Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I'm struck, I suppose, by the thought that the protest against 50 Shades of Grey is in itself an attempt to control the expression of women's sexuality - an attempt to shame women for liking the stuff that they like.
Here we have a huge bestseller by a woman, which has made that woman rich and successful beyond anyone's dreams. It's based on another huge bestseller by a different woman which made that woman rich and successful beyond anyone's dreams. Both runaway bestsellers became so by virtue of apparently giving women what they wanted to read.
And what happens? Do we celebrate the fact that women are getting rich from giving other women what they want? That female authors are on top of the world? Do we celebrate the fact that some women are discovering that they can talk about their sex drives in public? Even while we're shaking our heads in bemusement that their kink is not our kink, do we feel happy for them that they at least are feeling safe enough to express themselves? No. What happens is that the world comes together to denounce those women for wanting to read what they want to read, and to belittle those authors for giving it to them.
So it turns out that what an enormous amount of women want to read about is not what people think they ought to want? Does that mean that the appropriate response is to attempt to shove those women's sexuality back into a more acceptable shape? Or to shut them up to make us feel more comfortable? I thought it was widely understood that you can entertain rape fantasies without actually wanting to be raped? That we can acknowledge that some "heroes" are enthralling to the mind while we would never want to meet them in meat space? (Spike, Loki, both Malfoys, etc etc, I'm looking at you.) That most mature humans are perfectly aware of the difference between fantasy and reality?
Although, speaking of reality, it's not that long - in evolutionary terms - from the days when girls could expect to be married off to men who were older and richer than them, and who had all the power in the relationship. There are still plenty of countries in which that's how it still goes. A story of how a woman ends up stuck as the sexual plaything and property of a terrifying man, and slowly figures out a way to live with him and make him love her, so that she can survive and even thrive in that relationship - that's a story that might have been some of our female ancestors' only hope. No wonder it still retains power, even in these days, where she would do better to just leave him.
It's not as though my part of the romance genre – m/m romance – is any better. 50 Shades may have the problem that it appears to glamorize rape, domestic abuse and all kinds of misogyny, but m/m romance is not exactly free from abusive relationships. I tread carefully in the genre these days because I'm well aware that you can rarely go anywhere without encountering Alpha/Omega stories in which relationships that start out with rape end up with happily married bliss. Definitely not my thing - it turns my stomach in fact. But I know that nobody is responsible for what they find hot.
50 Shades of Grey and Twilight before it, and whatever newly launched ex-fanfic of Twilight that comes after it - not my thing. But I can still be impressed by the kind of explosion of success that happens when an author taps into a monster of the id that huge numbers of readers share. I could wish that human nature was something other than it is - that our id was as quick to catch up with emancipation as our reason. I wish we could all admire healthy relationships, where both (or every) partner respected the other, communicated well with each other, were always careful to be sure everything was done in a consenting and joyful manner, and were consistently kind to each other. Those are the kind of relationships I like, the kind I like to write about. But I’m well aware that as a concept they rarely set anyone on fire with excitement.
I wish we didn’t admire and lust after things that hurt us, but I've long realized how futile that wish is. And in fact human nature is probably not anything I should change even if I had the power to. God knows, I would probably make it worse.
Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years.Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist. Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
Alex can be found at her blog, website or Facebook
Posted by Meg Benjamin at 4:00 AM