I'm aware that I've written about 50 Shades of Grey before. If you follow me on Twitter (@EmmaTofi), you'll know I mention my hatred of the "romance" trilogy quite frequently and if you're a regular reader of this blog, you may very well have read the reasons why. But recently, I've had a few things happen. Firstly, I've had several different people tell me I'm being bitched about by former friends who ditched me shortly after I "came out" as a survivor of an emotionally abuse relationship. I won't lie; that sort of thing gets to me more than it should. Mainly because I make a point of just not mentioning those people who accused me of lying, or being selfish, or who got angry with me for being withdrawn, or for not confiding in them sooner. To know they can't do the same about me is more irritating than a pair of sandpaper knickers. I know it says far more about them than it does about me, but it's still upsetting.
Secondly, since I discovered a fantastic support network on Twitter, comprised of anti-abuse campaigners, abuse survivors and charities, etc, I've been a lot more vocal about the way 50 Shades glorifies abuse as romance. And that has led to total and utter strangers contacting me to tell me that, in my ex, I had the PERFECT MAN and I was just too stupid to keep him, or that I simply wasn't good enough for someone as amazing as he was, if he was anything like Christian Grey. Only a couple of days ago, a girl contacted me to tell me that Ana is extremely lucky and that I don't know what I'm talking about. Tell that to my support worker...
Thirdly, I have discovered what EL James' personal method of dealing with criticism from abuse charities is, when contacted on Twitter by those who genuinely want to try to understand why she has dressed up an abusive man as a romantic hero and who have - in most cases VERY politely - asked her to speak out on the issue. She simply blocks them. And then presumably rolls around in a pile of cash, cackling...
It's not about the money, money, money, we don't need your... Oh no wait, of course it is. Have you READ 50 Shades?!
Finally, I've had a few people telling me to stop talking about 50 Shades. To stop saying how much I hate it, to stop getting so angry when people tell me they're "searching for a Christian Grey of my own..." and to just remember it's a fad and it'll pass. And these are people I love and whose opinions I respect, BUT...
...The trouble with that is that most fads aren't dangerous. As much as I'm no fan of One Direction, aside from some of their fans being incredibly scary, they're not really dangerous. Playing Live While We're Young isn't necessarily going to cause a whole generation of young girls to go rushing out to sleep with strangers. The trend for "reality" TV shows like The Only Way Is Essex is only going to encourage the very dimmest members of society to decide they want to be orange and famous for absolutely no reason.
50 Shades appears to be having a very real effect. The number of women writing on Twitter that they wanted their very own Christian Grey for Christmas is genuinely terrifying to me, having personal experience of being with a man who claimed to be "fifty shades of fucked up" and who used that excuse to behave like a manipulative, nasty, abusive prick. Much like Grey himself. Mmm, mind-games, a desperate need for attention that renders them incapable of empathy... DAMN, THAT'S SO SEXY.
So no, I won't stop talking about it, because people are influenced by what they read. And people can be so influenced by a badly written book about an abusive man, dressed up as a romance novel, that they send women who've genuinely been through that sort of relationship, tweets calling them "nutbags" and refusing to listen to why those women - myself included - think the 50 Shades trilogy is so dangerous.
Also, I'm a writer. I'm actually offended that a book so appallingly written, so completely plagiarised from another writer's work and so poorly researched can have been taken to the hearts of so many supposedly intelligent people. Do we read so little in this country that this toilet paper is now considered to be the work of a literary genius?!
So in an effort to silence my critics, I'm writing my "50 Shades for Dummies" blog. A handy, ten-point guide to why this book is a massive pile of poo and why the messages within it are dangerous to anyone who takes them seriously. Let's begin...
1. Plagiarism is bad, kids!
Have you read Twilight? EL James has. EL James loved it. She loved it so much, she wrote a fan fiction, called Master Of The Universe, which set Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in new roles: Edward was a rich, business man with a kinky secret, Bella was a shy, naive college student, about to graduate. The characters were exactly the same as they were in the Twilight saga - Edward the over-protective, dominant one, Bella the girl "dazzled" by him. Then publishers came sniffing and voila, EL James changed the names of the characters she'd stolen and a smash hit was born. Because hey, who cares about good old fashioned creativity? Why let a little thing like that get in the way of making money on the coat-tails of someone else's success? Oh and Stephanie Meyers (the author of the Twilight saga) has this to say on the issue of fan fiction and 50 Shades of grey: "I have read some fan fiction... I felt it was a little bit sad that people were doing it in a way that (the original story) wasn't theirs... But they're practising. They're going to write their books; they're going to come out eventually." But EL James isn't just practising; her plagiarism is out there, outselling other books, touted as original fiction. When pressed, Meyer has admitted that 50 shades "might not exist in the form it's in," were it not for the original fan fiction being based on the Twilight saga. In other words: IT'S NOT ONLY SHIT, IT'S NOT EVEN ORIGINAL SHIT.
Good luck to her! I mean seriously, please do plagiarise me.
2. The writing. Oh dear GOD, the writing.
I mentioned this in my last 50 shades-related blog. EL James is not a good writer. If you've read 50 Shades of Grey and gasped at the excellent example of literature you hold in your hands, may I politely suggest that reading is not for you. There are actual spelling mistakes in the text, not to mention the many, many grammatical errors, the use of ridiculously long, "fancy" words that nobody understands (someone clearly bought EL James a thesaurus for Christmas and she just had to get plenty of use out of it) and the strange decision that a book classed as "erotic fiction" should not use any erotic words during sex scenes. Women so desperate for a Christian Grey of their own, might be interested to know that he doesn't have a cock, or a dick. He has "an erection." He has "manhood." One suspects EL James, in her mission to make this book a "saucy" story that everyone can enjoy, decided to remove any sense of actual sauce from it. Oh and if you're not convinced by that, Anastasia Steele, she who all women simply fail to match up to (if you believe this "book"), doesn't have anything beyond a "sex." We're all adults, EL James. Never, ever, ever in a sex scene, should the "heroine" refer to her sexual organs as "down there." She's a WOMAN, not a five year old.
3. My subconscious thinks YOUR subconscious should SHUT UP.
Have you ever done something and then been surprised, because you don't remember doing it at all? Either you were drunk, or you did something subconsciously, i.e. without thinking about it. Would you like a dictionary definition of a subconscious? Here you are: "The part of the mind of which one is not fully aware." You see where I'm going with this?! Anastasia Steele frequently not only refers to her subconscious as something she is very much aware of, but as something that has a personality separate to her own, which is, just in case you're wondering, impossible, unless Anastasia is suffering from a really sexy multiple personality disorder. In an hilarious case of getting the wrong word and running with it, Ana's "subconscious" is something that is capable of frequently influencing her thoughts and decisions. That, EL James, is called a "conscience." TOTALLY DIFFERENT TO A SUBCONSCIOUS.
As if that wasn't enough to annoy the living daylights out of a reader that understands what a subconscious actually is, Ana has room in her unbelievably pretty and wonderful mind for yet another entirely fictional character: Her Inner Goddess.
Now yes, I agree, maybe all women have one of those. Maybe when a shy woman meets a man she's incredibly attracted to and finds herself unable to resist making a move, that's her Inner Goddess doing the work. The thing is, we don't refer to it, because most of us don't live our lives with a weird internal monologue running along, as though we're Carrie from Sex And The City, or JD from Scrubs. Although, this book would be MUCH better if it were about JD falling in platonic love with a grouchy business man, whom he'd call Grey-Bear. Just saying.
4. Physically impossible actions...
Okay everyone, I want you to try something for me. Try to look through your lashes. Go on, give it your best...
Just to save you time, it's pretty much impossible. The only way to actually look through them is if you squint so much that you can see the eyelashes in your field of vision. Your eyelashes are positioned above your eyes. You can look seductively at a person, whilst fluttering your lashes at them, but the only way to look through your lashes would be if they dangled down over your actual eyes. If that's what Anastasia Steele actually looks like, then... Wow. And not in a good way.
5. Everyone has exactly the same taste in men.
When I was with my bastard ex, I thought he was gorgeous. I knew a few other girls who also thought he was gorgeous. However, I had friends who couldn't quite see the appeal, because we, as humans, are not all exactly the same. In 50 Shades, EVERY woman fancies Christian Grey. Is that realistic? I mean, really?! Okay, look up the page a little bit: I fancy Zach Braff. I think he's cute. But I can lay money that there'll be people reading this blog, going: "Ew, really?! I don't!" Why? Because we aren't all clones. We all have our own thoughts and opinions and I can guarantee you, no matter how hard EL James tries to convince us all otherwise, that there is not a man who exists who is so unbelievably good looking that EVERY WOMAN WHO SEES HIM fancies him and is reduced to blushes and school-girl awkwardness. Some of us like blondes, some of us like brunettes, some of us like a man with a bit of meat on his bones, some of us like them gym-fresh with abs that could break through windows. WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT.
Just for evidence, that's my current #1 celebrity crush.
6. Way to piss off an entire culture, EL...
I make no claim to knowing much about BDSM. I freely admit that my tastes are probably a little more vanilla than that. A Red Room of Pain doesn't turn me on, so much as it strikes me as a bit of a wasted space, seeing as you can have sex literally anywhere and the idea of a room devoted to it seems to take some of the spontaneity out of it. But I digress... The point is, in 50 Shades, EL James portrays BDSM as an unhealthy lifestyle, caused by some kind of terrible occurrence in someone's past. Christian was abused as a child and so he likes to beat women who look like his mother. That's offensive on so many levels. For a start, most people who live a BDSM lifestyle, do so because they want to, not because they're horribly damaged individuals who need to be "brought into the light" (actual quote). Most people who do live that lifestyle, have a healthy respect for their partner and what happens between them is a pleasurable, sexual experience. They don't use the threat of a beating to force a partner to do as they say. They don't say things like "if you were mine, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week after pulling a stunt like that" and they don't use phrases such as "my palm is twitching," when their partner has done absolutely nothing, besides go out with her friends, or get a job. Threatening to beat someone because they've not done what you want them to do isn't "kinky" or "sexy." It's domestic abuse. Ask any person with experience of BDSM and almost exclusively, you'll find that they are hugely offended by the way their lifestyle is portrayed in 50 Shades.
7. Last time I checked, I belonged to ME...
Throughout all three novels in the 50 Shades trilogy, Christian refers to Anastasia as being exclusively his. He takes an almost perverse delight in the knowledge that he took Anastasia's virginity, as that means that "nobody else has been there - only me."
Now okay, when a man says "ooh, you're all mine!" now and again, it might be sexy, or even comforting. But to say it constantly, to list body parts during sex and say "mine" after each one, or to become so utterly possessive that he can't stand his partner to see her friends, or to mix with men in a workplace environment, is not sexy. Again, it's abuse. It's a case of a man seeing a woman in terms of ownership and that isn't love.
8. If it happened to me in the past, it's totally okay for me to do it to YOU.
Christian's behaviour is explained by the abuse he experienced as a child, at the hands of his mother and her various drug-addict boyfriends. In a sensibly written, factually accurate account of an abusive relationship, I wouldn't find that in itself too much of a problem. But EL James isn't touting this series as an account of an abusive relationship, in spite of the fact that that's clearly what it is. Instead, she's selling us this shit as a romance novel and the abuse Christian suffered as a child is not simply given as an explanation for his behaviour, it's offered up to both Anastasia and the reader as an excuse. This is not only wholly unacceptable in real life (and I say that as someone whose ex constantly reminded me that his behaviour was not his fault, but that of his own childhood abusers), but when used in a book such as this, it's actually dangerous. Are we, as sensible, mature adults, supposed to say: "Oh right, so he's manipulating Ana, confusing her, making her do things she feels uncomfortable doing, isolating her from her friends, showing little to no empathy for her feelings and so on, but... He was abused as a kid, so it's okay. He doesn't know any better?" Because let me tell you now, that is not EVER okay. With only a few exceptions, most adults know right from wrong. Most adults are aware that their behaviour affects others. Are we meant to believe that although he has built up an enormous empire, employs countless staff and has amassed a great fortune through his intelligent business decisions, Christian is so terribly damaged a person that he can't control his personal relationships beyond behaving abusively? Worryingly, it seems that EL James would have the answer be a resounding yes. And even in real-life cases where that situation is true, an abusive past is NEVER an excuse for an abusive present. By writing these books in a manner that suggests that Christian simply can't help the way he is and Anastasia must simply learn to love and accept his behaviour, EL James is casually suggesting that, because he was abused as a child, Christian should have a free pass to be abusive to others as an adult. THERE IS NOTHING RIGHT ABOUT THAT AND THERE IS NEVER AN "EXCUSE" FOR ABUSE.
Which means it would be wrong to scream in this woman's abuse-apologist face. Sadly.
9. If you don't fix your abuser, it's because you're not good enough.
Anyone who has walked away from an abusive relationship will go through a number of stages in the recovery process. I know from personal experience, as well as from talking to other people in my position, that one of the hardest things to accept is that you're not to blame for the abuse you suffered, be it emotional, physical or sexual. Nothing you did justified the end result and nothing you could have done would have changed things. The fault lies entirely with your abuser and he/she has to get some serious help in order to break the abuse cycle. They cannot be "magically fixed" by the love of one person alone. In 50 Shades of Grey and the subsequent sequels, Anastasia is variously referred to as having "saved" Christian and worse, having "brought him into the light." What EL James is helpfully telling women looking for their own Mr Grey (and believe me, it's depressing the number of women who now claim to be), is that if you're the perfect woman, just like we're supposed to believe Anastasia is, your love will cure your abusive prick of a partner.
Except it won't. You can love a man or woman with all of your heart - God knows, I loved my ex unconditionally - but you alone cannot stop someone from abusing you if that's what is in their psyche. To anyone who has walked away from a relationship like the one I experienced, this book has one message: If you'd loved him more, if you'd been better, you would have cured him.
I shouldn't even have to explain how utterly dangerous that total bullshit is. You've walked away from an abusive relationship and you're already blaming yourself and feeling horribly depressed, then you read a book about a woman who is so utterly bloody wonderful that she magically fixes her own abusive partner and they live creepily ever after. And all you can think is: "Well I obviously was't good enough." Well done, EL James. In fact, no, I can't even be bothered with sarcasm at this point: Go to Hell, EL. That's a little poem for you. I've no doubt you'll be plagiarising it, soon.
If you're half as stressed as me by now, you'll need a cute puppy to look at...
10. Me! Me! ME!
Christian talks as though Anastasia is the centre of his world and her well-being is his primary concern. But if you're reading this book without rose-tinted glasses, you'll note that he frequently, if not constantly, puts his own needs, wants and desires ahead of hers. In the first book, Anastasia asks Christian for space to think things through. She flies hundreds of miles away to stay with her mother, whose address she hasn't given to Christian. So he, in turn, uses stalking technology to find out where Anastasia's mother lives and follows her there, refusing to give her the space she needs, because he wants to see her (thus putting his needs firmly first). As the series goes on, Christian displays more and more neediness and ignores Anastasia's wishes with a growing frequency. Then, when he ceases to be the centre of attention, he begins using manipulation tactics to play on Anastasia's love for him and to ensure he stays at the forefront of her mind and that she always puts him first. When, in the 2nd book, she has spoken - with perfect right - about her unhappiness at the way he has been treating her and her confusion as to where their relationship is headed, Christian distracts her with sex, then, having gone to sleep, he suddenly suffers a conveniently timed night-terror. Bang on cue, Anastasia comforts him (naturally) and once he's calm again, she internally rationalises that she can't put pressure on him to discuss his behaviour, because he's "fifty shades of fucked up."
Later, when his psychotic ex has broken into Anastasia's apartment and threatened her with a gun, only for Christian to come hurtling in to save the day, Anastasia is hurt by the fact that Christian has felt the need to strip his ex and put her in a bath, where he bathes her to calm her down, before his psychiatrist arrives. Understandably, this is a level of intimacy with his ex that Anastasia finds uncomfortable, regardless of the circumstances and so she tries to speak to him about it. Christian's response is to drop to the floor, shaking, breathing heavily and refusing to speak (in the book, he's described as almost being in a coma), until Anastasia mutters that she no longer needs them to discuss the issue and that's she's sorry for upsetting him. And then? He magically snaps out of it.
Some readers of this book will not have seen these acts as abusive. Perhaps they genuinely believe the "he's fifty shades of fucked up" line and think he can't help those acts. Hell, perhaps even EL James genuinely thinks her beloved character can't help himself. But I've been on the receiving end of those "comas" and now, after support from an abuse charity and months of counselling, I can see that each and every one happened conveniently after I had been upset because he'd slept with another girl, or he'd lashed out verbally at me and deeply hurt me, or when I'd tried to question the nature of our relationship, or walk away entirely. And once I realised that, I also realised that he miraculously came out of those "comas" as soon as I turned my full attention back to him, said sorry (in spite of having done nothing wrong) and promised not to leave him. It was sustained, calculated and frankly evil manipulation, designed to keep me exactly where he wanted me and I'm afraid I'm unable to see Christian's "turns" in the 50 shades trilogy as anything but the same thing.
Yeah, this one's just for me. I needed it.
Perhaps EL James didn't intend for her story to come out as the tale of an abusive man taking advantage of an inexperienced woman. Perhaps she genuinely can't see that stalking, manipulation and threats of violence aren't sexy. But if that's the case, then I pity her. And if she can see those things and is simply letting the money roll in, then I probably shouldn't even write what I think of her.
It might be "just a book" or "nothing but a passing fad," but real women are reading this tripe and thinking that they'd like to be with a man just like Christian Grey. Even if they were to think about it and decide that actually, someone like that wouldn't be good for them, the very fact that this book is being sold as a passionate romance is in itself, an insult to every person who has experienced abuse and lived to tell the tale. Frankly, it's an even bigger insult to those who aren't here to tell their stories.
I said recently that if the trilogy ended with Anastasia realising that Christian will never truly change and that she can't continue to live in an abusive relationship, then I could defend it. If the book then documented her struggle to leave, the process of grieving for the relationship that never truly was and her recovery process, then I would overlook the appallingly bad writing and I'd praise it for bringing such an important issue to wider attention. But we all know that's not how the series ends. EL James is still out there, telling people this is a perfect love story and as I said earlier, that, in my eyes, means the trilogy is unfinished.
For that reason, I've decided to write my own novel. A semi-autobiographical tale about a women who meets a handsome, sexy and passionate man, who just happens to be "fucked up." A story that features the same excitement, the same heady feelings of love and lust and the same internal struggles that Anastasia has. But my novel, just like my own story, will not end in the heroine magically fixing her "Christian." There'll be a happily ever after, but it'll be a realistic one. I feel utterly compelled to right EL James' appalling wrongs.
Wish me luck.