FIFTY SHADES OF EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT I’M TRYING TO TEACH MY DAUGHTERS
Yes, I bought the book Fifty Shades of Grey. Across the back cover it boasted “More Than 70 million copies sold worldwide“. I think it’s safe to assume that women bought most of those 70 million copies sold. I’m a writer. I had to see what got ’70 million.‘ women to buy this book. I was also curious from the perspective of a man. Any insight into what women find alluring or attractive is helpful. When I began to read it though, everything I had been taught and everything I had come to think about what women want was called into question. And it’s not what you think.
I’ve always been attracted to a certain type of woman. I haven’t dated many women, but those I have dated have had a few attributes in common. Of course, they were all physically attractive, all very pretty, each certainly much prettier than I should’ve been attracting. They were also all intelligent. Not only book-smart, they had common sense too. They were all independent and proud to be. I never dated one of those, “could you fill my wittle gas tank for wittle ole me, I simply cannot figure it out” types. I’m not into helpless. Some guys like that I guess. Makes them feel manly. I don’t. There are other ways to feel manly around a woman without her having to pretend like the village idiot or a fragile delicate flower. They were confident, they were funny, they were strong, and yet they were completely and totally feminine. Soft and sweet and tender and womanly in everyway, but they had strong minds, strong spirits, ambition, and self-confidence in their self-sufficiency. Each was searching for a partner, not someone to take care of her.
The girl I married put her self through graduate school – twice. She has her Doctoral degree in education. Smart, pretty, independent, strong-of-spirit, feminine, determined, ambitious, tough when she needs to be, and sexy. The great part is, I know she’s with me because she wants to be, not because she has to be. She could kick my ass out tomorrow and keep on moving without missing a beat if she so desired. That’s what I like.
Then again, that’s what I grew up with. My maternal grandmother raised five kids on her own at a time when women were not equal in the workplace nor otherwise in society. She was tough, depression-era Irish. She didn’t take shit from anybody, and yet she was loving and caring and protective and generous and sweet. She passed those qualities along to her daughters, one of whom is my mother. My dad was a police officer. His schedule was erratic. He’d be on midnights sometimes. At other times, he’d work afternoons. He never turned down the chance to make overtime and often had a side job or two. We went to Catholic school and Mom stayed home. It was her choice to do so. She felt, and my dad agreed, that it was important for us kids to have someone home to care for us. My mother never had that herself, but she wanted to give that to us. As a result, my Dad worked a lot. That meant mom couldn’t pull the old ‘wait till your father comes home’ trick. She had to discipline us herself. She often found herself alone to run the household. She cut the grass, she weeded the lawn, she shoveled the snow, and she took care of what needed to be taken care of if my Dad was at work. She didn’t have the luxury of waiting for 5:30 to roll around, or for Saturday afternoon. Shit needed doing, and she did it.
I’m following my Mom’s side of the family since this is about women. My Dad’s mother, it should be noted though, is also a tough Irish girl who raised five boys and worked on the side while my Grandfather worked his multiple jobs. The toughness of spirit has been passed down on both sides of the family. My sister, my female cousins all are tough and strong and self-sufficient.
None of this seemed strange to me. I was a child of the 70’s and 80’s. You couldn’t swing a Bionic Woman doll without hitting a feminist. My first crush was on Linda Carter. As Wonder Woman, she beat up bad guys and didn’t lie around waiting for some dude in tights to save her ass, she handled shit herself, and yet, damn she was sexy. Television in those two decades was flooded with self-assured, empowered and sexy females. They could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man. From Carol Burnett to Bernadette Peters to Veronica Hamel to Susan Dey to Phylicia Rashād the list goes on and on. As a result, I have always thought that that is what women have wanted – freedom, equality, and empowerment. So imagine my shock when I start reading about Anastasia Steele and her beaver tamer Christian Grey.
I’m a father of two daughters. I have made it a point to teach them that they have the ability and the right to go out into the world and become anything they want to be as long as they are willing to work hard for it. I hold up women like Condi Rice, Jenny Finch, and Mia Hamm as examples of women who achieved on their own. Women of strength and ability and power. I want my girls to grow up knowing that anything they want out of life they can get for themselves. They don’t need a man to get it for them; they are in control. Now let me tell you about Ana and Christian.
Look, I’m not offended by the sex and the bondage and the S & M stuff. What people do in the bedroom is their business. As long as everyone involved is a willing participant, have at it. We’re sexual creatures, and we’re creative, if bondage is what gets you going, grab the leash and have fun. You see, it’s not how Mr. Grey treats Ana in the bedroom that bothers me; it’s how he treats her outside the bedroom that goes against everything I believe to be right when it comes to how a man should treat a woman.
First off, he’s rich. Very rich. My thought is that if he were a plumber instead of a wealthy entrepreneur, a good percentage of those 70 million women would consider him more of an asshole than a sexy bondage master. Here we go with that same Cinderella bullshit I try to teach my daughters is wrong. If Cinderella had punched each of those wicked stepsisters in the nose and told the old lady that if she didn’t watch her step, she was next, she could’ve hired herself out to other people and washed their floors for money until she had enough to buy her own little cottage and maybe go to school. While at school she’d learn about, and later rally against, the tyranny of the Prince and his family and perhaps lead a revolution that ends with her being elected the first President of that village. But no, here we are in the 21st century with a poor little clerk and her knight in shining armor coming to sweep her off her feet (which he literally does by way of a helicopter) to his castle where he insists she become ‘his’.
At every point where Ana resists, the spoiled rich asshole takes a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ stance which, had I been the author would’ve resulted in Ana calling him a bitch and leaving him for a real man. But she doesn’t because she is so infatuated with this man who lays down all the rules of the relationship, stalks her as a means to ‘protect’ her (because an adult woman can’t take care of herself), and insists that if she want to remain in his luxurious realm of awesomeness, this virgin must obey his sex-rules which just happen to include chaining her to the ceiling and making her submit to him, that she tentatively goes along with him one leery step at a time.
I’ll admit two things at this point. First, the passage describing her giving him a bj in the bathtub was very nicely written. I’ve highlighted that passage and intend on reading it over and over again on nights when my wife has gone to bed early and there’s nothing on TV but reruns of Maury. Second, I didn’t finish reading the book. I had to stop. Even when everyone in the book is a bad guy, I have to like the characters somehow, at least just one of them. In Fifty Shades of Grey, I couldn’t. He needs to have his ass handed to him by a man. (I want to read a sequel where Ana’s big brother returns from fighting in Afghanistan and beats the living shit out of this spoiled little pretty boy who likes to boss his sister around.) And Ana… she’s the opposite of everything I’ve been attracted to, everything I’ve been taught, and everything I’ve tried to impart to my daughters.
I did Google to see how it ends. I don’t see any resolution to the problems I have with it. I hate to put the onus on her, but it is her fault. I hate him, but I blame her. He’s an asshole, he’s been an asshole, chances are, he’ll always be an asshole, but it’s her decision to put up with it, and that’s where I lose all respect for her. He’s a bully, and she’s a willing victim, and that happens long before any whips and chains are introduced.
If that’s what 70 million women worldwide want in a man, then I consider myself that much luckier to have had the fortune and pleasure of meeting the few women I dated and I appreciate my wife that much more. I’ll spend the next 8-10 years preparing my daughters to find this antiquated little fairy tale laughable when they eventually read the book or see the movie. If they sit down and make fun of it, I’ll know I’ve done my job. If either of them come home with a guy like Christian Grey, call the lawyers, I’m gonna need one.