Fifty Shades of Abuse: Blog by Hollie Spence


The success of E. L. James’ best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is undeniable. With the first novel selling over 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015, it has been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. It is easy to award the series as one of the most popular of it’s genre. Fifty Shades is often classified as a romance novel – do we agree with this?

Operating within a strict set of plot boundaries, the romance genre traditionally includes the feeble heroine needing to help the man overcome his dark and mysterious past that forces him to mistreat her until the brave heroine helps him see the error of his ways.

However, in Fifty Shades of Grey, the reader is introduced to Christian Grey, the sadomasochistic billionaire who gets sexual pleasure from unleashing physical pain on women. The novel is told through Anastasia’s first person narration, meaning that the reader is subjected to Ana’s thoughts and feelings regarding her physical relationship with Grey. When reading the more graphic sexual scenes in isolation, it is easy to see how the tumultuous relationship between the pair can be interpreted as abuse. The line “I’m a blubbering mess, and I don’t want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable?” says it all – these are the warning flags of an abusive relationship.

In a society plagued by abusive relationship, the prospect of Fifty Shades of Grey being categorised as a romance novel is extremely harmful. Millions of women worldwide are in controlling and abusive relationships with men –  a book that suggests sexual assault, emotional abuse and physical violence are acceptable is not what men and women need to read.


14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bronagh on February 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Great post Hollie, very insightful. Obviously everyone has their own individual desires, however, Fifty Shades of Grey really made me think about how women frequently and even unknowingly, sacrifice their own needs and even selves for the sake of their male partners. Therefore where should the line be drawn – how much sacrifice is too much?


  2. This is a great post, and insightful interpretation of the novel. I like how you’ve picked up on the abuse and questioned its position in and influence on modern society. I’m aware you’ve mentioned how the novel is typical of a number of others under the romance genre; does this mean that the majority of/all romance novels present abusive relationships under the guise of a blissful one?


  3. Posted by Rachel Chandar on February 26, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post Hollie. I completely agree how harmful it is to categorise this novel as a romance, and simply because of Grey’s status and appearance his actions are deemed as acceptable and romantic. The idea that love will change the damaged Christian Grey, and how he is allowed to control Ana, is a dangerous and unrealistic concept. There are so many issues in this novel, and I feel that the issue of sexual consent is also a large part of it.


  4. Posted by Ella Bukbardis on February 27, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Great post. What I really did not understand about 50 shades is how the book gained so much popularity when many of the sexual scenes were foregrounded by abuse. Christian Grey’s alleged damaged past was used as an excuse to incite violence on Ana, something which I found uncomfortable.


  5. Posted by Georgia on February 27, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    This post is really engaging, I think it is so interesting how many women read this novel, knowing the controversy surrounding it. It makes me think, that despite the undertones of domestic abuse, why did it still become such a big hit with a female audience?


  6. Posted by ambermillar1995 on February 27, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Great post, Hollie. I found the focus on Christian’s troubled childhood and background inappropriate, suggesting to the reader that abuse is to be withstood if the abuser has a tragic backstory to support it. I think the popularity of the franchise demonstrates the widespread modern problem of abuse and its presentation as normal and part of healthy relationships.


  7. Posted by zoha on February 27, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    really good post! I agree with the point about such narratives being harmful for male and female readers. Such narratives have a detrimental impact on the minds of young female readers. I think they somehow internalise that such a relationship is normal and within this complicated and fragmented normalcy, women are trapped. Novels like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ should not be celebrated but instead should be seen as a touchstone of all that is wrong in a relationship.


  8. Posted by Sara on February 27, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Such an interesting post! With novels such as this that became so popular among women, it is worrying about how this novel is portraying signs of an abusive relationship while being marketed as a romance novel. This thin line between abusive and romantic are clearly shown in this novel and what the populace of today’s society consider romantic.


  9. Really enjoyed reading your post! I think there is a link between the confessional poetry we read and 50 shades. Where we saw poets talking about taboo topics in such a personal way and receiving harsh criticisms makes you wonder why this novel was then deemed acceptable. Is it because bondage is a taboo topic that James then chose to write about it? Whilst I appreciate some women will read this as a romance and enjoy the excitement of the sex scenes, it’s true how damaging this can be to others; a male oppressive using his power to control his girlfriend would not be acceptable in real life.


  10. Posted by Lily on February 27, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Great post Hollie. I think it is quite odd how this trilogy become hugely popular when it displays an abusive relationship. In which the relationship has become glamourized. I agree with the other comments about how Christian’s troubled childhood is making the abuse he gives to Anna seem understandable, which I think gives a wrong signal to women; that it is acceptable for a man to be abusive if he has had a troubled past.


  11. Posted by Ruzina on February 27, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    I agree with your points, Hollie. Most romance novels are based on the idea that there is a barrier for couples getting together which they must overcome. In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian and Anastasia’s romance full of passion and love is conventional. However, Christian is obsessed with BDSM and asserts his dominance by controlling Anastasia. This is a troubling fantasy since images of Anastasia being beaten becomes normal for erotica. Therefore, it raises questions about what it means to “consent” to sex.


  12. Posted by Fern Dalton on February 28, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    Very insightful post. I think that Fifty Shades of Grey very much blurs the lines with what is consensual and what is desire. There is no given consent to Grey to perform the acts that he does, just a contract, which is not typical of a romantic novel. I think that the publicity it has achieved, fails to notice what is wrong about the novel and instead, the success has focused on new things to try in the bedroom, failing to recognise that this isn’t what the book is about and there is a more troubling interpretation hidden between the lines of the text.


  13. Posted by Carmen on February 28, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    A very interesting blog post Hollie. The very idea of an abusive relationship being brushed under the carpet due to a somewhat tragic childhood is quite concerning as it suggests to readers that this type of relationship is acceptable as long as there is some sort of excuse for this abuse. What kind of message are they sending to its readers? The fact that this novel was extremely popular with women is also shocking as the novel as a whole is rather unhealthy.


  14. Posted by Hannah Mitchell on March 1, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    i think it is a really important point as to how far desires can be taken before it crosses boundaries of abuse, mentally and physically. Although the trilogy was popular, most of the reviews I had heard and read were not overly positive. Personally, I would not class the novel as a typical romance novel


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