Confession : I’ve read all four Twilight books. I picked them up so that I could see what all the hype was about, and thankfully, my interest in them stayed there.
Reading the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, my first thought was of surprise that this hot new trilogy is published fan fiction of the young adult series. I mean, they really produce bestsellers of fan fiction? That someone finds value in that kind of writing scares me a little.
My second thought was that if Twilight itself was the basis for a BDSM novel series, then Fifty Shades was doomed from the start.
If you’ve never read Twilight, I would actually encourage you to pick up at least the first book. The writing is terrible and the plot is disturbing, but it turned out to be an interesting social study on women.
From my brothers’ teenage girl friends, to the college age girls in my dormitory, to the thirty-something women I waitressed with, they were all obsessed with the series. I discovered in Bella Swan something of an archetype that contemporary women love to indulge, a deep departure from feminism and gender equality that we want to believe has flourished in the last fifty years. Bella’s sole desire, absolutely singular from any hobby or personal interests, is to be with Edward. Bella is not interested in finishing school, going to college, getting a job, having a hobby, making friends with other girls her age, nothing. Twilight author Stephenie Meyer indulges Bella in all her fantasies and creates a world in which her complete lack of self-worth reaps positive results.
Fifty Shades author E. L. James takes this whole concept of a submissive, dreamless young woman to a deeper level with Anastasia Steele. She gives up her virginity and enters into a BDSM-style relationship with a manipulative, deeply disturbed partner and in the end Christian Grey is a changed man because of his relationship to Steele. Again, an extremely negative reality reaps positive results in this kind of fiction.
Without being too cliche or preachy, I have to say,
It’s a slippery slope.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this – pun intended – but really… on a micro level, it begins with a girl who doesn’t understand her own value, who doesn’t believe that she is capable of being whole and happy on her own, and this lack of self-worth manifests itself in literal ways in her relationships to men. On a macro level, millions of women vulnerable to this kind of story – who see themselves in Bella and Anastasia – read these books and the erotic fantasy of it seduces them into believing that this is how relationships are, that this is an acceptable role for them as women.
What is worse is that this is not subliminal messaging, but blatant acceptance. Fifty Shades has been hailed as “mommy porn,” fiction that can “spice up” women’s sex lives.
I don’t believe in censorship, but I do believe in smart consumerism. I believe that what we consume – what we eat, wear, watch and read – says something about our self-worth, about how we value our selves.
I believe in being one less – one less woman indulging in “harmless” fantasy that she subconsciously measures her love/sex life against, and one less royalty to smutty booksellers. It may seem to some that “casually” picking up a copy of Fifty Shades isn’t a big deal.
But I think that fact that so many readers find this kind of content casual and mainstream speaks to what our culture really thinks of women.
So let’s rewrite this portrayal of women – and of men, too. Let’s boldly face the reality that sexual abuse is a lot less gray and a lot more black and white than what certain books and movies would have us believe. Let’s read something else and be one less.
A few good articles on the subject :
Fifty Shades of Sexism.
When Sex Goes Grey.
“Your ability to read an erotic book, see a movie that makes a joke of a male stripper, laugh about the idea of prostitutes, is not a decision that only effects YOU anymore. Was it ever? No… But what I can tell you is that there is a very real commercial sex industry out there, and it’s not ‘over there’ or ‘somewhere else’ it’s EVERYWHERE, and everything that we do that makes light of sex, of purity, of temptation, of pleasure, of monogamy, all of it perpetuates a societal blind eye to global sexual exploitation.” It IS a Big Deal.
And just for fun, the difference between Ginny and Bella and Hermione and Bella.
- (of a person or way of life) Devoted to reading and studying rather than worldly interests.
- (of language or writing) Literary in style or allusion.
- (of art and all manner of lovely things) devoted to the written word as a form of art and as a way of seeing the world.
- (of BethanySuckrow.com) anything of the aforementioned characteristics as they are found on the interwebs and reposted by Bethany, because bookish and writerly things always give reason for amusement.