No copyright intended. Because I'm NOT a twat.
So. It's happening. EL James is releasing a rewritten version of Fifty Shades of Grey, as told by the "hero" (excuse me whilst I try to keep my lunch down) of the trilogy, Christian Grey. It's being released on June 18th (which is apparently Christian Grey's birthday) and has already topped bestseller lists. So if you're looking for evidence that the world is populated by sheep and money-grabbers, look no further.
Now, anyone who has read this blog for longer than a few months will know that I am not just anti Fifty Shades. I am breathless with rage over it. And I'm asthmatic, so that's pretty bad for my health... If you're a newbie to my anti Fifty Shades blogs, then let's clear up a few things straight away:
- I am in NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM anti consensual BDSM. Fifty Shades is about as close to being well-written, consensual BDSM as I am close to being James Bourne's wife. And both of those facts are equally depressing.
- I am in NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM anti erotica/prudish. I've read and enjoyed erotic novels. There are sex scenes in the novel I've written, for crying out loud.
- I am in NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM "jealous" of EL James' success or "talent" (bwahaahahahaaaaaa). If I could only become a millionnaire writer by ripping off someone else's story, writing it badly and being arrogant enough to not only refuse to allow anyone to properly edit it, but to point blank refuse to listen to one iota of (justified) criticism, then I'd genuinely rather stay poor and unheard of.
I am also more than happy to talk openly about why I believe Fifty Shades portrays an abusive relationship, having been in an abusive relationship and having been horrendously triggered by the books, upon reading them (because yes, I have read them). I've written extensively about the emotional abuse, manipulation, stalking, threats, coercion, outright ignorance of consent, unwanted control, physical assault and gaslighting that occur throughout the trilogy. My best-known blog on the subject can be found here (I still find it mind-blowing that that blog has something crazy like 200+ comments on it and has been read more than half a million times...). So, if you're new to this and you think "eh, this girl hasn't a clue; Fifty Shades is a beautiful love story," please do give that a read, just so you have a bit of background to what follows...
Pictured: EL James in small boy form.
Now, EL James - fine, upstanding member of the community that she is (she once sent a RAPE SURVIVOR a gif of someone violently throwing a book at a person's head in response to the survivor asking why she'd trivialised abuse, so forgive me if I treat her with the contempt she absolutely deserves) - has apparently dedicated the boringly-titled Grey to the many fans who begged her to write it. I have two pretty major issues with this.
Firstly, EL James rewrote chapter 1 of Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian's perspective as a "gift" to her fans at the end of book 3 (I seriously hope she kept the receipt). It flopped. Hundreds, if not thousands of fans hated it. Why? Because they suddenly saw Christian Grey without Ana's rose-tinted glasses. Without the female narrator telling the reader how impossibly "hot" he is and how much she lurves him, he came across as cold, uncaring, arrogant and plain nasty. Or, to put it another way, he came across exactly the same way he does in all three books, except this time, even the fans recognised it. Such was the disappointment of many readers, that I find it very hard to believe that this was the real reason behind EL's decision to rewrite the entire book. It's more likely that Fifty Shades is a cash cow that EL and her publishers just weren't quite ready to stop squeezing...
But it's the second issue that worries me most of all and it's the second issue that I believe is much more of a true reason for writing this book.
When Fifty Shades became absurdly popular, people began to voice concerns. Abuse charities began to speak out against the books. Survivors of abusive relationships (myself included) began to recognise their experiences being glorified. It suddenly seemed as though women were being sold a man who stalks, threatens, manipulates and controls them against their will as a romantic ideal. Many of us who've experienced a relationship with such a man were justifiably horrified, not only because these personality traits were being exhibited by a "hero" readers were expected to fall in love with (and worryingly, millions of women did), but because in creating such a poorly researched piece of plagiarism, EL James was falling back on incredibly dangerous abuse myths in order to defend her beloved character's vile behaviour.
"He doesn't know any better, because he had such a terrible childhood."
"He acts this way because he's scared; he's never let anyone get this close to him, before."
"If she can only learn to love him the right way, he'll change for her and give her the happy ever after she's longing for."
These are the lines that are trotted out again and again by fans of Fifty Shades, often in direct response to abuse survivors who have bravely used their own experiences in order to speak out against the trilogy. Not a word is true. Whilst a person's past does undoubtedly have the capacity to affect their present and their future, there is always a choice between abusing someone and not abusing them. In short, there is literally NO excuse for the way that Christian behaves. Survivors of abuse who've received proper, professional help will eventually come to know this. Charities who support survivors know this. Psychologists who work with perpetrators of abuse (should!) know this.
Unless you have severe psychological flaws that inhibit cognitive reasoning, you are always able to make a choice between harming someone (emotionally, sexually or physically), or treating them with love and respect. Abusers choose to harm their partners. They then choose to take no responsibility for their own actions, by using excuses just like the ones EL James and her fans take such pleasure in trotting out.
My own abuser used the first two excuses. I used the third, because I believed the first two.
"Poor him," I'd sob, whilst ignoring the fact that he'd told me I was pathetic, clingy, disgusting and fat. "He had such a terrible childhood, he doesn't know any better." And when he'd forcibly slap my hand away if I was trying to be affectionate, or call me a slut for trying to initiate sex (despite expecting it on tap when he wanted it), I'd shake my head and remind myself "he's only pushing you away because he's scared of how close you've gotten to him; he told you that himself and it must have been so hard for him to admit..." And then I'd try to work out how best to be there for him - to love him the right way - so that we could eventually move forwards and have a proper, healthy relationship.
But there was no right way. There was no way, because he didn't want there to be one. If he moved past his issues, he'd no longer have an excuse to treat me the way he did, after all. I clung to the belief that he'd change if I loved him the way he wanted me to, because I desperately wanted it to be true. It's what keeps so many abused women (and obviously men) in their damaging relationships; that desperate longing for their abuser to turn back into the nice, charming, lovely person they first met. And we place the responsibility for making that happen squarely on our own shoulders, just like Ana does throughout the Fifty Shades trilogy.
EL James has claimed - utterly ridiculously - that those who see abuse in her books are "doing a disservice to the women who experience it" in real life. Again... Bullshit!!!
In many cases, it is those women who've experienced abuse in real life who recognise it in Fifty Shades and feel compelled to speak out. But that quote from the author is mere evidence that she is utterly unable to comprehend criticism and will not listen to a word against her "perfect man," regardless of who it comes from. Even in her press release, announcing the imminent arrival of Grey, EL James made subtle digs at those who justifiably criticised her leading man's behaviour, insisting "there's two sides to every story" and reminding readers of poor ickle Christian's "troubled past."
And that is what has caused my biggest concern about this book. That is the reason that my stomach has been in knots since I heard the news about it. Because with just a few words, EL James has made it inevitable that Grey is not merely "for the fans," but for the critics. It's going to be a justification of Christian's appalling, abusive behaviour. It's going to be excuse after excuse. It's going to be played for sympathy, so that the fans who already use those tired, outdated, rubbish lines about how abusive people "can't help it," feel justified in doing so and use them all the more. It's going to be something to wave in the faces of survivors and charities, so that EL James - with her far greater audience than we could ever have - can say "look, it's all so understandable now! He really doesn't know any better! Read this and you'll see how pained he is, poor thing!"
And she may as well smack every survivor of domestic abuse in the face with the bloody book whilst she's at it, because she's peddling yet more lies, yet more dangerous myths and, since it's my word of the day, yet more bullshit. She's telling those survivors that their abusers didn't know any better and couldn't help their actions. She's telling those survivors that if they'd only been as wonderful as Ana, their abusive lovers would have become the perfect partner they always dreamed of. And there is nothing more sick than that.
"It's fantasy, Emma, get over it," the fans will cry.
But in writing this book, EL has made it more than just fantasy. She's made it a justification for some of the most deplorable behaviour a man could ever display towards a woman. Bruising her body without consent, stalking her thousands of miles away when she's asked for space, telling her to "deal with" her feeling that she's being abused... Grey, if my fears are correct, will be a book that explains away abusive behaviour and attempts to elicit sympathy for the perpetrator. It will be a book that, without any research to back it up, claims that an abuser can justify their actions based on their own past experiences. It will be an attempt to silence her critics, rather than a "gift" to her fans.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope that when this book comes out and I read it (via detailed chapter recaps online, because I am not giving EL James a penny of my money; I'd rather donate it to a domestic abuse charity), that it doesn't go for the sympathy vote, or try to justify Christian's abusive behaviour. I hope he comes across as appallingly badly as he does in that first, rewritten chapter. I hope the fans read Grey and recognise him as the abuser he is, without giving him any excuses for his actions. But given the three books that came before... I don't hold out much hope.