Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: lessons for men

Having read Wuthering Heights more than once I can tell you that the scene where Heathcliff grabs Cathy and rips open her dress and feasts his eyes and hands on her breasts before throwing her on the fainting couch and giving her the best sex of her life isn't actually in the book.

It's not that Emily Bronte didn't think it. She and the vast majority of the women who've since read the novel all had the thought.

And it's a very important scene to the book even though, as I say, it's not actually in the book. If that scene weren't in the back of the minds of 99 percent of its readers, well, 99 percent of its readers wouldn't be its readers and Emily Bronte would be mostly forgotten today.

Emily probably didn't put the scene in for a number of reasons. 1. Because she knew that life doesn't work that way. 2. Because she had enough faith in her readers' to know that they'd think it through for themselves. 3. Because the mores of the time wouldn't have allowed her to even vaguely hint that Cathy had imagined having sex with Heathcliff. And more besides.

If you're a man, there are two equally important lessons to take from Wuthering Heights (and yes, I am implying that Fifty Shades of Grey is built on the same mythological foundations as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice; all of which trace their heritage back to Pamela). The first is that Catherine didn't give Mr. Edgar Linton the best sex of his life—she probably gave him utterly mediocre sex and didn't give him any more of even that than she felt was absolutely required of her—so you don't want to be Mr. Edgar Linton. The second is that Heathcliff is a vile creep and you don't want to be a vile creep either.

Do those two lessons contradict one another? A lot of men would say yes and start whining about nice guys always finishing last.  There is another way of thinking about it however. Ask yourself, rather, who is to blame. Is it your fault for not being more like Heathcliff or for not "manning up" and accepting that you're stuck being Mr. Linton? Or is it a woman's fault if she can only see men in binary terms?

Heathcliff and Christian Grey don't have a lot in common but they do have two things they share and that is that they're both vile creeps and they're both highly attractive to most women at some time in their lives and highly attractive to some women all their lives. You might object that Christian is different in that what's-her-name-oh-never-matter-who-cares succeeds in reforming him in the end. Well, except that he doesn't get reformed until the very end and the millions of women who read the series of novels read it for the 100s of pages in which he is a vile creep and not for the denouement in which he promises to be different or the various short passages along the way in which he promises to be different.

Don't hate women for being this way. Have you ever entertained the notion of having a woman who is less than a fully developed human being because you thought it would be easy and fun or because you were still too immature yourself to see that there is a problem with that? If you can honestly say "no" to that question you're delusional about yourself.

But the lesson remains. If you're at a party and a woman-over-the-age-of-19 tells you that Wuthering Heights is her all time favourite novel or that she really got into Fifty Shades of Grey she is telling you she never matured emotionally such that she divides men into two classes: vile creeps and easily manipulated wimps. You want to keep your distance from such a woman. There are lots of them in the world and they all end up unhappy and they all want to blame you for their unhappiness.

If you like the way she has matured sexually enough that you could ignore the fact that she is an emotional disaster, you could simply treat her as a prospect for short-term sex whom you avoid after you've had her. And, trust me, you wouldn't be the first or the last man to simply use her and move on. I'd recommend against it but, if you go ahead with it, I'd suggest you first tell her in an earnest voice that you've never read Wuthering Heights or Fifty Shades (and tell her this even if you already have read it), that it's something you've always thought of reading but, there are so many novels, could she please tell you why you really ought to read this one. Her answer will tell you everything you need to know about her. What you want to figure out is just how damaged she is because you don't want to get involved with someone who is really, really crazy for reasons that I hope are obvious. A little crazy can translate into some pretty wild sex in the short term, a lot crazy will unfailingly translate into a lot of crazy and pretty much nothing else, and most likely little or no sex. I'd also suggest you take advantage of her long answer to your question to glance over her shoulder just in case there are some better prospects in the room because there almost certainly will be some.

I'd recommend not doing any of that. What I'd recommend is telling her that you don't read many novels but love action movies and that you treat the hero of your favourite action movie as your personal role model. Then sit back and watch her try to think of a way to politely break off the conversation without hurting your feelings.

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