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Opinion: ‘Twilight’ Is To ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ What Romance Is To Erotica

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“Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved.” — Stephenie Meyer

Romance gives us hope; the hope of love and contentment in relationships, relationships in which we imagine falling in love with a prince. I remember my prince once was a vampire — a handsome vampire who had a perfect life, not a human being, but yes, free from flaws, This is one of the reasons I fell for him just like we all did, and was impressed with this popular fiction.

Then I met Christian Grey in my fantasies. I don’t like him, but he made me realise how Edward Cullen was similar to him. It made me wonder about love, romance, sex, fantasy and BDSM, and I began to question autonomy, control, freedom and a real romance with love. How I suddenly stood against my prince! Both were rich, handsome men whom I adored. They seemed imperfect and unusual over time. It might be problematic for the fans of Fifty Shades of Grey who dislike Twilight. For a few, Edward is pathetic, but Christian Grey is empathetic.

Is There Any Link Between Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight?

Fifty Shades of Grey is a commercial bestseller and an erotic romance novel. It is generally associated with the Twilight novel that achieved great international success in its day. Twilight started with a small online writer community and then entered the publishing world. People believe that Fifty Shades is an extension or evolution of Twilight. The original title of this erotic trilogy is “Master of the Universe” and is considered a Twilight fanfiction on its website FanFiction.net under the pseudonym of Snowqueens Icedragon.

EL James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), was so inspired by the Twilight (2005) novel series and its author Stephanie Meyer that she decided to start her own erotic online fan fiction forum after reading Twilight. My inspiration came from ‘Twilight’s‘ author Stephenie Meyer, she once shared in an interview. Shortly after reading these books, James said that she sat down and decided to write a book for herself.

James is the most successful writer of all time and has been enjoying increasingly commercial success. She removed all references to Twilight from Master of the Universe. Later, it was released as Fifty Shades of Grey with writer Coffee Shop (an independent Australian publisher founded by fans for commercial publishing their works). So, there’s no doubt that Fifty Shades of Grey used Twilight as an inspiration to build the entire series differently and James is fair enough to admit her ties with the Twilight series.

In both the novel series, one can identify the reassertion of masculinity/femininity (glorification of traits), domination/subordination (gender dynamics), love/sacrifice (relationship ties), brown/white (racism) and bourgeois/proletariat (class) hierarchies in a perfect blend of romance.

A Common Thread

The novels in both series focus on explicit sexuality. Even so, “abstinence porn” is used as a term for Twilight. In contrast, “mummy porn” is used as a term for Fifty Shades of Grey. Their setting is set in the Pacific Northwest, modelled on the love story of a rich, upper-class mysterious man who hides a deep secret in his dark heart. In addition, she decided to create her iconic main characters Christian Gray and Anastasia Steele, who are parallel to the main characters of ‘Twilight, Edward Cullen and Bella. A common thread ties the attitudes of both male protagonists in very similar ways.

In the beginning, Edward and Christian did not understand Bella and Anna respectively. Both desire to protect the female protagonist leads to a story emerging from a desire to control and destiny to romance. Sadly, Bella and Anna are depicted as accident-prone. Therefore, Edward and Christian fall in love with them, leave and make them responsible for everything. Later, they come back at their own will, like a perfect story goes on with a slow rhythm. Do you really want to find the parallel characters in both novels?

Edward Cullen vs Christian Grey: In Twilight, Edward is the emblem of perfection and beauty — mysterious-dazzling, intensive, passionate, desirable handsome elite, a 17-year-old mature character, and an experienced bourgeoisie vampire with a mystery inside his sparkling body that shines under the sun. In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian is also the emblem of perfection, masculinity, beauty, and a desirable, intensive, passionate-handsome, authoritative 27-year- old billionaire (and CEO), and a human being who secretly performs BDMS practice, hence, a sexual sadist.

Both characters inject false and distorted notions of beauty into the minds of their readers, which subsequently normalises the beauty myth.

Anastasia “Ana” Steele vs Isabella “Bella” Swan: In Fifty Shades of Grey, Ana is an emblem of femininity, a submissive role model who is a celebrated virgin, studious, independent and confused young girl with a habit of lip-biting. She is influenced and obsessed with Christian. In Twilight, Bella Swan upholds femininity — she is an immature, celebrated virgin who is a role model, studious, independent and going things against her will. She also has a habit of lip-biting. Later, she gets obsessed with Edward.

The female leads of both stories are quite “pretty”, but not as “attractive” as the male leads. Both (Anna and Bella) the women protagonists fell for the beauty, wealth and fame of their male counterparts. Bella and Ana are incompetent, always concerned about their looks and obsessed with seeing what their partners think of them. Therefore, a sense of insecurity is built in their personality. Do you really think obsession is love that leads to identifying the pattern of driving romance?

 

José Rodriguez vs Jacob Black: In Fifty Shades of Grey, Jose is Ana’s friend who likes her a lot and wants to spend quality time with her. Later, her situation gets complicated with him. In Twilight, Jacob is Bella’s good friend who has feelings for her. Their relationships get complicated to such an extent that readers wanted to make Jacob the protagonist.

Apart from these characters, you can find parallels in other characters as well: Carrick Grey and Carlisle Cullen, Grace Grey and Esme Cullen, Mia Grey and Alice Cullen, Carla May Wilks and Renee Dwyer, Elliot Grey and Emmett Cullen, and Kate Kavanagh and Rosalie Hale.

Romance To Erotica

Love is a dominant aspect of the Twilight series. Meyer briefly describes the encounter between Bella and the vampire in five pages and established a slow romance. You can call it ‘love at first sight’. The setting of the first scene is important for understanding the romantic tension between Edward and Bella before their first meeting. She sees him in the cafeteria, although Edward’s hesitation and shyness prevent him from looking at Bella. The essence of love and a distant romantic journey takes them to eternity.

Meyer has been criticised for portraying Edward as a masculine egoistic man, but in the first act itself, she breaks this notion. He seems disinterested. “That’s Edward. He’s gorgeous, of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently, none of the girls here is good-looking enough for him,” says Jessica Stanley.

Many romances have used this idea as a tactic in which male protagonists seems disinterested in heroines due to their high statuses, as we can see in Pride and Prejudice. But their love and glamour are not hypothetical, rather, they inspire the readers of fan fiction. Bella admits three positive comments when she falls in love. First, Edward is a vampire. Second, there is a part of him that Bella doesn’t know about, in which he desires her blood. Third, she loves him unconditionally and irrevocably. Edward feels the same. “I’ll be back so soon you won’t have time to miss me. Look after my heart I’ve left it with you,” says Edward.

Twilight puts love and lust on separate platforms. “I know that love and lust don’t always keep the same company.” This does not mean that sex is lust, but seeing oneself as an object while loving is problematic. By sharing a part of each other and giving importance in bed, you can get sexual pleasure through love. Feelings are still the central focus of Twilight.

In Fifty Shades of Grey, James portrayss things in the same way as Meyer used on Edward. But the love in this novel is much more factual, confused and absurd. James described how wealthy Christian is when Anastasia goes to his office. Ana observes, “So young — and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine grey suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper-coloured hair and intense, bright grey eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my courage. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me.”  Although, without a doubt for readers, it remains a romance.

In this erotica, BDSM is practised, parallel to love and romance. Love is abstract and can be manipulative. It makes sense when Christian says, “No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck…” Obviously, he doesn’t make love. Love is not something to cook, bake or serve. Christian only understand the body concerning pleasure in the absence of self (that can feel and relate experiences with independent will). Using the body as an object in a relationship and treating it as a substitute by achieving deep desires is a problem of any love story. Their conversation suggests to readers that there is a bit of love behind these fantasies. Christian’s desire and passion find a channel to practice BDSM in the interview of the very first scene, which is more personal than professional.

His ghostly smile, gaze and the way he stops breathing may be an extension of the Twilight version of love; but seeing Twilight with the same lens as Fifty Shades of Grey in fan-fiction culture is unreasonable. Edward is tired of being far away from Bella but his practice of keeping it against the collective decision is a flaw in their love relationship. Reinforcing rigid, emotionless, alienated fathoms of a male protagonist are generally romanticised by the youths. It promotes the idea of ‘defensive justification’ where men use things according to their needs or satisfaction without the consent of their partner. This is an insult to the very form of love and men as well.

Meyer tries to turn Edward into a stalker or a spy. Protecting someone you’re in love with shouldn’t be criticised, as many of us still believe. But Edward shows that he knows what’s best for her because he is mature, experienced and authoritative. He comes into Bella’s life as the Messiah and makes us believe that Bella never took care of herself and needs him to do so for him.

Even James portrays Christian as a “creepy stalker”, particularly when Gray arrives at Anna’s hardware store to collect ropes. “Anastasia, I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of man, I don’t do romance. My tastes are very singular. You should steer clear of me, Grey says.

Love and sex in a relationship are healthy when viewed from both perspectives. Abusing women in the name of love and sexual pleasure will not liberate them. In relationships, the contribution of women in bed is the same as that of men. But for Christian, Ana is just an object or a source of pleasure. “Why don’t you like to be touched?” “Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia.” He doesn’t even allow Ana to touch him. Isn’t this hypocrisy?

Sexual intimacy is not something that only one partner enjoys. Why are sexual privileges only granted to men? Neither their sexual organs nor their penises allow men to rule over a woman’s body, although this disproves the dualities of subordination and domination. But it exists in BDSM. Participation in sex sometimes happens with a woman’s consent because that is something that she enjoys as well. But in our society, women are not allowed to express their sexual needs to their partners because she is a woman. So, James is only promoting these stereotypical binary formulas within BDSM.

When Christian asks her if she trusts him, she replies, “Yes.” She answered spontaneously, without even thinking because she really trusted him. “Then,” he looked relieved. She is confused, but James highlights that women must compromise in all walks of life. It can also be seen in this line: “I’m going out for coffee with Christian Gray but I hate coffee.” Ana suffered a lot in her contractual relationship with Christian because she expects loyalty, love and a bond of the body and mind. She wants him to commit his love to her. But in the process, she lost her confidence, her individuality and her desires. She says, “Why don’t you like me?… You never stay with me.” She loves him and hates him at the same time.

“I gasp, and I’m Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he’s the serpent, and I cannot resist,” says Bella. She cannot leave him; the trend of romance novels has taken shape in this manner where it is the woman who compromises everywhere.

How Fifty Shades of Grey Gives Birth To The BDSM Practice

BDSM stands for Bondage and discipline, Domination and submission, Sadism, and Masochism. It is an intense bodily pleasure that elicits individual sexual sensations, experiences and preferences. BDSM is not always about sex, but it often leads to sex, painfully. Some advocate the practice of BDSM, saying that consent is a basic requirement and that a person can choose any type of BDSM activity that interests them. But this is problematic because in a relationship, one partner forces the other to engage in BDSM in the name of love or romance. Christian wants Ana to please him for more pleasure.

“It’s about earning your trust and respect. You will allow me to impose my will on you. I will even gain pleasure in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy. It’s a very simple equation,” says Christian. Therefore, in BDSM (playroom), sex is the game and they are the players in a playroom.

After the first sex scene, Christine transfers a lot of money to Anna’s bank account, although she does not know about it. Later, he buys a company for her against her wishes. He establishes a world for her, which is more like a game with fun and power. Through this, he tempts Anna to accept the contract. BDSM requires consent but creating an aura of unnecessary consent is an illusion. That’s why Anna couldn’t resist him and the way he hurt her.

The Twilight novel series is neither a perfect work nor a terrible one. Love and absurdity go hand in hand. I do agree there is a strong criticism as it has problematic content. Contrarily, Fifty Shades of Grey is more consumed and has terrible chemistry, worse than Twilight. Liberating women through BDSM is itself propaganda and consumerization of female sexuality.

The conflict and climax between Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are similar in characters and elements but the romantic evolution of Fifty Shades is completely different from Twilight. Do you still think that Twilight is to Fifty Shades what romance is to erotica? Do you want to think differently?

“In sex, one wants or does not want. And the grief, the sorrow of life is that one cannot make or coerce or persuade the wanting, cannot command it, cannot request it by mail order or finagle it through bureaucratic channels.”Kate Millett, Sita

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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