The Body · The Soul

To The Guys Snickering About Women Reading 50 Shades

So I have just about had it with the somewhat hysterical male response (particularly from, but not limited to, Men Of A Certain Generation) to the fact that ZOMG 50 Shades of Grey is a bestseller and that means a LOT of women are reading it quite possibly even my sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, daughter, girlfriend, GREAT-grandmother…and that means THEY ARE THINKING ABOUT SEX AND I AM SURROUNDED BY WOMEN THINKING ABOUT SEX!

Calm yourself while I point out certain things:

1. Strip clubs

2. Lap dances

3. Prostitutes

4. Escort services

5. Internet porn

In the spirit of my last post, let me point out the relationships between these things.



And men’s delicate sensibilities are sent a-quiver because women are…reading? Reading erotica at such a rate that the books have launched onto the bestseller lists, pushing off presumably better-quality titles? (Say, for example, anything involving a Sigma Force or a Delta Force, which include their own sex scenes, most of which are so badly written as to bring the storyline to a cringing screeching halt while simultaneously nauseating the reader?)

I just had a Twitter exchange with @bsandusky about my reading habits – which are decidedly arcane these days, ranging from poetry to philosophy to technical manuals. In terms of style, E. L. James’s work would probably be a disappointment when compared to my usual reading. But after spending the better part of an afternoon being mansplained to on a listserv by industry gurus (and while this listserv is pretty equally divided between men and women, it’s primarily the men doing the talking) about how unfortunate it is that 50 Shades is taking up attention span that could be more productively spent reading other things, I am going to do the subversive* – download that shit and read it tonight. So yes, I will be thinking about sex.

*The fact that downloading books that are bestsellers can (even sarcastically) be considered subversive is an indication of how ridiculous this whole situation is.

8 thoughts on “To The Guys Snickering About Women Reading 50 Shades

  1. I don’t like the idea of a man telling me what is or isn’t appropriate for me to read. On the other hand, I don’t want to see anyone at all reading or looking explicit sexual material meant to arouse on public transportation. Of course, maybe I’m just old fashioned.

    Also, if people are feeling particularly frisky and are in want of a good sexy-times read, why not some Ovid or some Marquis de Sade? Or even Jaqueline Carrey’s fantastic Kushiel’s Dart series (which some fellow twitter ladies and I went bonkers for the other night).

    I think my biggest issue w/ EL James is not that it’s pornographic. But that it’s poorly written porn that is going to set a Book Publishing trend for the foreseeable future… there is better lady-porn out there! There is!

    1. Oh, I know! But I owe EL James some money for making this an actual conversation instead of something to be snootily dismissed. The literary merit is something else entirely. (See also every thriller on the bestseller lists now.) I also think the reading-sexy-in-public will increase (and one’s discomfort will decrease) as more people read digitally.

  2. Ah, subversion. Women’s fiction of olde was incredibly subversive. Novels, often denigrated by men, were used as a way of passing information among women. They contained a code of sorts. I find this very cool, and, whenever I see/hear/read men putting down women’s fiction, I think it’s because it’s over their heads.

    I cannot say why the 50 Shades books have captured the imagination of so many. My biggest guess is “right place, right time”. It’s amazing that so many people have bought and read these books, and, unless I am mistaken (be gentle!), we want people to read.

    Women have been reading and writing about sex pretty much forever. Mostly in the form of erotic fiction, though I’d say sometimes it delves into straight-up porn. Women also sometimes watch porn, make porn, participate in porn. I don’t think the James book falls into that category — it may not be the best written erotic fiction, but that’s what it is. “Porn for women” is just another way of putting down someone’s reading choices. It angers me.

    (And so what about the sex? I mean, it’s a pretty important part of the human condition, and that’s what fiction is meant to explore, right?)

    This type of fiction, including books focused on BDSM, is not new. It’s not even sorta new. This particular series just happened to catch the wave. It’s leading readers to other authors who write about this topic…and I imagine to authors who write about other stuff as well.

    I think we should stop pretending that real reading is high-brow, snooty stuff. It’s not. Perhaps there are “better” things to read, but, honestly, there’s just as much crap in the world of so-called literary fiction as there is in genre fiction. I have a theory that sometimes publishers buy books because they are so incomprehensible, the editor is convinced it is a work of genius. I’ve read some of those books, and I can tell you they are not. (And, ahem, if they’d been written by a woman, chances are they wouldn’t have been published at all.)

    Hey, if you male person, have time to read serious heavy tomes that expand your minds, awesome. I truly hope you enjoy what you’re reading. Me? I spend my days reading “serious” stuff (way too many contracts, if you ask me), and I like to unwind with books that are sheer pleasures to read. Sometimes that means literary fiction, sometimes that means genre fiction. All I ask is that the story and writing and world-building and characters be great.

    I have heard stories from romance authors who have received letters from fans that say (paraphrasing), “Thank you for your book. I read it at the hospital while waiting for word about my kid’s major operation.” Or, “Your book was a great help to me while I was getting my chemo treatment.” Or even, “I’ve gone through a devastating month; reading your book helped me forget my troubles for a few hours.” Then again, “I really enjoyed your book. Thank you.”

    Making readers happy…isn’t that what it’s all about?

    (A final bit of rant — and I guess I should have used my own blog for this rant — I think the reason so many women like the fact that ebooks “hide” book covers is because of reactions like this. We’re taught to feel our books are trashy or lesser, and the covers don’t help!, so having a little anonymity helps.)

    1. Yeah, I love how “the novel” was denigrated as being for women only until it wasn’t. Plus eleventy on the “code” – books on housewifery were similar in that way.

      You are not at all mistaken – more books for more people. The written word is – no matter how garbled, unstyled, clunky, awfully-composed – a good thing. One book leads to another. And another. And another. There is rarely such a thing as a bad book. (It’s got to be truly evil, something like “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” or something hateful like that.) Sex? Sex is NOT A BAD THING. It is WHY WE ARE HERE. You are absolutely right about exploring it – the good, the bad, the insane. IT’S A WRITER’S JOB.

      Don’t even get me started about literary fiction. I was an English major, and an autodidact after graduation. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? I have read Robert Musil, and I have read Victoria Thompson. I have loved both. In the books of one of my very favorite authors, Jane Haddam, there is a priest who reads equally Spinoza and diet books (for fun, not because he needs to diet), Mickey Spillane and Kant. He reads whatever he wants. And he wants all of it. (He’s an Armenian refugee. He loves knowing things.)

      It’s sanctimoniousness that gets to me. Sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy. I read philosophy and tech books for work (yeah, I get to read philosophy for work!); I read thrillers and mysteries and literary fiction and biography and history for fun. Like you, “All I ask is that the story and writing and world-building and characters be great.”

      When I was a bookseller, one night a customer came into my store in need of a gift for his friend who was dying. A Presbyterian minister, this friend had a week to live. My father was a Presbyterian minister. This was back in the day of long-distance calls, so I couldn’t exactly ring him from work. I had to take a stab in the dark. My father was loving Bill Moyers’s series at the time about great thinkers, and there was an accompanying book. I recommended that book because I figured for a week, it would give the man something to think about on his way out of the world – who had come before him, what they had meant to us, what wisdom they had left us. A portal to a thousand thoughts. The customer bought the book. I never saw him again. But I was blessed with this massive, massive privilege: to pick the final book for a person.

      I have never been so privileged since, nor would I want to be. Because that was the ultimate privilege.

  3. A pleasure is a pleasure, whether it’s a guilty one or not. We women as a whole for a long time, have been uncomfortable with men’s use of let’s say guilty pleasures, and now they’re uncomfortable with a woman’s guilty pleasure, of pretty much the same ilk. Yes it is in text form, it’s still of the same ilk. Maybe it’s a good thing, that women are being judged a little bit for reading this, gives us a little taste of how we’ve made men feel when we judge their guilty pleasures.

    Nobody likes to be told what they can and can’t do/read.

    Instead of dueling our judgemental fingers at each other, let’s take a moment and try to be a little more tolerant of things that aren’t our business, and a little more discreet about what is not the business of others. In my humble opinion, grown-ups should do/read as they please, so long as they don’t create a problem for others.

    I’ve not read the book, I’ve no intention of reading the book, AS FAR AS I KNOW, I don’t know personally anybody who’s read the book, which is fine by me. (Yes I understand it’s best-seller.)

  4. WTF? It bothers some men that women are reading erotica/porn? Really? There is something very, very wrong with that. I wonder if it’s a US thing? Attitudes about sex are so screwed up in the US.

  5. Great article, Laura. A few weekends ago, as I was leaving to do some grocery shopping, my adult daughter asked if I would get a copy of the second book in the 50 Shades trilogy. She said she had just finished the first and wanted to read the rest.

    I bought the 2nd and 3rd books. If she wants to read more, I am going to encourage it. She works in stemcell research and tends to read scientific papers to the exclusion of much else.

    I found the checkout line fascinating. To women in the line, spotting the books on the conveyor, were smiling slightly. Two men (their husbands, I suspect) were looking at me as if I were something the cat dragged into the room.

    What I don’t begin to understand is, how do married, seemingly adult men come to believe that women don’t have sexual drives? How can married, adult (?) men not comprehend this? Do they think sex is a one-way act, briefly performed in the manner of animals in the African veld?

    There really is something terribly depressing about all this. I wanted to agree with the Laura who commented that “attitudes about sex are so screwed up in the U.S.”, but on reflection I think they’re pretty screwed up most places.

    My daughter’s comment on finishing the series: “interesting, but she needed an editor.”

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