Here at More than a Mum, we like to keep current issues and comment on things which are relevant to our readers and at the moment there seems to be a lot of talk about ‘MummyPorn’ and 50 Shades of Grey. I usually avoid reading books which zoom up the best-sellers list, as I am a self-confessed book snob. But, my mummy book club chose it as this month’s read and I also thought I ought to know what all the hype was about. Unfortunately, 50 Shades of Grey did not make me horny, it made me angry.
When I first brought 50 shades home (borrowed: I drew the line at paying for it) I knew it would be poorly written. My friend wrote this review and when I told her I was reading it, she simply said “Did you not read my review?” and Loretta was ahead of me in the book and by page 40 had already said it read like the Sweet Valley High books of childhood. All in all I didn’t have high expectations.
So, I knew the characterisation was going to be shallow (it was), that the plot would be thin and unbelievable (yup) and that the dialogue would be unrealistic and underdeveloped (again, this was born out). I also knew that there would be sex, and that this sex would be on the kinky side.
What I didn’t realise was that I was going to be so angry; that this book, which is being read by so many women (and apparently enjoyed by many) and has been branded “Mummy Porn” would make me furious. Not for the poor writing, or because I am prudish about sex, but for much darker and altogether more alarming reasons.
Jeanette Winterson, author of, among other things Oranges are not the Only Fruit tweeted “Re. 50 Shades. Please explain why submission + humiliation is a turn on button for Mummy Porn? The only thing making me wet is the downpour”. I’d have to agree and I’d also question further the role of women portrayed in the book as a whole. How can it appeal to a mass, female market, when the two main female characters are completely ensnared, changed and dominated by their new partners. Ana (the lead young lady) is a naive, virgin who has never had a boyfriend or been drunk and yet within a week she is regularly drinking wine, having kinky sex and, against her will, being beaten by a controlling older man who insists that he knows where she is ever minute of the day. The other female character, Ana’s house-mate Kate, is supposed to be the less naive, stronger and perceptive woman and yet within moments of meeting Elliot she becomes gooey and all consumed by him. So that’s the strong, inspiring female role models in the book…
As for the sex, in principle, if bondage, kinky sex and a sub/dom relationship is what turns you on then that’s fine. What goes on in the privacy of people’s own relationships is their business, within the rule of law, but what made me angry was the way that this book glorified not a sexy, kinky relationship, but an abusive one.
I have come across domestic violence too often in my work and as you know, we are keen supporters of Refuge. You only have to look at their current advertising campaign to know how prevalent domestic violence is. I am aware that Christian Grey has clauses in his contract (which incidentally Ana doesn’t sign) which prohibit the leaving of any marks, but domestic violence is not just about physical abuse, it is about control and intimidation. Ana’s fear of Christian’s reactions to normal things like having a drink with friends or visiting her mother definitely show she is intimidated and his control of her every movement, from buying her a car and upgrading her flight to ensuring she is never out of his contact with her Blackberry and Mac is in her own words “stalker-ish”. They have a relationship built on fear and control, and even if she did want to have the kinky sex which is not clear, the control and fear are not OK. This is not harmless erotica, it’s abuse. If you would like to argue with me about this being a controlling relationship and suggest that Christian is being generous and caring, please first read this blog by @savvywendy.
The Christian character has a dark past, which is not subtly hidden (the writer is incapable of nuance) and yet it is not explored. I am aware that this is a trilogy, but I am not prepared to entertain the next three to find out more. Christian’s character has been abused as a child and obviously suffered both physically and mentally. To link this with his current predilection to physically punish others even against their will is either to give him an excuse for inexcusable behaviour so that Ana and therefore the reader have sympathy for him and allow him to continue the abuse, or it is to link sexual violence with childhood abuse. Whilst this may not be an unreasonable link in some cases, it is surely not an acceptable subject for erotic titillation.
Anyway, if you hadn’t already gathered 50 Shades is not a book I’d recommend. Not because it is poorly written. Reading is about pleasure and escapism and you should read what you enjoy regardless of someone else’s opinion of it’s literary merit. I would not recommend this book because it does nothing for the cause of women or our view of ourselves, our relationships and our self-worth. How are we to help charities such as Refuge support women, and men, in abusive relationships if this is entertainment? How can we support people trapped in abusive relationships to see that they don’t deserve that treatment, it is not their fault and it is not acceptable when this book is considered ‘Mummy Porn’?