Kathryn Casey
Mystery and True Crime Author


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Fifty Shadesí Christian Grey: A Hero or an Abuser?

July 27, 2012

Tags: Fifty Shades of Grey, Kathryn Casey, books, Christian Grey, true crime, fiction, mysteries

A few weeks back I wrote a post that ran on Forbes about the wildly popular book Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in the mega-hit 50 Shades series. My premise was that I find the book troubling because the main character, Christian Grey, reminds me of many of the abusers Iíve reported on over my decades as a crime writer. Iím concerned that women and men will go looking for their own Christian Grey, envisioning a romantic hero, and not be prepared for what they find.

Last week a friend sent me a link to a blog post on The Daily Beast, one that said sales of the 50 Shades books now top 20 million and publishers are in a rush to capitalize on the S&M trend by getting out similar titillating products. My friend saw the phenomenon as an interesting wrinkle in the publishing world. The article left me even more concerned.

Why? As these books and movies Ė thereís a film in the works for 50 Shades Ė romanticize bondage and S&M, Iím wondering how many men and women will put themselves in dangerous situations, assuming that the people theyíre entrusting their fates to are only role playing. How many of them will realize too late that this isnít always the case? Some, I would guess. Will it turn out to be okay in the majority of cases? Sure. After all, what consenting adults do is none of my business, and usually no one gets truly hurt. This isnít about those situations.

But letís be honest; thereís a percentage of the population who feeds off control and fear, who fantasizes in a very unhealthy way about mixing sex and violence. Need proof? If I could, Iíd invite you to look at the autopsy reports on my desk. Iím currently working on a book on a spate of Texas serial killings, and a considerable number of the victims were bound, gagged, raped and murdered.

At their core, the 50 Shades books are a romance: worldly man falls head-over-heels in love with a beautiful but naÔve young woman. After my original post ran, some argued that the love interest in the book, Christian Grey, isnít depicted as a hero. I donít know what else to call him. Heís portrayed as a brilliant, charismatic man, one who works to help impoverished people. Heís dashing, handsome, a billionaire with exquisite taste. Heís generous, so much so that he gifts the impressionable young college student heís interested in, Anastasia ďAnaĒ Steele, with expensive clothes and cars. And heís a guardian, as when he protects her from an inebriated friend.

Please understand, I know the books are fantasy. I donít have any problems with folks reading the books. I just want to remind everyone that in real life a person with Christian Greyís attributes isnít good relationship material. Disagree?

Letís take a look. For those who havenít read the book, hereís the setup: the mega-handsome and rich Grey meets the naive Anastasia Steele, so innocent sheís still a virgin, and sees in her someone heís attracted to. One reason is that he judges that sheíll be willing to indulge his sexual tastes, which include bondage and the administering of physical pain. She is reluctant. Now letís take a close look at Greyís actions and see if the way he's depicted doesn't fit the description of an abuser:

1) Before Grey reveals his intentions/his interests to Ana, he makes her sign a nondisclosure agreement, a legally binding contract that prevents her from talking to anyone about his dark side, no exemption for her best friend or her mother, her therapist. This in effect separates Ana from anyone who could advise her, anyone she could use as a sounding board to discuss the decisions to come. This is alienation, and itís a classic warning sign.

2) Abusers feed off control. The contract Grey asks Ana to sign regulates all aspects of her life. It covers everything from where she lives to what she wears, even a minimum amount of sleep. It lays out the ground rules, including how much pain sheís willing to tolerate. Ana never signs it in the first book, but she might as well have, since she gives in to the rules, and, when she doesnít live by the contractís edictsÖ? Letís move on to point three.

3) In abusive relationships, itís rare that anything is the abuserís fault. The victim made him/her do it. If he/she had only (fill in the blank), the abuser would not have had to take action. In the book, when Ana does things Grey doesnít approve of, things as minor as rolling her eyes, Grey warns her that there will be repercussions. ďI will punish you when you require it, and it will be painful,Ē he tells her at one point in the book.

4) The final warning sign is the first instance of physical abuse, which is an episode involving spanking. Thatís painful, but Ana finds it also sexually exciting. Yet there are indications that Greyís desires are far darker, based on the equipment in his leather and wood playroom. Early on, Ana asks Grey if heís ever hurt anyone, and he answers yes. In the final scene of the book, before Ana walks out on him, Grey whips her with a leather strap, hard enough to cut her flesh.

Through all of this, weíre expected to feel sympathy for Grey as Ana does, to forgive him because heís a product of abuse. And the other assumption is that Ana will eventually prevail, that her love will ďcureĒ him. Childhood abuse is horrible, but itís never an excuse for more violence. My experience is that in the real world, Ana wouldnít end up living in luxury with a new, improved Christian Grey, one her good love has refashioned into a perfect husband, but running from him, perhaps looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life.

All I tried to say in my Forbes post, all Iím saying today is that while the books are fantasy and perhaps even fun, letís not forget that in real life some people arenít playing when they mix sex and violence. Thereís a percentage out there who, when given the opportunity to control another human being, wonít stop when the other person wants to. Someone who is intent on control, who alienates his/her partner from family and friends, who threatens, who punishes, belittles or demeans, who becomes violent, may make a good fictional character. But if you happen upon such a person in the real world, my best advice is to walk away, quickly.


  1. July 27, 2012 11:52 AM EDT
    Well said KC. I completely agree.
    - Pattie Mc.
  2. July 27, 2012 2:45 PM EDT
    In her book titled, The Phantom Stranger, Ted Bundy's long-time fiance, "Liz Kendall" (fictitious name) wrote that in the fall of 1973 Ted asked her if they could try bondage. She agreed but after three times she told him she didn't like it and they never did it again.
    - Beverly Ann Fournier
  3. July 27, 2012 3:58 PM EDT
    I totally agree, Kathryn. I am also concerned that the book will normalize S & M for our young people, like the media has done for casual sex. By the way, I am no prude and enjoy sexy scenes as much as anyone, so that is not an issue for me.
    - Penny Sansbury
  4. July 27, 2012 5:24 PM EDT
    Very informative blog. I read the trilogy and loved it, but also knew the difference between reality and fantasy. The relationship between Christian and Ana was definitely in the fantasy zone, and not something that I would think of really happening in real life. I can see someone who is young and impressionable using this as some sort of guide to finding a knight in shining armor, only to find a nightmare. Christian Grey is neither hero or abuser....he is merely the figment of someone's imagination and should not be the basis of what someone is looking for in real life.
    - Sibby
  5. July 27, 2012 6:31 PM EDT
    Completely agree....I felt like Ana was a pathetic moron of a girl...can't even say woman. And yes, the dark side of Christian Grey would have been a more interesting psychological read than the naive sex fiend Ana was.
    - Ec
  6. August 16, 2012 10:06 AM EDT
    Excellent articles in both Forbes and here at your blog. Personally I hated the BDSM in FSoG, and do not understand why women would find domination, pain and humiliation sexually arousing. What I fear about Fifty Shades is that it will tend to mainstream BDSM, and I have mentioned this fear in my review of the book on my blog and conversations at Goodreads. I usually get the pooh-poohed reaction that I am being condescending, that women are smart enough to know the difference between fact and fantasy. I agree most women are, but not all women. And men? Hmmm. Should one trust male aggression? Add some alcohol and a riding crop into the mix and well, your mileage may vary. As you say:

    "Iím concerned that women and men will go looking for their own Christian Grey, envisioning a romantic hero, and not be prepared for what they find."

    In my mind a walk down the path of female submission, is a walk up the path of male aggression and all parties may be in for a surprise.

    The argument that FSoG is a fantasy of course has merit. But let's consider this statement from 50 Ways To Play:

    "If you or your partner answered "no" to any of these questions, you're not alone. Many couples feel that sex has lost its erotic impact and, if you're one of them, it's time to add a few kinky weapons to your after-dark arsenal. Actually, forget "a few" and add lots of them. Moderation is for sexual puritans. There are fifty thrills and chills in this book, boldly borrowed from the world of BDSM- Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism. These edgy ideas are guaranteed to get the juices flowing and the nerves firing like never before. And despite their deviant reputation, they are essential elements of a healthy sex life, even for nice people like you."

    Macleod, Don; Macleod, Debra (2012-06-29). 50 Ways to Play: BDSM for Nice People (Kindle Locations 96-100). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

    Did I read that correctly: "they are essential elements of a healthy sex life, even for nice people like you." Essential elements! Really?

    This is a 112 page guide to BDSM for "nice people" who are bored with the sex lives. It almost comes off with an attitude that "if you want to save your marriage..." A couple can safely learn BDSM with a 112 page guide? These relationship experts have written several other how to sex guides. This book come off to me as a rushed to published BDSM-ized version of vanilla guide to cash in on the FSoG mania.


    I have read that FSoG is Twilight fan fiction. Well the really nice thing about Twilight, no matter how hard you try, you just are not going to find a sexy vampire to bite you. Physical abuse? Oh much easier to find.

    Indeed most people can read this stuff and play around with it and it is nothing but a little harmless kink. But as you have indicated in your article there is an overwhelming body of evidence that some people can't.
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