Fifty Shades Freed is officially in theaters. This means, of course, that bloggers and reviewers are rushing to be the first and cleverest to insult the series and anyone who enjoys it… despite the fact that there exists no comparable male term to the literary genres of “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” or the film genre of “chick flick.” I can give my professional word that the former is not because men only read weighty historical tomes, either. So, in the spirit of such sexism, I remind you of the ways you tend to offend women, as a whole, by insulting the Fifty Shades of Grey series.
Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and I once showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, itself, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.
Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”
I do have a pretty low threshold.
So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:
Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.
Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien twins who formed their penises into one giant penis. One of the most well-read women I’ve ever met has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I also devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.
If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch The Bachelor or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people had to Google “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.
Ana is only 22.
I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.
When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my psychotic ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books, Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.
Ana is still a virgin.
This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.
My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active must be asexual or worse, somehow abnormal. Until two years ago (exactly, oddly enough), I not had sex in six years. Furthermore, I’d only kissed five people, ever, and that includes a stranger who pecked me on the cheek on New Year’s Eve. I am not asexual, far from it. I was just never interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I saw no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut, perhaps more so.
Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.
While literary Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat (I found his movie persona far less abrasive), I can tell you that when I was treading water in a dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it wasn’t so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together, to take charge, to be assertive. While I’ll admit that for an America drowning in debt, financial freedom might be it’s own fantasy, I’m still not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is the sole appeal of the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience. This article suggests a somewhat circular logic for the over 30 bracket, in particular: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…
No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!
As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends (not television trends, which explains the dated Carrie Bradshaw reference). This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new and it’s unsurprising that it’s a fantasy growing in popularity, in a society full of over overgrown frat boys who couldn’t be assertive or successful if their futures depended on it, which they do.
Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice… and it’s a complete double standard, because no one shames men for fantasizing about winning the lottery and becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through no effort on their part. At least the women fantasizing about Christian Grey and the like also dream of love.
Note: I was known, at one time, to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.
Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.
This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call shenanigans. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the spine injury. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.
I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What year is it? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, like Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them, because adult women are allowed to be sexual too.
- I originally posted the this blog on March 5, 2015. It has been updated for currency.
I appreciate your well reasoned and argued commentary. I have not read the books and I have watched only the majority of the first film. As a result, I have nothing to comment about specifically on the books or film.
As for people. I feel that this book can not be blamed or applauded for anyone’s exploration of their sexuality. It might have given people some ideas, but there have been sources long before this and there will be sources long after this. Many of them were even more accessible than this.
The book was certainly unremarkable. I’d just like to see people stop insulting other people for it.
I would definitely agree with that. As an ESL teacher, I try very hard to promote reading amongst my students. However, I don’t tell them what they should read. Those that want to read magazines or manga are no better or worse than those who want to read novels.
I usually ask the students what they read in their own language. A few answer that they don’t like reading, but they hoped it would be different in English. When I answer probably not, they get discouraged. They I tell them they can read the subtitles of a TV show and they seem happier.
I read a cartoon strip recently (but I think it was old) in which the mother is scolding her child for folding the corners of the pages to mark her place in the book. The mother wants the daughter to show respect to her books. When the father is approached for support, he argues that he doesn’t care about the books, but is rather happy that his daughter is reading. (It was either For Better or Worse, or Pajama Diaries).
You’re right. No one should be disparaged for their reading choices.
Thank you for finally saying something original about this series!
I will be the first to admit that I have been merciless in my attacks against this series for the poor quality of the literature and the way the content seemingly degrades women. But I appreciate your arguments against such harsh criticism–the damaging affects such words have towards women as a gender, as you have pointed out, have honestly never occurred to me. One of my foundational beliefs as a feminist is that all women should have a choice in how they express themselves, and until reading this my perspective on this series had not held true to that. Thank you for the wake-up call, and thank you for the laughs!
You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve had so many women ask me for erotica lately, with the new movie out, and it makes me proud to see them stop apologizing for their interest.