How 50 Shades of Grey Ended My Romance With Romance

by: J.C. Johnson

Note:  This post contains spoilers for the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James

I must make a confession.  I love trashy romance novels.

Don’t get me wrong, I like good books too. But, here’s the deal- sometimes you want to eat Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Blood Orange Coulis and Candied Ginger. Other times, you want to eat an entire row of marshmallow Peeps. This is the story of the rise and fall of my affair with the sugary, fluffy goodness of trashy romance novels.

In my tweens I became hooked on “historical” fiction via a princess novel about Mary Tudor, which I procured though a Scholastic Book Club order (in retrospect, this was my gateway book). I couldn’t get enough of the stories of the young women in these books. They were wealthy and glamorous, but ill-fated for being born into history’s most inconvenient time to have a vagina. One day, I was browsing the book section of the grocery store while my mother shopped and I spied a book titled The Marine and the Princess. Surely, modern day was a more carefree and fulfilling time to be a princess, I thought! My hesitation about the book’s racy cover art inspired me to slip the book, cover down, onto the checkout belt while my mother fished her debit card out of her wallet. Ladies and gentlemen, I was in business.

Why my mother allowed this I will never know, but shortly after turning the last page of the Marine and the Princesses’ happily ever after story, I joined a mail-order book club that sent me one Harlequin Romance novel a month. Soon, my bookshelf was filling up with glossy paperbacks complete with Fabio-types on the cover and titles like The Billionaire’s Mistress and The Italian’s Cinderella Bride. On that bookshelf in my childhood bedroom, the chronicle of my sex education continues to live out its trashy tenure. The collection is intact (except for when my grandma comes to visit and a few mysteriously go missing), and the racy parts remain dog-eared.

I read romance novels because I love “love” and I love instant gratification. Sure, I could read Pride and Prejudice and meander about the English countryside for weeks until I reach a hard-won, lukewarm climax, and sometimes I do. But sometimes I want a quick and dirty bodice ripper with princesses and billionaires and sexual tension and a consequence-free happily ever after, okay?

I am very annoyed to report that the Fifty Shades Trilogy, current darling of the romance/erotica novel world, has me questioning all of this.

Heralded as “mommy porn” because of its appeal to the 30+ female crowd, the trilogy promises everything one could possibly desire in a romance novel; an emotionally guarded billionaire, an awkward and naïve (but beautiful, duh) young woman, a male best friend who suffers from her unrequited love, romance, danger, deep-seated psychological issues, and naturally no erotica novel is complete without a healthy dose of sexual intercourse of the BDSM variety!

Born of Twilight series fan fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James begins with Anastasia Steele, a gawky 21 year-old, stumbling into the office of 27 year-old, powerful enterprise tycoon Christian Grey. Christian, by virtue of his money, charm, and good looks, could sleep with anyone he damn well pleased, but is intrigued by Miss Steele and basically stalks her until agrees to go on a date with him. Incredibly long story short, Christian is involved in the world of BDSM and identifies as a dominant seeking a submissive for regular sexual contact. Ana falls for him and agrees, but as it turns out is a virgin and knows she will be a terrible submissive. He divests her of her virginity in a fairly “vanilla” fashion, allowing her to sleep in his bed afterwards, breaking several of his key relationship rules. Trying to turn her into a model submissive, he rewards and punishes her regularly for her behavior in a way that is barely consensual. Sex is both a reward and a punishment, and she is often too intimidated to say no.

Much to Christian’s chagrin, he begins to fall for Ana. This is complicated by the fact that Christian has never been in a relationship without a contract that explicitly demands that his partner submit entirely to his will. Due to his history of childhood abuse, he hates to be touched (thus why he likes to tie women up) and has the emotional capacity of a thirteen year old. Because he is “concerned” for her “safety” he has her followed constantly by his staff. His penchant for control compels him to dictate her choice of outfits, when she is allowed to see her friends and when/what she eats. He even buys the company that she works for. She comes to appreciate the BDSM lifestyle, but fears its consequences. When she “disobeys” he “punishes” her in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, spanking, orgasm denial and submission via a variety of BDSM implements in his “playroom.”

The book is told from Ana’s perspective; so, readers experience her transformation from an intelligent, independent, British-literature-obsessed college graduate into an unrecognizable puddle at Christian Grey’s feet. By the end of the series, the reader may contend that Christian Grey has grown from his experiences, but only at great cost to the oblivious Anastasia Steele.

My concerns about this book stem from the positive attention that Christian Grey is receiving from readers. Tweeters, Facebook friends, and radio callers alike, agree on the inherent sexiness of the character in question. Sure, there is sex on every third page or so, but Christian Grey is a bad nut, and that is not sexy. Stalker control freaks are not sexy. Men who are twenty-seven going on thirteen are not sexy. Sex with a sex-addicted partner that occasionally errs on the side of rape is definitely not sexy.

Also, much of the story is just outrageous. Christian frequently orders Ana to stop biting her lip because of the “effect” is has on him (as if he will spontaneously get off every time she does it). Ana, who was a virgin when they met, has at least sixty orgasms in half as many days. Not even Cosmo would pretend that was real. No matter how upset Ana becomes, one smoldering look can make her pant for his touch. Christian’s vocabulary is that of a 18th century aristocrat. Later in the series, Ana plays it totally cool and accepts his proposal of marriage after two months of “dating” and approves plans for a palatial mansion on the Puget Sound well before their four month anniversary. All the while, he is physically and emotionally terrorizing her and disguising it as the trappings of a loving relationship.

Most grievously, the series ends with the good-old happily-ever-after ending without any further discussion of the trauma that was potentially caused by the tumultuous beginning of their relationship. Anastasia trades her cherished independence for the “love” of a jealous, controlling man, and she never looks back.

This kind of nonsense is not good for fourteen year olds like me who were learning the ways of the world by reading romance novels under the covers late into the night, and it is not good for the 30+ set who are finding themselves wishing their partner that cared about them as much as Christian Grey “cares about” Ana.

We deserve to be in a relationship with more substance than 50% hot sex, 50% arguing. We deserve better than the abusive, control-obsessed, emotionally troubled billionaire! We do!

We deserve someone who lets us be us, who will sleep with us when we want to, who will not pressure us when we don’t want to, and who will respect the space and time we need with ourselves. Most importantly we need partners who will enter into a mutually beneficial and loving relationship with us while we are on the path to becoming who we are. Women melting at the feet of rugged cowboys, Greek oil tycoons, and most importantly assholes like Christian Grey in the romance novels are not helping us believe that. Most are poorly written and they all end their stories with a conclusive happily-ever-after. Smart readers like us know that there is more to it than that.

So with that, I would like to announce that the Fifty Shades trilogy, while a riveting read (no really, I’m embarrassed by how riveted I was), has convinced me that romance novels are ruining our lives. Christian Grey, I will miss you, but you are a jerk and you are bad for my psyche. There may be relapse, but I’m going to try to quit romance novels like the bad habit they are. With a world full of delicious books at my fingertips (thank you technology), I see no sense in consuming books with less nutritional value than a marshmallow.

J.C. Johnson is a graduate of DePaul University with a B.A. in Communication Studies. She found that this degree left her highly qualified to find work as a nanny or a receptionist. Choosing the former, she is a nanny-by-day, Jill-of-all-trades by night. Jillian has been working on being an ally to the LGBTQ community ever since her best friend came out to her in the 9th grade. In the near-ish future, she would like to pursue an advanced degree in Social Work and dreams of working in an agency that supports pregnant teenagers.

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26 responses to “How 50 Shades of Grey Ended My Romance With Romance

  1. Here here!

    After I let my female office coworkers convince to join their smut book club, I began to compare everything in my once silver screen past to these books. I learned that I have a great life and the crap in the those books never happen in real life. Crazy guys stay crazy and life goes on while we move out. They are like a drug, a one night stand or a quick shopping spree to the mall. Great for a moment, months of regret later.

    go on with your badself hun

  2. I’m a little surprised the kink community isn’t closing ranks around the iffy consent of this series… I really wish the current media darling representative of alternative sexuality wasn’t based so entirely on the idea that it’s heroine doesn’t reeeallly want this, but she just Loves! Him! So! Much! I hope the theoretical naive readers who are getting their worlds rocked by this soon find their way to Secretary, which most reviewers seem eager to compare 50 Shades to. In Secretary, we’ve got a lady who gets stronger by embracing her submissive identity. I want more stories that can acknowledge that just because you wanna get tied up and spanked in the bedroom/basement, doesn’t mean you give up your agency in the rest of your life.

  3. I read some romance novels as a young teen. Most of the time I recall being disgusted by the behavior of the women involved. It seems like none of the women in romance have backbones. They don’t know their own minds. They were bi-polar, or at the very least sooo incredibly moody that their swift change in emotional states could give a person whiplash. They were nobody until a man notices them and claims them. I wanted to scream at all of these women. Almost consent is NOT consent. Saying no repeatedly while the man keeps on is NOT consent, and then giving in under his relentless pressure is NOT consent. Mind you, I realized all of this as a kid, and I had never had a relationship at this oint, and didn’t really even know what a feminist was. But I think I was a feminist even then! I’ve read a few romance novels since ever few years or so, and I have yet to see any difference in the way women are portrayed.

    Now, as an adult, I’ve joined a writing group. One of our members writes paranormal romance. I’ve asked her if there is such a thing as feminist romance novels, and she says there is, but I’m dubious. Anybody know of any titles where the women kick ass, are independent, know their own mind, aren’t pseudo-raped, don’t need a man to complete them, have completely healthy self-esteems, etc. Or is that a wasted breath sort of question?

    One of the things I’ve been told is that the reason so many romance novels keep on the negative gender role crap is because the romance is the fantasy, and the everyday woman projects herself into the role of the lead character. If that’s the case, our world is seriously hurting when it comes to women. That many women have poor self-esteems and feel that they are nothing without the love of a “good man”? That many women are childish, think rape is okay, are emotional to the point of being caricatures, and on and on? Romance novels are huge sellers for book companies, and if so many women are buying into that crap, it is really really sad.

  4. Thank you for this, I was starting to think I was the only one who didn’t enjoy it & that maybe I was just too uptight & analytical to get turned on by this book. But that sounds like self doubting Ana & I know I’m awesome.

  5. Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I did no research on the book before I began to read it, as soon as I reached the “playroom” the book took a rather sour turn I continued to the end of the chapter but don’t think I’ll be returning to it.

  6. Brilliant read these books have ruined our sex life I wanted her to make love and have sex with me because she wanted to. And not because Mr Grey had turned her on if that makes sense what makes it worse is he really he is a nasty piece of work

  7. Great post! I haven’t read the books but what I have heard of them suggests that I would feel nauseated more than turned on. I got a cold chill when I read your review because I had a [controlling, emotionally immature] boyfriend straight out of college who told me not to bite my lip because of its effect on him. I also was not allowed to walk sexy, talk sexy, or decide what I would eat. It ended quickly with him, but it was reeeaaallllyyy effed up until it did. This sort of crapola does not need to be glamorized. It is not hot. It is gross.

  8. This was wonderfully written and something I wanted to hear but couldn’t myself find the words to compose. I just graduated from the School of Social Service Administration, Jillian, and I think the program may align well with the goals as outlined in your short bio. Contact me if you want more info; I’d love to see an insightful, well-spoken person like you in the field of social work.

  9. I see no sense in consuming books with less nutritional value than a marshmallow.
    Couldn’t have put it better myself….BRAVO!!!!

  10. Pingback: 50 Shades Of Grey – And Its Effect On Sales of Sex Toys | Adult Sex Toys City·

  11. Pingback: 50 Shades Of Grey From Around The Web | Adult Sex Toys City·

  12. don’t wish to upset anybody here but has the thought occured to any of you that most women do have enough brain cells to realize that it is just FICTION

  13. I usually never leave comments, but I just have to say… This is one of the funniest and smartest blogs I have read in a LONG time. Who needs 50 Shades of Grey when we have articles like this! Please keep writing. Forever. 😀

  14. I believe all women have brains and yes we intellectually realize that it is fiction…however I think our hearts start to believe that love overcomes all andthat the bad boys will turn into good men When we meet someone our heart then leads our decisions as our brain is quiet in the background. This book just leads to false ideas about love.

  15. It is just a book! I don’t recall any writings on or about this series that states it being true. My question is why are people upset about this type of book? Don’t read a sexual book with bondage in it if it is going to upset you. I don’ t know of too many people who wasn’t aware of what the book was about before they picked it up. It is totally understandable if you don’t like the subject matter but for a lot of people it is fun to lose oneself in fantasy for a little time. What makes one persons fantasy any better than the rest…personal preferences! Will it make me love my husband any less because of what someone does in a book…wow…if it did then the problem isn’t the book or subject matters fault.

  16. Lori, I agree, I have been reading this series and my husband has been asking me about the book. Then, on the news, we heard a report that a women is blaming the book series for ruining her marriage, so I looked that up. All of the posts women have put up about their ruined marriage has nothing to do with the book “We never talk” “everytime I have tried to talk in the last 25 years, my husband just says he wants a divorce” “we rarely have sex, my husband’s idea of forplay is grabbing my boobs”. Well, I think all of that was happening before the books were even written, so I don’t think they should blame the book, as their marriage has already been in termoil. I think that the small part of the population of people who read these books who now think they are in dead-end marriages doesn’t substantiate all of these blogs about how the books are dangerous. I am in an ok marriage, (we are currently struggling through the teenage years – 4 of them in the house) but we have a strong base. My reading these books will not change that. And I know that dealing with the issues of the stress of life and kids and working and laundry and dinner have made me less attractive to my husband because I’m in a bitchy mood alot of the time. I know that this stage in our marriage is temporary, as there was a time in the beginning when we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. That is what makes our marriage strong enough to endure this rough part of our relationship and my reading of these books. I think women need to take a look at their role in their ruined marriage as well as their husbands responses. If your bedroom is dead, it is your job, as well as your husbands to liven it up. I have not been with many men who would deadpan at a sexy nighty or an aggressive woman in bed. It is in your hands just as well as his to make your sex life better.

  17. As soon as my wife began reading this book she changed. She reverted to her old reckless self and she started drinking again and she got back together with her sex crazed cheating ex husband. She threw me out and it destroyed me. We had our problems and the books were merely a catalyst, but we could have made it work. That book should never have been written.

  18. “We deserve someone who lets us be us, who will sleep with us when we want to, who will not pressure us when we don’t want to…”

    No, honestly you don’t. You don’t deserve living vibrators whose sex life is entirely controlled by YOUR whims.
    A relationship is about two people. That includes the sexual part. Which means SOMETIMES his needs come first, and sometimes YOURS do. It’s not all about you, and if you continuously (I don’t mean now and then) refuse a man don’t be upset if he dumps your ass posthaste. He wouldn’t want to TALK to you about it after all… that would be “pressuring” you.

  19. You may deserve better but you want no less.

    The risk women run with these books becoming so widespread is that beta men are going to wake up and realize that the only thing they have to do to be in control… is take control.

    I anticipate safeword contracts becoming normal in dating as betas realise they only need women to put down the threat of rape and suddenly feminism is erased entirely.

  20. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website
    yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz respond as I’m looking to create
    my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from.

    cheers

  21. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied
    on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your
    intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

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