Fifty Shades of Rape Culture

Over winter break I was in the library browsing the books. I happened across the book Fifty Shades of Grey. I grabbed it, thinking that it might give me a good laugh, but I have never been more wrong in my life. It was the angriest I’ve ever been reading a book.

This book has been described as “mommy porn” but just because the book is about sex that does not justify the rape culture represented. There’s this really great little part when Ana (the main girl) doesn’t know Christian (the main guy throughout this travesty of a book) for very long. He sends her some first edition books and tells her to stay away from him (as if she were following him around. They met twice). Anyway, she goes to the bar with her friends and gets completely drunk, drunk dials Christian, and says “why’d you send me the books!?” Christian then demands that she tell him where she is, she hangs up, and he calls back and says he’s coming to get her. This guy tracks her cell phone.

But we’re supposed to be okay with this because Christian stops her friend from forcing himself on her. Personally I wouldn’t overlook the fact that this guy TRACKED MY CELL PHONE, but saving her from being sexually assaulted is commendable. Right? Well, because Ana is drunk, she passes out. Now what would any guy do in this situation? They barely know this girl, she’s passed out drunk, and her roommate is just inside the bar. I mean if I were a man in this situation I would probably find her roommate to take her home. Not Christian! Ana wakes up in his hotel room…WITHOUT PANTS! She doesn’t run for the hills, after finding out she didn’t have sex with him (because Christian doesn’t roll that way, his ladies are awake when they have sex), she has breakfast with this man instead. Is it just me or is waking up in a hotel room without pants really unsettling? Again if I were in the situation, I’d make a mad dash for the nearest police station. Not Ana, instead she makes a date with this guy and loses her virginity to him that night.

Oh! Ana, frequently refers to her “inner goddess.” A woman’s inner goddess is a representation of her femininity  sexuality, and spirituality. Now excuse me while I repeatedly bang my head against the wall. Half the time her inner goddess was doing back flips or waving pom poms (I wish I was exaggerating), is when her fight or flight senses should have kicked in and she should have run straight to the police. Does E.L. James know what an inner goddess is representative of? Because let me tell you, I don’t think anyone’s inner goddess is doing back flips at the thought of being someone’s sex slave.

The worst part of this is that so many people read this book, along with the Twilight series (which also has a lot of rape culture representation) and try to model their lives after that. That is not okay! We already live in a society that teaches girls not to get raped, rather than teaching boys not to rape. What were these authors thinking? These books essentially have the teaching of “if he’s hot and he overpowers you, that’s okay.”

I admit I’ve read all of the Twilight books and now I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I’m absolutely disgusted. As I girl, I grew up reading Harry Potter and I aimed to be Hermione, a smart, loyal and strong young woman who is a big reason Harry succeeds in all the books. I wanted to be her. It’s terrifying to me that impressionable young girls who are trying to find their identity, are looking up to literary characters like Bella Swan. Bella, even though she’s the main character, is static throughout the entire series. She also is completely dependent on Edward, and is just pathetic. Is this really the message to be sending young girls? You’re no good unless you have a man.

The thing is people make jokes about these books, myself included, but that’s not at all what we should be doing. A lot of people don’t realize that these books represent rape culture. Not just rape culture either but women being displayed as weaker beings. Ana and Bella depend on a man to give them some sort of identity. Reading books like these anger me because it makes me worried about the generation that’s reading them.

We so often forget what it’s like being at that awkward age where we were trying to figure out who we are. It seems like for girls, instead of getting easier it’s getting progressively harder. Everyday, young women are surrounded by impossible standards and the problems that come with a changing body. I remember that, I’m still going through some of it. Even at 20, I feel the societal pressures of how I’m supposed to look and act. Reading is my escape. Not only that but I put myself in the shoes of whoever the main female character was, and it was usually a strong, smart, and opinionated young woman. Those characters helped shape me into the person I am today.

We need to start recognizing the books for what they are: a danger. A danger to young women,  who are trying to find their identity. Instead of making fun of the lack of characterization, and the dependence a woman has on having a boyfriend, we should really be reinforcing that it’s the 21st century and that women are strong, beautiful and independent and that they should NEVER strive to be an Ana (if they’re reading books like that) or a Bella. With books like these, it’s easy for us to slip into a mindset where rape culture is okay and normal, and that if you’re a woman, unless you have a man, you’ve got no identity and that you’re weak and helpless.  I was lucky enough to get that message when I was going through that awkward and confusing stage. It seems only fair that every other girl gets that same message.


About achas002

University student with a love for Doctor Who.
This entry was posted in Age/ Generation, Dating & Romance, Identitiy, On Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Fifty Shades of Rape Culture

  1. nightwing17 says:

    Dare I ask why this “gentleman” removed her pants?

  2. mziar001 says:

    I have never considered reading this book but my wife has more than filled me in. I don’t believe that this book should be classified as “rape culture” but instead should be filled under a type of taboo/erotic romance. I think the focus is moreso on Ana’s fantasies and exploring her sexual being that is revealed through her actions in the bedroom. The story explores a type of culture that isn’t widely accepted. The story has topped best-seller lists and has sold more copies than “Harry Potter”.

    • reztap says:

      I’m sorry but from having read the book I would have to agree with the actual post. In reading the book it is not a “rape culture” because of the type of sex had. Since “rape culture” goes beyond sex and into the sexual objectification and domination of women. In this book not only does he track her cell phone, but he conducts back ground checks on everyone she comes in contact with. He sells her car and provides her with a new one, despite her objections because she is now “his” and needs to be safe. He believes himself to be in charge of her eating habits and gets angry when she eaten because she hasn’t felt hungry. If thats not objectification and domination of women then I don’t know what is. Also I’m not sure where you got your figures that it has sold more copies than Harry Potter, but all my research could find was that the book is selling at a much faster rate than. Which is not hard to believe due to the fact that not only were all three books produced within a three year period, but have been much more accessible with items such as Nooks, Kindles, and iPads readily available. My findings showed that the whole series sold 65 million copies world wide, while Harry Potter has sold over 400 million. copies.

  3. andrewparkeriii says:

    I see what you are saying when saying this book sends the wrong message. But i do not think this is a rape book its more like a fetish one or one that explores her fantasies in the bedroom. Its the people who read this book that have the choice to either explore their sexuality or not, the book doesn’t make them.

  4. achas002 says:

    It’s not the BDSM and sex that makes this book rape culture actually. It’s the fact that the relationship (which is actually what the majority of the book is about) is seriously unhealthy. At one point Ana basically tells him that she doesn’t want to see him again but he wants the situation to work out so badly that he shows up at her house and rather forcefully “seduces” her. Then the rest of the book he pretty much stalks her whenever she isn’t around him. That’s why I classify this as rape culture. Everyone is entitled to their personal space, and when someone says to leave them alone the respectful thing to do is to back off. He did neither, and it seems that people are under the impression that it’s okay for him to do this because it shows that he “cares” for her…but it’s never okay. The fact that Ana gave in and put up with it sends the message to men and women that this behavior is okay, when it’s not. Maybe I see things from a different perspective, but I really do believe that this book is dangerous in the wrong hands.

  5. kfock001 says:

    How is this “rape culture”? I agree with mziar001 and andrewparkeriii comments. It seems to me Ana made her own choices. She could of walked away at anytime or called the cops on him if it was really bothering her. I’m assuming Ana is an adult. It sounds like in the story Christian never raped her. I can see the unhealthy relationship in the book between the two main characters but I do not agree this is a “rape culture” book. It sounds like no raping is going on in the twilight series or fifty shades of grey.

    • nightwing17 says:

      Just to say it up front, I’m not posting that to be condescending, I just know that I’ll probably mess something up and that might serve as a resource to those who require better information than I can provide.

      I think that argument that Fifty Shade of Grey contributes to a ‘rape culture’ is not a statement that Ana is being raped or that there is a lack of consent in either of those stories (though as someone who has not properly read either, I can’t comment either way on that). Instead, I think what is saying is that while in these situations Ana and Bella consent to relationships that feature imbalanced power dynamics, these are not real people and exist in a world within our own, therefore subject to two levels of scrutiny, both that of the story and that of the context it was written in.

      I think that many feminists and feminist scholars will agree that the popularity of these books is somewhat analogous, in this framework, to that of rape fantasies and that those are potentially healthy and normal desires for some people to have and express in a safe and responsible way. However, as with rape fantasies, the crucial distinction is that they are a way of dealing with something at the edge of sexuality in a secure manner.

      While this is the case in the stories, they become part of a rape culture when they are absorbed as normal by young girls or other parties as normal. The delicate issue here, as I see it, is that while there is nothing to constitute rape (to my knowledge) in these books, they promulgate a system in reality where rape, objectification of women, and disregard for women’s choice are romanticized. Ana retains power, can feel powerful, because it speaks to a fantasy of hers to exercise the subtle power of a submissive; it makes her feel like a goddess. However, this is because it is a controlled scenario; we know that on page 159 this isn’t going to suddenly become a cautionary tale about the dangers of rape, and, therefore, we know that Ana is safe. Unfortunately we don’t live in a world where we can be confident that such relationships are safe, at least not as a rule.

      Unless I misunderstand, the problem is not so much that these books were written, but rather that they have been held up as ideals to be wistfully dreamed about, something so wonderful it cannot be true, when, in likelihood, they are closer to many real nightmares. Without a valid counterpoint, despite many efforts to produce some, these books help define our societal conception of love in ways that many people feel is dangerous. Thus some feel that they contribute to a culture where rape and actions that help perpetuate rape are normalized.

  6. LOL This reminded me of the Onion headline, “Romantic-comedy behavior gets real-life man arrested.” Actually stalking people is really creepy!

  7. mbrow2013 says:

    I was pretty shocked when I saw a woman pull Fifty Shades of Grey out and start reading it openly on the bus when I was heading home from class. It would be like if I pulled out a Hustler and started flipping through it on the bus infront of everybody.

  8. I think the book should be looked at more on its literary value. For centuries literature has been mixing horror with love stories in a way to intrigue and scare you just enough to keep you captivated. Im not comparing this book with any classic literature, but I have read all three in the series and honesty I dont think they are part of any “rape culture.” I dont really see them as being male dominant in any extreme either. I mean look at romance literature. Everyone sees Dracula as being a horror story, but its really just a romance novel. The research the characters conduct make them more vulnerable to Dracula. Wow. The book is just about how far our curiosity can take us. How intriguing new things are and how far we would go for love. I mean yea, someone having access to your phone, bank accounts, etc is really creepy and stalker material. But the story asks you to draw the correlations for yourself in how such masculinity the Christian exhibits can be a facade to hide the imperfections that he had. Which is true in all cases. Most often when anyone exhibits any characteristic in extreme its is overcompensation for insecurities. IF anything I think it mocks male dominance. But that is just my opinion.

    • opeemoel says:

      Excuse me for butting in, however I’d like to make a few points here.

      For one, you suggested that this book was of the horror genre. Now, according to the poster’s original description of it, this could easily be inferred from the post. However, it’s not. It’s smut, pure and simple. It’s meant for titillation. Any sort of horror aspect is inferred from our personal view, not from the view of the character in the Fifty Shades universe. Possibly the only way I can see this story being as part of the horror genre is if you think of the roles in a BDSM relationship to be unnatural.

      For two, BDSM is something that must be taken seriously. It’s a matter of trust. The sub must absolutely trust the dom, and that is the short of it. The implication of it being “how far we would go for love” is not the end game of BDSM. It is trust. It is the sexual variant of that game you’d play as a kid at slumber parties where you’d close your eyes and fall backwards and pray to whatever deity you believe in that you don’t have horrible friends that would simply let you crash to the ground. The submissive must trust their dom in whatever sexual play is being had. The dom must trust the sub to tell him/her when that trust is being infringed upon and when he/she must stop and try to salvage the situation. When it isn’t treated with respect, BDSM can easily become the stuff of nightmares for the sub. You cannot and must not ever cross that line of trust. Ever.

      And for three, I cannot, for the life of me, see how this book mocks male dominance. He tracks her cell phone. He hunts her down and, when she is drunk, takes off her pants and falls asleep with her in a hotel room. When she tells him that she’s off to meet with her mom, alone, he pops up out of nowhere. When she meets his parents, he attempts to cop a feel under the table and, when she denies him, he ends up taking her roughly in a boathouse. What part of any of this is desirable behavior? What part of this shows that he respects her as his submissive? What part of this shows that he trusts her? And because this is entire book is smut with a plot hastily tacked on, we, as the readers, are brought to think that this is how a BDSM relationship is meant to be. We think that’s what it’s about, that that’s what desirable, that that is what is acceptable. This is how it contributes to rape culture. This is male dominance accurately portrayed.

      This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy the series. You can totally enjoy it all you want, you just have to keep in mind that this is the sort of thing that impressionable teenagers are reading and incorporating into their own mindset of what is okay to do in and out of the bedroom. It’s like the difference of having a rape fantasy and actually being raped. If you want to fantasize about a dysfunctional BDSM relationship, go ahead. You’re allowed. Just don’t let that enjoyment carry and have you become part of an actual dysfunctional BDSM relationship, because that will not be as pleasant as you might think.

  9. Pingback: The Longest Night: What makes it “new and exciting”? | Kara Braden: Author, Fangirl, Geek.

Comments are closed.