#SundayReview: Sam Dares Review the Book of Which We Do Not Speak and Gives an Opinion Few Would Dare RE: One Christian Grey.

Sam av

My inner evil writer (see what I did there?!) is sporting a Cheshire grin for what I am about to do. I’ve been, for the most part, keeping this opinion to myself. But, I haven’t had a good shake-up in a while, so I figured why not throw a wrench in the gears of the universe and see what happens?

This is a kinda-sorta review of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s actually less of a literary critique and more of a rebuttal to one of the most popular criticisms of the content.

Also, it should go without saying, but this post may be NSFW.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert in the BDSM lifestyle. I have, however, been the submissive in a relationship before, and I understand what I’d consider to be an above-average level of how this kind of relationship actually functions. Spoiler alert: it is not about sex (although that’s nice, too).

By now, most everyone has read, watched, or at least heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. But, if you haven’t, let’s bring you up to speed.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. It is the first installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). Originally self-published as an ebook and a print-on-demand, publishing rights were acquired by Vintage Books in March 2012.

Fifty Shades of Grey has topped best-seller lists around the world, selling over 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015. It has been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. Critical reception of the book, however, has tended toward the negative, with the quality of its prose generally seen as poor. Universal Pictures and Focus Features produced a film adaptation, which was released on 13 February 2015[1] which also received generally unfavourable reviews.


It was/is incredibly popular and shot straight to the top of the bestseller lists. Now, before I tear it apart in ways it’s asking for, I’m going to say two things:

  1. It is not well-written, but,
  2. E.L. James made a fuck-ton of money off this story. Full stop.

What I mean by these two statements is that this is simply not a good book. The grammar is terrible, the prose is cheap, the characters are cliche. But, despite all of its many, many flaws, the series was and still is crazy popular, and E.L. James is way richer than all of us. That’s it, guys…she definitely won the game. Let it be the shining example of success for those of you that think you have no talent. She got a publishing deal. She got a movie deal. Therefore, none of us really have the right to judge her skills in executing this novel.

But, because this is the internet, all of us have won the right to criticize and pretend we know what we’re talking about.

The reasons for this book’s rapid rise to popularity are:

  • Women have power/control and loss-of fantasies
  • People love to argue about that

That’s it.

We won’t go into Point #1. You all have your own level of expertise with this, as I do.

But as for Point #2…the prevailing consensus is that this is an abusive relationship. Critics of the book love to point out that Anna is beaten and abused and that she ‘clearly says no’ on a number of occasions. Christian is a creepy, abusive, controlling asshole who locks her up and tells her what to do.

“He pissed me off how he was so controlling and abusive!” –A Raving Fangirl

The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s entirely ignorant of what it means to be in a BDSM relationship.

I don’t want to make this blog post all about the intricacies of a Dominant/submissive relationship. What I will say about it is that if it’s not your thing, don’t claim any level of understanding about how it works.

The basic foundation of being in such a relationship is a consented shift of power and control. For an excellent portrayal of how this helps to balance people, watch the movie Secretary (Maggie Gyllenhall/James Spader). Gyllenhall plays a character whose issues plague her constantly so she can’t even handle her own thoughts. It elicits a sort of panic. Spader plays an OCD kind of character who has a need to set things in order. He barks an order and she focuses on that. It keeps her from the buzzing, aggravating mess of other thoughts that would otherwise dictate her feelings and her day. He feels better because his need to command is well-received, and he can see the results in front of him. It works. For them. If it doesn’t work for you, no one is bothered by that, either.

The other thing I will say is that relationships are as unique as the people in them, so there are differences for every couple, including the level of pain and the magnitude of the power shift.Some only have a slight shift – maybe she runs the daytime life and he’s the master of the bedroom – while some will go to full Master/Slave mode. Whatever they choose, it’s really still not your business, or mine.

So here’s the bombshell opinion I have that no one likes:

Christian Grey is the abused, not the abuser.

(And the world shrieks on its axis. The screams are deafening.)

Why on earth would I say such a thing? The Dominant in a relationship clearly has all of the power!

Yes, but no. Christian is the initiator of the relationship, and it is a relationship he understands. He’s been doing this for a long time, and it comes with a certain set of constraints. The rules are clearly laid out. There’s a contract involved. The rules are explained. Anna has time to question and consider before anything really starts.

The important thing to remember is that the rules outline the exact nature of consent, and it’s a set of rules that literally redefines the general premise of “No means no.” In this case, “no” does not actually mean “no.” They must instead use a new word. The reason for it is simple…during uber-freaky sessions of doing the no-pants dance, people say a lot of things they don’t really mean. “No,” “Stop,” “Dear Jesus” are several things they might not really mean. The concept of a “safeword” is a SCREECHING HALT NO. When the safeword flies, operations shut down. Immediately.

Yeah. Anna said “No” and “Stop.” She never threw the safeword. And then she blamed him for what happened next. He followed the rules and she didn’t, and she believes he’s at fault for it.

Dominants are incredibly protective and possessive. It is in their nature to have ownership of their partner and certain aspects of their partner’s life. They see it is as their ultimate responsibility to provide safety, shelter, and discipline.

In contrast, submissives often just want to be cared for. They want to be loved, petted, spoiled a bit, and protected. It’s a balance that works, if one gets so lucky as to find the right person to meet the need.

Anna doesn’t understand this relationship, and that is all of the problem.

Anna stops answering Christian’s phone calls.

Anna ignores him.

Anna runs away.

Anna taunts him and provokes him.

Anna tries to make him jealous.

These are all petty schoolgirl tactics that no submissive would ever do because it hurts the Dominant. It’s distressing to the Dominant. It is emotionally destructive. All this does is erode his or her confidence and hammer home the feeling that they have failed in their most important function. Furthermore, it consumes the Dominant with worry and concern for the safety and sanity of their partner. Every moment Anna is gone, Christian is likely panicking. This would send his anxiety into fits.

It gets worse. One of the worst things a person can do to their partner in a relationship is to insult their sexual preferences. It’s too personal, too intimate. This is often the last thing people share with one another – their deepest, darkest desires – for fear of rejection. For Dominants, they are often already self-conscious about this. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with…the desire to cause another pain during sex. It only gets easier when they can come to understand that there are people who desire to feel pain during sex.

But Anna attacks Christian on this point repeatedly.

By contrast, Christian tries to warn her about his preferences, and gives her an out many times if it gets to be too much. He also makes many allowances. She is never actually trapped, actually forced, or actually abused. All of their interactions are according to the carefully laid out structure of a relationship they should never have had.

From my perspective…

Too few people care to understand the different power dynamic of this unique type of relationship. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, but it’s easy to judge the behavior of others when they engage in actions that aren’t well understood. It is fair to say that Anna does not like a lot of what she’s getting into, but it’s not Christian’s fault. It’s Anna’s.

It bothers me that people are so quick to condemn Christian’s actions, but that few are critical of Anna or her behavior. She is emotionally manipulative and unwilling to make compromise. Christian strays from the bounds of relationships that he understands to try to accommodate her because he cares about her, but she is unwilling to do the same.

Now, that’s fine, considering it’s a hard line to cross if it’s not your thing. She shouldn’t need to feel pressured into doing anything she doesn’t want to.

But, to belittle and harangue a man for not magically transforming into the handsome, romantic gentleman she wished him to be is unrealistic. To punish him for that is abusive.

Abuse comes in more forms than the cane or the lash. You can build a person up with rough rope and a firm hand. You can tear them apart with words. Too few people recognize that until it’s too late and the defenses of their heart, soul, and mind lay in tatters.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).


About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on August 28, 2016, in #SundayReview and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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