I have a confession: I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve carried that embarrassing secret around inside of me for far too long now. It’s time to clear my conscience.
I was embarrassed not so much because the book is hardcore chick lit and I’m a man, but because it is arguably the worst novel ever written in the English language and I wasted some precious hours of my life reading it.
I’m not alone among men who have admitted to having read the novel and been dismayed by how poorly written it was. Salman Rushdie read it (or at least part of it) and gave this review: “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.”
Lesser-known novelist David Llewellyn tried to read it but couldn’t get past page four. He did, however, write a brilliant criticism of the novel’s opening paragraph. “I’m not judging the type of novel 50 Shades sets out to be,” wrote Llewellyn, “What I object to is bad writing.”
Bad indeed. Each time I sat down to slog through another chapter, I would wince at the poor grammar, overtly contrived plot, and the predictable, trite dialog.
The pain caused by reading Fifty Shades of Grey was far beyond anything I’d ever experienced in the reading of a book, even when I made the long march through War and Peace during my college days.
Llewellyn’s criticism went right to the heart of the matter: “The problem with 50 Shades is one of mechanics, of the basic engineering of almost each and every sentence. The reason I haven’t read past page 4 is because it hurt my eyes.”
Accepting the Fifty Shades Challenge
Why on earth did I waste my time reading such rubbish?
The only plausible answer I have is that I’m surrounded by predominantly women at work who talk a lot. One week, all conversations were focused on Fifty Shades of Grey. All the ladies in the office were reading it at the same time as though it had mysteriously attached itself to their already synchronized menstrual cycles.
“You should read it,” one of them suggested.
“Sounds like it should be titled Fifty Shades of Gay,” I said.
“It’s sooo good,” another countered.
“Alright, I’ll read it,” I said for shock value, not fully comprehending the horror I was committing myself to. “But you’ll have to bring me one of your copies. No way am I spending money on crap like that.”
They were all a bit too giddy about my accepting the Fifty Shades Challenge and a copy was delivered to my desk the next morning in a nondescript manilla envelope.
That evening, I slid the worn copy from the envelope and began reading:
I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.
Yeah, that’s it. Do you feel it yet? It begins as a tremor deep inside the vitreous humor that builds into a tsunami that eventually erupts from your eyeballs in tears of blood.
The entire book reads like that—well, except for the dialog, which is worse. I found myself speed-reading to try and outrun the bad writing and mitigate its ocular torture.
“Well, what do you think?” the ladies asked me at work the next morning.
“It’s the worst novel I’ve ever read,” I told them. “Each word is like a tiny dagger stabbing into me. It’s going to be a slow and agonizing death-by-a-thousand-cuts.”
“Oh it’s not that bad,” one of them said. “You must not be to any of the juicy sex scenes yet. That’s when it gets real good,” she said and bit down gently on her lower lip.
She was right. I hadn’t made it to any of the “juicy sex scenes.” (I’d barely made it past Llewellyn’s record.) In all truthfulness, I was dreading those parts. Don’t get me wrong though; I love sex just as much as the next guy.
What I feared was that the horrific writing contained within Fifty Shades of Grey would destroy that which I loved, that the next time I was making love to my wife the act would begin to be uncontrollably narrated inside my head in a Fifty Shadesesque monologue: “Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow!” (Yes, that’s an actual quote from the novel.)
And when I finally did get to the sex scenes they were all totally lame like that. They struck me as 2-dimensional caricatures of what sex—even kinky sex—was actually like.
Fifty Shades of Grey v. The Holy Bible
This got me wondering what all the hubbub was about. Why did my female co-workers think the book was “so good” when it was clearly so bad? How did such a poorly written, untitillating novel outsell the entire Harry Potter series?
To date, Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 52 languages. The only book that has outsold and been translated into more languages than 50 Shades of Grey is the The Holy Bible, which has had a considerable head start in the marketplace.
This past Valentine’s Day was the release of the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, which, according to Variety magazine, grossed $81.7 million on day one. Interestingly, the only February-released movie to out-gross Fifty Shades of Grey was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004).
Were the sex-lives of the women I worked with really that bad? Were their husbands failing at more than not being able to pick the kids up from school and rinse off their plates before putting them in the dishwasher? I didn’t ask, but imagined that probably wasn’t the case. Their husbands were regular guys like me and regular guys like to fuck regularly.
While these women probably didn’t have a BDSM-themed “Red Room of Pain” in their homes like the one depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey, they probably didn’t have sexless “dead bedrooms” either—or if they did, it probably wasn’t of their husbands’ choosing.
“What Women [truly] Want”
As I made the painful slog through Fifty Shades of Grey, I began to understand that it wasn’t the salacious particulars of the story that these women were drawn to, but the broader narrative of what women truly want in their lives.
Women want a strong and dominant man. Not necessarily dominant in a BDSM sort of way, but dominant in knowing who he is and where he is going in life. Women want a man with direction, which is more important to them than a big erection (though that’s an added bonus).
Women want a man who will provide for them, who will hold them when they need to be held and bend them over when they want to be bent over. Women want a man who will respect them but discipline them when they get out of line. Women want to be submissive but not totally enslaved to a man.
In short, women want real men, the kind of men who are dependable and take care of shit, the kind of men who are insanely confident and take risks, the kind of men who tame the jungle and build civilization.
These are the kinds of men women truly want, and by want I mean the type of men they truly desire. Even the staunchest feminist steeped in decades of gender studies’ dogma knows this fundamental truth deep down. The female mind can perform all sorts of mental acrobatics, but vaginas never lie.
Women know what kind of men they really want and the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is a cultural indictment that those kind of men are becoming extinct. Women have become so desperate for real men that they’ve embraced a perversion of them as embodied in the fictional character of Christian Grey.
The Greatest Perversion
The word perversion has two meanings. The first, and perhaps most common, is “human behavior that deviates from that which is considered normal.” Most often this definition is applied to human sexual behavior. In its broader meaning, a perversion is “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.”
Amidst all of its overt sexual perversion, Fifty Shades of Grey brings to light a deeper, covert perversion that’s been slowly eroding the cultural and social fabric of modern Western civilization.
In our quest for gender equality, we’ve distorted and corrupted male-female roles and relationship dynamics from their original course, meaning, and state. We’ve become so focused on gender equality that we’ve ceased encouraging women to be women and men to be men.
It’s become taboo to talk about such matters openly and honestly. The last time I brought up this cultural phenomenon of reversing gender roles in conversation, I was labeled a “misogynist.” For the record, a misogynist is “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.”
While I’m not a misogynist, I do dislike, despise, and am strongly prejudiced against people who misappropriate the English language. A man who loves, appreciates, and judges women fairly based on their character and their actions cannot be a misogynist. To label such a man a “misogynist” is prejudice and leads to its evil twin, misandry.
The Fifty Shades phenomenon addresses this general cultural perversion in a specific and sexually perverted way. Its popularity among women comes not from a modern need to be tied up and probed by technologically advanced sex toys, but rather from an ancient need to be paired with a real man.
The fictional character of Christian Grey is a perverted caricature of the real men that women desire and need in order to fill that otherwise unfillable hole in their lives (figuratively and literally). This is why Fifty Shades of Grey is the most widely read novel in all of human history.
Women have been conditioned to believe in the popular and self-propagating cultural myth of gender equality and to do the mental gymnastics it takes in order for them to believe that they don’t need men to be happy, that they are not only equal to men but better than men, that they can “have it all” (career, marriage, motherhood, Christian Grey) by the sheer will and resolve of their feminine powers.
But they’ve been sold a fiction and there is nothing sadder than a woman who has allowed that perverted narrative to drive her life decisions and actions in a fantasy-fueled Eat, Pray, Love manner until she eventually slams head-on into a wall of unforgiving truth. She becomes broken in the same way that a man who lives in a blue-pill fantasy world is broken.
Men and women are not equal—they are complementary forces of Nature who, together, have survived and thrived in a hostile world where they could just have easily perished and the human race become extinct.
There is no grey area here. Any other interpretation is a perversion of reality just like Fifty Shades of Grey, which I’m still somewhat embarrassed to admit I read cover-to-cover, but am glad I did.