Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: A Feminist's Perspective

Every once in a while, a book comes along that puts society at polar ends of the agreement spectrum. E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey is a book that does just that.

Many people view Fifty Shades as a pariahitical text -- it doesn't represent the BDSM culture faithfully, it is poorly written, it is demeaning to women and goes against the foundations of feminism -- and the good writers at the New York Post and Huffington Post could tell you all about how horrible the book is for feminism.  But is it really? Despite opinions to the contrary, Fifty Shades of Grey could easily be viewed as a feminist text.

What bullshit is this?! Hear me out.
Many people are so against the books because of James's representation of the BDSM culture, seen primarily through the lens of Anastasia and Christian's relationship. Though I have not read the books myself*, I have heard other people say that Christian ignores he and Ana's safe word a few times, which apparently goes against a central foundation of BDSM. While I don't know a lot about the BDSM culture, I do know that regardless of the "facts" of said culture, people need to understand that Fifty Shades is an erotic text separate from real-life practice of BDSM.

Fantasy is meant to be just that: fantasy. In no way is the book meant to be a textual representative of the entire BDSM culture. Perhaps the book is simply meant to be the depiction of one's man's sordid fantasies and the way he evolves as a person through his relationship with Ana. Regardless of what the book is meant to be, raging against the fact that James does not present her version of BDSM as one which aligns with "best BDSM practices" in the real world is ludicrous.

I especially like Anne Rice's comment on the backlash Fifty Shades has received:
"It's a . . . fantasy. . . . [the author] created the scenes, the situations, the attitudes, and a lot of other women enjoy reading the book and obviously will enjoy the movie. Why in the world are people jumping all over this? This is not a documentary. It's erotica!"
In the same thread, Anne Rice mentions how E.L. James's commercial success with Fifty Shades has opened the door for other women to explore their sexual fantasies and produce successful erotic works.

Though Jezebel's Katie J.M. Baker had much and more to say about the content and quality of the book in her article, even she admits: "[I]t will undoubtably be easier for more talented female erotica authors to get book deals." Later in the article, she points to the "renewed popular interest in non-'vanilla' sex, even if it's superficial and imperfect," and she hopes "Fifty Shades is just the beginning" of that renewed interest.

I see a lot of feminists raging because "sex should not be abusive."

Love comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and sex is such an intimate act that no barriers can really limit it. As long as both parties are completely consensual, sex that entails beating, biting, scratching, whipping, etc. is not abusive. Even if Christian verbally, mentally, and sexually abuses Ana, as long as she knowingly consents to the 'abuse' -- even if she justifies or comes to terms with them in ways that are unfamiliar, foreign, or "wrong" in our minds -- Christian's treatment of Ana cannot be classified as abusive in the same way rape or domestic violence is classified.

Maybe that is one of the biggest issues I have with anti-Fifty Shaders: who are you to say what is and what is not okay for someone else's life? Don't wave the banner of feminism and claim that your way is right and everyone else's way is wrong.

In my opinion, "feminists'" rants on Fifty Shades has done more harm for the advancement of women -- for women's autonomy and senses of self, both intellectual and sexual -- than a couple of fictional characters or author E.L. James.

Women shouldn't be forced to feel ashamed for reading what they want to read, writing what they want to write, thinking what they want to think, or watching what they want to watch. Especially not by other women and feminists who believe liking Fifty Shades makes you a bad woman and a worse feminist.

Think Fifty Shades is poorly written? Fine. Make that a literary issue, not a feminist one.

Hilary White, writer for PopSugar, presents additional pro-feminist ideas about the book/movie in her article "Haters Gonna Hate, But I Thought Fifty Shades of Grey Was Fine." Jezebel user Zokajo's article "Can we cool it with the Fifty Shades of Grey hate?" is also worth reading.

*Notice that none of my comments imply that I have read the book. My opinions are on the attention and criticism the series and E.L. James have received.

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