Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: Jane Eyre, Tampons, Victims

I haven't posted here for a while, but I have been posting monthly over at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog, so I wanted to mention my "Fifty Shades of Grey" series, three months of musings about the billion-dollar phenomenon.

I'd mostly avoided Fifty Shades, except for a quick read of the free portion on Amazon. A tiny part of me felt I should read it for professional research, and I had said in public that I'd read it if I happened to find a free copy on the sidewalk or something. Then this past Christmas a friend gave me a copy of the first volume for Christmas as a joke. And as a joke, I promised to read it. The first chapters were slow going. I was particularly annoyed by the fact that the hardware store owner's brother was majoring in business at Princeton. Princeton doesn't have a "business" major, nor does it have scholarships like the evil editor supposedly got, but that came later. Factual fails aside, I pushed on through and around the time of the contract, I started getting interested. Because that contract is something all women have to negotiate, you know? I also kept going because several people I respect said the writing wasn't great but they continued to read to find out about the relationship between Ana and Christian.

So I read on and indeed became somewhat invested in finding out what happened to the couple on an emotional level (the sex is fine, but not really the draw for most fans, I think). I ended up reading all three books. One hint to making it through is to remember that the original version was written in installments, so it works better to read one or two chapters with a break in between.

I wrote about my reaction to the books in my January column at ERWA "Finally Fifty Shades." Jane Eyre is mentioned! Since my reading happened to coincide with the hoopla around the release of the movie, I also found myself fascinated by the way the story was treated in the media, in particular by people who hadn't read the books. I was amused but also saddened that the infamous "tampon scene" was so often mentioned by people who had no idea what it was (and for me it was a moment I decided I liked Christian). So here we have bloggers being grossed out by something they've made up in their own heads, or maybe just by menstruation in general. But this is true of much of the discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey--people are talking about their own personal issues with sex, power, taboo and romance. Still, I had fun exploring this in my February column "The Most Shocking Scene (Not) in Fifty Shades of Grey."

Usually I write my columns a few days before the post date, but my March column was written after I saw the movie a week after the release date in February. I know the frenzy has faded, but I just had to say something about all the hate out there towards women, their fantasies, and erotica. I mean, jeez, this is just an erotic romance, what's so threatening? I talk about some of the hot button issues in "Standing Up for the Victims of Fifty Shades of Grey (Are You One of Them)?"

Reading Fifty Shades has given me a few insights that have really stayed with me. First, although as a writer I was always told the quality of my prose was paramount, the truth is most readers just want a good story. Second, I don't spend all that much time reading Internet news, but I really get the trolling and unreliability of it all with the rumors of Jamie Dornan leaving the series because his wife was upset by the sex scenes, although apparently unruffled by his turn as a sexual serial killer in The Fall. So everyone jumps in with their judgments on something that isn't even true. Maybe all of life is like this, but it was so nice to take refuge from the hot air in a thick academic book on Stalin's early life. My brain cells perked up like a dry plant flourishes with a good watering. Lastly, women are still really despised in our society. All of the insults heaped upon us, the scathing reviews of the book and movie, the accusations of female lechery, the open declarations that no real man would enjoy a story that puts female desire at center stage. Foolish me, I thought we'd made progress in this area, at least a little.

Well, at least we do know that female-oriented fantasies can make money. I'll never forget reading in the introduction to Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden that when she was trying to sell the book, a male editor told her that women don't have sexual fantasies.

I wonder, given the huge popularity of that book, if he ever admitted he was wrong?