of reviews with as many spoilers as possible, I have decided to exorcise Grey off my reading list by writing this post.
As everyone knows by now Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey actually descend from Bella and Edward, as James first wrote their story as part of Twilight’s booming fan fiction. Bella and Edward are, yes, a sorry twenty-first version of that other lamentable couple, Cathy and Heathcliff, but with a happier ending. It is as if time stopped long time ago in the early nineteenth century for (most?) women, while others still struggle to accomplish the equality that brave Mary Wolstonecraft demanded then. James very explicitly mentions Alec D’Urberville as another milestone in the constructions of her repulsive fantasies, which at least 70 million book buyers have shared and many more cinema-goers will soon share.
James’s trilogy has the dubious ‘merit’ of having exposed what many women really dream of and, beyond the appalling prose, poor characterisation and trite plot, this is what concerns me: the absolute confusion of abuse with romance. You can read the Grey books as a story about too seriously disturbed persons who match each other to perfection in their absurd folie-à-deux. Yet, whereas nobody would (or should) read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho with sympathy for Patrick Bateman (so close to Grey that Ellis wanted to write the screenplay for the adaptation), the whole point of the Grey trilogy syndrome is that it has generated veneration for Anastasia’s ultra-patriarchal lover rather than disgust, as it should.
Who am I to say what other women should feel? Well, someone who is fighting hard to convince women that if they want love in their life and happen to be heterosexual, they ought to choose good men –the beast never turns into a prince, as the cruel deaths of so many women show, and telling yourself that as long as you enter it freely an abusive relationship is fine, is sheer madness. We need urgently new stories by and for women, and we also need to return to the nineteenth century to read the ‘other’ stories. Mary Wollstonecraft but also others like –my most recent reading– the autobiography of pioneer American feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This has plenty of anti-patriarchal good men who did help women to acquire the rights we enjoy now. If I were that kind of man and read the Grey trilogy today, I would give up on women in despair. And, what is worse, I might feel that abuse is justified because this is what the ladies want, secretly or not so secretly.
Cady Stanton explains that the American feminist movement grew under the shade of abolitionism and came to a crucial turning point when, after the Civil War, enfranchisement was offered to black men, still excluding all women. Cady Stanton, her soul mate Elizabeth B. Anthony and many other women fought then for full citizenship as the US law proved again and again that they were in practice slaves. It’s clear to me that for all the legal, professional and personal advances in women’s lives in the West (and in men’s thanks to feminism as well), not fifty but a hundred shades of black, rather than grey, still darken our lives.
The slave mentality has not been purged out of romance. I see many women calling themselves post-feminists downplaying this danger and even arguing that producing and reading (sick) romance is part of our empowerment, a position I cannot share. Very simply: if good guys do not turn us on and we cannot write sexy romance about them, then let’s abandon romance. Actually, I thought that the whole point of romance was offering compensatory fantasies about Prince Charming to women trapped in sad, bad or boring lives but it turns out that romance is becoming a way to compensate for the lack of abuse in your own (post-feminist?) life… I have never liked Jane Austen but I clearly see now how preferably fantasising about Darcy is to fantasising about Christian Grey.
As for myself, I’d rather fantasise about disseminating ideas that help other women live better lives, including the idea that we must celebrate and enjoy the company of good men, not of fucked-up (patriarchal) bastards. Of these we’ve already had and still have too many.
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