Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why I DON'T want a Mr Grey...

There has probably been too much already written about the meteoric success of E.L James' Fifty Shades of Grey series, so apologies for adding to the column inchage. But there is an aspect of the reaction to the book that concerns me, and I feel I need to say it...

First of all, let me make this clear: I have nothing against the books themselves, nor the success of the author. It is great that she has created something people want to read. The hype is another thing altogether, but that's just the media and publishing industry hauling themselves onto the bandwagon and is to be expected, given the success of the books. So if you are reading the 50 Shades series and enjoying it, great. I hate the 'you must/must not read this book' brigades and will defend the reader's right to choose what he or she reads to the end. Everyone is entitled to read whatever they want to: if 50 Shades of Grey is your thing, go for it.

But I am worried by some of the response from some readers. Recently on twitter, facebook, blogs and forums, there have been increasing examples of women expressing a wish that they could 'have someone control me like Mr Grey controls Ana'. One example I saw this week said: 'I wish Mr Grey would teach me how to do what he wants', while another proclaimed, 'You've got to love a man who can control you!'... Now, of course I am well aware that the majority of women who read these books understand fully that it is a work of fiction and that Christian Grey is just a fantasy figure. But there are a vocal few who seem to believe that he embodies everything they should desire in a man.

Between two consenting adults - and by 'consenting' I mean both people fully aware of and fully comfortable with the decision - the kind of sex portrayed in the book is fine. The problem comes when one person is controlling the situation and the other feels pressured into taking part. In reality, a controlling partner is not sexy. Someone who tells you how to think, feel, dress, act and react is not doing it out of love for you. They are doing it to make themselves feel better, to deal with issues they carry.

This is where it gets personal to me. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for nearly eight years, with a partner who controlled everything about me. It was professed to come from a place of love, but it made my life a living hell. Because I loved him - and genuinely believed (in the beginning at least) that he was doing it all for my own good - I spent years enduring debilitating abuse and held my silence day after day, month after month. I was always told that I 'needed a man who would take charge' - someone who 'knew what was best for me' - and I believed this. But take it from somebody who knows: a man who takes pleasure in controlling you is not someone you should be getting into a relationship with.

My concern comes from a place of understanding. I know how attractive it can appear to have someone so seemingly powerful and interested in every aspect of your life. So part of me understands why some women - and I stress some - are openly wishing for a real-life Mr Grey. But a real man doesn't need to belittle you, curb your character or control your every waking moment in order to 'show his love' for you. My concern is that a significant minority of women reading the book might think this type of behaviour is acceptable in real life. It's not and never will be. Nobody has the right to tell you what to think, feel or be except you. Giving that much power to anyone is dangerous: in a relationship it can be devastating.

It hasn't been an easy decision to write this, but nobody else seems to be saying it, so I feel I have to. If it's dismissed by most as an overreaction, but stops one woman from entering into a potentially abusive situation, it's worth it. If you are reading this and you know you are already in a controlling or emotionally abusive situation, there is a way out. Contact Women's Aid for free, confidential information, advice and a 24-hour helpline. I found the courage to leave - and life is brilliant on the other side.

Enjoy the books if you read them. Get involved with the characters in the story and see it for the fictional story that it is. Keep the controlling Mr Grey where he belongs: in a fictional fantasy - and don't invite him into your real life. Thank you for reading.


Unknown said...

Very insightful and well-written, Miranda ;)

Anonymous said...

Really brave of you to come out and say this - and you're right, it does need to be said. I'm hoping that the women you're referring to are talking about being controlled in 'the bedroom' and not in their lives generally - but another issue which your post has raised is the possibility of how this reaction from women could give fuel to the kind of man who wants to control a woman in relationships. Of course, I'm not saying this book is dangerous, but women buying in to the idea that being controlled is cool are not doing themselves, or others, many favours.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post, and I concur completely. As everyone and their mother knows, it was based on Twilight fanfic, and Edward Cullen is likewise too controlling (at one point he cuts her breaks so she won't go visit Jacob because he loves her). It worries me that controlling, emotionally abusive men are being held up as romantic ideals, both in YA and adult fiction.

Unknown said...

This is a very interesting area. There are many women who are fully paid up members of the 1950's club. That is to say, as well as embracing the style of that era they also let, to a large extent, their man be the controlling factor in the relationship. much like things were in the 1950's I would imagine.

Control, manipulation, jealousy, it is all on the rise, and a lot of this is fuelled by the stalking behaviour some exhibit on the internet. but therein lies the problem, the internet can be a huge force for good, however when you open that door marked "www" you not only get the good stuff, you get the crap as well. Perhaps this is similar to a lot of relationships, in some instances the balance between good / crap is way out, as yours was, and eventually you did something about it.

There are some very big differences between your journey and the book, from the off, Ana has a very good idea of just how controlling and dominating Christian is (i doubt you had this knowledge early in your relationship). In my mind this firmly puts the power in the hands of Ana, she can choose whether to continue or not. If you are saying that she has no power to make that decision as a human being, then she must look in the mirror and ask herself why she has let her life come to that.

Anonymous said...

wonderful that someone can write so engagingly about a problem that everyone seems to be bypassing - owning a helicopter does not give you extra rights over another human's life - great post!

Ruth Saberton said...

Miranda, as usual you cut right to the chase. Real life heroes are not dominant and controlling. I share all your misgivings. I'm also disheartened that such poorly written prose has mass appeal. Should porn become mainstream? I think not. As a teacher I work with an entire generation who believe that sexting, explicit images and the exploitation of women are the norm. This novel is a sad reflection on the state of 21st century western society.

Miranda Dickinson said...

Thank you all for taking the time to read this and for your great comments. Like I said, I don't have anything against the books, but as staticsplit rightly points out, it represents a worrying trend in YA and adult fiction towards controlling men. Of course, there has always been the 'brute' character in fiction - Mr Rochester, Heathcliff, Rhett Butler et al - but the blurring between fantasy and real life is what concerns me.

Kinkster Mike, you make some interesting points - and thanks for commenting! Just to clarify, I'm not saying Ana has no power to make that decision: quite the reverse. My concern is that knowing what she knows about Christian Grey and willingly putting herself in the position where she surrenders power to him, she is opening herself up to the possibility of that power being abused. Likewise, the small minority of women who choose in real life to actively seek out a man who will control them are putting themselves in danger of a very unhappy and possibly dangerous relationship - which is what I hope my blog post warns against. Again, I stress, it is the reaction to the book that concerns me, not the book itself. I wasn't implying that Ana's experience and mine were the same.

The point is, had I known that my relationship would become a controlling one - and how that would affect my everyday life - I would never have embarked on it. And that is why I felt it was my responsibility to warn others of desiring a partner who assumes so much power in their lives. Hope that makes it a bit clearer and thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this insightful post. The way that some people have taken to the character Mr. Grey in the books series has made me feel concerned for some woman who desire this kind of relationship as well.

Gem - BeeReader said...

Just found I missed this post whilst away, and wanted to say thank you for discussing a very important topic. I think I can understand where the author was coming from with her portrayal of Ana & Christian's relationship, and having only read the 1st novel I can't comment on the last two, but I do find some of the comments associated with it very misled on what BDSM is about, as well as what a partnership should be about.
I too had an emotionally abusive relationship which started when I was 19 and has affected me every since, thankfully I can say I have left *most* of that negative influence behind but there's still a little voice in my head very often that questions what I should be doing/thinking/trying/wearing etc... thank you for your brave admission and for being bold about what is and isn't acceptable.
Big hugs x

Helen said...

I saw this post when you first published it and meant to comment at the time but my phone wasn't behaving itself and I never got around to it. I'm so pleased you wrote this as it's something I have been through too, and alarm bells always start ringing when I hear people saying those sorts of things.
I agree with what staticsplit is saying about controlling characters in fiction. Generally I think it's about the distinction between what's attractive in an imaginary character but wouldn't be in real life (e.g. "mysterious" translates into commitment issues, etc) and as long as we as readers understand how to make that distinction it's not a problem. But you have to wonder why that specific type is growing so popular, don't you?

lisa said...

I have read all of the 50 shades books but at no time did I find myself wishing for my very own Mr Grey. Sadly I think I'm in the minority.

Kate Johnson said...

An intesting and important post, Miranda, and a brave one too.

I confess that I never got further than the free Kindle sample of 50 Shades. Not a fan of the writing style, or the characters, and had read enough reviews of authors and commentators whose views I trust to know it would probably end in me throwing my Kindle against the wall.

But even that free taste left something nasty in my mouth. I agree with Gem that it completely misunderstands the BDSM lifestyle and gives a dangerous idea of what it should be (as I felt the Twilight books gave a dangerous idea of what love should be). I have friends who dabble in BDSM and as a former erotica author I know loads of people who write BDSM and read it too (it never really floated my boat: my heroines were usually the ones kicking ass, not getting spanked). The whole point of the lifestyle is this: it's the submissive who has all the control. S/he is the one who says yes or no, basically. It's about trust between partners, which generally bespeaks a much more equal relationship than is usually imagined.

A man--or for that point, a woman--who wants to dominate absolutely every aspect of your life isn't taking care of you because they love you. They're dominating you because they want power, they want to be in control of something helpless. It's pretty much the same sort of person who beats their wife and children and sets fire to the dog. I understand there are people who find that attractive, and I also understand they're usually also in need of mental help.

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