Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 2: Control)

So here’s the thing: you do not protect someone by faulting their behaviour and then trying to control them so as to limit it.

It took me a while to click this and I don’t have it entirely straight in my head yet, but the way I see it, if a person is vulnerable to making unhealthy choices, you protect them by limiting their surroundings, not by limiting them.

To give an example: you protect children by keeping sharp objects out of reach; you don’t protect them by telling them they must never reach, and certainly not by punishing them for trying to reach. (Though sometimes you let them discover wisdom for themselves – like when my parents let me serve myself a heaped spoonful of mustard because I kept demanding it.)

Meanwhile, as anyone who has studied domestic violence will tell you, entitlement and desire for control are the root of abuse. I’ll be the first to say that faithfulness is bigger than consent, but faithfulness is not about control – and it’s definitely not about retributive punishment.

Welcome to part 2 of comparing Fifty Shades with both the animated and live action versions of Beauty and the Beast. CONTENT NOTE: Consider this your spoiler warning. I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. I also include a few of the creepier quotes from Fifty Shades. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 2: Control)

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 1: Coercion)

How does Christian Grey compare with Dan Stevens’ Beast?

I’ve already blogged at length about Beast in the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, but now we have a live-action version, it’s worth asking the question again.

I won’t drag this out into an 18 part series like I did last time, but I want to look at the characters of Beast and Christian, from five different angles. In particular, I want to look at how Fifty Shades and both versions of Beauty and the Beast frame the following:

  • Coercion and manipulation
  • Control and faithfulness
  • Questions of guilt and shame
  • Change and transformation
  • Hope and love.

CONTENT NOTE: Consider this your spoiler warning. I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. I also include a few of the creepier quotes from Fifty Shades. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 1: Coercion)

Woman standing arms folded in from of Christian Grey picture from 50 Fifty Shades Darker.

I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again (guest post)

With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.


So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades.

Continue reading I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again (guest post)
Essay on consent; red text is what I didn't know when I married

Sex and consent: everything I didn’t know when I married

I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:

  • Understanding sex and consent in context
  • Giving and receiving consent
  • Bad consent and withdrawing consent

I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!

The full post is on Ashley’s blog here: Sex and consent: How does that work in marriage? and reposted (with very minor edits) on my blog here: Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

I changed the title because I haven’t written just about consent in marriage, though I do acknowledge that as the context from which I’m writing.

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

A summary of how redemption in BATB compares with 50 Shades

When I started blogging through the plot and themes of Beauty and the Beast, making comparisons with Fifty Shades, and how they did and didn’t speak about redemption, I didn’t expect it would last for eighteen posts. But hey, it did, and if it’s too much like hard work to read all of them, here’s your too-long-didn’t-read, sparks notes, summary of the key points from each. Continue reading A summary of how redemption in BATB compares with 50 Shades

Gaston vs Jack Hyde: Monsters, mirrors and mercy

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Jack’s eyes flash the darkest blue, and he sneers as he casts a leering look down my body.
Fear chokes me. What is this? What does he want?
Fifty Shades Darker, p367

Let’s talk about villains.

Gaston

Handsome, popular, and successful at everything he does (except proposing to Belle), Gaston is also rude, vain and conceited. He wants only the best and thinks he deserves it. “Best” is defined by outward appearance so Gaston directs his possessiveness towards Belle. He has mood swings when he doesn’t get his own way. When Belle refuses Gaston a second time, Gaston imprisons her and sets out to kill Beast.

Jack Hyde

Editor at a publishing company and the one who hires Ana to work there. Hyde is not as successful as Christian Grey is, but feels he’s entitled to be because they were both in foster care together as boys. Hyde controls and sexually harasses all the women he works with and is possessive towards Ana. He’s secretly filmed himself having rough sex with his secretaries and uses the footage as leverage over them. He has mood swings when he doesn’t get his own way. When Christian takes over his company and he is fired, he sabotages Christian’s helicopter in an attempt to kill him. He kidnaps Christian’s sister for a $5m ransom. Continue reading Gaston vs Jack Hyde: Monsters, mirrors and mercy

Beast vs Christian: Control or change? Fixation or surrender?

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Who would have thought? I grin widely, the word progress running around my brain as I drift.
Fifty Shades Freed, p310

From the early pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian displays several unsavoury characteristics, even when you completely ignore his sadism (and I will generally ignore it for the purposes of this post).

He is overly controlling of Ana, saying that he’s afraid of losing her and knows what’s best for her. He’s also very possessive of Ana, not wanting her sexuality visible to anyone else and responds aggressively to the slightest hint of male attention directed towards her.

But, as this is trying to be a redemption story, we should judge Christian more by his behaviour towards the end of the books, rather than the beginning. After all, redemption involves change on the part of the person being redeemed.

But the sad fact of the matter is that Christian doesn’t change. 

CONTENT NOTE: This post mentions some of Christian’s coercive tactics towards Ana, including sexual violence, and quotes one of his threats of violence. Continue reading Beast vs Christian: Control or change? Fixation or surrender?

Gollum vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 3)

“He has a point, Christian. You’re very wealthy, and I’m bringing nothing to our marriage but my student loans.”
Christian gazes at me, his eyes bleak. “Anastasia, if you leave me, you might as well take everything. You left me once before. I know how that feels.”
Fifty Shades Freed, p32

For context, that’s Christian Grey explaining why refuses to sign a pre-nuptial agreement with Ana. It’s another classic Fifty Shades moment which is trying to sound romantic and affectionate – but isn’t when you stop to think about it. Christian is saying his life isn’t worth living if he doesn’t have Ana.

No pressure then.

Or pedestalling.

It’s not unsurprising that Christian is able to make all manner of promises of commitment to Ana, even though he is abusive towards her. He has, after all, no intention of losing her.

This mini-series on Choice, commitment and consent has four parts:

  • Part 1 looked at how promise is important to understanding redemption.
  • Part 2 looked at Christian’s promises in the first book of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Part 3 (this one!) looks at Christian’s promises in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
  • Part 4 will look at Ana’s promises in the trilogy.

Continue reading Gollum vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 3)

Biedermann vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 2)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

Jeez, I’m a quivering, mess, and he hasn’t even touched me. I squirm in my seat and meet his dark glare.
“Why don’t you?” I challenge quietly.
“Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia—not until I have your written consent to do so.” His lips hint at a smile.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p74

Four pages later, we see how good Christian is to his promise:

“Oh, f*** the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me pushing me against the wall of the elevator.

The plot of two halves

In Choice, Commitment and Consent (Part 1), I talked about how the idea of promise is important to understanding redemption. In that post I also raised the following objection to the plot of Fifty Shades:

Redemption is about the redeemer making a single promise to the person needing redemption. In Fifty Shades it’s Christian who keeps making promises – and breaking them. He is always shifting the boundaries of the relationship by changing the terms of his promises.

It’s important to recognise that how Christian reveals his secrets to Ana (and breaks his promises to her) shifts after the end of the first book. Up to the end of Fifty Shades of Grey the focus is on him obtaining and keeping Ana on his terms, for his ends. Afterwards, however, he recognises that’s not going to work because Ana leaves him. So he begins to take steps so that the relationship is more on Ana’s terms.

In other words – and I’m not saying I agree with the following statements – there’s a case for saying that, from a redemption perspective:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey is about Christian thrashing about wretchedly in his fallen state, trying suck Ana into his darkness and failing.
  • Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are about Christian learning to relate in healthy ways or ‘learning to love’ as the narrator in Beauty and the Beast would say. In learning, Christian eventually reaches his complete redemption – being married, monogamous, a father of one child a father-to-be of another, and still having a great sex life with Ana.

The thing is, I don’t think either of these parts of the plot speak about redemption. So in this post I’ll talk about the first part, and in the next post I’ll talk about the second.

Continue reading Biedermann vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 2)

Redemption vs Romance: Choice, commitment and consent (part 1)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

We’re coming near to the end of the bridge, and the road is once more bathed in the neon light of the street lamps so his face is intermittently in the light and the dark. And it’s such a fitting metaphor. This man, who I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight—or the dark knight, as he said. He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?
“I still want more,” I whisper.
“I know,” he says. “I’ll try.”
Fifty Shades of Grey, p355

If you’ve been following this series so far, you’ll know that I’ve already posted twice about how, in a redemption story, a redeemer freely and purposefully chooses to act to save someone.

So why am I blogging about redeemer’s choice again? And why is this post a “part 1”?

The answer is that Ana’s choice in Fifty Shades and Belle’s choice in Beauty and the Beast are very different in one key respect:

Ana chooses to redeem Christian. Belle does not choose to redeem Beast.

Now, this difference isn’t a reason to disregard Fifty Shades as a redemption narrative. But it does create complications when it’s compared with Beauty and the Beast. Moreover, in this respect, the redemption narrative within Christianity appears to be closer to Fifty Shades than Beauty and the Beast. After all, Christians believe that Jesus’ choice to enter into the world and suffer and die, was a choice made for the benefit of humanity – even though it was humans who caused him to suffer and die.

This begs the question: if I think that Beauty and the Beast portrays a model of redemption that is close to Christianity’s understanding of it (and I do), how do I explain this apparent difference? And if I think that Fifty Shades is inconsistent with the Christian(ity) model, then why is that?

To answer these questions, we need to grapple even more with our understanding of choice and how it relates to redemption.

Before we begin, some blurb if you’re new to this blog:

OK, blurb over.

Continue reading Redemption vs Romance: Choice, commitment and consent (part 1)

Sheet music of Harry Potter music The Room of Requirement on a piano

Music, perfection and play: shedding childhood shame

Sheet music from the film of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

Recently the BBC showed the film Shine. It portrays the true story of a pianist David Helfgott, including the emotionally abusive relationship his father had towards him, how he had a breakdown, and how later in his life he came to be able to take to the stage again.

I first saw this film not long after it was made in 1996; at that time I was a teenager. I was wrapped in piano lessons, music theory and even a placement at the Royal College of Music. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one of the most prestigious classical music institutions in the UK. And it’s where David Helfgott studied. So yes, I was doing the whole studying classical music thing, because I was young and perceived as gifted. Plus I had enough people around me to claw for the money to make it happen.

I don’t think I understood the film when I saw it. But seeing it twenty years later has dredged up all kinds of emotions and thoughts.

Continue reading Music, perfection and play: shedding childhood shame

Beast vs Christian Grey: The dark art of grooming

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

This Valentine’s Day
Forget the past
And slip into something
A shade darker
— Fifty Shades Darker – Official Trailer 1 (Universal Pictures)

I’m starting with a slightly different quote this time. Not because I’m in any way thrilled that Fifty Shades Darker will come out in February 2017, but because it’s relevant to what I want to explore in this post.

In a redemption story, the redeemer purposefully chooses to act. In my previous post I talked about how they have privilege; this means they aren’t forced into their choice. In this post, I want to talk about how they don’t “slip into” their actions either.

In other words, I want to talk about grooming – a process that makes it look like someone’s making free choices, when actually they’re not. I’ll be comparing Christian’s tactics with Beast’s. Grab a cup of tea or make a bookmark, this post is longer than usual.

CONTENT NOTE: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including non-consent and BDSM.

Continue reading Beast vs Christian Grey: The dark art of grooming

Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

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.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p3

Redeemer’s privilege comes in two halves

So… redemption stories involve a person who saves – a redeemer. A redeemer needs to be good (I talked about that in my last post) and they need to have privilege.

A person having privilege is often framed as them having some characteristic that means their status is advantaged (or not disadvantaged) compared to others. Redeemer’s privilege is similar, but broader, and it comes in two parts – I’ll call them “position privilege” and “identity privilege.”

Position privilege means the redeemer has power; they are not subject to constraining forces – at least so far as the redemption arc is concerned. Identity privilege is about having a secure and fulfilled sense of identity. The redeemer may experience distress at being insulted and injured, or indeed at witnessing suffering in others. But that doesn’t take away from their identity.

Because a redeemer has both position and identity privilege, this means that if they intervene for someone else, they do so because they want to. Not because they have to and not because they feel they need to.

In this post I’m going to compare Belle’s position and identity privilege with Ana’s.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and the introduction to this series explains why I think Redemption is beautiful love, not beastly suffering.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

Belle vs Ana: Two embodiments of redeeming virtue?

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I’m in awe of you.”
— Christian, Fifty Shades Darker, p36

The need for outside help

In a redemption narrative, the person who is redeemed cannot redeem themselves on their own. They need a redeemer.

That isn’t to say that the person being redeemed doesn’t do anything to aid their redemption – quite the opposite. But what it does mean is that if it weren’t for the help of someone else stepping into their darkness and bringing them out of it, they would not have been saved.

In this post I want to compare Christian’s need for Ana with Beast’s need for Belle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and you can find the introduction to this series here.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Two embodiments of redeeming virtue?

Beast vs Christian: The Fall that brings guilt and shame

So I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“You’re a good man, Christian, a really good man. Don’t ever doubt that.”
— Ana, Fifty Shades Darker, p195

The moment when things went bad

Redemption stories tend to start with something very bad happening. After all, people don’t need saving from good things. I like to refer to this event as ‘The Fall’ – not because Jamie Dornan, the actor for Christian Grey, starred in a TV series with that name – but because that’s the phrase generally used to refer to the very bad event described near the beginning of the book of Genesis.

(Content note: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including sexual violence and childhood trauma. I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades.)

Continue reading Beast vs Christian: The Fall that brings guilt and shame