50 Shades of a Cultural Phenomenon

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June 25, 2012 by Melissa

Now, 50 Shades of Gray is not a book I would normally ever read. I don’t read books purely for entertainment. I prefer other forms of writing, especially things that teach me something as I love learning new things. I’m not being a snob about it-everyone needs to escape. We all do it in different ways. Back to the 50 Shades book, my book club picked it for our last meeting. That’s part of the beauty of a book club-it forces you to read things you may never read.

After reading it I have a few theories as to why this book has struck a chord in our society. First, I think women are more sex minded than we give them credit for. I think reading erotica or romance novels allows us to explore that part of ourselves without seeming slutty or wanton and it’s not as gross as watching a porno. These books have emotional ties between the characters that make the sex sexy. I think we need to own that in ourselves-reading erotica is one way to do it. These books have made it astoundingly socially acceptable to read and discuss erotica. Whoa. Go Christian Gray. I do find some issue with the use of the phrase “Mommy Porn”. The demographics of women reading these books are all over the place and include almost everyone.

Second, I am of the opinion that women are overwhelmed with decision making on any given day. Decisions for work, for herself, for her husband, for her kids, her parents, her community. The dominant/submissive relationship that Ana and Christian have in these books I think is turning women in this country on because it’s a woman just trusting her partner and submitting-not having to decide anything. There are a lot of women that are uncomfortable with this arrangement because it seems to fly in the face of the modern woman taking control. But wasn’t that the point of feminism? That we could choose to do anything we wanted without judgment? If the relationship between the two characters was abusive or ill-intentioned, I’d feel a little different, but they came to a mutually agreed upon framework for it. Yes, sometimes I was uncomfortable with the physical punishment but Christian made it clear he would respect her if she spoke up. Sometimes she didn’t do that. We all need to be straightforward in what we want or don’t want. He’s forcing her to do that. Good for them both.

Third, a lot seems to be made about the “older man” and “younger and inexperienced woman” making readers squeamish. Um, Christian was 27 and Ana 21. Not a remotely significant age difference. I think people were more uncomfortable with how much experience the man had and how woefully inexperienced Ana was. What if the tables were turned and Ana was older. We’d be cheering her on I think. Ana’s youth and inexperience were important to the story because she doesn’t have a point of reference to come back to. Christian’s her first and she doesn’t know that anything is as weird as it is.

Finally, the actual writing. I hear a lot of women complain about the writing being less than perfect, but it’s something that started out as fan fiction on the net and got bigger than I bet the author’s publisher or editor anticipated. I also think it allows women to feel smart and better about themselves for reading erotica by talking about the writing. I do read A LOT and read a lot of more literary books but I admit to being drawn to the story. The author has definitely tapped into a phenomenon that was waiting to be explored.

I don’t know if I’ll be reading the other two books in the series. I have a lot of books on my list right now, as shown by my summer reading list, but I might someday. So, before you judge these books or the readers who love them, read one. You can do it slyly if you need, but form your own opinion.

What did you think of the books? Has it changed your outlook on sex or romance? What do I have wrong?

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