I read the first book of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy two years ago. There, I’ve said it! I know admitting this will raise some eyebrows.
When I joined the Bridging the Gap (BTG) writing team almost three years ago, I learned that one of our goals is to write articles that address the hot topics of the day. At that time, Fifty Shades of Grey was a hot topic! You couldn’t miss it: the displays at the bookstores were large and enticing, and author E. L. James was interviewed on every morning show. The conversations I heard in the break room at my day job were consumed with jokes about ties and handcuffs. When the topic of writing a book review for the BTG blog came up, it was quiet around the table and no one volunteered.
I went home and thought about it. Why was this so awkward? Was I afraid to read this book because of what I would read? No. Was I afraid to read this book because I’d be drawn into some dark sexual lifestyle? No. So why was I uncomfortable with it? Honestly, I was afraid to read this book because I’ve always guarded the intimacy I have with my husband and I didn’t want this book to meddle with my thoughts. Not to mention the possible judgment that could come from those who wouldn’t understand my motives.
I have a stubborn streak that serves me well in moments like these. Maybe it’s because of all those good music records I broke in the 1980s at the prompting of an over-charismatic youth pastor. I never want to follow the crowd (even a good crowd) out of peer pressure. Maybe it’s because it seems so many churches try to avoid the topic of sex. But honestly, for me, it’s because I don’t want anyone telling me what to believe. I’m no lemming! I base my standards on my faith and my faith is based on the Bible. So I decided to read the book and see how it measured up.
The first few chapters were slow and boring for me, as I do not typically enjoy fiction. But when Mr. Grey pinned Ms. Steele to the wall of the elevator and kissed her, I thought: Whew! This book was not boring anymore! The relational story kept me wondering, Will they work this out? Are they going to learn to communicate better?
Yet despite its initial appeal, there was a disturbing recurring issue that gave me a negative feeling in my gut.
My negative reaction wasn’t at the thought of sex between two people. Sex is a normal human desire, which God created. I’ve always believed what happens in the realm of a marriage bed is between a husband and wife — it’s no one else’s business. But this story is not between two individuals that have pledged their lives to each other. The promise of “to love and to cherish” is not there. This story of contractual sex cheapens what God created to be a pleasurable gift shared by two people who have vowed to honor and protect each other. There is a difference between sex and lovemaking, and this book exalts sex. But the main things that bothered me the most in this book was the glorification of Mr. Grey’s control of Ms. Steele. Their relationship revolves around him choosing her wardrobe, her makeup, her food, her doctor, her sleep habits, and her sexual experiences. As a woman, it was demeaning and I could see the female character losing her identity as a result of his choices rather than hers. This is not a depiction of a healthy relationship!
As I continued to read, I felt more and more protective of the female character, just as I do now for anyone who reads this book and is misguided into thinking that this is an example of a love story.
The story capitalizes on Ms. Steele being a virgin until she falls for Mr. Grey’s mysterious charm. Before meeting Ms. Steele, Mr. Grey has had only emotionless, contractual sexual relationships. When Mr. Grey meets Ms. Steele, she is uncomfortable with his idea of “relationships” — yet despite her reservations, the story tries to sell the idea that true love can grow out of such toxic beginnings.
Thinking back to when I was a young virgin, I never dreamed of sex depicted with leather and lace. This story — or sexual fantasy, really — is unrealistic and in my opinion sets up readers to experiment with ideas that are confusing and hurtful to one’s self-esteem.
Were there scenes that were hot? Yes. Was it realistic? No.
On Valentine’s Day, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie will be released. Lovers will go to it on a date night and hope to have the same passionate experience the characters seem to experience. But I tell you, this movie will be cause for relationship confusion.
A relationship should be built on love, respect, and commitment. This story makes the theme of someone controlling another seem acceptable, even attractive.
But here’s the thing: True love does not require that
you control someone. True love is not selfish. True
love honors, protects, and cherishes. True love gives.
There may be fifty shades of grey, but there are some things that should remain black and white.