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review of the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” impact

July 18, 2012

I’d already not been able to miss E. L. James being interviewed on a tv talk show, and I’d already read where Belinda Luscome with other editors for Time Magazine had named James one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012, already in the first quarter of 2012, because of her Fifty Shades of Grey triology. And then this past weekend, when my wife and I visited a very popular and crowded diner in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, I had to compete with a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey for the cashier’s attention; she didn’t blush even one shade when she finally looked up from those riveting pages of that book finally to accept our payment for our breakfast. This sort of lapse in attention to customers, you might need to know, is very uncommon in these parts.

If you came to this post for a review of the book, let me say that nobody in my family including me has yet read it.  So I don’t have a review of it here, not yet.  The wikipedia entry seems pretty good, nonetheless.  Reading it, I note how the author has chosen the names Christian and Anastasia for the names of her protagonists.  How very literary, I think to myself, to have allusionary names for characters, and how very clever that they are “Christian.”  Well, you see how I’m reading this:  Christian seems at first glance to hearken to the religion, especially when the Greek name Anastasia is in relationship so closely, the latter word being Greek for what English-speaking Christians call Resurrection.

But in this post, I’m only just wanting, however briefly, to review some of the impact of this book.  In particular, I’m wanting to follow some of the ripple effects it’s seemed to have caused among bloggers who self-identify publicly as Christian bloggers.

For instance, there’s this one post by a Christian at the Gospel Coalition with the following title:  “The Polluted Waters of 50 Shades of Grey, Etc.”  It’s by one Jared C. Wilson, who quotes four paragraphs from a book by one other Christian also named Wilson, one Douglas Wilson.  So to set that up, the one Wilson compares the book by the other Wilson to James’ impactful book in this way:

This passage from Douglas Wilson’s book Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man was written 13 years ago, but I found it especially relevant in the wake of the success of 50 Shades of Grey and other modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission. It is found in the chapter in the book on Rape, and Wilson argues that this sort of sexual pathology is a perverted version of good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.

I suppose it’s rather unfortunate that the blogger Wilson does not quote from the book by the author James. Perhaps, nonetheless, it’s even more unfortunate that the blogger Wilson does quote from the author Wilson’s book, and even more unfortunate than that how both men, the two Wilsons, come into the many comments to defend this quotation. The later, confesses, eventually that he assumed that E. L. James must have been a man for writing the erotic novel. At any rate, some of the unfortunate and unfortunately “defended” quotation of the one Wilson’s book includes this bit (now here an excerpt of an excerpt):

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. 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.

The defense that both men, these Wilsons, make for these words is that they are misunderstood by all the commenters commenting after the blogpost while they themselves acknowledge that they have not understood E. L. James’s book or understood that she writing it was not a man like them.

At any rate, there’s the rippling effect now, the aftershock of comments, and the blog posts in response, and the calls for such. I’d recommend the reading of these:

Oh? I couldn’t tell the different between the GC and 50 Shades” by Joel Watts

50 Shades of Douglas Wilson’s Racism and the Gospel Coalition @TGC” by RodtRDH

Sex as colonization?” by Abram K-J

The Gospel Coalition, sex, and subordination” by Rachel Held Evans

update – a few other posts:

Is it 2011? The Gospel Coalition and Rob Bell have our attention, again.” by Brian LePort

Sexual Conquering is Rape” by J. R. Daniel Kirk

Doug Wilson, The Gospel Coalition, and Sanctified Rape Culture” by Grace

50 Shades of Stupid” by Phillip Winn

The Writer’s Burden” by Dianna E. Anderson

Equality Forces Rape Culture?” by the Author at

Let’s just call it what it is – rape” by Joel Watts

If This is What Christian Sex Is Like, No Thank You” by Hemant Mehta (not self-identifying as a Christian)

Take it Down” by Scot McNight

The Only Thing Worse than a Church Full of Women Reading 50 Shades of Grey Is a Church Full of Men Reading Fidelity: What It Means to Be a One-Woman Man” by Wade Burleson

With no small amount of trepidation…” by Chris Hubbs

take it down, jared” by jonathan

50 shades of BLAH” by the writer at The Blog bites better than the Bullet.

Fidelity and Shades of Grey” by Mara Reid

Gender Roles, Submission, and the Image of God: Choose your words carefully” by Bekah Mason

Roles Reversed” by Hank

Just some words of encouragement and peace…” by Rachel Held Evans

And “My Review of Fifty Shades of Grey” by Joel Watts

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2012 1:01 pm

    One of the commenters after Rachel Held Evans’s post says this, worth repeating here:

    In light of recent controversies among Christians, such as this, as well as outside of the church, such as Tosh.O and Penn State, I would encourage people to educate themselves on the facts of sexual assault and rape. RAINN, the national resource center on sexual violence and abuse has a plethora of facts and resources. For men in particular looking to better understand these issues and become aspiring allies, consider checking out Men Can Stop Rape. Most importantly, remember that if you know five or more women, statistically at least one of them is a survivor. Believe them, listen to them, and learn from them.

  2. July 18, 2012 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the links, JK, both in your post, and in your comments!

  3. July 18, 2012 3:23 pm

    Honored to be linked here. Love me some BLT!

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    July 19, 2012 12:49 am

    Thanks so much, Kurk, for all the links. I am glad that so many men have responded to this issue. So sad.

  5. July 19, 2012 6:32 am

    James McGrath writes another post and lists a few more posts here, and of course there are more which have been written since:

    One man commenting at one of these posts says it’s clear that neither of the Mr. Wilsons has ever been raped or neither would they use or nor could they excuse such phallo-overpowering language. Another man goes into Christian theological to talk about Jesus having been dominated by and in effect penetrated by nails and spears of Roman men (to suggest some of the implications of the Wilson view – perhaps the implication that Jesus is more female like by this view?).

    But most troubling is the assumption and presumption of the Wilson language in his book and in their defense of it (a) that women are designed by God for such penetration and (b) that marriage is God’s sanctioning of the various shades of the supposedly natural-order male sexual dominance over females.


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