Thursday, 2 August 2012

Books Read in July

July was a pretty good month for me in terms of reading, mostly due to the fact I was on holidays for the most part. 
Surprisingly, a lot of the books I read were fairly good, with quite a handful becoming my favourites--for example, the books by Ilona Andrews and Catherynne M. Valente. Sadly, I also read Fifty Shades of Grey, which, as you can probably tell from my last post, I did not enjoy at all.

* indicates a favourite
~ indicates a graphic novel/manga

1. Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1) - Ilona Andrews *
2. Public Scrutiny (Ultimate Spiderman, #5) - Brian Michael Bendis ~
3. Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams - Catherynne M. Valente *
4. Rampant (Killer Unicorns, #1) - Diana Peterfreund
4. Like Mandarin - Kirsten Hubbard
5. Venom (Ultimate Spiderman, #6) - Brian Michael Bendis ~
6. Morning Glories, vol 2. - Nick Spenser ~*
7. Magic Burns (Kate Daniels, #2) - Ilona Andrews *
8. Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels, #3) - Ilona Andrews *
9. The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter
10. The Purity Myth - Jessica Valenti
11. Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey, #1) - E.L. James
12. Puberty Blues - Kathy Lette (reread)
13. Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente *
14. Go Ask Alice - Anonymous
15. The Springsweet (The Vespertine, #2) - Saundra Mitchell
16. Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter, #1) - Jeff Lindsay
17. The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan
18. Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman
19. Serpent's Kiss (The Beauchamp Family, #2) - Melissa de la Cruz
20.  Cunt: A Declaration of Independence - Inga Muscio
21. The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #6) - Lemony Snicket
22. Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels, #4) - Ilona Andrews *

Fifty Shades of Feminism

As a feminist and a book-lover, it should come as no surprise that I read this book. Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotic bestselling novel that started life out on, is one of those books that starts trends. Just like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games.

But what makes it so popular? After all, there are thousands of books that are written far better, have more enticing sex scenes, and have believable characters. Honestly, this whole craze is a conundrum.

This isn’t a review, so much as a commentary on the popularity of 50 Shades, and how it appropriates misogyny, abusive relationships, and rape. Basically, a feminist rant about all the bad things about the book. You have been warned.

So, I guess I’ll just jump right into it:

Christian Grey is an abusive, manipulating rapist.

There is no way around it. That’s what it is.

Anastasia Steel is a twenty-year-old woman, about to graduate from college, when she meets the apparently sexy Christian Grey. She does the typical high-school do-I-like-him? Does-he-like-me? spiel, and they end up together. Whatever.

Let’s talk about how this oh-so romantic relationship is abusive, shall we?

Right from the get-go, Christian is controlling of Ana, from what she wears, what she eats, to whether she shaves or waxes any part of her body. When they go out to a restaurant, this is what happens:
"Two glasses of the Pinot Grigio," Christian says with a voice of authority. I purse my lips, exasperated.
"What?" he snaps.
"I wanted a Diet Coke," I whisper.
His gray eyes narrow and he shakes his head. "The Pinot Grigio here is a decent wine. It will go well with the meal, whatever we get," he says patiently. -pg 152

 Okay, so he doesn't let her choose her own drink, and completely dismisses her when she speaks up. There are many other instances of him having total control of her actions. She is never her own person, and she proves that she's very vulnerable to being manipulated, as we see from the very first page, when her best friend makes her interview Mr Grey, even though Ana doesn't want to.
When Christian finds out that she wants to go to Georgia to visit her mother, he even tries to guilt trip her into not going. She wants to see her own mother! Seriously.

Christian knows that Ana is insecure, and he uses that insecurity to his advantage, much in the way most abusers do. He manipulates Ana into doing what she wants by withholding emotional affection from her, which he knows is what she really wants. It is in this way that he gets her to agree to sign the contract, and to try out the kinky stuff that she's expressed multiple times that she's not comfortable with.
The amount of times that Ana has begged Christian not to be angry with her is appalling, over the tiniest things, from having a male friend, driving her car, and wanting to see her own mother. She is often terrified of him leaving her because of something she's done--usually something insignificant like one of the things I've listed.

On page 476, she tells the reader:
"I become aware that once again the only empty seat is beside me. I shake my head as the thought crosses my mind that Christian might have purchased the adjacent seat so that I couldn't talk to anyone. I dismiss the idea as ridiculous--no one could be that controlling, that jealous, surely."
How is that okay? How is that attractive? This level of jealousy and control is dangerous. Women have ended up beaten unconscious, or worse, dead, because of this kind of manipulation. He even becomes frighteningly jealous of all the males that Ana interacts with, even going so far as to blaming her and making her feel guilty if they call her.

And, on page 498:
"If you'll say no, you'll say no. I'll have to find other ways to persuade you."
Wait, what? Persuading someone to have sex with you, when you know they don't want to, is, to put it simply, rape. Right here, in this quote, Christian Grey is telling Ana that, sure, she doesn't have to have sex with him, but he'll make her want it anyway.

This brings me to the idea that he is a rapist. In the same scene, he tells Ana:
"No one's ever said no to me before. And it's so--hot....I'm mad and aroused because you closed your legs to me... I want you, and I want you now. And if you're not going to let me spank you--which you deserve--I'm going to fuck you on the couch this minute, quickly, for my pleasure, not yours" - pg 348

This right here, ladies and gentlemen, is rape.  And this isn't something that women should be thinking is okay. I've seen so many women whine and moan about how their men weren't more like Christian Grey, and all I can think is, so, you want your man to treat you like an object, to use your body disrespectfully against your will?
Look, I'll let you in on a personal tidbit: I was raped. And let me tell you, it was hardly as erotic as this book makes it out to be. Being raped is the most shaming, traumatising thing I've been through. It has still left me broken and unable to fully put myself into my relationships with men. Every man I've ever come in contact with, from my partner, my father, male friends, or just random men sitting a few feet away from me on the train minding their own business, they all scare me shitless, and I worry that at some point, they will rape me.

That this book sexualises rape disgusts me. That it has taught women to be passive, to have their sex lives dictated by their partners, makes me feel sick to my very stomach. Sure, it's made women far more sexual in their lives, and made them willing to try out BDSM, and other forms of pleasure, but at what cost? When women are saying that they wish their man acted more like this rapist, something is definitely wrong.

Christian Grey, unsurprisingly, does more rapey things.
When he and Ana have sex for the first time, Ana is worried that he won't fit inside her because of his erection. He has to actually explain to her that her vagina expands to accommodate his erection. She's so sexually unaware and immature, that she can't properly give consent. This is why minors can't have sex: because most of the time, they don't know what it is, what happens, and what sort of consequences may arise out of it.

The scariest thing is, Ana, at some point, does realise that she's stuck in an abusive relationship. On page 354, she tells the reader:
"Because I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy. Because I can't touch you, because I'm too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse--beat me?"
It's not even subtle. She's aware that she's being physically and emotionally abused. She's aware that this relationship is bad for her, and she actively fears Christian. At this point of the book, I honestly started crying, because this is a common thought that runs through the heads of women stuck in abusive relationships. They are aware that something's wrong, but they stay. They stay because they're so dependent on the abuser--as Ana seems to be--, or they stay because they fear what will happen if they do leave. This was the breaking point for me, and I can't understand how other women can't see this.

On the back of the book, it says that this book is liberating. No, it isn't. It is slowly breaking down all the progress that us women have tried so hard to achieve. That this book is such a best-seller, and is influencing women's sex lives in such a negative way (and I don't mean with the BDSM, which is actually quite tame, to be honest...), makes me worried.