Last month, I was interviewed for an article on 50 Shades of Grey and my feminist perspective of the trilogy. I was looking back on my answers and thought I would share it with the world, so here you go:
1. How did you come across 50 shades of grey?
I first came across 50 Shades during my final year in college when my professor told me she was reading it. I had no idea what it was about, but all I know is people kept talking about it. During the summer, I found myself with a copy of the book and read it.
2. What were your first impressions?
I was really surprised at first because I kept thinking this was almost like a “Twilight” kind of book, but as I kept reading, I found out it was something much more. (A coincidence that 50 Shades started off as Twilight fan-fiction)
3. What did you think when you realised how popular the book was becoming?
To be honest, I am not surprised that this book became popular because E.L. James brought sex to the forefront of mainstream media. Granted, there are many writers who do this already, but seeing as 50 Shades of Grey spun off of it’s reign in the fan boards of Twilight, it seemed only right to pick it up to mainstream media. Regardless of this idea, I wasn’t too thrilled this book became popular because it’s just not a good book.
4. Is 50 shades empowering the genre or ruining it?
It can do both. 50 Shades of Grey opens the doors for people to talk about sex in public spaces, but I just don’t like that fact that it is from this particular book. It’s not a good book because it isn’t really accurate to real life situations. (will explain more about that in question 7)
5. The term ‘mummy porn’ is used when describing the book – what do you think they mean when use this term? Is it derogatory?
To me, the term mommy porn just seems a little off, because people assume that only mothers read this book. Mainstream media has only coined this term because of this idea that 50 Shades of Grey will enlighten mothers to become more sexually active, which may or may not be true. Granted, that may be the case in some instances, but in reality, how true can this be? I know when I read this book, I was completely turned off by both Anastasia and Christian because of how their roles coincide with each other.
6. Is erotic fiction still taboo?
I think it is, but it doesn’t have to be. You go looking for erotica in a bookstore and it has it’s own section, so whenever someone goes to it, others will look at them with knowing looks. Why? Put them on the shelves with other works of fiction. As I said before, 50 Shades has opened up the realm of talking openly about sex and desire, but there are a ton of other books that are considerably better than 50 Shades and have better sex scenes.
7. From your blog, I see you have some disagreement with 50 shades? What are some of them? Do you dislike the genre in general?
First of all, this book is poorly written. James makes poor rhetorical choices with her diction and word-choice. A lot of the book is repetitive and lackluster at best. The book has coined some interesting one-liners like “kinky-fuckery” and “laters, baby” which stick to people, but others fall flat. I don’t like the argument that Anastasia Steele is a strong woman for changing Christian Grey because we have to keep in mind what she endured to get him that way. She was under scrutiny from him and continues to play his submissive even though he says she has all the power. After Christian tells her she has all the power, there seems to be a shift in context, but we as readers have to keep in mind that the shift isn’t power because that’s an illusion. Anastasia doesn’t really have the power to make her own decisions or be her own person without Christian Grey.
I like erotica as a genre, but I don’t think this book should qualify. It’s “50 Shades of Fucked Up” as it states in the book, and between the hundreds of sex scenes and lackluster plot, the book has basically taught me that women can maintain a relationship and control a a man through sex, and that is not something that can be captured in real life.
8. If you have read other works of a similar nature, how does 50 shades compare?
When I think about Erotica, I always think about Zane. When I was in High School, I read all her books, some popular ones being The Sex Chronicles, The Sex Chronicles 2: Getting Buck Wild, Chocolate Flava, and Caramel Flava, just to name a few, and I think these books portray erotica well because it plays well into realistic fantasies that people may have. 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t even come close to this, in my opinion. Then again, we also have to consider audience when coming across these two authors. Zane, a woman of color whose books focus primarily on women of color, will yield an audience similar to its characters. However, James, a white woman, seems to yield a wider audience. There is room to create a discourse around female authors and whether or not race plays an issue, but there is something to be said here.
9. 50 shades deals with a different type of sex, BDSM, is this part of the reason its so popular?
It is definitely the reason. Many people don’t really know a lot about BDSM and think this book is a good portrayal of what it’s like to be in a BDSM relationship. It’s all about what’s taboo, and BDSM falls into it. People want to know more about taboo topics because, well, it’s taboo, something that isn’t a part of their normal, everyday lives.
10. BDSM practiced safely, is a lifestyle choice. Do you think 50 shades represents this accurately?
No, it doesn’t. First of all, Christian Grey doesn’t maintain this relationship with Anastasia the same way a dom would be with his sub. He rips up the contract, lets her sleep in his bed, etc. In a true BDSM relationship, a contract must be signed and both parties have to abide by the rules. In 50 Shades Darker, Christian ties Anastasia to a post and begins to arouse her, but also pull back as a ploy to prolong orgasm (he said it was her punishment). When she calls the safe word, he gets upset, not particularly at her, but if you pay attention, he is upset at her. This isn’t how a real BDSM relationship would co-exist. When one calls the safe word, everything stops, no if, ands, or buts about it.
11. Why is domination a popular fantasy?
It’s all about power, and it’s not only something achieved in the bedroom. People love to dominate in all life choices (I guess that’s why capitalism is so popular in the United States). Domination in the bedroom is a fantasy because it can open up a relationship to many different sexual fantasies. In a heterosexual relationship, people often think the man will be the dominant one, but roles can also reverse as well. It’s all about how kinky you want the relationship to be and whether you want to be dominated or do the dominating.
12. Can a feminist be a submissive?
I’m not particularly sure how to answer this. I think it would necessarily depend on the couple at play. People can be feminists but also maintain a submissive role, sexually. It’s all about what that person is interested in. Being in a particular role (dominant/submissive) is all about ownership, and if you own that role, then be it. If you’re in a relationship where one moment you want to be a dom, and another a sub, then be it. Ownership is important when it comes to these types of relationships because you have to be comfortable with what you’re getting yourself into.
13. You discuss in one blog post, sleeping beauty theory – what is it? How is it represented in the genre?
The Sleeping Beauty theory means that a woman needs a man to awaken her (sexually) before she is able to accept her sexuality. In this book, Anastasia is a virgin who never experimented with masturbation or any type of sexual activity before hooking up with Christian Grey. Once this happens, she becomes this sexually charged person willing to do anything for Christian. That would be the difference between 50 Shades of Grey and other books in this genre: virginity. It is something that is considered innocent and pure, and once lost, opens the doors to fantasies and other types of “kinky fuckery”, at least in 50 Shades of Grey.
14. Finally, what’s the a difference between someones fantasy and actually doing it in reality?
I think it’s all about courage and being able to own up to your fantasies. It’s a fantasy because you envision yourself wanting to try it sometime, but it takes courage to step up and actually go through with it. Some people will, and some people will choose not to, and read about their fantasies through these types of books.