Let me start with a disclaimer. I have not read the Fifty Shades of Grey books or seen the film. I have no plans to do either in the future.
The film has generated a fairly intensive debate between those camps feeling it is empowering to women and those who believe it advocates a standard of controlling abuse in a relationship.
We can’t deny that the books have found an audience, selling more than twenty-million copies. So, as men, how do we engage with the cultural force that is Fifty Shades of Grey?
Let’s attack it on three fronts:
Writer: There are many other options with better love/passion/sex stories. Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, is just one example. Don’t box yourself in with these books. They sold because they filled a vacant market need when they were published. Personally, I won’t be adjusting any of my works-in-progress to Twilight fan-fiction any time soon.
Husband: You can break down any book to an essential point or question. The trilogy is about power, about limits in love and what happens when you push them. The relationship is set up in a male dominated power structure. The dangerous part is when these transition into the real world to people who are not fictional characters. Both sides of a marriage bring in complicating elements. Add in the BDSM influence of controlled violence, and you have a dangerous formula that can quickly hurt women and destroy marriages.
Father: With my oldest son in kindergarten, I’ve lucked out at this point. If you are the father of a teenager, though, you need to have a conversation. Think your kids haven’t seen the books? You can download a novel on a cell phone in seconds. We need to reinforce that love is collaborative, that men are called to serve in relationships. We need be sure our sons have a healthy respect for women, from their peers to their relatives. Pain is not pleasure, permission is required for everything from the smallest conversation to the first date. Our sons need to be gentlemen, not abusers.
I’ll give it to E.L. James, she’s written three books that have made her career. The release of the film has pulled the books back into the cultural conversation and this is the key. The conversation must be a dialogue. If it creeps towards domination, we’ve made a grand mistake. Women deserve respect and empowerment.
If you read the books and found some redeeming qualities, that’s your call. If you are in a marriage, talk about it. If you are a parent, use it as a teaching point.
If you’re like me, you’ll be content living a life without Fifty Shades of anything.