50 Shades of fed up: take responsibility for what you read

When you hear the words rape, abuse or bullying, what comes to mind?

Maybe that more efforts should be made to prevent abuse or that more should be done to protect the victims.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

So, why are books that promote abusive tropes, or literary themes, so popular? Why do people buy books that justify and excuse the mistreatment of sexual partners?

50 Shades of Grey, the top-selling, erotic-fiction novel by E.L. James romanticizes explicit scenes of sexual abuse and coercion.

“Stunningly handsome,” and wealthy Christian Grey pursues virginal, college senior Anastasia Steele until she agrees to have sex with him.

Steele does consent to sex, but only after convincing herself that she would be “stupid to not do it” with the wealthy and beautiful Grey. She admits that Grey hurts her, and that she feels helpless in his possession.

Grey doesn’t respect her as a woman or a person, and the story makes that very clear. But, people still bought the books.

The reader should think twice before buying a book that teaches girls to have sex with any rich, attractive man that approaches them.

In “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, a teenage girl is drugged and raped at a party by a popular, high-school boy. Her friends abandon her, and the rapist is still considered the “class hottie.”

Later, Melinda Sordino, the victim, attempts to warn one of her former friends of the boy’s carnal intentions. But, the girl doesn’t listen, even when Sordino explains that he raped her at the party.

Both the book and film treat Sordino as a “crazy girl” who blames an innocent, high-school football star for a crime he “would never” commit.

The story teaches girls that they shouldn’t expose rapists since their skimpy outfits and binge drinking means that “they wanted it.”

Photo credit: Creative commons
Photo credit: Creative commons

The 120 days of Sodom,” by the Marquis de Sade, French nobleman and author, chronicles the sexual and physical abuse of young men and women as they are kept imprisoned in a remote castle for four months.

Published in the twentieth century, the book became wildly popular. But, several countries banned the book for themes of sexual violence and extreme cruelty.

However, the book is still readily available for download on Librophile, and OpenLibrary, though the text details the consumption of fecal matter and urine, rape, molestation and more.

People believe that abuse is wrong. However, they still read the stories because the readers can live vicariously through the actions of characters without suffering the consequences.

Consider the messages you support by purchasing these books.

Stop buying books that glamorize sexual abuse and mistreatment.


One thought on “50 Shades of fed up: take responsibility for what you read”

  1. I’m not going to touch on 50 Shades or the DeSade book, but could you have misrepresented Speak *any* more?
    *Spoiler alert*
    Speak is a teen novel about a 13 or 14 year old girl who is raped. It accurately represents the *very real* social isolation and victim blaming that often follows such an attack. The book follows Melinda from the days just after the attack, in which she’s not able to even think about what happened (and so, it isn’t said out loud in the narrative) through her trauma symptoms–such as not speaking and developing social anxieties– through acknowledging what happened and muddling through the question of whether it was rape or not, acknowledging that it was, confronting her rapist, finding her voice and eventually being able to talk about it.

    Her healing is also expressed symbolically as a running motif of a tree, which she draws repeatedly as part of an art assignment, and which represents her inner life–she goes from drawing it 2-dimensional and empty, to drawing dead, charred and lightning-struck trees to drawing scarred but healing trees with fresh growth.

    This book does everything that empowering fiction is supposed to do. It does *not* sugar-coat the problem–it accurately describes real problems that rape victim/survivors deal with (including secondary victimization from other people), and provides a model of somebody working through the problem and coming out on the other side of it.

    The bottom-line message is that learning how to to express yourself–through art and social connection– is a vital part of healing. Given that, there’s a cruel irony in your implication that it shouldn’t have been written, and an even crueler message that teenagers who are *dealing* with these realities shouldn’t be given fiction which validates their struggles and shows them a way out.

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