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Books We Like: What’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” Teaching Teenagers?

The Lessons of Fifty Shades of Grey: Abusive Relationships?

Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James

Years ago, my then teenaged sister went to the pediatrician with my mother for her well visit. My mother pulled out a Sidney Sheldon book to show the doctor what my sister was reading. The doctor’s response was, “She’s a teenager; at least she’s reading.” That brings me to Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. This trilogy is everywhere; I saw huge ads for it plastered on Tube station walls in London and buses in Madrid. Reviews have suggested that the trilogy is bringing excitement back into marriages. Great for sales, but I don’t understand the hype. This genre—erotica—has been around for a long time.

I read all three books and one thing stuck out in my mind: Ana, the main character, is in an abusive relationship with the love of her life and soul mate, Christian. Sure they have an upsetting sexual dynamic, but they have established consensual rules and boundaries in the bedroom. The part that I found most disturbing was Christian’s control over Ana outside of the bedroom. He keeps her away from her friends, is jealous of her male friend, and he flies home on his helicopter when she doesn’t answer his phone calls. These read like signs of an abusive, controlling relationship. I get that, but do teen girls?

At the beginning of the media hype, most readers of the trilogy seemed to be adult women; but lately, teens are reading them too. I worry that these books carry the wrong message. I worry that girls who identify with Ana will be more likely to fall prey to teen dating violence. Christian is described as hot, intelligent, and very rich. He has a mercurial personality and Ana can tell his mood by the look in his eyes. She spends too much time tiptoeing around him so that he won’t get angry. And after he rages, he apologizes by saying that he loves her so much he can’t live without her.

I wanted to yell, “Ana, get out before it’s too late!” I hope teens who are reading these books are shouting the same sentiment. I hope that this is not the face of the new Prince Charming.

When we were teenagers, my sister and I read all of Jackie Collins’ books and Judy Blume’s Wifey. I can look back and say that we weren’t scarred by those forays into adult relationships. I want to believe that teens of today won’t be scarred either. And, at least they are reading.

Eca Taylor is the former circulation specialist for Your Teen Magazine.

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