I have a lot of feelings about 50 Shades of Grey. Most of which revolve around the fact that it is published fanfiction and she’s a television executive producer. However, the legality of the book has already been discussed in great lengths on other websites. No, I want to talk about why the series is so vastly popular when there has been plenty of good erotic romantic fiction that has gone before. What it comes down to is female sexuality.
I know, this is a forbidden topic to discuss. In a larger sense, society as a whole has not come very far from the days when women were supposed to lie back and think of England. Sure, there are plenty of websites for women to go to for “advice,” but it’s the internet. You’re anonymous on the internet. The truth is, there are plenty of women out there who will never experience an orgasm, not because of some biological defect, but because they don’t know their own bodies well enough to even know what to ask for. I read a comment the other day from a woman who did not have her first orgasm until she was sixty-five.
I love that song; it’s catchy and shockingly true. Not only are people uncomfortable with the idea that a woman knows how her body works, clearly she must be a whore, a slut and all sorts of names meant to belittle her. Not to mention the horrible double standard that a man who has as much sexual knowledge is praised by his friends and considered a real man. They used to measure the true value of a man by how far he could… nevermind. For instance, Isabella from the Dragon Age franchise is quite possibly one of the most openly sexual fictional characters I’ve come across, even going so far as to give kinky advice to the other characters. Yet for most people who play the game, she’s either an annoying whore or wank fodder.
For another example, let’s look at the movie Over Her Dead Body. Terrible movie, I don’t even know why I wasted my time on it, but one scene beautifully proves my point about repressed female sexuality. At one point, the dead girl was trying to scare the living girl away from dead girl’s old fiance. To prove her point that she was “all-knowing,” she tells the living girl that she even saw what she did in the shower the other day, and quickly added that there’s nothing wrong with that. Considering she hated the living girl at the time, chances are her quick amendment was to reassure herself that her masturbation exploits as a living person were not dirty. If we break this down, that means the ghost was ashamed that she used to masturbate back when she had a human body. Seriously?
And for a real life example, we were talking about strippers the other day at work, and one of my coworkers made the comment that she was friends with a few strippers. After her next comment, I’m surprised any of them want to be friends with her because she said the one girl she knew didn’t act like a stripper at all. If she wasn’t such an annoying know-it-all, I would have turned around and asked her exactly how it was that a stripper should act. The sweetest, shiest girl you know may only be able to find a way to express herself on a pole, so I really think my coworker needs to get out of her judgmental mindset. Then again, we can’t get her off her high horse either….
50 Shades of Grey
So what does all this have to do with the 50 Shades trilogy and its unprecedented popularity? Everything, actually. Women are taught they are not supposed to be sexually aware, and they are certainly not to have anything to do with smut. Which is where the classification system comes in. For some reason, despite being more explicit than any romance novel I’ve ever read, 50 Shades of Grey is listed as a romance novel, not erotica. Someone made the comment the other day that the book made women unafraid to admit they were reading smut. But that’s not true, because I’ve seen several people who enjoyed the book defending it by claiming it was not pornographic. They feel safe behind that label of romance. But that still doesn’t explain what repressed sexuality has to do with the books’ popularity.
It all comes down to Anastasia. She sexually unrepressed in a way that a lot of women are not. She has no notions of what’s “dirty” and what’s “vanilla” in sex. Maybe part of that has to do with the fact that she’s a sheltered virgin, but I’m not entirely sure about that. However, because she doesn’t have this preconceived notions about what a woman is supposed to be allowed to enjoy sexually, and partially because of her contract, she’s sexually free in a way that some readers would not be. Since the book is first person pov, through her people can live a world where they don’t have to be ashamed about what they do sexually.
I really do hope this book allows women to open up about their sexuality. I mean, they don’t necessarily have to try some of the stuff in the book, some of those things simply aren’t for everyone, but I hope it allows them to ask for something they maybe want to try. And I hope their partners are adult enough to accept that.
On a side note to E.L. James: Why does he keep putting the used condom in his pocket? This has been bothering me immensely. Is he saving them to deposit in a sperm bank? Does he have a sperm bank in his basement? Does he collect them so he can burn them later and thus prevent his DNA from falling into the wrong hands? Please feel free to let me know.
- Anne Browning Walker: Why Smart Women Read Romance Novels (huffingtonpost.com)
- Fifty Shades of Porn (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- What “Fifty Shades of Grey is badly written” is really code for (boingboing.net)
- 6 Myths about Female Sexuality and Why They’re Myths (psychologytoday.com)