First, a disclaimer: I have not read 50 Shades of Grey, but I consistently attest that any reading is good reading, even if every writing is not good writing. At best, I did a skim and scan of the novel. I have, however, like most, inhaled the second-hand smoke the novel emits in any gathering of two or more women who have read E.L. James’s novel, and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a woman, age 16 to 86, who hasn’t. I therefore feel as if I have a fairly thorough understanding of the novel’s characters, plot, and themes.
In my brief reading of 50 Shades, I did not find James’s prose to be of particular genius, nor did I find it appallingly amateurish, especially compared to the tripe available for free on your preferred e-reader. James has been a convenient punching bag for many literary snobs, who, to be frank, I believe are more jealous than fair. Whether one likes her writing style or not, it is impossible to deny that she has struck a chord with female readers that resonates as loudly as Harry Potter did with child readers; Twilight and The Hunger Games did with YA readers and beyond; and Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander trilogy has with adult readers of all sorts. It is obviously a chord that was in long need of strumming.
I find it a healthy and long overdue development for women to be able to openly explore and and discuss sexuality in such numbers and in so many public forums, especially in a work of fiction rather than in some clinical textbook. I can hardly wait to see to see the impact the film Magic Mike has on these same women. I think it is infinitely silly that so many women feel embarrassed to hand 50 Shades to the sales clerk at the bookstore check-out or to the librarian at the circulation desk or to be seen holding or reading it in public. This unnecessary shame illustrates just how deeply sexual neuroses have been embedded into American women’s psyches thanks to our fun-muffling Puritan forefathers and to Christian (note the irony) misogynists. The fact that so many readers have fallen in love with the fictional Christian Grey speaks to their lack of fulfillment in their own love lives. In my limited understanding of Christian, he seems first to meet many women’s desire for ravishment and, later, their desire to mother. It’s a killer combination, very Oedipal for you Freudians. If the reading of the novel leads to improved fantasy lives, playfulness in the bedroom, honest conversation regarding sexuality among partners, and women embracing their right to be sexualized human beings, than I’m one-hundred percent supportive of it. I think it is great that men are squirming in their inability to “measure up” to Christian. Perhaps, it’s about time that men realize their wives’/girlfriends’ dissatisfactions and feel the pressure to meet the unrealistic sexual and body type expectations from women who have dealt with those fantastical standards forever. However, women readers of 50 Shades cannot deny that their reading is tantamount, no better or worse, than their men searching the Internet for porn. The fact that the fantasies inspired by the novel are textual rather than pictoral doesn’t differentiate it. I think, then, that 50 Shades is a great equalizer.
On the flip side, as an ardent feminist, I am bothered by the compliant submissiveness of the female protagonsit, Anastasia, and the violent domination of her by Christian. I do not find the argument made by those who excuse his behavior as being the result of his own treatment at the hands of a depraved female pedophile convincing or defensible. It might be his motivation for his behavior, but it is not an excuse for it. I’ve heard some women suggest that this submissive/dominant relationship is natural and evolutionary, which I find incredibly disturbing and even dangerous to the advancement of women in a society that remains stubbornly sexist. If you don’t believe me, count the number of women on the Supreme Court, in Congress, in corporate board rooms, in any position of significant influence and prestige. Then, compare that number to the ratio of women to men in this country, and you will see how grossly out of proportion women are represented in those halls of power.
If anyone is interested in a truly hilarious, satirical, literary, and erotic companion piece to 50 Shades, I’d recommend Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes. As the author’s name and title clearly indicates, it’s a collection of fantasies written from the male perspective. Baker is a highly revered novelist, whose work has won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle award, and his work has appeared in such revered literary magazines as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. The book’s jacket declares: “Brimful of good nature, wit, and surreal sexual vocabulary, House of Holes is a modern-day Hieronymous Boschian bacchanal that is sure to surprise, amuse, and arouse. If you do decide to read it, be prepared to be shocked, and, please, don’t take it too seriously.
In the end, I say good for E.L. James and for all of the readers of 50 Shades. If critics or men don’t understand so many womens’ fascination with the novel, who cares? Not every female author has to be Virgina Woolf nor must we all read capital-L literature. If the novel were no more than a “smut book,” it would not be the 32nd highest selling book of all time since Neilsen began Bookscan in 1998. That many readers could not be duped into buying that which is no more than salacious trash.
Puchase my novel So Shelly: http://www.amazon.com/So-Shelly-Ty-Roth/dp/0385739583/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289513948&sr=8-1