Dear English Teachers…

I’m going to preface this by saying: If you are under the age of 18 do not read this blog post. It will be filled with excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey, a book that you SHOULD NOT read if you’re a minor, because of the content. And maybe the writing itself… But that’s a matter of opinion. However, if you want to understand why I’m yelling at your English teachers, please be sure to check out the chat over at my Tumblr. I assure you the chat is rated G.

For those of you who are 18+ and want to know what this is about, proceed to read further. Thank you.

I was at Barnes and Noble on New Year’s Eve. Because I write and publish YA books, I decided a “research” trip to the YA section was due. 2012 was the year in which I just couldn’t keep up with reading blogs and social media and promoting and freelance jobs and everything else. As a result, I had no idea what was popular, what was trending, and what popular book covers looked like. Sure, I could take a peek at Amazon’s bestseller list, but that’s not the same as going to a brick-and-mortar store and actually seeing how many copies they have in stock of certain titles, genres, and whatnot.

As I was staring at the YA paranormal section and wondering if I should purchase a book (I seriously don’t need any more books…) I overheard someone asking a worker if they had 50 Shades of Grey. For the record, I wasn’t eavesdropping per se. The worker was like five feet from me and the person in question was using a regular voice. Anyone within range would have heard the question. As I continued studying book titles and grabbing every book on the shelf and reading blurbs, the conversation continued on:

Worker: Who is the book for?
Customer: Me.
Worker: How old are you?
Customer: Fifteen.
(At this point, I looked up.)
Worker: Um… That book isn’t for you and you shouldn’t be reading it.
Customer: But my English teacher recommended it.
Worker: WHAT? Sweetie, that book is erotica. No minor should be reading that.
Customer’s mom: Erotica??
Worker: It’s basically porn. You’re way too young to be reading that. Why did your teacher recommend that?
Customer: She said it was good!
Worker: Let me find you something that’s more suitable for your age and actually written well…

Now I know not every English teacher would recommend erotica to their students. But for those that have considered or actually have, come closer to the screen so I can smack you. Seriously. You need a wake up call.

As I stated earlier in the preface, good and bad writing is a matter of opinion. But I’m sorry. If you’re an English teacher, you should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking that 50 Shades of Grey is good. As an English teacher, I like to imagine that you go through classic and modern literature, searching for that perfect book to analyze the crap out of and tell your students how “the blue curtains symbolize the author’s depressive state in their lives.”


English teacher thinking

This is how the stereotypical English teacher thinks. Because they love to over analyze.

I understand that some of you are the wives that go ga-ga over “romantic” tales like Twilight and probably went straight to 50 Shades after learning that it spawned from a Twilight fanfiction. It was, essentially, Twilight for adults! And look! BDSM scenes that make you attack your husbands as soon as they come home! And though you might enjoy it (who doesn’t enjoy “bubble gum” books every now and then?), to tell a group of students that it’s good is something that’s just unforgivable.

I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet, and falling head first into the office.

Double crap — me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to the Mr. Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow — he’s so young.

Seriously? Our heroine is supposed to be in college. And she uses phrases like “double crap” and “holy cow.” Who in the world uses “holy cow”? And if you read further along, you find out that not only does Ana, the heroine, not have an email address in the 21st century, but apparently she also doesn’t have a cell phone or know how to text. And Macbooks weigh like a ton. They’re always heaving it around. But I digress.

Tell me, on what planet is this suitable for anyone under the age of 18:

At the touch of leather, I quiver and gasp. He walks around me again, trailing the crop around the middle of my body. On his second circuit, he suddenly flicks the crop, and it hits me underneath my behind … against my sex … The shock runs through me, and it’s the sweetest, strangest, hedonistic feeling … My body convulses at the sweet, stinging bite. My nipples harden and elongate from the assault, and I moan loudly, pulling on my leather cuffs.

And I don’t want to hear any teacher saying: “But porn is so easy to find nowadays!” Um, you’re a teacher. You shouldn’t be telling minors to read porn, because, well, I don’t know. It’s illegal.

Now, I know times be a changin. Back in the 50s, it was unheard of to read The Wife of Bath’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales, because it discusses sexuality. Those times have changed. Students read books with sexual content, although it’s nowhere near the level of 50 Shades of Grey. When I was in high school, we analyzed a ton of books that covered feminism and sexuality and a lot more depressing things written by authors who had a tendency to kill themselves. One of those books, The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, had some sort of sex scene in every chapter. But you know what? They weren’t written explicitly nor were they crass.

The burro continued nibbling grass with its burden of noisy pots and pans, while Blanca and Pedro Tercero slaked the accumulated hunger and thirst of the long months of silence and separation, rolling among the rocks and brush and moaning passionately.

And you know what else? The sex scenes weren’t thrown in for the sake of sex. There was a reason why they did it. In the above example, you get a sense of the characters’ passion and longing for each other.

But you know what my biggest complaint about 50 Shades of Grey is? THIS:

He pulls up outside my duplex. I belatedly realize he’s not asked me where I live — yet he knows. But then he sent the books, of course he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone-tracking, helicopter owning, stalker wouldn’t.

Why won’t he kiss me again? I pout at the the thought.

EARTH TO ANA! You just gave many reasons why you SHOULDN’T want to have anything to do with the guy! What? Because he looks like Adonis that gives you every reason to just jump into his car and want to have sex with him?

And that’s my biggest my complaint against the series. Frankly, I don’t care if the story is about BDSM. I don’t care if you like it, because of the eroticaness. If that’s what floats your boat, by all means, go ahead and read the sex scenes and ask your significant other to tie you up and re-enact them. (Again, things that minors SHOULDN’T read.)

This is what you envision Christian to look like. Trust me. It is.

This is what you envision Christian to look like. Trust me. It is.

My biggest gripe is that the first book (haven’t taken a peek at the others yet) doesn’t empower a woman in any way shape or form. Christian Grey is supposed to be some super hot, super rich, super messed up guy that Ana wants to fix. And despite all that, he doesn’t respect her when she says, “No.” Instead he tells her to think about the contract (multiple times). He emotionally MANIPULATES her with sex. The guy stalks her like prey and he knows he has her in the palm of his hands. And she falls for it hook, line, and sinker. And it’s just AWFUL. What’s this supposed to teach women? Isn’t this series supposed to be for women? So, like, what? As long as some super hot, super rich guy takes interest in you, you should throw away your morals and do whatever he wants even though you don’t want that lifestyle?

I’m grabbing this from an author’s website, because she sums this up quite nicely. That and I love her read-along of the series.

Rules for being Christian’s girlfriend

1. Do what he says, whenever he says.
2. If you don’t, he gets to beat you.
3. Don’t have friends or family he doesn’t approve of.

What sane female WANTS to live like that? That is called abuse. What? He doesn’t like your Aunt Sally and you have to cut ties with her or else he’ll beat you? Um, no thank you.

The author continues to state:

Ana backs down from her assertion that she hates being spanked as much as he hates being touched, because she gets this crazy feeling that disliking being spanked due to not being spanked as a child is probably not the same as disliking being touched due to having someone put fucking cigarettes out on your chest as a child. Then she claims that she’s “‘ambivalent about it. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it.'” Okay, that’s selling yourself a little short. You don’t like physical pain, speak up and be honest about it, don’t back down like, “Oh, I’m actually just ‘meh’ about it,” when you really feel strongly that you do not want to be involved in physical pain as a sexual fetish.

Because that’s what this is, readers. In the final chapter, we get to the crux of things. Christian isn’t into BDSM. He’s into causing pain, which, while sometimes falling under the umbrella of BDSM, is a pretty specific subgenre of BDSM fun times.

Though I do give Ana some credit for coming up this reasoning even though it took her an entire novel to come to this conclusion about Christian:

What was I thinking? Why did I let him do that to me? I wanted the dark, to explore how bad it could be – but it’s too dark for me. I cannot do this. Yet, this is what he does, this how he gets his kicks.

What a monumental wake-up call. And to be fair to him, he warned me and warned me, time and again. He’s not normal. He has needs that I cannot fulfill. I realize that now.

[…]

I have to go. That’s it… I have to leave. He’s no good for me, and I am no good for him. How can we possibly make this work? And the thought of not seeing him again practically chokes me… my Fifty Shades.

And because the book is pretty much exactly like Twilight, it ends with the two breaking up. Never thought I’d say this, but if you want to read about stalker boyfriends, just pick up Twilight. Sneaking into a girl’s bedroom to watch her sleep is, well, creepy and not in any way romantic. But at least Edward respects Bella. So just read Stephenie Meyer’s book and hey! You can even recommend it as “good writing” and even though I’ll die a little inside, I’ll totally let it slide by. You know why? Because it’s age appropriate for minors.

Comments 6

  1. Holly Barbo

    OMG I can NOT believe an english teacher recommended this. As soon as some students started reading it I am sure that the sh*t hit the fan from the parents. If that is what adults want to read thats fine but it irritates me that women find it acceptable to live such a psychologically unhealthy life. !!!!!! Minors, even teens, are sponges and will take such books (even Twilight) as acceptable patterns to live by.

    1. Post
      Author
      Sheenah

      And the sad, sad truth is: Publishers are pushing Twilight-esque relationships to my generation of readers. We know have New Adult books that caters especially to us, which I’ll be discussing in a future blog post.

    1. Post
      Author
      Sheenah

      It really baffles the mind. I mean really. A high school English teacher recommending an erotica book?? The worker, thankfully, had some common sense.

  2. Cher

    I’m really hoping that the girl was lying about her English teacher recommending it so that she could get a copy. I’d be extremely mad if an English teacher recommended my daughter read that, not only for the sexual content but for telling her that that is GOOD writing! An editor and a complete rewrite was needed to make that book worthy of saying it’s good writing. What has this world come to?

    1. Post
      Author
      Sheenah

      She seemed pretty adamant that the teacher was the one who recommended it. For the teacher’s sake, I hope she was lying.

  3. Lalo

    Sheenah, you said it very well. My main problem with 50 Shades is that it just is not about a healthy relationship. It’s the kind of relationship where someone ends up seriously harmed or possibly dead. The control and stalking and manipulation just put me off. That’s not romantic to me. And I have to wonder what we’ll telling young women when we all go crazy over this book. Women, we need to have a little self respect!

    1. Post
      Author
      Sheenah

      Exactly! It’s scary to think that so many women find stalking romantic. That tells me that many won’t be able to see the warning signs of a relationship that they need to get out of before something tragic happens to them.

  4. Pingback: Do You Know Your Audience? Pt. 5

  5. Teacher

    It’s unlikely. Students don’t listen all that well. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the teacher recommended “Between Shades of Gray,” a novel for young readers about WWII.

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