50 Things Wrong With 50 Shades of Grey
50 Shades of Grey is the book everyone is talking about. The first, second, and third books in the series that began as BDSM Twilight fanfiction are now the first, second, and third best sellers on Amazon. The problem is the books are AWFUL. Even without dealing with the gross media coverage of the books, the books themselves are horrible. I picked up the book at Powell’s and was sucked in to reading the whole thing—not because the erotic dominant-submissive tale drew me in, but because the book was so appallingly bad that I couldn’t look away. “There’s no way it could get worse,” I told myself page after page. And yet! It could! It did! Sure, it’s great to have a book that brings non-traditional sex into mainstream conversation, but the book winds up conflating dominance with rape, reinforcing old-school gender stereotypes, and having characters who talk like stilted Brits. Ugh. Here are 50 problems I wrote down as I slogged my way from cover to cover:
1. Right from the start, main character Ana is as interesting as wet cardboard. Will she ever tame her messy hair? Will she ever be more than empty vessel whose primary personality trait is “confused”?! Wait and see. (spoiler: no)
2. Oh great, this is going to be a book about the problems of gorgeous college students who own Mercedes. I just have trouble commiserating with characters who own luxury cars.
3. If this is a Twilight rip-off, Ana is the dull, vacuous female lead and Christian Grey is the werewolf and the vampire combined into a sexy CEO who is really into modernist architecture and getting his way? This is more like porn remake of The Fountainhead.
4. Everything in Grey’s “architect utilitarian fantasy” office is made of steel. Ana’s last name is Steele. They should have just disbanded with the subtlety and made named her “Ana Getsfucked.”
5. Already, I’m turned off by Ana and Grey’s relationship. Hooray for weird sex, but their relationship is built on a bunch of problematic gender stereotypes.
6. Like: Men are the pursuers of women, women are the objects of desire but who never do the pursuing themselves but just sit around looking accidentally gorgeous.
7. Like: Women are children, men are adults. Ana is basically a toddler, who literally falls over constantly, only to be hoisted into Grey’s manly man arms, and made to feel “like an errant child.”
8. Like: Don’t worry about being uncertain about who you are or what you want, ladies! A sexy bachelor knight on a horse made of money will come save you and figure out all that stuff for you.
9. Like: Women can’t really be friends with dudes, because the dudes are always secretly wanting to get in their pants. See: All of Ana’s dude friends.
10. Like: Men must be competitive with each other, never friendly, because they are always locked in a mental battle to get into their lady friends’ pants. See: Grey giving the “arctic glare” to all of Ana’s dude friends.
11. Who says ‘shall’? As in “shall I show you the cable ties?” NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT. Except people who are dead these days.
12. ”I’m crap at DIY, I leave all that to my dad.” — Ana, who is capable of nothing but falling over occasionally.
13. As much as they’d like it, no one will ever recognize a CEO in public. No one will ever exclaim, “Is it really you? CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings?”
14. There are three ways emotions are expressed in this book: blushing, jaw dropping, and constant eyebrow arching.
15. Use of the phrase, “Laters, baby.”
16. Everything Grey does is perfect. Even his muffin eating is godly: “His long fingers deftly peel back the paper, and I watch, fascinated.”
17. Oh, hey, the apartment your parents are paying for is in the “Pike Market District”? STFU. That is not a neighborhood. That is a dumb thing tourists say.
18. Okay, Grey is so serious about consent that he wants Ana’s “yes” in writing, but then as soon as he gets horny in an elevator is like “fuck the paperwork” and “takes full advantage.” I’m glad consent was sexy in this book for like two pages, because being thrown aside.
19. Ana has never been drunk. She doesn’t dance. She doesn’t know what she’s doing after school. She has no personal identity and makes few choices for herself, instead being dragged into whatever friends or controlling, helicopter-owning attractive men want.
20. She’s a virgin? Okay, fine. But she’s also never masturbated? Come on, that’s not human. Not only does Ana have no personality, she has no sexual identity beyond what other people ask her to do and be like.
21. Okay, I have to admit that the vanilla sex scene is actually pretty hot and the book gets plus 1 million points for incorporating a condom. But Ana’s sex is more of same old stereotype of women as desired objects and men as pursuers.
22. While Grey lavishes Ana with compliments and makes all the moves, she literally says nothing during the entire sex scene except “yes” and “please” and “argh!”
23. Describing a blowjob as “my very own popsicle.”
24. Author EL James is up for talking in detail about the size, shape, and hardness of Christian’s penis (spoiler: “firmer than I expected!”), but Ana’s own genitals are euphemistically referred to as “down there” and “… there.“ Why the moratorium on the word vagina? We can talk about sexual pleasure derived from a riding crop, but we can’t utter the v-word?
25. Ugh, Grey tells Ana to “come for me” every one of the first three times they have sex. Her sexual pleasure is all for him, really.
26. Instead of registering actual thoughts, Ana is reduced to just repeating Christian’s phrases with exclamation marks. “Meet my mother.” “His mother!” “You’d be amazed what you can find on the internet.” “Internet!”
27. After ferrying Ana to his remote mansion via helicopter, Grey cuts off Ana from her friends in a definitely not okay way. When she finally answers a phone call from a friend, Grey is displeased, saying, “I don’t like to share.” Whoa, dude. Being a sex dungeon master is fine, but isolating a girl from her friends? That’s creepy.
28. Just stop biting your lip already! You’re like the Hannibal Lecter of lips.
29. I don’t know much about BDSM, so I asked my friend and longtime fem-dom I.G. Frederick to weigh in on the kinky sex scenes. She says: “Grey, who supposedly has been practicing BDSM for years, doesn’t know the difference between dominance and sadism. He apparently is not only a sadist, but an inexperienced and unscrupulous one.”
30. WHAT?! Ana doesn’t have email?! That is less realistic than never having masturbated.
31. Kate says: “This is next-generation tech.” STFU, Kate. You talk like you’re a poorly-written commercial.
32. In the vein of men-as-pursuers, Ana is passive in all her communication with guys—except for drunk dialing Christian once, it’s Christian who starts email conversations and Jose who calls, even when Ana says she wants to be the one to call him.
33. Minus one million points for deriving sexual pleasure from emoticons. “Christian Grey just sent me a winky smiley. Oh my.”
34. Snow Patrol? Ana is sheltered enough to never dance or use email, but she listens to Snow Patrol?
35. AAAAAA! Ana emails Christian that she’s uncomfortable with their relationship and he immediately shows up at her house, in her room. AAAA!! RUN! RUN TO THE COURTHOUSE FOR A RESTRAINING ORDER!
36. And if a man I’ve said I don’t want to see again did appear in my bedroom, my first thought would not be, “He looks gloriously yummy.”
37. What kind of jerk says “Hey, when you said it was nice knowing me, did you mean in the Biblical sense?”
38. After Christian appears at her house, Ana never verbally says “yes” to sex, she just meekly nods once when Christian demands she trust him. When she utters a “no,” he threatens to tie her up and then starts taking off her clothes. That’s not hot, dominant sex. That’s glorifying rape.
39. Ana’s like, “Hey, it would be nice if I could talk about sex with people” and Christian’s response is: “What are you, jealous?”
40: Here’s another Christian impression. “Hello Ana, you are a beautiful flower. I DEMAND YOU EAT SOMETHING! Here is some expensive wine.”
41. Can we drop the last names thing already? Ms. Steele, Mr. Grey, this is getting really old.
42. There are flashes of an actual identity for Ana—like, she wants romance, not just sex, and is uncomfortable with S&M—but instead of letting the character listen to her needs and think about what she actually wants, EL James lets Christian pressure her into a relationship that feels wrong.
43. And THEN gives Grey the audacity to say “these relationships are built on honesty and trust”—being a dominant doesn’t give Grey a pass to ignore Ana’s few opinions, needs, and fears. He dismisses her constantly. Anytime she genuinely says how she feels, Grey like, “shhh… don’t. I’ll convince you I’m right. Laters, baby.”
44. Use of the phrase: “He seemed tres cool.”
45. How does Ana forget to eat all day? She’s like, “Whoopsie! I’m so skinny because I just forget to eat! Hahahahaha! Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
46. Holy crap, holy shit, how cow, holy fuck, holy Moses — there is no exclamation in this book that is unholy, instead, “holy ____” is repeated constantly.
47. Here is a good relationship: A man sends you an email saying, “Don’t drive your car again, I will know.” Stalking has officially become a joke in this book. haHA, remember that one night your boyfriend called you five times and you felt guilty for hanging out with your friends and then he demanded that you better “manage his expectations”? That was sexy, amiright?
48. AAAA! So every time Ana sends Christian an honest email, he will drive to her house, burst into her room, and demand to see her until he can coerce her into his way of thinking? AAAA! RUN AWAY, INNER GODDESS, RUN AWAY!
49. She dreams of moths being drawn to flames. What is this metaphor, I don’t get it. This book is way too subtle.
50. Ana’s email: “If I was listening to my body, I’d be in Alaska by now.” Grey’s email: ”You’re an adult, you have choices… but Alaska is cold and you have no place to run. I can track your cell phone, remember?” This is not a consensual relationship.
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