Friday, October 5, 2012

So, Your Daughter Wants to Read 'Fifty Shades of Grey:' PART II

A couple of weeks ago, my bright and diligent teenage daughter asked me if she could read Fifty Shades of Grey. This isn’t the first time I’d had a difficult question from my her. In many ways, it seems my young lady was born ten years older. When she was nine, she asked me if she could read Judy Blume’s young adult novel, Forever. I said, “Yes, but I want to read it, too, and I want the two of us to have a ‘Father-Daughter Book Club’ talk about it.” In spite of her maturity, there were just some things she did not yet understand and I wanted her to learn those things from a parent rather than another child. She agreed and we both read it. Then, we talked.

Photo Credit: Arts Beat: New York Times
Still, no one will confuse Forever with Fifty Shades of Grey. While the former is a fictionalized account of a teenage girl who falls into what she believes is love with a boy and loses her virginity, Shades is a contemporary cultural phenomenon in which a young woman, Anastasia, subordinates herself to a man, Christian, whose sexual tastes involve consensual physical abuse of women.
Among others, these are the facts I pondered while considering my daughter’s request:
Anastasia has unprotected sex with Christian. – During Anastasia’s first sexual encounter with him, he does not wear a condom. After Anastasia starts to use birth control, on which Christian insisted, Anastasia and Christian continue to have unprotected sex.
For Christian, subordination is a prerequisite if Anastasia wants to have a relationship. – For a woman, the message is, “You have to give a guy anything he wants before he’ll be your boyfriend.”
Anastasia believes Christian is damaged and she wants to “fix” him. – In spite of Anastasia’s belief that Christian is damaged goods, he’s rich and handsome. This implies that if a man has money and is cute, regardless of his problems, which in the real world might include substance abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, or just an inability to brush his teeth or take out the garbage, well, then anything goes.
Sadistic sex is glorified. – The prolix references to Anastasia’s “inner goddess” blissfully celebrating her satisfaction as Christian’s subordinate sends a message that such behavior is perfectly acceptable and, perhaps, even typical.
The book’s “original target audience .  .  . middle-aged women,[i]” have implicitly accepted Shades’ premise – In Manhattan, hundreds of women stood in line at“.  .  . ‘pleasure carts’ like the ones for selling hot dogs. The crowds were so big the city shut them down temporarily .  .  .[ii]
Look, I sincerely have no problem with or, frankly, any business knowing what two consenting adults do behind closed doors. In fact, the glorification of Christian Grey’s sexual preferences isn’t the most profound of my concerns. I don’t believe that having to “put out” to have wealthy and attractive boyfriend, that one person can make another person into something else, or that it’s all right to have unprotected sex as long as it’s oral sex are among the unchallenged messages I want my daughter to receive.

Courtesy of Trish Miller
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an action is worth ten thousand. Many readers’ behaviors have suggested that Christian’s and Anastasia’s conduct is not just reasonable, but is also typical. I don’t think these messages are appropriate for a teenage girl if all sides of the issue, that unprotected sex is not acceptable, that a woman should not have to subordinate herself in any form in order to have a relationship, and that “no man is a ‘fixer-upper’[iii],” aren’t also addressed.

So, my teenage daughter asked me, “Dad, would you mind if I read Fifty Shades of Grey?”
First, she asked me if she could read, which is an activity that I’ve always encouraged. Second, she asked me if it would be all right if she read what she knew to be provocative, adult fiction. Because I know my daughter, I know her question was also, “Dad, will you help me through this?” Finally, like her mother was, my daughter is stubborn. When she sets her mind to accomplishing something, she finds a way to do it with or without my help.
When my daughter, now a young lady, was just a little girl and she needed to cross a busy street, I held her hand and crossed with her. That young lady is still my little girl, and I’m still holding her hand.
I drove her to library.

[i] “Without ebooks, would there be a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey?’” Andrew Franklin. The Economist Group. www.theeconimstgroup .com. July 2, 2012.
[ii] “’Shades of Grey’ Merchandise Invasion Continues.” Leanne Italie. Huffington Post. August 15, 2012.
[iii] “Are You Trying to Fix Him?”
First published at

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John Bossert said...

I would have said "No, maybe in a few years," just as I have with movies I thought were age-inappropriate. But I dig where you're coming from, and am not sure my approach would have been any better (or worse).

Kristyn W. said...

First off, kudos to your daughter for asking "permission" to read this book. Most teenagers probaby would have just gotten their hands on the book one way or another and read it without the parent's knowledge. This just goes to show what an exceptional job you have done as a parent, especially as a single father.

Hats off to you for not being the type of dad/parent who would just outright say "no" or bury your head in the sand and be like "maybe in a few years when you're older" like the man who commented earlier said. You took her request seriously and treated her with the respect all females deserve, regardless of their age. I hope the parents who read this, whether a single or two-parent household, take away that lesson from this particular post you wrote.

I've been reading your blog for about a month now, and no doubt there are many people, not just fathers, who will benefit from all that you've written. As a single mom, I know I have. Thank you for sharing your experiences :-)

About Matthew said...

Great feedback, John and Kristyn. One thing is for sure, parenting, and in my case, single father parenting, doesn't get any easier!