I watched Katie Couric’s show today, where she hosted 50 Shades of Grey author E.L. James. I was glad that Couric asked James about a topic that has been absent amid all the other discussion about this book, but alas, it was a thirty-second blip devoted to a topic that could probably have taken up half the show.
That topic is dating abuse. As a woman once involved in an unhealthy relationship, this subject is near and dear to my heart, and the fact that it hasn’t been brought nearly as much as it should be in the discussion of 50 Shades makes me shake my head and ask “Why?” It’s the PERFECT opportunity for it!
Now, I’m NOT saying that the book and its sequels don’t have any literary merit. I understand that S&M is something that many people willingly engage in and have positive experiences with, and I have no problem AT ALL with that. If that’s your thing, that’s totally cool. And in the book, it’s all consensual and seems safe, which is obviously important. That’s not what bothers me in this book.
What does bug me is the fact that in all the discussion, no one is bringing up that aspect of the book in a way that explains it for inexperienced (read: YOUNG) daters. In other words, there could be young women and men out there who read this book and think that the way Christian Grey exerts ownership over Ana Steele at points the novel is OKAY and that in order to have relationships women have to be up for whatever the man wants, whenever he wants it, however he wants it.
That’s simply unacceptable.
And no one can argue that young readers can’t get their hands on this book. I first picked up (downloaded on my nook) 50 Shades of Grey very early this summer, before the media blitz that catapulted the book to the level of fame (or infamy) that it has since reached. I preface with this because it’s important to note that I had no idea what the book was about when I purchased it, as I had only read the free preview that Barnes & Noble provides nook users.
That part of the book details Ana’s roommate’s predicament of having a nasty cold and being unable to make it to the big interview she’s set up with financial mogul Christian Grey. As a former college journalist myself, I was hooked from the start. There was no indication that the novel was going in the direction of a “love” story, at least not to me. I was thinking it might turn out to be a mystery novel, and that the college journalists were going to “crack the case.”
Now today, obviously, there aren’t many people who don’t know that the book delves into the sexual relations between Christian and Ana, but once the hype dies down in a few months, unsuspecting readers who maybe weren’t interested or paying attention to the media might pick up the book later and be hooked in the same way that I was.
That’s why conversation about dating abuse and what is “okay” in a relationship needs to be had when we talk about this book. There are some scenes where Christian really doesn’t treat Ana with much respect, and some could argue that his behavior can be perceived as abusive. Older readers can understand the type of relationship the two characters are trying to have and we can write it off, but for young or inexperienced daters, it may just add to the confusion that probably already exists in their minds when thinking about romantic relationships.
For me, when I was reading some of the scenes where Christian treats Ana more harshly, it immediately brought back unpleasant memories of my past relationship. At times, it was even hard for me to read, and I had to take a break from the book to collect my composure. It’s for that reason that I did not (and don’t plan to) read the next two novels. It’s just too much for me, given my past experiences, and I’ve had the benefit of reflecting on that relationship and also having met some very nice gentlemen with whom I’ve had very positive relationships since. That’s why I’m concerned for young people (who don’t have experiences to compare the content with) who might pick up this book.
America is missing out on a great opportunity to talk to young men and women about how to have respectful, healthy, and safe relationships. It’s great that we’ve figured out how to talk openly about sex in the media with the help of this novel, but let’s take it a step further and talk openly about relationships and treating partners the right way, too.