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I did it. I just became the first man on the planet to read Fifty Shades of Grey. The world has gone Grey: The book has sold over 10 million copies, sex-toy shops are booming, hardware stores report an uptick in rope sales (used for BDSM), author E.L. James has announced a new line of Fifty Shades products, and a blockbuster movie seems to be a lock.
For the seven women unfamiliar with the plot, here it is in a (spoiler-free) nutshell: Our young, innocent heroine, Anastasia, falls for a rich and powerful man who “has broad shoulders, narrow hips, and his abdominal muscles ripple as he walks. He really is stunning.” This man of mystery, Christian Grey, is the “epitome of male beauty,” who seems to have secrets, and “his voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel...or something.” As Ana falls for this dangerous man, she learns that he’s into kinky sex and that he wants her as a “Submissive,” even asking her to sign a contract that stipulates that she cannot look him in the eye unless given permission, she cannot touch him and she must be his sex slave every weekend. At first horrified, soon Ana becomes intrigued by this dark, erotic world....
Much has been written about how this book portrays women. Progressive or regressive? Empowering or debilitating? Since I’m the only male who will ever read this book, the task falls upon me to discuss what it says about men. So here’s what the book gets right (and wrong) about guys and relationships:
Right: We would laugh at the phrase “inner goddess.”
Ana refers to her “inner goddess” not once, not twice -- but 57 times. (I counted on the Kindle -- it really is 57.) She never once uses these words out loud, presumably embarrassed that Grey would laugh at the phrase. She’s right! Some favorites: “My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheerleading pom-poms”; “My inner goddess glows so bright she could light up Portland”; “...my inner goddess bounces up and down like a small child waiting for ice cream”; “My inner goddess is spinning like a world-class ballerina”; “My inner goddess pole-vaults over the fifteen-foot bar”; and then, after the pole vault, “My inner goddess is standing on the podium awaiting her gold medal.”
Wrong: We like to dominate.
Clearly, the book is fiction -- I get that. But as Grey mania sweeps the world, some will theorize: To what extent does this mountain of id, Christian Grey, symbolize what all men secretly desire? So here’s my preemptive answer: NONE. He’s in cuckooland. We don’t have fantasies of smothering our wives or girlfriends; we don’t want to dictate how they dress, sleep and eat. Not only is this profoundly disrespectful, it sounds...time-consuming. We’re lazier than that.
Right: We don’t like talking on the phone.
Grey and Anastasia rarely talk on the phone. Yep. The author gets this one right. On the other hand...
Wrong: We want to email back and forth 20 times a day.
Basically, 70 percent of this book is porn, and the other 30 percent is a tedious email exchange between Grey and Anastasia, which was an innovative device in fiction...in 1997. Flirty email check-ins are fun. A never-ending chain that requires a reply every two minutes? Well, maybe that’s why he needs the bondage -- to counteract the cyber boredom.Right: We like to be challenged.
Presumably, Grey is attracted to Ana because she offers him a challenge. She’s not like his usual Submissives who immediately consent. “No one’s ever said no to me before. And it’s so -- hot.” Sure, there’s something to this.
Wrong: We like to hold hands on the first date.
On the way to their very first date, Grey takes Ana’s hand, holds it, and they walk hand-in-hand to the coffee shop. Who does that?! I found this more disturbing than the spankings and riding crops.
Right: We can’t really just “be friends.”
“Jose and I are good friends,” Ana muses, “but I know deep down inside he’d like to be more. He’s cute and funny, but he’s just not for me. He’s more like the brother I never had.” Predictably, Jose makes a pass at her because Billy Crystal was right: “Men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
Wrong: We suggest coffee as a first date.
Lamest first date ever. (Then again, if the second date is in a sex-slave lair called the “Red Room of Pain,” maybe it all balances out.)