While Fifty Shades Of Grey is definitely beloved by many and the erotic scenes within serve as a little escapism for some of its readers, the series has also been criticized for glorifying and promoting abusive BDSM relationships. The debut of the new Fifty Shades Of Grey book had many wondering if hearing things from Christian's side would change the way that readers perceived the relationship dynamic. It didn't seem like things could get any worse: studies have shown that the Fifty Shades series has had a negative effect on young women 18-24 who have read the books; finding that they're more likely to be in an abusive relationship, date a partner with stalker tendencies, and go on a diet/develop disordered eating.
Would knowing more of Christian's backstory or getting a different perspective on the interactions between him and Ana change anything? E.L. James definitely tried to explain away Christian's behaviors, but it didn't really fly with me. While people who grow up without models of healthy relationships or who have had past trauma, among other things, may not always have a perfect barometer for what good communication or respectful relationships look like; those things also aren't an excuse to act in an abusive manner towards a partner.
James, through Grey's voice, definitely tries to create sympathy for the character and change the reader's mind about him being a "monster." Seeing someone trying to rationalize abusive behavior is off-putting and stigmatizes healthy BDSM practices, making me feel like this attempt to soften Grey's image is distasteful and deceptive.
Here's what you'll see more of in Grey — though be wary of it flipping your POV about who Christian really is and what motivates him:
Christian's Insecurities Are Emphasized
Throughout the book we see Grey beat himself up for doing something that he perceives to have screwed things up with Ana, time and time again. He obviously has little self-esteem or confidence when it comes to dealing with women and is always second-guessing his actions. He freaks out every single time Ana teases him in a good-natured manner. Grey's outer assuredness is not always the foil to Ana's seemingly scattered self — he acts confident, but second guesses everything. His controlling behaviors seem to come out of a need to manipulate his partner so that he has the upper-hand.
It's OK to be insecure or unsure of yourself, but having low self-esteem doesn't or shouldn't require being in control of another person to feel okay about who you are.
Christian's Jealousy Is Out of Control
Christian is jealous to the point of near-physical rage whenever anyone, including his own brother, touches or talks to Anastasia. I get the feeling that the readers are supposed to see this as endearing — how could anyone not want rich, caring, giving, Christian? It's so obvious that he would be Ana's choice. It's so sweet that he gets jealous, it means he really likes her! It's normal to be jealous sometimes, sure, but Christian lets the jealousy consume him and make him feel violent urges and blames it on being a "primal" response. Essentially saying that he can't control himself and his emotions, which sounds dangerous and not noble.
Extreme jealousy is actually an early sign that a partner may become abusive — and possessiveness isn't endearing, it's a sign of unhealthy control.
Christian Compromises for Anastasia
Grey makes a huge deal about how much it takes for Christian to compromise and have "vanilla" sex with Anastasia as a way of keeping her close and maintaining intimacy with her. Sure, compromise is a part of every relationship and we all have to do things that aren't our favorite, but we should only do things and participate in activities where we're willing participants: not use our compromise as a bargaining chip. It's very clear that Christian views Anastasia as a deal, a transaction when she is looking for a relationship.
Christian giving her what she wants, not because he genuinely wants to, but because he thinks it will keep her around so that he can get what he wants isn't valiant — it's selfish.
Christian Seems Self-Aware
Within the first few chapters, James makes sure to have Grey note that he knows he has a "dark, twisted soul" and is "questioning his motives" for his interest in Anastasia. He "comes to her rescue" when she's drunk at a bar, but admits that he knows his only motives are selfish ones. Self-awareness and reflecting on your actions and motives is all well and good, but actually means squat if you don't change the way you behave because of it. And Christian certainly doesn't.
Christian Makes a Big Deal Every Time He Acts Kindly — Even if It's Just For Show
Every time Grey does something that shows care for Anastasia it seems like we're supposed to applaud. In reality, being kind and considerate are just sort of part of the deal when it comes to human relationships. Christian feels concerned that Ana isn't safe when she's intoxicated at a bar, so he uses illegal cell phone tracking to find her and bring her back to his hotel. Yet, we're expected to see this as benevolent when it's really crossing boundaries. He's patient with her when negotiating sex to "show her [he's] capable of being compassionate" to "pursuade" her to do what he wants. He says his gentle approach is "novel".
If you expect a cookie or reward of some sort whenever you do a nice thing, you're not an actual good person.
So, what have we learned?
Despite James' finest attempts, Grey didn't redeem Christian Grey for me. While I did learning more about his abusive past and the obvious effects that trauma still has on him and the way he relates to people, especially regarding sex, the bottom line is that his abusive behaviors are beyond excuse or rationalization. He has a lot of... self-work to do. Let's just start there.
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