50 Shades: Lookin’ for Love in the All the Wrong Places
written with guest writer, Mary Walker
So let’s talk about this, shall we?
The theatrical release of Fifty Shades of Grey is February 14, 2015 – Valentine’s Day; which is ironic. A holiday traditionally associated with love and romance is the chosen debut for a film devoid of either in the genuine sense; but under this pretense, will undoubtedly lure millions of dollars from thousands of viewers in search of both. The movie is adapted from the book series aimed toward female readers, which became a “worldwide phenomenon” selling over 100 million copies; and despite outrage from a few critic groups, countless admit to having read it, while others keep that part of their libraries secret. The first book (and movie) focuses on a relationship agreed to be violently sexual with no romantic strings – no love. No intimacy. And it’s this fact that makes me wonder why millions are picking it up or eagerly anticipating the movie. It goes without saying that sex sells and 100% of readers will say it’s just entertainment; but what is it about this trilogy that keeps women turning page after page?
My friend and fellow writer, Mary Walker, has joined me in this collaborative effort. After gathering insights from fans and opposers alike, we’ve realized that avid 50 Shades readers are drawn to and seeking truly good things, but because of the nature of the books or movie, their pursuits will remain unfulfilled. Our list is hardly exhaustive, but the few items we’ve developed come hand-in-hand with solutions.
1) There’s a passion to emulate
Categorized within the erotic romance genre of literature, or what others have dubbed “mommy porn,” there is consent from both camps that 50 Shades is steamy reading; unfortunately, the steam here goes heavy on bondage-discipline-sadism-masochism, which is a far cry from the natural and spiritual ends of sexuality; and unfortunately many have unnecessarily turned to the novels for inspiration for spicing things up behind the bedroom door. Good news, girls – there are other options. But first – a few lines from the reliable C-C-C on what the whole point of sexuality is…
2362 ”The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; [...].”145 Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
- The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.146
2363 The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.
This may come as a shock, but the Catholic Church itself asserts that sex is supposed to be fun, and can achieve its purpose (union and procreation) within marriage. It doesn’t have to get boring or hit a rut, but the act itself calls for mutual respect and trust, which a reader/viewer will not find in 50 Shades. While it wouldn’t be a typical post from my site, I gladly refer those seeking to renew passion and explore healthy options for spicing things up to Hallie Lord’s post ”15 Ways to Spice Up Your Marriage Without 50 Shades of Grey.” You’ll see that you don’t have to read steamy descriptions of sexual activity (violent or otherwise) to get closer to your spouse or venture out of the hum-drum.
2) There’s a powerful man
A key element of the craze has to be the character of Christian Grey. He’s a self-made billionaire and at first glance he seems to be the whole package: hard-working, rich, handsome, and powerful. He’s confident, strong, and knows exactly what he wants. In other words, he’s the antithesis of society’s portrayal of the 21st century man. As a culture, we’ve both emasculated men to the extent that they’re afraid to ask a girl out on a date and morphed chivalry into a false “machismo” mentality of faux masculinity. It’s getting easier and easier for women to push men around and, even though we’re guilty of doing the pushing, we hate it when they don’t stand up to us.
Women love a man who is confident and strong. We love it when they know what they want and pursue it ruthlessly. This becomes a problem for Grey, however, when his power and desires fall far short of virtue. His desires aren’t good and pure; they’re base and shallow. He’s closed off to emotion, intimacy, and love and, as a result, his desires are completely misguided. What he wants the most is his own physical pleasure. A man with those ends has no hope of a happy, healthy relationship. Women are drawn to power and confidence, but unless they’re coupled with virtue and intentions worthy of trust, they’re useless and empty.
Rather than fantasizing about a man who “has it all” only on the surface, take a look at the man you married. Where do his power and confidence lie? If you don’t perceive much of either, affirm his masculinity by telling him what you respect about him. So many women fawn over Christian Grey’s “true concern” for Ana Steele, claiming love on his part; but the contents and context of Book 1 fail to illustrate what love is (continue to point #3). Choose your husband – a real life man who works hard out of love for you – over a fictional character who wouldn’t know intimacy if it hit him over the head.
3) There’s a pursuit from said powerful man
We’ve established that Grey is powerful, and here’s what clinches it for so many fans – he pursues plain ol’ ordinary Ana. Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge is one of my favorite books because of how affirming it is to the feminine mind. In short, the book articulates that every woman wants to know that she’s captivating, that she’s lovely and worth pursuing. The character Ana perceives herself as an average girl, and if a rich-n-handsome man condescends to offer what’s supposed to resemble a relationship, that’s gotta make her feel like a million bucks. The flaw with 50 Shades is a misunderstanding of lust. Yes, lust is a “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure…sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes,” that’s applied to another person – i.e. a man can lust after a woman (CCC 2351). The flip side of the coin occurs when women mistake this kind of attention as love and acceptance, but it’s just not the case; lust seeks sex for sex. The end. Love perceives sex as an expression of itself – of closeness. When the powerful Christian Grey insists on sex without intimacy, there is no love. Love invites the whole person while lust will never see the whole person.
Women want to know that we’re wanted and accepted as we are. Staci Eldredge writes, “As women we long to be loved in a certain way…We long for romance. We are wired for it; it’s what makes our hearts come alive” (p. 115). While it’s true that our relationships and marriages began with a sweet pursuit, it’s an at times disappointing fact that the pursuit dwindles. Spouses tire from careers, houses, kids, and time, which deplete even thoughts of wooing each other. The good news is that dwindled romance or even lifeless romance doesn’t have to mean dead and gone. The act of pursuit isn’t an effortless activity – it takes work of the will and concentration from both sides and sometimes you have to help each other out a little. It takes communication and knowing each other intimately so you can meet each other’s needs. It’s just as important for wives to romance their husbands as it is for husbands to pursue their wives, and you can find 41 ways to do that HERE. Show your man that he’s worth your time and has your respect, and he’ll respond.
4) There’s a female lead and maybe readers identified with her
The tension between being honest about your feelings and not wanting to alienate the man you’re attracted to is one that is all too familiar for today’s woman. Society at large tells men and women that emotions are signs of weakness and being vulnerable is a sign of insecurity. I (Mary) went to a university where asking the harmless question, “Where is this going?” after certain lines had been crossed was an indication of being unbelievably needy. It’s in this way that I think plenty of women could empathize with Ana. When we’re so hopelessly attracted to men, there’s a real fear that the powerful emotions at work within us will mess it up and overwhelm them if we gave an inkling as to what we’re feeling.
Christian and Ana’s “relationship” is an extreme form of this, and unique, especially in the way that it’s actually codified. Still, I think a lot of women must have felt validated knowing that they weren’t the only ones who felt that their emotions weren’t welcome (whether true or imagined); or they weren’t the only ones to choose being with a man they love instead of being with a man who would treat them the way they deserve to be treated. Many women are will go to extreme lengths to comply with what they think their men want instead of what’s ultimately more healthy and productive for themselves.
An obstacle to face in any relationship is confronting our own emotions, accepting them ourselves, and then proceeding with rational and charitable communication: There is nothing wrong with being honest about what we want in a relationship; in fact, no relationship stands a chance without clearly talking it out. Sometimes, along with a sexual lull in marriage, there can be a very real loneliness and alienation regardless of what season we’re in. Maybe the leftovers from our last big fight still linger. Maybe we feel bitter about a major choices our spouses made and neglected to consult us. The only way our marriages will get better is if we’re honest about our emotions and the state of the relationship. In marriage, you can’t change your spouse, but you can change the way you communicate and get better at being honest about hard truths. Emotional, intellectual and spiritual intimacy are just as important and legitimate as physical intimacy.
It’s understandable to indulge in things that you know aren’t good for you . Just ask the half-eaten box of ice cream in my freezer. Shady author E.L. James clearly knows what women like to read and has written with the purpose of selling books. If we’re honest, who doesn’t love a strong protagonist? Who’s never been attracted to someone who’s bad for them? Who hasn’t been tempted to hide emotion out of embarrassment?
You may think that none of it matters; it’s just a stupid book! Yes. It is a stupid book. But when we give this stupid book the momentum of being called a “phenomenon”, we let it define the way people think about our generation and our gender. When we spend hours with it, we allow it to influence our thoughts and ways we approach others – why do you think so many use 50 Shades of Grey as inspiration for what should remain purely loving and unspoiled in their marriages? In the real world, all of our actions send a message about who we are. When we buy the book or tickets to the movie, we’re not only selling ourselves short by damaging our souls in a very real way and giving economic force to “mommy porn”, we’re we’re conveying a powerful message loud and clear to the society that feeds us: With that eight dollar movie ticket, we’re informing our culture that sex within a perverse contract is just as acceptable as relations within a covenantal sacrament. It doesn’t matter if we didn’t think or intend these consequences. For better or worse, perception is everything in our fast moving culture and by reading the book, each one of us is a significant part of that.
Women are called to something higher: We are called to be the educators of virtue. We’re called to make this world a better place through proper love of self as well as respectful and exclusive love to our husbands. When we tell the world that we’re willing to spend millions of dollars on explicit literature and publicly delight in violently sexual fantasies, we’re forfeiting any moral high ground we have the chance to occupy and lead others to occupy, too. We’re telling the world that women are shallow, driven by base desires instead of by something deeper and worth pursuing.
But that’s not true at all, is it? We don’t think so.
From what we’ve learned from both die-hard fans and those who oppose, is that yes, women are seeking entertainment from this thing, but they’re also seeking to fulfill desires that are inherently good. Wives as well as husbands want to avoid passionless boredom; we are drawn to powerful traits in a spouse whom we are aching to pursue us and tell us that we’re captivating; and when we don’t feel heard or validated, we want to know that we’re not alone in the trenches. It seems that, like Christian Grey’s own desires, these things sought without virtue and holiness are in fact harmful to the soul and prohibitive to our relationships – upon both is placed a condition that doesn’t allow for the entirety of the person.
So what if you read the book and couldn’t put it down? What drew you in so much? If it’s entertainment, could you find another good story line that doesn’t sacrifice the purity and integrity of your mind and sexuality? The decision to see the movie merits serious prayer and discernment. Why do you really want to see it? Think about what exactly you find entertaining and how it will affect your marriage. Ultimately, women think and speak for ourselves and our message should be one of love, not indulgence.
Agree? Disagree? Do you have another point? In all circumstances, please keep comments charitable.