Fifty Shades of Perspective
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the book series and recent film Fifty Shades of Grey is an international phenomenon. You also know that it is a highly contentious debate topic, and it’s not hard to see why. On the surface, the argument set forward by both sides is rather simple. Fifty Shades is abuse versus Fifty Shades is fiction. Fifty Shades romanticizes unhealthy relationships versus Fifty Shades allows for escapism. The danger here is not in romanticizing Fifty Shades, or in shaming those who enjoy it, though certainly both things are occurring. Rather, there are at least three—and probably many more—arguments that are occurring simultaneously under the guise of one. Disclaimer: I have and will not read Fifty Shades. I also have not seen nor plan to see the movie. However, I have discussed the problematic themes with many people, read numerous articles, and reviewed excerpts of the books in question. My opinion of the subject matter is that it does depict an unhealthy, abusive relationship, and I do not understand why so many women would find this sort of relationship, fictionalized or not, appealing.
My other opinion? Thank fuck for Fifty Shades, and can we please get some more of that?
One of the most prevalent defenses I’ve seen of Fifty Shades is the old “if you don’t like it, don’t read/watch it” mantra that reeks of the “don’t like it, leave” rhetoric we hear from people of various political persuasions when confronted with an opinion they disagree with. The fact is, I don’t need to have read Fifty Shades to have an opinion about it. No one does. And no one needs someone else’s permission before airing their opinion. When you become so afraid of being confronted with an outlook different from your own, you close yourself off to growth. A convincing argument is worth its weight in gold to me—it’s one of the ways we mature as we grow older. Rather than becoming defensive, make a defense. Even if your defense is, “I see how it is abusive, but I still like the book.” That’s perfectly valid. No rational person should see this as condoning abuse.
This is something else I’m seeing—people mistaking criticism of the books/film as criticism of themselves. I’m sure there are anti-Fifty Shades people out there who are actively shaming others, but I’m also sure there many Fifty Shades fans taking the book/film’s criticism way too personally. If you like Fifty Shades and I call it abuse, I have not made a statement about you.
That said, anyone who personally criticizes Fifty Shades fans for their tastes/preferences is an asshole. We all have our guilty pleasures. I like the show Once Upon A Time even though it is one of the lamest shows on television. I can objectively recognize its weaknesses and flaws while subjectively gobbling it up.
So on one side, we have the Fifty Shades defenders, calling for the critics to stop criticizing Fifty Shades because it’s fiction. While cosmetically similar, this conversation is completely different from that the Fifty Shades critics are attempting to have—one is about the pros of escapism, and the other is about the importance of identifying abuse.
And both are important topics. Incredibly important. To ignore the abuse within Fifty Shades is to succumb to intellectual dishonesty. The relationship depicted isn’t a healthy one. And that is a conversation that is worth having. A conversation that you can find in numerous blogs and articles by people who have dedicated much more time than I am willing to dedicate to the subject (link list at bottom of post, with thanks to Bianca Sommerland).
But the Fifty Shades dissenters—myself included—often overlook the one shining virtue the books provided. And as an erotic romance author, I feel to continue overlooking this virtue is a disservice to the genre. Because like it or not, Fifty Shades brought erotic romance to a mainstream audience. It took a large step in normalizing the sort of books I like to read and write. It turned erotic romance from a dirty little secret to a national subject. Erotic romance still has miles to go before it reaches mainstream acceptance, but Fifty Shades did a lot for that conversation by shining a light on just how popular these books are. It also introduced a slew of new readers to a genre they didn’t realize existed. Yes, BDSM books are a niche in erotic romance that we might not all share, but any new readers to the erotic romance market is a win for the industry, and for the feminism movement. The more we discuss female sexuality and encourage it to move from the shadows of dirty-little-secret to as open and approachable as male sexuality, the further we move toward equality. So even though I might not appreciate the vehicle that drove that conversation into town, I’m glad it got here, and I look forward to seeing how others build upon its foundation.
That is not to say erotic romance has triumphed over adversity. Hardly. Fifty Shades is a divisive topic within the romance community because of the abuse themes. Outside of the romance community, it’s a punch-line used to marginalize romance readers and writers. Many pundits and comedians talk about it to make fun of it, while simultaneously making fun of all who partake in its or any related genre. Fifty Shades might have made erotic romance a national conversation, but it’s up to the rest of us to keep the dialogue going. So by all means, discuss Fifty Shades. Discuss why it does or does not represent your brand of erotic romance. Discuss its flaws and its virtues. Dissect it or defend it. But don’t fool yourself that this is a one-subject debate. Identify the argument you’re making and where you’re making it from. I am pro-escapism and anti-abuse, which makes me pro-Fifty Shades readers while being anti-Fifty Shades itself.
I’d hope that fans of the series could, at the very least, identify that this subject itself is awash in shades of grey.
Fifty Shades Abuse Links