Provocative title, isn’t it? 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 in my last entry I showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted as of late, 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 king. One of the most well-read women I know 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’m also reading The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen; and I 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 American Idol or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people just Googled “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 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 (spoiler alert: it ain’t good), 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 is asexual or somehow abnormal. I am 27 years old and I have not had sex in five years. Furthermore, I’ve only kissed five people, ever. I am not asexual. I’m just not interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I see 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.
Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.
While Christian Grey sure isn’t my dreamboat, I can tell you that in the current dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it’s not 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. Regardless, I’m not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is what appeals to the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience, particularly the over 30 bracket. This article actually suggests a somewhat circular logic: 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. 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. 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.
Note: I have been known 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 bullshit. 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 broken spine. 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 is this, Amish country? 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, but with 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.