I’m trying to figure out what the attraction is with 50 Shades of Grey. As a Christian feminist who is passionate about equality for women, I am concerned about how many women love this book, and what messages this book is sending those women. From what I have read, the book started out as Twilight fan fiction, and from the sounds of it, is worse that Twilight. It appears as if popular culture is currently trending towards romanticizing abusive relationships, and that’s sad. 50 Shades of Grey is also a very poorly written manifesto on being in an abusive relationship.
I’ve never been the greatest fan of fiction, but lately some great fiction has sucked me in and now I’m a bigger fan that I used to be and like to always have some kind of quality fiction to read. My latest read was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson. I really enjoyed this book because unlike certain fiction of the trashy quality such as “50 Shades of Grey” or “Twilight”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was, in my opinion, a great read! (I know some of my readers may appreciate the other series I mentioned, the views expressed here are merely my own opinions).
There were many things that I appreciated about TGWTDT. The first was, unlike the other above-mentioned titles, the main character, Lisbeth Salander, is a strong woman who stands up for herself and works out her problems by herself. I don’t necessarily agree with her methods, although the scene where she tattooed her rapists belly was pretty funny. Lisbeth Salander isn’t the popular current image of womanhood. She’s unmarried, has a highly intellectual job, and is very much liberal in her beliefs and actions including, of course, her interesting piercings and tattoos.
However, the character of Lisbeth Salander is as much of a real woman as a conservative stay at home, home-schooling mom. We need more fiction with strong female characters, so that we can learn how strong we can be. The reason I don’t like books such as “50 Shades of Grey” or “Twilight” is because they teach women that being in an abusive relationship is normal, or even desirable. Of course, all these stories are just that…stories. The thing is that stories, particularly ones of such popularity as the ones mentioned here, become part of our culture, and our culture is part of who we are. We draw meaning and identity from our culture, which means that we need our culture to be informed by high quality fiction, movies, games, music, art, etc.
I’ve been taking part in some interesting conversations and interactions lately. I had a conversation last night with some great women I work with who differ completely from me in the way that they think, and a lot of it is influenced by their culture. The only problem is when they think that their culture is the only right way of life. Every culture, even every generation, does things a little differently and have both good and bad aspects. My children are being raised in a multicultural home but are living in the culture of the southern USA. I’m hoping that my children will glean the valuable things from both of the main cultures they are exposed to and influenced by.
If I had to choose, I’d rather have my daughter be like Lisbeth Salander than like Bella Swan. So I want to give my daughter access to literature that shows her how strong she is, how wonderful she is. I want my daughter to know that she needs to be in a relationship with a man who treats her well, not a man who abuses her. I want my daughter to know that she is fully capable of having a career in any field she chooses and that she is intelligent. I want her to know that whether she chooses to dress in conservative clothes and has pretty hair or whether she has her tongue pierced and a hundred tattoos, that she’s a beautiful woman worthy of respect because of who she is. And I want her to know that God loves her either way.
After finding it at Goodwill for less than a dollar, I decided that I was going to read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” partly because I think it is the coolest book title ever, and partly because it’s a bestseller and I feel like as a writer I should read at least some of the bestsellers, and mostly because the book intrigues me, and appears like it might actually be an intellectual piece of work, you know, completely unlike “50 Shades of Grey”. I’m not sure in what universe “50 Shades of Grey” sounded like a good idea, but I think it is a sad social commentary that we actually happily consume such stories. However, I’m not writing this post to complain about “50 Shades of Grey” although I can’t pass up having a good jab at it when I get the opportunity. So far, I’ve only read the first few chapters, and the book has proven to be a fascinating read.
“However, it was not Lisbeth Salander’s astonishing lack of emotional involvement that most upset him. Milton’s image was one of conservative stability. Salander fitted into this picture about as well as a buffalo at a boat show. Armansky’s star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, Armansky also saw that she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade. She was a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black. She looked as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers.” Larsson, Steig “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, p. 38.
The story basically says that it was rather unusual that a woman like this would be working at a professional job, because she wasn’t very conservative. I have to wonder why people value conservatism so much. Rather than seeing the value in all people, we tend to write off some people as worse than others, sometimes based solely on appearances. Just last week, I showed up to work in a neon yellow lace top that had a black cami underneath, a long leather skirt, a leather vest, and black flats that had square silver studs on them. My hair was jet black fading into purple. Although I was the same person that I always am, someone decided that my outfit was “offensive” and that person complained to management. I was completely within my company’s dress code, and the manager even told me as much when she informed me that someone had been offended. I did have about five customers tell me how amazing they thought I looked, also. Anyway, my purpose is not to complain about someone choosing to take offense to an outfit of mine, my purpose is to say that you can’t tell what a person is really like just by looking at the way they present themselves.
I’ve heard the argument that if people respected themselves, they wouldn’t have certain piercings, or tattoos, etc. I don’t think it’s really about self-respect, I think it’s more about symbols and meanings and art. There are a lot of piercings and tattoos that I don’t care for, but there are also piercings that I like. I have three holes in each ear and intend to get a nose piercing eventually. I don’t mind the look of tongue piercings although I would never personally get one because it’s not worth it to me. I’m planning on getting a tattoo soon, and when I do I will most certainly post about it. However, this post isn’t about my piercing and tattoo preferences either.
What this post is about is about not judging the character of a person based on their external appearances. We shouldn’t assume that someone wouldn’t fit into a professional environment because of their tattoos and piercings, or because of the cut and color of their hair, or because of the style of clothing they wear. The fact that in the story “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Steig Larsson had to write that Lisbeth Salander was different and didn’t fit in shows the sad state of our society where appearances mean more than character. We all have our own preferences and our own prejudices, but for me I have been trying to put aside my prejudices and see through to who a person really is. I’m not perfect at it and I do judge based on appearances, and it should not be so. The value of a person is not determined by how they look, their value is that they are them.
I think that I will probably have more to say about this story as I progress through it, it appears as if the author was very savvy about culture and I look forward to digging further into this book.
Larsson, S 2008, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Black Lizard, New York.
Several times during the past year I’ve mentioned worship experiences from church that really spoke to me. I am blessed to be able to help behind the scenes in Sunday morning worship at my church. I operate the video mixer or run media or lights for our services, with a great team of other people and an awesome band and worship pastor. Surprisingly, helping with production has also created a couple of great worship experiences, and taught me some things about worship. Running equipment to help in worship means that I am there for a practice on a weeknight, a practice on Sunday morning, and two worship services, and I can tell you that even though the band is singing the same songs in worship and the pastor is preaching the same message, I often get different things out of each of those two services even though they are basically the same.
It is with the production knowledge I have been gaining, along with some reading and studying that I have been doing, that I offer the following thoughts. The general idea was coined from Jeremy Begbie who contributed a chapter on the future of arts in worship in a book called “For the Beauty of the Church” edited by W. David O. Taylor. Jeremy Begbie said that “the Spirit unites the unlike”. (Begbie, 2010 p. 167). He talks about the miracle on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 where Peter was preaching and many people of many nations were together, and each heard the message in his own language, and comprehended it, and 3,000 people accepted Christ that day. This was a crowd of people who had nothing in common and couldn’t even speak the same language.
This happens in modern churches as well. God uses different things to speak to different people in different ways. Words and music are the “languages” that I speak and understand, and so God usually speaks to me through either of those. I have a friend who dances. I personally don’t really understand dance, but that’s the “language” that she speaks and God can speak to her through dance, and other visual displays, whereas visuals often just leave me confused. Anyway, Begbie says to take the Biblical account in Acts 2 and insert the word “media” where the word “language” is used. (Begbie, 2010, p. 170).
So, that passage would look something like this (passage from the NIV with my changes in italics):
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be different media that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to produce other media as the spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one saw them performing in the style of media that they most understood. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are performing Galileans? Then how is it that each of us sees them in our own media? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judiaism); Cretans and Arabs – we see them performing the wonders of God in the way each of us understands it most!” Acts 2:1-11 (NIV), italics mine.
Please know that I am not trying to change the Bible and make it say something else here, I’m merely trying to illustrate a point. I have spent the last two years studying different media and writing techniques, and I have spent the last couple of months learning how to operate production equipment in the context of worship services. I’ve been studying technology and culture and I’m interested in its uses in Christian culture, for the benefit of the church, and for worship. I believe I want to focus my master’s degree research in this area.
The thing is different types of media speak to different people in different ways. None are “better” than the others; the fact is that God uses all forms of media and popular culture to speak to people. While we corporately worship together in church and sing praises to God, our acts of individual worship may indeed be much different. Only God could bring together a group of people who are so different, who have different lives and different stories and from different socio-economic backgrounds and have different preferences and different ways of understanding things, and have one worship service speak to many people in many different ways.
Begbie, J in Taylor, W 2010 For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
And talking about abusive relationships, there’s a blog firestorm right now that I am entering late about a leader in the Christian patriarchy movement, Doug Wilson, who seems to think that men need to conquer women in bed. To me it sounds like he’s advocating abusive relationships also, but then again, in my opinion the entire patriarchy movement just does that. Here is a quote from Douglas Wilson’s book Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man:
“Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.
But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.
. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.”
Looking around online, I see that I’m not the only one disgusted by Doug Wilson’s words. First of all, I want to know why exactly sex can’t be “an egalitarian pleasuring party”. I think my husband and I could have a lot of fun with our own private egalitarian pleasuring party, not that any of it would be any of Doug Wilson’s business.
At any rate, Wilson goes on to say that a man is to “penetrate, conquer, colonize and plant” and that a woman is to “receive, surrender, and accept”. See, that sounds like abuse to me. The words conquer and colonize are violent imagery. When my husband and I were in pre-marriage counselling, the pastor told my husband that he was to “ravage” me on our wedding night, and told me that I was to “submit”. So this violent rape imagery isn’t exclusive to Wilson, it seems to be exclusive to abusive men who use patriarchy to put a religious label on their abuse in order to try to make it ok.
I think that telling a woman to submit and surrender to violence is horrible. For far too long now, women have been blamed for their own rape, with the men who raped them claiming that they enjoyed it, or they were asking for it by what they were wearing, or that they shouldn’t have been in a particular location. For some reason, culture still tends to blame rape victims for what happened to them, and reading things like Wilson’s quote and 50 Shades of Grey just makes this kind of thinking worse, not better.
Wilson states that his writing is offensive to all egalitarians, and I can say that this is probably the only part where I agree with him. However, I would hope that his writing is offensive to more than just people who claim the egalitarian label. Women are not something to be conquered; we are a person to be loved.
I really think that Wilson’s views are dangerous, but so are the current portrayals of relationships in popular culture. We need to throw out Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey along with the likes of Doug Wilson, and stand up for ourselves and refuse to buy literature which exploits women and teaches them to remain in abusive relationships.
Wilson, D 1999, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man, Canon Press.