• Mon, Nov 18 - 1:20 pm ET

Why Fifty Shades of Grey Is Not “An Incredible Love Story”

dakota johnson thinks fifty shades of grey is a love story

The star of the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey movie, Dakota Johnson, has proven that she just might be delusional enough to do justice to her character. According to E!, Johnson says about the world’s most over-exposed erotica, “I just really understand it. I think it’s an incredible love story and that’s why it’s affected so many people.”

Oh dear. Okay.

I understand that this woman is almost certainly legally obligated to say only positive things about the franchise, and her enthusiastic attitude is also really considerate towards the Fifty Shades fans. Even though I get a kick out of making fun of that series, there’s nothing wrong with loving it, and it’s good to know that its female star is respectful towards its almost entirely female fanbase. This reminds me of how Kristen Stewart has made it apparent that she has some issues with Twilight, but she’s never condescending to the girls who worship Bella and Edward. Both actresses get major props for that.

However, I can’t in good conscious stay quiet when The Creepy Domineering Billionaire Who Has Bad Sex With A Crying Virgin gets called “an incredible love story.” If Fifty Shades is an incredible love story, so is the Jodi Arias Lifetime movie. So is a praying mantis biting the head off its sex partner.

While it’s totally fine to enjoy the famous E L James series, since it’s a fantasy and not real life, you can’t really argue that it demonstrates a healthy, mutually respectful relationship. The overarching conflict in the first book is that Anastasia Steele isn’t sure whether or not she wants to agree to participate in BDSM, but Christian Grey goes for it anyway. He controls what and when she eats, despite her protests. He interprets “maybe” and “I don’t know” as meaning “yes.” She repeatedly describes him as “threatening” and “intimidating” long before she decides she likes that roleplay, and the division of power is far from fair and balanced. She’s a poor college grad who’s never had a real boyfriend, and he’s a mega-rich playboy with years of experience. He does nothing to surrender power or make sure she feels like she has equal agency. Blehh.

The thing is, if you want to read that story on your own time or talk about it with your friends, have a blast! Nobody’s trying to police what you find entertaining or sexy. But it starts to be a problem when young, impressionable audiences hear that this nonconsensual plot makes up “an incredible love story.”

As Johnson says later in her interview, “Sometimes you feel a little bit naughty and that’s okay.” Totally, yeah. Let’s just be careful to also address the glaringly problematic parts of the book. Women in abusive relationships don’t need to hear that stories similar to their own are positive or fun or “incredible love stories.”

I know you’re not in a position to say disparaging things about Fifty Shades of Grey, Dakota, so I’ll say them for you.

Via E! / Photo: PCN

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  • Julia Sonenshein

    Fuck. Nailed it with “The Creepy Domineering Billionaire Who Has Bad Sex With A Crying Virgin.”

  • Morgan

    God, that book was the worst book I’ve ever read.
    I can’t stand how all young romance stories these days are similar to this: A 30 year old aloof, hot, bad-boy billionaire meets 20 year old virgin and they INSTANTLY can’t live without each other and have tons and tons of “hot” sex. (the sex scenes in 50 Shades weren’t hot at all, to me). And magically, within a week of meeting, the bad boy’s walls fall down, girl ditches all her friends because jerkface becomes her whole world, blah blah blah (and in a lot of stories, girl gets pregnant and everyone is thrilled, especially the jerkface badboy). Ride off into the sunset, “The End”.
    How is any of this healthy, let alone the basis for a sustainable love.

    • Sherri Lockhart Ratliff

      Exactly!

  • elle

    You straight up nailed this article. Spot on.

  • Natalie

    This is how I felt with Twilight when my 13 year old cousin told me how romantic is was that Bella jumped off cliffs and stopped living/functioning when Edward broke up with her. I obviously said “No, that’s not ok or healthy.” And tried to talk to her about healthy relationships and she didn’t want to hear it. It was mega depressing.

  • Samantha_Escobar

    “If Fifty Shades is an incredible love story, so is the Jodi Arias Lifetime movie. So is a praying mantis biting the head off its sex partner.”

    Oh my god nailed it, bro.

  • MammaSweetpea

    I liked the first book of the 3, because I was intrigued by Christian’s mysterious background. But the more I read parts 2 and 3 I was just turned off. The sex wasn’t so awesome or naughty or whatever. And this silly girl letting this man rule her…without his willingness to be ruled in return…made me feel oogy. No interest in seeing the movie.

  • anon3

    Few thoughts.
    -I HATED 50 Shades. Skimmed it, thought it was boring and unrealistic.
    -I am a feminist… Whatever that means to you. I’m all “rah-rah-women-power.”
    -I have been in BDSM relationships…I have had a “dom.” It was interesting, intense, very loving, very respectful, blah blah… It’s not for everyone. I’m not sure I’d ever have another one. But don’t say that all BDSM relationships are not loving or not respectful. In fact, the best BDSM relationships are more respectful and loving (I know I’m using the same two words over and over, but I’m tired…) than “regular” ones. You need an incredible amount of trust and respect in order to properly act (as a sub or Dom.)

    That’s it.

    • anon3

      One more thing….
      Even though I’m all for “proper” BDSM relationships, they ARE NOT for everyone and I think 99.9% of women reading this series are not cut out, nor really would ever want one. In the wrong hands, this series can be harmful.

  • Lily

    it may not be an incredible love story but in her defense,if you get a synopsis of the story and find out it’s about a billionaire who did a virgin, it sounds like crap. But the whole trilogy had really touching parts and makes you fall in love with the characters. It may be smut, but it’s also a nice story. That actually s why the fan base is so big, or else any erotica would become a movie.

  • SMR

    I am interested to hear any opinion, as long as it is based on the facts of the book. I don’t agree with “bad sex” and “crying” virgin. “Crying” doesn’t describe Anna. In my opinion the line “He does nothing to surrender power or make sure she feels like she has equal agency.” gives an incorrect idea about the story. The story is interesting, because it’s about balancing the power in the relationship. Anna constantly stands for herself, fights for equality and independence, and makes Christian change in the process. Also the reasons why Christian behaves this way are important for understanding the character and are a crucial part of the story.
    “He controls what and when she eats, despite her protests.” – this also is not clarified. Anna doesn’t sign the submissive contract, so he doesn’t control her that way. From that point on his demands, as far as I remember, are that she doesn’t eat enough. The reason for this behavior comes from his starvation as a child.

    I don’t think that “The overarching conflict in the first book is that Anastasia Steele isn’t sure whether or not she wants to agree to participate in BDSM”. She realizes quite early that submission is not for her. Imo the main conflict is that though she doesn’t accept his lifestyle, they both try to make it work.

    • girl wonder

      Okay, I’m gonna stop you right there (three weeks ago).

      I’ve read all three books, and Christian ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT cede power to Ana over the course of this series. Ana may not sign that submissive contract, but Christian continues to manipulate her into following many of its precepts (ex: he bullies her regarding food like, once per chapter). By waaaaay late in the third book, Ana is still:

      - Being told when and what to eat by Christian.
      - Kept in a financially dependent state despite being told that everything Christian has is hers–if that’s the case, why does her bank account only have 54k in it when it comes time to rescue Mia?
      - Surrounded by a restrictive security team Christian pays, and from whom she has to dramatically ‘escape” at one portion of the book. She also has a proscribed list of visitors, only she has no idea who they are or that the list is a thing until one such proscribed visitor shows up at her office.
      - Asking permission to drive her own car and to wear clothes she has picked out for herself.
      - Prohibited from doing anything “dangerous,” which includes riding dirt bikes and skiing. We never see an indication that Christian loosens up regarding these activities, even after they’re allegedly all blissful in the epilogue.

      Christian’s “reasons” that you allude to are just that– reasons. They may explain why he feels a certain way, but they’re not excuses for a treating a woman the way he does.

      It’s one thing to say that Christian’s awful childhood and sexual abuse as a teen create a flawed character who is interesting to observe, but I don’t believe it’s at all textually substantiated–as much as you, the author, or anyone else may wish it were–to say that this is a story about “balancing” power in a relationship. Where’s the balance?

  • LynnKell

    I haven’t read the books, but from the comments of all the girls around me that have, I can deduce it is indeed an unhealthy relationship and my annoyance is that every fan glamorizes it. True, healthy relationships are calm, boring and I suppose, drama free (totally not best selling material) but we really, really must aim to change the perception that it is a fucking wonderful idea to declare that a douchey, emotionally unavailable, disrespectful dude is the love of your life.

  • David S.

    hey! there are legitimately good BDSM-focused books out there, if you look for them! I’d recommend the Kushiel’s Legacy set of trilogies by Jacqueline Carey.