Fifty Shades of Grey SpankNotes: The Bad Books, Good Times Reading Companion

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Can you agree to give up your right to disagree? But the terms are actually neither as transgressive nor as alien as they sound, particularly if you live in a culture steeped in Christian marriage traditions. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet," the Bible reads. Fifty Shades makes this parallel explicit: At one point, staring at the word "obey" in the contract, Ana realizes it also shows up in the bride's traditional vow to "love, honor, and obey," and expunges that word from their vows when she and Christian marry.

But here's the surprising thing: What few cracks appear in these parallels between bride and submissive make the BDSM contract look like the better deal. In contrast to God's punitive sentence, the pain the submissive experiences is expressly for her pleasure. The Safeword proviso means that she has complete liberty to stop what's happening at any time, no questions asked.

Unlike marriage, the term is limited to three months, and the submissive who actually, as Christian explains, has "all the power" is free to end the contractual relationship at any time. In short, the BDSM contract explicitly codifies, in a pleasingly shocking way, what much of the marriage contract hedges around but also — implicitly — expects. It's odd precisely because it seems to ask the impossible. Much in the way marriage does. In The Sexual Contract , political theorist Carole Pateman defines a contract as "an agreement between two equal parties who negotiate until they arrive at terms that are to their mutual advantage.

If marriage were a proper contract, women would have to be brought into civil life on exactly the same footing as their husbands. Pateman points out this didn't stop marriage "contracts" from happening anyway, or being called contracts, even when they were merely ceremonies: Brides were provisionally given just enough legal standing to consent to an arrangement that would once again subordinate them.

If you got married in the progressive era, you're perfectly conversant in the strange contortions we resort to when trying to reconcile contemporary expectations of equality in marriage with the hierarchical premise of the ancient institution.

What does Tess of the D’Urbervilles Have in Common with Fifty Shades? Abuse. | Jane Eyre's Legacy

Take the question of the name change. Marriage is when two people become one, but maybe a little more him than her, and of course we all understand this is just a pretty fiction, but yes, you probably should actually change your name. It's just symbolic. Well, and literal. But you keep your job and your identity!

Mark Reads 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Chapter 1

Except for your name. If you married and happened to have feminist leanings, you likely occupy a world where there's simply no universally acceptable answer to the question of the name change. Half the world will judge you because you didn't, the other half because you did. Fifty Shades actually explores this: When Ana gets married, she wants to keep her maiden name at work.

Christian insists she change it, and so she does. But because she is proud, a college graduate, a professional woman, she has to rationalize the coercive dynamic that led to this erasure of her identity into something she actually wanted and chose. Otherwise, it would be pretty horrible. I'm not interested in pronouncing on the naming question; what I'm trying to describe is a tortured space in which some women end up lying about their own desires in order to sanitize a story that would otherwise look oppressive or even abusive.

You must say you want it in order not to be judged for accepting it.

This is not peculiar to women, by the way. It's a form of social desirability bias , a tendency by which people, rather than answer questions honestly, give the response they think looks best. There are two components to this tendency: One is impression management you want people to think well of you.

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But the other, more pernicious one is self-deception: This is the story that you need to be true in order to hang onto your sense of yourself. Only an idiot would consent to be oppressed, therefore I must not be. Ana reasons that she wants to make Christian happy, and Christian wants her to change her name at work. Therefore, by a kind of transitive property that finesses her own desires on the matter, she must be fine with changing her name at work.

These mental contortions will be familiar to many women who have had to convince themselves they want what's already happening in order to obscure a coercive dynamic.

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West traces the root cause of this change partly to a woman's ambient fear of being abused or raped, and partly to her fear of the self-annihilation that would result if she directly confronted more intimate forms of coercion, especially in contexts that are supposed to be loving. What if your husband has sex with you when you don't want to? Call it "obligation sex" and make it something you've chosen to give.

This is slippery terrain, especially in the context of marriage, an arrangement you entered into willingly. To protect the narrative of the marriage you chose, you pre-emptively change your entire sense of yourself. If this is true it certainly rings true to me , it might have serious consequences for our discussions about consent. Consent is contract theory; it presupposes that both negotiating parties are driven to maximally satisfy their own selfish desires. But if one party's experience of the world has led them to redefine themselves as a "giving self" in order to pre-emptively sanitize dynamics that would otherwise seem abusive, that contract gets wobbly.

One party will not act in the service of her own desires because, realizing that her desires will not be respected, she stops having them. As West puts it:. The motivation of her consensual acts is the satisfaction of another's desires. She consents to serve the needs and satiate the desires of others. Many women fall into this way of being because it's self-protective.

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Our culture admires female self-abnegation, but it judges female victims to be stupid, pathetic, and weak. The result is that many people — particularly, but not exclusively, those with histories of abuse and sexual trauma — will wholly redefine themselves so as to avoid being so labeled and so judged. That redefinition has a cost: It alienates women from their own desires. If you can't want things and remain psychically whole, one solution is to stop wanting. Subordinate your desire to someone else's, channel your desire through theirs.

It seems to me that one problem plaguing our discussions of consent right now is that while some women tacitly operate mostly as "giving selves," and others as "liberal selves," the vast majority are caught somewhere between these two models, trying to make them both true. He finds Tess whether she is in Marlott, Flintcomb-Ash, or Kingsbere, without the help of technology.

Alec also gives Tess gifts and provides gifts for her family. When Alec tells her that he has provided her father with a new horse and the children with toys, Tess is aware that she owes him for his kindness. Neither Tess nor Anastasia truly want the gifts they are being given. In the context of Tess the titular character is upbraiding her mother for not warning her of the dangers that men posed to her virtue. She then claims ignorance as to the implications behind the quote. We can, however, assume that Christian was aware of the meaning behind the quote, since he was the person who chose it.

The meaning being that he Christian not only desires Anastasia physically, but that he desires her at the exclusion of her will. This quote is problematic in two ways. Certainly both definitions of succumb can be applied to Tess Durbeyfield. The most crucial similarity, and the most troubling, is that both Anastasia and Tess are taken advantage of in a moment of vulnerability. In saying that she was asleep prior to the incident, the text Tess seems to give conclusive evidence that Tess was raped by Alec. Anastasia may not have been raped in the visceral sense that Tess was, but her consent was impaired and she was as ignorant as Tess in regards to sexuality.


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Christian plies Anastasia with wine and then has her sign a nondisclosure agreement. When Anastasia tells Christian she is a virgin he responds with anger. None of which is conducive to an enthusiastically consensual encounter. However, this bit of dialogue is before Anastasia has signed the nondisclosure agreement and before she finds out that Christian wants to dominate her in the BDSM sense of the word. Thus, her use of the word debasement, in view of her virginity, is not that she wants to be sexually dominated, but that she simply wants to engage in sexual acts.

She is merely flirting in a very problematic manner. The thought makes me smile. Tess murders Alec at the end of the novel because she despises him and his control over her. Anastasia, unfortunately, does not murder Christian. Tess rebuffs Alec and only succumbs when the livelihood of her family is at stake. Fifty Shades of Grey , whether we like it or not, through its phenomenal sales, shows us how intimidation and stalking have been normalized to such an extent that the extremes are now considered a sexual fantasy.

Oh how are the mighty fallen. Bonomi, Amy E.

Moving Past 50 Shades (With Trepidation)

Hardy, Thomas. London: Vintage, Neill, Edward. Autumn : , Literature Online. Nikandam, Roya. Williams, Melanie. I was wondering if I could reference your article on my blog highlighting the abuse in Fifty Shades? Your post is amazing! I really enjoyed reading a comparison of the two. My blog can be found at 50shadesofabuse. Wow, thanks! You can absolutely reference this post.

After — The Worst Thing to Happen to Books since Fifty Shades of Grey

I think too many people abuse the word abuse. She consented to what goes on in the book. Get a grip. By the end of the first novel Anastasia is clearly upset with the state of their relationship and the way Christian treats her.