In the lead-up to the premier of the film-adaptation-of-the-novel-based-on-online-fan-fiction that is 50 Shades of Grey, I’ve been reading a lot of opinion about what this book and its huge following mean for society.
As a disclaimer, I have never read the trilogy myself, I believe too strongly in good literature and BDSM just isn’t my thing, in light of which I can’t really comment on the merit of the prose or the structure of the story. What I can comment on is the fact that the story involves a young impressionable woman becoming involved in a relationship with a destructive young man who takes sexual pleasure in inflicting pain because of abuse in his childhood. That’s not a judgement call, that’s the story’s plot.
The thought that a book about a woman who submits to physical abuse out of fear she’ll lose her lover can be so record-breakingly popular causes a visceral reaction in me. It got me thinking about my female literary heroines, especially because I am busy reading the Divergent series which, though teen fiction and simply written, has a strong female lead who allows herself to be fearless and selfless for those she loves.
Comparatively, the first literary heroine that comes to my mind (besides Scarlett O’Hara, whom I adore as a pillar of feminine strength and idiocy) is Jane Eyre, who rejects the pursuit of the man she loves and turns instead to a possible life of poverty because she doesn’t want to live a compromised moral existence. Of course, she returns to him on her own terms, a wealthy woman who can love Rochester freely without compromising on what she believes to be right. Unlike Anastasia Steele
But of course 50 Shades of Grey is a modern “love story” based on fan-fiction that developed online as a response to the wildly popular Twilight series. While it gets a lot of flak, and the movies were poorly cast and cheesy, I still enjoyed reading those stories and I wasn’t overly offended by the somewhat conservative view of femininity portrayed in them (I mean, Bella is a pretty sad excuse for a female lead). Then I look to teen fantasy that has emerged since the Twilight phenomenon began, and I am met with Katniss Everdeen.
I would make the argument that Katniss, while she may be emotionally unhinged at times in the story, is a far better role model for young women than Ana Steele could ever be. (Sure, totally biased opinion here, I stayed up all night to finish each book in the Hunger Games series). Katniss takes on the burden of providing for her family after her father’s death, and when sister Prim is impossibly selected as a tribute for the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself instead. She nurtures younger people around her, like companion Rue, and becomes a symbol for nationwide rebellion and ultimate freedom through her selfless actions. As Lorde’s song for the Mockingjay soundtrack croons “I’m a princess cut from marble, smoother than a storm. And the scars that mark my body, they’re silver and gold.” I would rather aspire to be this kind of woman, one who’s altruistic and generous actions speak volumes that changes lives over being chained up in the Red Room of Pain for the pleasure of a broken man.