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Friday, February 20, 2015

50 Shades of We Should Want More




First I meant to post something about Valentine’s Day, how much I love it, how much I just love the idea of a day devoted to love. All kinds of love, not just romantic love. Anyway, I didn’t do it even though lots of thoughts on love kept wafting through my head.

Then I wanted to write something about “50 Shades of Grey,” going so far as to go see it by myself last week. I was really taking one for the team on that one. I did write, with my wonderful writing partner, a humorous take on the movie in our column, "The Fix-it Sisters," but I wanted to write something more. I’ve started and stalled a few different posts and gotten nowhere. Somehow I can’t stop thinking about both of these things - love and “50 Shades.” and how they don’t have a whole lot to do with each other.

When I think about love, romantic love, I think about all the ways it's supposed to make you feel good. That it’s this wonderful safe place to be. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was a ridiculous line from “Love Story,” I think it’s saying you’re sorry as often as needed, and that loving someone means treating them with respect and kindness. Safe.

I am all for consenting adults doing whatever they want to do together in the privacy of their bedrooms, or Red Rooms as it were, but I think what Christian and Anastasia were engaged in was not love. And that’s okay if that’s what they want. The not-so-great part is when young men and women think THAT’S what love looks like. It’s not. What Christian Grey is into is what someone who has some really deep emotional problems they haven’t dealt with looks like.

In my mind loving someone doesn’t involve wanting to see them in pain or humiliating them in any way. And the fact that despite the controlling, the stalking, the hitting, Anastasia thinks she loves Christian is concerning. That’s not love. That’s something else altogether, but it’s not love.

When the “50 Shades” phenomenon swept the globe a few years ago I was mostly envious of the author for creating something that did so well that everyone at her publishing house got a huge bonus. As a writer I wanted that too. I didn’t read the books, but got the gist, and it didn’t hold much interest for me. I thought it was just about domination and submission, which lots of women obviously found very titillating. What surprised me when I saw the film was just how controlling outside the bedroom Christian was, to the point of spanking Ana when he disapproved of her behavior, punishing her like a child.

I get the whole psychology of women have to be in control at work, with their families etc etc, and so when they get in the bedroom it’s kind of nice to have someone take over and be a bit...forceful. But there’s a big leap from there to kneeling by the door waiting for him to come in, and him spanking you for behaving in a way he deemed inappropriate. That’s shaming and abusive. That’s not love.
Over the course of the week I’ve come up with some Love Rules inspired my my trip to the shady side of “50 Shades.”. I’m sure I will think of many more, and you may have some too. Feel free to add in the comments. In the meantime, here are a few.

  1. Love isn’t controlling. If someone loves you they want you to have friends, do things that interest you, and have a life separate from them. It isn’t adorable if they don’t.
  2. Love is not wanting to harm or humiliate someone. Enough said.
  3. Love is letting someone be themselves. I don’t want to be someone’s project, and I don’t want to be in the people changing business myself.


“50 Shades” is being sold as a love story to women in particular, but it’s not about love, it’s about sex and shouldn’t be confused with love. There’s nothing wrong with movies that are about sex, but that’s a whole other animal. The books were essentially softcore porn peddled to mothers and wives who craved something to jump start their relationships that might have become a bit dull. That’s great, a lot of people probably had a lot of hot sex because of them. But young women flocking to see the movie shouldn't think being a submissive is the basis of a great relationship, and the men they date should really not think their partners want to be tied up and hit.

If Christian Grey wasn’t a billionaire who couldn’t buy Ana a car, new Macbook and take her in a fancy glider, he’d just be a weird creep. Money somehow sanitizes scary behavior. It shouldn’t.

People will most likely posit that Christian Grey is just a fantasy, but I can’t help but wonder, if as women, we couldn’t do better. Better by men, and so much better for ourselves.