Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll have heard of the worldwide phenomenon and film that is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, and also the surrounding controversy. With hordes of protesters outside cinemas and premieres screaming accusations of domestic violence and people calling it a crime against feminism, it was almost impossible not to get caught up in the storm of it all.
I refused to read the books for a while. All I heard was the rumours of girls falling for this controlling, possessive, and even abusive man, and how it was terrible for progression of women’s rights, and thus being the almighty bra-burner that I am, I scorned the very idea of the franchise, smirking at those who would fall at the feet of ‘Christian Grey’. However, one day in a bar the books and upcoming film came off in conversation, and I scornfully brushed them off, when a girl turned to me and said ‘have you actually read them?’ I, of course, answered this comment with stammers and stutters as I realised that I had been criticising something through only knowing hearsay, and, never being one to follow the crowds’ opinion usually, felt positively disheartened at myself. I immediately bought the first book on my kindle when I got home and got stuck in.
The first few chapters were rough-going. Let’s be honest, this book is written dreadfully. There are typos, grammar mistakes, the main protagonist is about as wet as a Tuesday morning in February. There are horrendous phrases such as ‘liquid desire’, which sounds a bit like an embarrassing toilet trip. And yet, I continued to read, getting further and further caught up in this story. Despite cringing at the stereotypes of the bookish, awkward female with her pretty best friend, and the boys who all clamour around the main girl like flies, even though she’s never even attempted to make herself attractive (lucky sod), I found myself (which I’m pretty sure was the publisher’s intention), pushing my own characteristics on her. The Ana in my head was feisty, indignant, clumsy, adventurous, and I began to love her more and more, and root for her to get the guy. I finished the first book in days, and then breathed easy. I could now have an opinion on it, without being criticised for just going on hearsay. I could rest easy and go on about my life.
It was a matter of hours before I had bought the sequels.
See books like this bring up a fundamental question about reading, which I think is lost with years and years of literature lessons, when you pull books apart to poke around in the nooks and crannies of the words, trying to decipher a meaning that probably was never there. Can we ever just go back to reading for the pure escapism of it? For most book-lovers, myself included, the reason we started reading in the first place was probably Enid Blyton, Jacqueline Wilson, J.K Rowling (for my generation anyway). We began to read because these characters excited us, and we could imagine ourselves in scenarios that would never actually happen. For some reason, when we do this as adults, we are faced with vitriol by those who have forgotten the joy of reading for a story’s sake.
But anyway, I didn’t even plan to talk about the book in this post, but it all came spilling out. I want to talk about the massive reaction to the film recently out, and how I think the reaction is actually offensive in itself to anyone who calls themselves a woman of sound mind and self-respect. For years and years we have had countless films filling the cinemas which are aimed at men. Gun-toting, spitting brutes, who smoke, drink and bed women like there’s no tomorrow (the characters in the film, not the cinema-goers of course.) No-one seems to bat an eyelid at these films, simply stating that ‘boys will be boys’. We even have games where (I don’t mean to stereotype here and are well aware of the female-gaming community, however I am also realistic about the fact that gaming is still a male dominated industry) men are encouraged to take on a role, a faceless character if you will which they can imprint their personality on – sound familiar? – and then kill others, steal cars, use prostitutes and commit violence against them. However the majority of the world understands that this is harmless fantasy, and that no film is going to convince a good, just, honest man to commit murder. However, we women are somehow not afforded the same respect when it comes to films aimed toward us.
It seems fitting, but disappointing, that one of the highest grossing films of all time, the first major film of its kind in this era to be geared towards women, is faced with a backlash of ‘oh the poor little girlies, however will they distinguish from life and fiction? We have to protest against this so they don’t insist their partners buy a helicopter and smack them around a bit’. Unfortunately, the main backlash has come at us from our own, the women who profess to stand up for our rights, can’t even give us the benefit of the doubt that we might take a film for what it is, a harmless fantasy.
I saw the film this week and I took it exactly for what it was, a bit of a laugh, kind of a rubbish script, a nice man to have a gander at, and a little glimpse into a dreamland, that I fully understand isn’t real, but was nice to escape into for a while. Thankfully, the Ana in the films is a little more lively than that of the books, and Dakota Johnson adds a really quick and witty element to the character, especially in the drunk scene where she insists on ‘laundering’ his handkerchief. I didn’t come out of the theatre thinking I instantly needed to be a passive, submissive woman who tended to a man’s beck and call, and I didn’t think I was any closer into being coerced into things I wasn’t comfortable with. I simply thought, ‘I might buy some new underwear, those big white pants she was wearing were hideous’, ‘I bloody love Beyonce’, and maybe, sometimes, ‘Jamie Dornan is a DELIGHT’. I can completely see why women have flocked to this film, there’s so much pressure on us nowadays to be strong, with our femininity and without it, it’s kind of a relief to have a film that just doesn’t put that pressure on.
My final point, which I knew would be commented if I didn’t address it, is that someone’s going to ask ‘if you want a film for women, why not watch one which depicts, strong, important women that have something to say, those are the true feminist films?’ and to that I say, very true, there are a few films with brilliant, strong women in, who can inspire you and enthral you with their passion and drive, (just watch any Meryl Streep film essentially). But, imagine a boys night, they’re having a beer, a laugh, a pizza, it’s a Friday, they’ve been working all week, they’re tired and they have two choices, they can watch ‘Lincoln’, a powerful depiction of Abraham Lincoln in his fight to abolish the slave trade, or ‘The Expendables’, a fast-paced, easy-going action flick, where the men fight a lot, shoot a lot, drive fast cars and look at gorgeous women a lot. Are you really going to blame those guys for wanting to shout at their screen to ‘DRIVE FASTER, DICKHEAD’?!
Lots of love, and let me know your thoughts.