E L James’s book, “50 Shades Of Grey” is making waves. The flood of interest is heightened by the film adaptation of the novel. I haven’t read “50 Shades”, something I have in common with Kristen Lamb, the author of a recent post in which she voices disquiet regarding the novel’s impact on both women and men, (https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/is-romance-devolving-50-shades-vs-no-one-puts-baby-in-a-corner/). Kristen’s perspective is that the portrayal of the relationship between Anna and Grey leads to the perception that abusive relationships in which men dominate women are acceptable and this can cause readers (particularly young impressionable ones) to adopt this view. Although Grey changes towards the end of the novel, this does not make everything OK.
Non consensual sex is rape, which is a horrendous crime as it vilates the very soul of the victim. Those who abuse others (whether the abuse is perpetrated against women or men) should be subject to the full might of the criminal justice system. I can understand why anyone who has suffered in an abusive relationship would avoid this novel. I do, however have the following observations.
Books don’t cause people to act in particular ways, individuals make their own choices and are responsible for them. A man who respects women is not going to read “50 Shades” and suddenly assume that it is acceptable to behave as Grey does in the novel. For a person to behave in an abusive manner they must possess a propensity to do so in the first place.
But what of the tipping point argument? Can’t a person with a propensity for a particular kind of behaviour be “tipped over the edge” by reading something he or she believes validates that behaviour? Possibly, however it is a convenient excuse for a person to blame someone (or something) other than themselves for their behaviour rather than taking personal responsibility for their own actions. Just possibly a person with an unhealthy interest in young girls might read Nabakov’s Lolita and perceive it as validating his sick obsession. However I have never heard of such a case and the possibility of such a thing happening seems remote in the extreme.
Ironically the controversy surrounding “50 Shades” may help to promote sales of both the book and film. People who might otherwise have not considered reading the novel or going to see the film may, wishing to ascertain what all the fuss is about go out and read the book or view the movie. There is, in this case some truth in the old saying that “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. The publisher’s must be rubbing their hands with glee as column inch after column inch is devoted to the novel and yes, I know I am, myself contributing to those inches!