What I learned from ’50 Shades of Grey’

by GK on August 9, 2012 · 8 comments

Reading “50 Shades of Grey” as a man must be just like graduating from an Ivy League school: there’s a lot of hype, it’s a grind to get through, and in the end it’s less about what you learned than just being able to say you went there.

Not that I ever had the grades to sniff the Ivy League, but I did dare myself to read and finish “50 Shades.” I took one for the team, because I’m now qualified to answer what guys with better reading tastes may be wondering: “What’s up with that book?”

So, here’s what’s up: You can learn a thing or two about women’s sexuality from reading “50 Shades,” but at over 500 poorly written pages, you may find the return on investment to be lacking. There’s far better erotica out there,  and as dominant-submissive stories go, give me “Secretary” any day.

50 shades of greyThere was a media blitz over the BDSM in the book, but none of Christian Grey’s kinky toys deliver more pain than the writing here. Even mocking it feels too easy, in the same way it’s too easy to make fun of Nickelback’s music. (Yet millions have consumed both products.)

To call this book “controversial” is to give it too much credit. Check out this classic Bill Hicks bit about “Basic Instinct” to know what I mean.

I don’t know who E.L. James is and whether she was intentionally dumbing the book down for a large audience, but this is essentially a Judy Blume novel with naughty parts. The first-person narrative is full of breathless, clumsy prose, and it actually uses the word “magic” as a verb. As in, “I magic a smile on my face and stroll over to the laptop.”

While this high-school-diary style of writing does work better with the sex scenes, which are steamy enough, don’t look for anything too racy. By Grey’s own admission, most of the sex is “vanilla,” and even the characters’ genitalia aren’t directly mentioned, so as not to offend soccer moms from Kansas. If you want some real dirty talk, you’re better off reading James Joyce’s love letters to his wife.

Actually, you’re better off reading James Joyce, period.

But I’m just piling on with the other 30,000 snarky bloggers out there if I continue this way. For what it’s worth, the book is wildly popular with women, so I’ll stick to explaining what a heterosexual man can learn from it:

Women still want to be rescued: There’s been some feminist hand-wringing about “50 Shades” and its submissive view of women’s roles. I think they’re worrying too much. Yes, many women fantasize about being the sub to a sexy guy’s dom … except for those times when they want to do the spanking. Women are too wonderful and complex to boil down to a simple role.

Still, Christian Grey is compared to Lancelot and Superman before Page 100, and much of the fantasy here derives from an assertive, dynamic guy taking a woman into his world. Not just in the bedroom, but also exposing her to classical music and hang gliding.

I’ve seen too many guys try to learn “game” skills without remembering to back that up with an interesting life. This book’s popularity with women reminds us what matters more.

Women can be insecure with guys they’re into: “50 Shades” started out as fan fiction for “Twilight.” And much like Bella, the Anastasia Steele character is meant to be someone any average women can relate to (this video about “Twilight” says it all).

But I’ve known many real-life women far more interesting than her. She’s whiny, as bland as a rice cake and wishes she could be as cool as her hotter, more confident roommate.

In real life, there’s no way Grey seduces Anastasia (or vice-versa). In real life, Grey hooks up with the roommate before ditching her for Miss America. Then again, if Jason Segel and not Russell Brand can end up with Mila Kunis in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the fantasy works both ways, doesn’t it?

Anastasia (ugh, I hate that name) worries until the very end that she’s not good enough for Grey, even though he irrationally goes out of his way to show his singular attraction for her. Having witnessed such insecurity myself, no matter how attractive the women, I can vouch for the realism here.

Women really put the “fantasy” in fantasy guy: So, let’s sum up the Christian Grey character, who ends up falling in love with our plain-Jane female protagonist:

  • He’s hot.
  • No, really, really hot.
  • OMG, he’s so hot!
  • He’s a tall, muscular, 28-year-old billionaire with a mansion, a helicopter that he pilots, and private jet.
  • He’s unfailingly charming and a great listener.
  • He has a large penis and uses it to make Anastasia orgasm twice when she loses her virginity and many, many times over.
  • He’s a virtuoso on the piano.
  • He’s an expert glider and rowing champion.
  • He’s a wine expert.
  • He has a tortured, mysterious past involving lots of women (which of course draws her to him more).

OK, he does have one flaw: He likes listening to Kings of Leon. But otherwise, the Grey character puts Prince Charming to shame. This reminds me of what Roger Sterling says when Don Draper (a 1960s Christian Grey) asks him what women want: “What do they want? Everything! Especially if the other girls have it.”

Women can set the bar for their ideal man pretty high. You don’t need to be Superman/Jesus/Christian Grey, so if she’s placing you on a pedestal, it’s best to disappoint her early so she can appreciate the real you.

Women want you to be dirty with them: A less-experienced guy can forget this. I don’t know why Anastasia and Grey are e-mailing with Blackberries instead of texting with iPhones, but they do give a good sense of the kind of sexual banter women like.

Grey is explicit about how much he wants her and what he wants to do with her, when they’re apart and when they’re together. Women respond more to specific verbal imagery than visual imagery, so it’s worth taking some notes here.

I realize there are two sequels to the book, but I would sooner let Grey punish me with his cat o’ nine tails than read them, so I’ll pretend there is no further story to discover. I’m currently reading some Hemingway to forget this ever happened.


1 matt August 14, 2012 at 2:32 am

GK: Do you think that deep down, honestly, that women think they are perfect? I know evolutionary psychology says women should select the best possible genes (which is part of it) – but maybe women are just a little narcissistic as well?

Men are just not like this. We don’t think we are perfect, and we don’t believe in the perfect woman. Chris Rock said it best, “All men want are three things: food, sex, silence.”

2 GK August 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

Hey, Matt. I definitely don’t think women believe they’re perfect … mass media points out their physical flaws every day. And as men get objectified more and more, we’re catching up on the narcissism (Men’s Health, GQ, etc.). So let’s not pat ourselves on the back too much. :)

As you said, women have a reason to be pickier than men — does this get taken to the extreme? Absolutely, and I see it magnified here in San Francisco, though I will say that guys can be pickier about looks. That’s a great Chris Rock, quote. I like the one where he says, “You’re one of two things: married and bored, or single and lonely.”

3 dR August 31, 2012 at 2:28 am

Hey Greg,

dude, as always, great post. i nearly spit on my computer when i read your “Kings of Leon” blast about C Grey.

i hit a wall on the book around page 200. i had to take a break from the bad writing, but your feelings about the book are similar to mine.

I think the “Blair Witch Project” wants its hype back.

4 Anonymous September 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm

update us on your life dR

5 GK September 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I won’t steal dR’s thunder, but he’s been a busy man! Tell ’em, dude.

6 Anonymous September 4, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Another podcast then :)

7 lee May 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

the ONLY thing i know about fsog. it’s made my fuck buddy realize that she wants me to slap her face when we screw. i’ve never read the book but i love it!!!!!!!

8 GK May 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

@lee And that, sir, is the comment of the year!

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