UC | Fifty Shades of Grey


‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the worst bestseller I myself have never read. This title married with the forbidden erotic subject matter proved a golden combination, a guilty pleasure. Its reviews, however, claim that reading this book could itself cause endless suffering, the state in which the female protagonist finds herself. Is this something you have ever experienced firsthand?

Have you ever seen that students give one another tips on how to handle a supervisor? ‘Quote something from her last paper, that will please her,’ or ‘Don't say his field is out of date, it'll make him mad and he'll ask you really difficult questions.’

Grey stands for 'ordinary'. The everyday. You don't notice it.

A fellow doctoral candidate has become pregnant. But how can you combine that with writing a thesis? Fortunately, she was promised an extension under the provisions of her maternity leave. Then that was cancelled because maternity falls outside the rules on extensions. Too bad. Her time is up.

Did you know the human eye can distinguish just about thirty shades of grey?

In the corridor a cleaner is given a stern talking-to by the work planner. Embarrassed, the cleaner looks at the floor while the lecture reels on. Standing beside his cleaning cart, he is being pushed farther and farther into a corner.

The difference between two shades can become so minute that you fail to notice the change. Similarly, there is a rainbow of personality traits and people react in a range of ways. Even when an individual displays different behaviors, we may see their light and forgive their shade.

In a meeting a doctoral candidate is snapped at. “Do you actually know what you're doing?! You are so dumb.” But at the end of the meeting the same doctoral candidate receives a compliment, “Good work.” The doctoral candidate no longer has a clue what's going on.

Slowly, the grey becomes black, but you cannot point to where the next hue begins. Personality traits can also morph gradually from one into another. It is confusing.

During a group meeting a comment is made about someone's sexual orientation. “Ah, you're not a homo, are you? Oh actually you are.” The colleague in question looks riled. His expression is laughed off with: “Ah, just joking. That's ok, isn't it?” You sense something isn't right, but what do you do about it? Are you responsible, do you feel responsible? Do you know what you could do in a situation like this? What if it happens to you, or if you see it happen?

The transition from white to black is not instantaneous, it is gradual. And you don't notice it. Just like that frog in the pot of water coming slowly to the boil.

But it's people not frogs who find themselves in this situation. It's the air that you breathe, the ambiance of a place. Perhaps there are enough moments when the grey may turn back to white. But sometimes you alone can't make that happen. Look around you. What is the ambiance, what culture has been created? Do you agree with it? Can you do something about it?

At least make sure you talk about it. Perhaps not at that particular moment, perhaps not with the people involved. But with someone who you trust. Take a first step, because then things will get lighter.

PS: If you are not convinced of the (menacing) power of grey, try reading or listening to ‘The Game’ by Neil Strauss. Strauss describes the techniques used by pickup artists, the good guys and the villains. Ideal preparation for an introductory period. A nice idea for the gentlemen maybe. For women it's a must-read. Will it become a guilty pleasure or lead to endless suffering? The choice is yours.

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