Tuesday, July 03, 2012

In Defense of Readers Who Choose Fifty Shades

I was trawling through my Facebook news feed this morning and came upon a Fifty Shades of Grey naysayer. This happens to be someone who's close to someone else I'm close to. In other words, I respect this person and their relationship with someone close to me, so my intention here is not to be tacky or disrespectful, but the post simply got me thinking. Note: this was a male commentator.
Fifty Shades of Grey is about a real good looking guy who buys a woman all kinds of stuff, so in return he can sexually abuse her any time he wants? DEFINITELY not my cup of tea. Can't figure out who or WHY anyone would allow themselves to be treated that way, or WHY so many women are clamoring to read it?

A couple of things:
1. Anastasia is opposed to Christian buying her things.
2. She's also opposed to a full-on BDSM lifestyle.
3. Christian has to change his lifestyle to be with her. 


Those points aside, I did have some qualms with the Fifty Shades novels. Christian is too overprotective and controlling. The author makes a concerted effort to rationalize those behaviors with backstory. There were some things that, as a woman, I starkly disagreed with! However, I never felt that Ana and Christian were in an abusive relationship. There's that. 

So we've established that this blurb is factually, plotfully incorrect. But aside from that, there's an issue of implicating female readers that makes me uncomfortable. It's certainly not only this post, but a general attitude of chagrin and forced embarrassment when it comes to women's reading choices.


I'm sort of singing to the choir here, and Amanda from BookRiot already wrote an artful piece on this issue titled, "The Gender of Reading Shame."  I suppose my point in writing today's post is to add my voice to the chorus of "hell yeahs!" Women are so often made to "feel bad" about their reading choices. It's too romancey, too paranormal, too fluffy, too depressing, too anti-feminist, too butch. TOO THIS, TOO THAT. 


Amanda writes, "If women read 'unliterary' but stereotypically feminine genres, it’s deserving of a brown paper bag in the form of increased e-reader sales so you can read in public in peace." As opposed to the male reader who can read "unliterary" but stereotypically male genres and is left alone. 


It's always tough while dealing in stereotypes, but the bottom line is: women do often feel shamed for their reading because of their choice of genre, for following best seller lists, for engaging in a trend, etc. I'm almost certain I (we?) feel this more as a book blogger than someone who just reads for the hell of it and doesn't engage in the same level of immersion, discussion, and literary navel-gazing as I do (we?) on a daily basis. 


So what gives? I have absolutely no answers. Are women more impressionable? Are we more sensitive to naysayers? Are we imagining it? Is this the female reader's "glass ceiling?" Who imposes the shame? Females? Males? Is it a male-dominated society thang?


While I do feel this pressure and feel this imbalance in reading and judgement between genders I can't say that I'm going to care much when it comes to choosing books. Admittedly, I was embarrassed to admit to reading (and enjoying) Fifty Shades of Grey early on. BUT, I did. I said it. It is what it is. I won't NOT read from a particular genre or participate in a trend or buy a book because of shame.


In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, am a little more aware of it, I might just brazenly cover myself in romance novels and go sit in a public park. Hecklers beware. I'll shank you with my book light. 


Whatcha think?

29 comments:

  1. I think that it's a cycle. *Some* women feel embarrassed about what they read, and people sense that. Also, I think historically women's choices are open to criticism and contempt, whereas men's decisions are largely seen as the norm (even if wrong).

    I wrote a post about reading what I want when I want several months ago. The story doesn't interest me, so I won't read this series, but heck, I read crime fiction, chick lit, mysteries, lit fiction, even romance on occasion. I don't apologize for what I read and won't. If someone had the audacity to say something about my reading choices, I'd probably not respond nicely (though my wish is that I'd be magnanimous).

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    1. Jenn, agreed on all counts. It's a lot of items that roll in together to make this type of pressure and judgement prevalent and somehow societally "ok."

      I discover as more and more pressures mount in my life, I really need that mix of genres and literary fiction and "read what I want, when I want" just to keep me interested in reading. And deadlines are of NO interest to me. None whatsoever.

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  2. Where I work I get constantly teased for reading chicklit (romancy fluff) however they also know that I will tease them right back for their crime obssessed reading therefore it equally balances out. I think reading habits of both genders are becoming more accepted, especially with the arrival of Fifty Shades.

    I have never seen women so unashamed of reading a stereotypical "woman" series before, nobody cares that you're reading it because everyone else is! I think Anastasia is a brilliant figure in literature for women, she makes a man bend to her wishes for Gods sake!

    But hey, that's just my opinion.....

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    1. Just wrote a big ole response and BLOGGER ATE IT! Arrrgh!

      The brief version: I hope the acceptance is increasing, but when women opt for e-copies to avoid being seen with a book or won't leave the store without a bag, I have to wonder. Maybe issues like these will at least provoke more readers to take a non-judgemental stand.

      I do like that Ana brings Christian around instead of giving in. Though I think the writing of these books and the stigma attached to their beginnings as fan fic hurts a larger statement. Doesn't bother me particularly, but in the wider word of critics, bloggers, and media, I think these things are an issue.

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  3. Fifty Shades is not my thing, but I don't have quite the same reading tastes as most others do, and that's ok. I learned early on that I would rather celebrate the fact that someone is reading than lambast them for their choice of reading material. I don't think people should get to make those kinds of assumptions about the books that others decide to read. It's not my choice, but that doesn't mean that it's not someone else's choice, and we, as women, should not have to be ashamed of what we read. It's ridiculous to think that we all must have the same tastes and preferences, and I think that it's best to leave others to their reading, no matter what form it takes.

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    1. Amen, Zibilee! People should read what they want, when they want. It's far too easy to get caught up in the lambasting, though. I certainly try not to, and enjoy 50 Shades has made me think of it more. I don't want to feel ashamed, nor should anyone else for their choices.

      Great response! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. I have gone back and forth for years on romance novels. Sometimes I want to hide that I love them and sometimes I am blantant about it. I have always loved them tho, and I've come to realize that a woman who reads 50 romance novels a year is much more well rounded and literary than a man who reads 3 high brow literary novels. I decided that I didn't care who knew I read romance and started to blog more about it. And, as I've mentioned, very few of my regular readers care at all. Reading is reading is reading. Read something, don't knock someone else's book.

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    1. To each his or her own. I've always liked romance novels, too, though for years I stopped reading them. I don't know why -- if it was a shift in tastes for a while, or a phase. Or if I secretly didn't want to be associated with reading them! Ack! In light of feeling ashamed of 50 Shades, that doesn't bode well for my making of that choice. I think I'll read more romance now that I've had a reminder that I do like them! And unashamedly so!

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  5. Oh my gosh - I'm just picturing you shanking a NY Times book critic with your book light for turning their nose up at you with your romance novel!

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    1. LOL, that is what I'd like to be pictured doing. I love it. A whole new level of bookish badassness. Maybe I'll make up an avatar of it. :D

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  6. Well said!! At first I was ashamed to tell someone I was reading it. But after awhile, I wasn't. I just kept thinking that the only reason I was ashamed was because others thought it was just pure smut. It's not. And I'll say it too, I enjoyed the Fifty Shades books :) and I'll watch out for you and your book light!! Haha!!

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    1. Thanks, Kristina! Not pure smut. A lot of smut and eroticness, but I dug it! I've read erotica before -- takeoffs of some classic novels, that were a lot of fun.

      We shan't be ashamed!

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  7. I got into an argument with my mother on this very topic the other day. She started the first book and got all huffy about their relationship and the fact that Christian was abusive. When I explained that he wasn't, she told ME I was wrong! But I read all three! When I told her to just read the rest of them to see, she called it smut, told me she was disappointed in me for reading them, and said to never talk about them again. So yep, I get this. Completely.

    We all need to respect everyone else's reading choices. And we should not be ashamed to read whatever we want. That's why I read what I want, when I want. ;)

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    1. LOL, Allie! I'm so glad my mom hasn't read them for many of these reasons. More respect, less butting into other people's reading. Can I get a hellz yeah?

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  8. Great post!! I admit, I read Fifty Shades on my e-reader because I didn't want anyone to see what I was reading. It is sad that we have to feel "ashamed" about our reading choices. I think you are on to something here with the whole book light thing, though ;)

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    1. Thanks, Kim! Let's have a 50 Shades readalong and hand out book lights to participants.

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  9. A friend of mine who was reading the series took a day off work to sit on the beach to finish reading them because she was sick of her husband's remarks and snickers about her reading choice. His lose because she was feeling a bit "frisky" after reading certain parts.

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    1. OH, that is such a big mistake on his part. We told a couple of the hubbies and boyfriends in Magic Mike last weekend that they were the smartest guys in the building. Brownie points!!!

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  10. NAILED IT. I get so tired of defending/analyzing my reading choices. So what if I like Twilight? So what if someone wants to read 50 Shades of Grey? Who on earth am I to judge? And what's more, I *don't* need to make anyone feel inferior (or make myself feel that way) because of a reading choice. Maybe someone reads Twilight and thinks, "There is no way I'd ever let myself be so completely absorbed in a guy like that,"? Okay, fine. But what if it makes someone else think, "I really need that sort of devotion"? To each his/her own. It's not up to us to judge.

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    1. RIGHT ON, Tammy!!!! Free reading!

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  11. I am not so sure if I will read these books because it is not really my type of series to begin with, but I did like your post!

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  12. So here's my thing with Shades of Gray...because I am in no way opposed to a sexy novel (even reread Lace as a grownup!) and I am the opposite of a reading elitest...but I found myself at Target today looking for a book that wouldn't scare the crap out of me while Sam is out of town (I know, I know...) and thumbed through Shades of Gray and the writing seemed...really bad. Like, really bad. Is that the case or did I just read a few bad passages? I am interested in reading the series...does the plot surpass the writing? To show how NON elitest as a reader I am, I ended up picking up a Dorothea Benton Frank novel...

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    1. Courtney, admittedly, the writing is really bad. I wrote a snarky review of the writing. Very repetitive, a little childish, not very good with audience (lots of British-English phrases for American-English-speaking characters). So yeah, the writing is yuck but I did want to find out what would happen for the characters.

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  13. It always surprises me the way that what a person is reading is considered so much more of a reflection on _them_ than any other form of entertainment. Like, there isn't the same kind of judgement when it comes to what kinds of tv shows or movies someone watches, but all of a sudden, pick up a book, and that book itself is widely considered some kind of statement about identity/morality/sexuality/etc.

    I think it has to do with the way that many people view reading as isolated from other forms of entertainment. And I think that's a mistake in many ways.

    If I find pleasure in _50 Shades_ (it's next on my list, so I'll let you know), or any book at all, that doesn't mean that I necessarily also espouse any particular kinds of values or philosophy it offers -- I can enjoy wholeheartedly and still read critically.

    In fact, I might argue that we all have a responsibility to do both whenever we can.

    People who can't see that those two things aren't mutually exclusive, men or women alike, need to do a bit more reading of their own.

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  14. I could not agree with you more. The phrase "guilty pleasure" should not exist. If reading a book gives you pleasure, then there's no reason to feel guilty. I recognize the fact that the 50 Shades of Grey books are not high literature. But so what? It was a fun fantasy world to get caught up in for a week, and now I've moved on.

    I also agree with your frustration about their relationship. I don't see it as abusive at all. They challenge each other, and neither of them is perfect. I'd say that's fairly realistic. They are adults, and they both make choices and sacrifices.

    I am totally in love with your line of thinking, and I really enjoyed Amanda's Book Riot Post as well. Keep it up!

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  15. I think I worried more about what people think about what I read when I was younger. I don't know why but now that I am almost 50 I figure I have less time to read everything I want to so I'm going to read whatever "floats my boat". I've never thought about women being more ashamed of their reading choices but if that's true, it's really sad.

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  16. This is such a great post. I have not fully understood the controversy but know that it exists. I have purchased Fifty Shades of Grey and plan on making some time for it in the near future.
    I think that people should read what they like. I happen to like a wide variety of genres. Some far more serious than others. The books that I choose seldom reflect my own lifestyle. What would be the fun in fiction if the books were similar to my own life. Some of my favorite reads are depressing, dramatic, scandalous, etc. I hope that Fifty Shades of Grey gives me that something special and different.
    I have heard a lot of complaints that it is good literary work. Okay. Who cares. I feel like that about Twilight. It was never my thing, but who am I to say that it is not okay that others enjoy it. I read a lot of cozy mysteries. Are they wondrous literary pieces? I should say not, but I love them all the same.
    I appreciate the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey has shed some of the stigma surrounding what is too scandalous to read. Similar to the way that Twilight got a generation, some non readers, reading again.

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  17. I see your point, but I think we'd lose something if we could read anything in public with no sense of shame at all. That there are certain books we want to read in secret is part of the fun. A guilty pleasure is a pleasure in part because we feel not so much guilty but that we're doing something a little illicit by reading it. That sort of reading under the covers with a flashlight hoping Mom won't take away our comic books illicitness.

    I've no intention of ever reading the "Grey" books, mainly for the reasons Courtney describes above, but when I read about the people who've enjoyed them, I usually sense that they are enjoying them in part because they are reading something other people think they shouldn't.

    I also think they will be largely forgotten in ten or fifteen years, the same way Peyton Place, Fear of Flying, and so many others were.

    Peyton Place is an pretty darn good book, by the way.

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