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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  1. I must confess that when I read 50 Shades I couldn’t help thinking how horrified you’d be if you read it. This post rather than surprising was something I was expecting.
    There are too many wrong things about that trilogy. The terrible writing skills were the first that punched me in the face and made my brain beg me to stop reading, but I was determined. As I was reading, I couldn’t help asking to myself “This outsold Harry Potter?”
    About the terrible position the book puts women in… I could understand that attraction to Christian Grey as something you fantasize with, but you don’t want in real life. But I’ve talked to girls my age that are “in love” with Christian Grey, and would love to have one in real life… What’s wrong with them?
    I heard somewhere that 50 Shades was something good for women, because it had encouraged women to talk about sex. But really? Which kind of sex? It’s encouraging women to see an abusive relationship as something normal! That when a man tells them “hey, I know I’m hurting you, but this is who I am. I still love you.” they shouldn’t run away, but stand and try to find out the reason for that… I thought maybe we were evolving in that aspect, and that we were not noticing because sex is not something people talk about freely… But it’s actually the opposite. I was in one of those tuppersex things some weeks ago, with women that were between 20 and 60 years old. Almost all of them bought something to please their husbands and boyfriends, even when the tuppersex girl encouraged them to be a little “selfish” and but something to please themselves.
    This and those “books” being best seller… just showed me how wrong society is… and how much work we have to do.
    Sorry for the long comment, it’s a sensitive topic.

  2. After the serious warning, I’d rather read a shelffull of grey literature than check firsthand whether you are fair enough with this lucky lady writer.

  3. Of course the advisable thing to do is to check for yourself, which is basically what I did… But, no, please, don’t waste your precious time and read, as I recommended, Cady Stanton.

  4. Thanks very much Alicia for the long comment. I had my hopes set on younger women, expecting they would see through the dangerous fantasy that Christian Grey is but from what you say this is not the case -perhaps a serious problem is that this kind of man attracts women who are particularly vulnerable… Believe, I feel really, really sad and quite at a loss about why so many women still reject the idea that loving the wrong guy may be ultimately lethal…

  5. Never read the Grey series, never will. Let me just say that this statement “if good guys do not turn us on and we cannot write sexy romance about them, then let’s abandon romance” is one of the most sensible things I’ve ever read. It makes so much sense, yet people seem to enjoy so much torturing themselves (and I don’t mean only women). I literally clapped (well, not literally).

    Have a nice summer!

    PS: My little anti-Sirius rant is on its way. I hope I can get around to finishing it before it’s no longer relevant!

  6. I have high hopes that eventually romance becomes one of those literary genres only specialists interested in odd corners of the past read… Pastoral poetry, say. And, thanks, I’m particularly proud of that sentence and tired that good guys have such bad press among women.
    Anti-Sirius, good, welcome! I never said I like Sirius, only that I’d like to write about him because with his many, may defects, he provides something to Harry that I’d like to consider.

  7. This, I think, could relate to your point about trash writing. It happened in an online literature course. There, somebody called Jim started a discussion thread to suggest a modern reading of Jane Eyre and include it in what they call “Chick Lit”.
    So far, there are about forty posts to answer Jim’s; all of them against his thesis and reproving him for his use of the term “Chick Lit”.
    Then, looking at all the negative criticism he was getting, I decided to apologize for my
    scornful post and told him: “I’m 69 and you must be very young, so we see things differently”. His surprising answer was that he is 65 and has been teaching Jane Eyre to young people, on countless occasions. He didn’t demean “Chick Lit” but now is sorry to have used the term.
    His point is that there are a lot of people who will never read classics and, because these people are reading, there is a market for something different. For Jim, that something is “Chick Lit”, which is “good enough, especially, as these books generally have good outcomes for the female characters who are not, typically, victims”.
    (Would that include your Fifty Shades, or you’ll never know because you read only half of it?.
    Is Jim right, or is he just another male chauvinist?
    And, most important, should some teachers teach the same book for such a long time?
    Maybe it is awfully unfair language manipulation and new terms are invented to replace the old ones, so that the market increases its benefits; and now trash is called “Chick Lit”.
    Well, that’s the way it is.
    Best wishes!

  8. I have a friend who’s writing her PhD dissertation on chick lit and that offers, definitively, a much more positive image of women than the Grey trilogy, though it is still romance and, as such, not what we need. I don’t see the need as your teacher does of rewriting the classics for a younger generation: either they read the classics or someone writes new stories for them. He was indeed being patronising, I believe, or desperate that at least the plot of ‘Jane Eyre’ be known, which surpirses me because it’s a horribly androphobic book (I’ve been teaching Anne Brontë’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, which I prefer indeed).
    My point all in all, is that we need new stories by and for women that are not dependent on romance and on a male protagonist. I’m tired of NOT reading novels about women scientists, engineers, politicians, etc. And this is why I read science fiction: because I can find many there.
    Thanks for the message!!

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