Many years ago, a Traddie friend of mine was round at my place when they let out a squeak of shock: “Mary, what is this book?” It was Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr Goodbar. Its cover was a picture of a dead girl in a bed. After all, it is a novel based on the real-life murder of Roseanne Quinn, a teacher who was a lonely singleton in New York City.
In 1973 Roseanne was a 28-year-old Catholic girl who haunted single bars to pick up men for one-night stands. It is said that she became addicted to the “high” that she got from having increasingly abusive sex with violent men.
“Why are you reading it?” asked my friend. They began to understand when I explained that it was an honest portrayal of an insecure woman who sought out sadomasochistic sex, until she was killed. Putting it into today’s disgusting language, she wanted to be “sexually dominated”.
Looking for Mr Goodbar has themes in common with Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet while I recommend Looking for Mr Goodbar, I avoid Fifty Shades. Here’s the difference: Rossner’s novel serves as a truthful story about what ensues when self-doubting women look to cruel, vicious men to validate their sense of self-worth. Fifty Shades is a deceitful, glamorised fantasy. The nasty truth is that it will pack cinemas because an audience can “get off” on the scenes of a young woman being gladly and gratefully sexually abused.
But while I criticise the film, I’m not entitled to denounce people who watch it. Looking down our noses, treating them as if we are better than they are, will alienate them from us. We need to have compassion for them rather than reviling them as consumers of filth.
For one thing, the film is released on St Valentine’s Day (poor St Valentine: his feast day is being used as a sordid marketing tool). This means that a lot of young women will be forced to decide between going on a date to see Fifty Shades or sitting home alone.
If you have a friend who is an avid fan of Fifty Shades, consider ordering them a copy of Looking for Mr Goodbar. It’s the work of a brilliant novelist, a page-turner that will de-glamorise abusive sexual relationships.