Fifty Shades of Grey? No, thanks
23 Monday Jul 2012
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“Even black and white are just extreme shades of gray.” This was typically my final comment in the ongoing debate I had several times with my sister regarding the existence of absolutes in life. She was and is of the opinion that life is to be lived within a clearly defined set of moral absolutes. I attempted (and utterly failed) to convince her that almost every application of any moral absolute actually comes down to a matter of perspective. That in fact most, if not all of life, is filled with an infinite number of shades of gray.
Freeze frame, fast forward a couple of decades to the publication this year of the “Fifty Shades Trilogy.” One would think based on the title alone that this series would appeal to me. I love to read. I read many book reviews, browse through bookstores and listen to the recommendations of friends when considering what books to choose. Since the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series is sitting on top of many best seller lists, there are numerous reviews being published for it, plus tons of media attention. It’s also generating many heated discussions. Some who’ve read the books describe them as harmless “summer beach read” entertainment. Some who’ve read the books, and many who haven’t, are sure the books are a sign of the death of morality in our culture.
After reading reviews of the series (like these from The Guardian, Huffington Post and the New York Times), and looking through several online discussions about the books (like these from Christianity Today, Pure Freedom and Jenny Rae Armstrong’s blog), I’ve decided I won’t be reading these books. There are many reasons for this. For example the bondage/dominance/sadism/masochism (BDSM) scenes of interaction between the two characters are not something I want replaying in my mind’s eye, and I believe could contribute to numbing my sensitivity to the very real circumstance of physical and sexual abuse against women that is prevalent worldwide. Also I have heard some women say that the books are really just pornography for women and, since men have used pornography throughout history, women are merely expressing their equality by embracing their own kind of “mommy porn.” Pornography has a hugely damaging affect on the lives of men and women and I’m not interested in spreading its acceptance in any format. (Setting up unrealizable expectations, reducing women from their place as valued humans to objects to be possessed, and creating barriers to true intimacy are just a start of the problems unleashed by porn usage.) However, my primary reason for rejecting this series is similar to why I reject Debi Pearl’s books and others like them which are popular among some Christian fundamentalists. These books put forward variations on the idea that a woman’s value proceeds from the supposed redeeming power of her willing submission to a man’s authority, specifically her husband’s. The story arc of Fifty Shades depicts a man’s eventual redemption as the result of the willing submission of a woman who enters into a BDSM relationship with him.
Regardless of the source of this idea, either fundamentalist patriarchalism or fan lit eroticism (the Fifty Shades of Grey series started life online as slash/fic in the Twilight genre, with Edward and Bella as the protagonists), the pictures it paints provide such pale imitations of what the true value of women looks like. To understand how God sees women, I look at how Jesus interacted with women. As a rabbi in first century Palestine, he spent a previously unheard of amount of time talking with women, ministering to women, treating women as valued members of his group of followers. He saw women as valuable in and of themselves, not in how they related to the men in their lives. The idea of a woman’s value being in her submission to male authority is so much less than what God intended for women, and therefore less than what I’m willing to accept. Being valued for myself….that’s a moral absolute I can embrace, no shades of gray required.