My Ma and 50 Shades of Grey

I never watch the Oscars. It’s far too long, even if I am just sitting in my pyjamas with a cup of tea and the ability to fall asleep at any moment, usually right before a major award is announced. But I have a deeply frivolous side so, on Tuesday morning, I read all the gossipy bits and looked at some very pretty dresses, particularly Keira Knightley’s Valentino.

But in all this silliness, I felt deeply sorry for Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia in 50 Shades of Grey.

http://www.laineygossip.com/Dakota-Johnson-Melanie-Griffith-awkward-at-2015-Oscars/37701

This may not be terribly shocking but I am not a fan of 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve written about the Twilight series and the dangerous stories it tells about love and goodness and suicidality. For those of you living in blessed ignorance, 50 Shades was written as a Twilight fanfic – Edward and Bella in bondage – the same stalking-equals-love, the same colourless lesser and needy female character to the male character where every possible positive adjective was used in his description. I’m coding 50 Shades for an upcoming chapter and it’s leeching the colour from my soul just a smidge.

I’m struggling to understand how a book that is said to empower women and embrace their sexuality describes a penis in more detail than the lead female character. That feels a somewhat odd sentence to write; odder that it’s true.

It feels ridiculous to have to say that bruises should never be badges of love.

To me, 50 Shades of Grey is deeply disheartening…

But this is not the point. Apparently the movie is better, or at least not as terrible as the book, although reviews have tended not to be overwhelming in their positivity. But – Anastasia apparently becomes an actual character, rather than simply a blank slate for Christian’s desires. Sam Taylor-Wood is an amazing artist so maybe her eye for detail won through. I’m hoping that, when I see the movie, I’ll see something character-driven rather than oh-my-god-Christian-Grey-is-just-a-perfect-man-driven. Mostly I’m hoping that Christian’s penis becomes a less important character than Anastasia.

(Writing this is making me realise just which bits of the book have upset me, not just as a feminist but as a lover of writing too. A few of us were discussing the books the other week and wept with laughter (laughed as we wept?) at some of the more well-used phrases – ‘oh my’ and ‘shattered into a million pieces’ came to mind. A book about sex that seems afraid of the word ‘vagina’. The coding really is as fun as it sounds.)

Yet the 50 Shades movie is making money and Dakota Johnson went to the Oscars, a rising star in a beautiful dress. Yay her – and I really mean that sincerely. Yet, if you watched the clip above, I wonder if you felt sorry for her as well? Her mother, the actress Melanie Griffith, who couldn’t hide her disdain for a movie that brought her to the Oscars too. Would she have been invited if not for her daughter? For the length of a televised interview, she couldn’t say she was proud of her daughter without deep reservations. And it seemed to upset her daughter, which is not surprising. What could have been a nice moment – if moments televised to the entire world during what is essentially a work event can be nice – was dented in front of millions of people.

Right then, I felt deeply relieved to have my mother. Admittedly, I’m always deeply relieved to have my Ma – she is one of the most calming people I know. Ma is one of the very few people in the entire world who has actually read my thesis and that is a true act of love. And she has always stood up for me, even when my decisions have made her shake her head in bemusement. ‘Are you sure you want to move to China in six days?’ ‘Are you sure you want to start a PhD?’ ‘You adopted a cat this afternoon?’ ‘Why are you coding that terrible book, darling? Why don’t you code a better one?’ No matter my decisions, and no matter how unhappy they may have made me while I’ve worked out other ones, I have always been sure that Ma was (and is) proud of me.

And on Tuesday morning, as deeply saccharine as this sounds, I felt far luckier than Dakota Johnson.

So, Ma, this is my thank you. x

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