Fifty Shades of Mommy Porn

I’d never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James until my 65-year-old sister-in-law clued me in. Her book group in New Jersey is tackling the best-selling trilogy that went viral as an e-book and is now being made into a movie.

It’s the story of an affair–with a BDSM slant–between a virginal Seattle college student named Anastasia Steele and a gorgeous billionaire named Christian Grey. Mostly, though, it’s just another version, updated for the Facebook era, of Jane Eyre with a dash of rape fantasy. In the words of The New York Times‘ Alessandra Stanley,

As female fantasies go, it’s a twofer: lasting love and a winning Mega Millions lottery ticket. And what is shameful about Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the submissive sex, it’s the Cinderella story.

When I had three friends to dinner at my home in Connecticut, I asked if they’d heard of this book. One, a publishing industry veteran, rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s all over the media world. Mommy porn. What are women thinking, when they could lose the right to abortion and birth control?” Another, a personal trainer, told how one of her clients, a stay-at-home mother, said the book changed her life. She was well into the book and enjoying it. The third, a psychologist, was as clueless as me.

Why would “older” women respond to this preposterous-sounding book? First, my sister-in-law. Hasn’t she suffered enough at the hands of delusional men, the first being her own father, a selfish, bigoted fool who favored his son? Then her ex-husband, who ordered her around for decades and treated her like shit and then escaped into the priesthood? And her son, who attacked a young woman and nearly killed her before killing himself in the most violent way—how could she want to read about a woman being beaten?

Next there is my lovely and seemingly naïve friend, the personal trainer. When her Harvard-educated, Southern charmer of a husband left town, she raised three kids on her own. The ex-husband lost all the family’s savings and has not paid a cent for his children’s education. Ever seeking romantic love, a man to rescue her from her plight, she wasted five years of her life with a wealthy, divorced man who refused to marry her, claiming it would upset his teenaged son. Her most recent affair with a divorced man, a television personality, ended with him “dating” his ex-wife. Hasn’t she had enough of the handsome, brilliant men who treat her badly?

I don’t plan to read the book, not because I am anti-porn (I am), but because it’s said to be badly written, filled with clichés and retrograde–a kinked-up version of the same-old, same-old sorry fantasy. I’m troubled when my teenage daughter reads books like Twilight, the equally retrograde book that spawned Fifty Shades of Grey. I find it disturbing how Twilight‘s heroine, Bella, is willing to give up everything–family, education, social ties, safety–for her controlling and devastating vampire, Edward. I’ve raised my daughter to believe she can do anything she wants to do in this world, and I confess to being quietly pleased when she told me she is no longer seeing her friend Katy, because “all Katy wants to do in life is marry a billionaire and have a yacht and never have to work.”

Photo of heart-shaped thumbcuffs by Flickr user vlQleS under license from Creative Commons 2.0

 

Comments

  1. I’m sorry, but am I the only person tired of hearing people rant about this book and then claim they won’t or “refuse” to read it? I mean, sure, we can all continue to write and talk about what other people purport this book is about. We can all share what other people tell us. But seriously? It’s a book (three books actually). It won’t hurt you. Unless you get a papercut, this book will not hurt you to read it.

    When you write based on what you hear, instead of actually doing the research yourself, you sound just as ignorant as the people feminists are fighting against. You sound just as ignorant as the right wing claims women and college students are. I still remember that article saying college kids shouldn’t vote because we’re “so ignorant.” Maybe because of half formed articles, blogs and stories like this.

    There is no rape in that book. There’s no force. The most disturbing thing in it is that the heroine believes she can save the “hero” through sex – when he, himself, has been terribly messed up through sex. Like… she can heal him with her love, or some ridiculous drivel. Yes, there are elements of BDSM. So what? She likes to get handcuffed, blindfolded and spanked. Act of BDSM requires absolute trust between the dominate/dom/top and the submissive/sub/bottom. Absolute Trust. It’s not a thing of power. It’s a thing of trust. This book shows a consenting relationship between two adults who trust one another.

    Right.

    Women are reading. This is, of course, bad.
    Women are reading about a woman enjoying sex. Well… we know women shouldn’t enjoy sex so…
    Women are reading about a relationship – despite everything else – that is between two adults and is based on trust and compromise.

    Maybe that’s what has Dr. Drew’s panties in a twist.

    Do your research. Then continue writing.

    • Elizabeth Titus says:

      Your point is well taken and I will read these books.
      Best
      Liz

    • Point well made.

    • I’ve read the first book and skimmed quickly through books 2 and 3.

      You’re right. There is no rape. There’s mental manipulation by the male lead character (“you should stay away from me” said right before he sends her an expensive first edition). There’s the belief that Christian must be “saved” from his BDSM desires. There’s a lead female character who literally falls and must be caught/saved by the lead male character over and over and who graduates from college with no email address, no computer knowledge, no cell phone, and no clue regarding human sexuality — who suddenly begins orgasming every other page. There’s bad writing (“he literally gets under my skin”). There’s a complete misunderstanding of just what a subconscious is (you know, something that you aren’t conscious of rather than another lead character). So, bad writing, one dimensional characters, predictable story line (see all books ever published under the Harlequin Presents line). It’s a story of a woman who is incomplete until she finds a man to make her a real woman, a man she saves with her selfless, true love. Ugh.

      It did indeed hurt to read it. I think it might have given me brain cancer, but I self-treated by re-reading The Feminine Mystique.

      • Lisa Gluck says:

        It is disturbing to me that women would be turned on reading about a clueless gal agreeing to be beaten with a belt and totally under the control of a dysfunctional man. What does this say about our society? In reality, for example , women in Saudi Arabia have this male dominated lifestyle, are not allowed to drive, must be covered up from head to toe, and have been stoned and whipped in public for not following the rules. Discuss that silly sisters.

  2. Anactoria says:

    Wow. Thanks for the judgmental rant.

  3. Thanks for cementing my views on this series. They don’t sound like pleasant reads. I feel icky and I haven’t even looked at one of them!

  4. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Holy Cow! So I speed read book one of the trilogy on my Kindle. Oh, my!

    And guess what? I stand by my points. It’s a depressingly familiar tale, an anti-feminist take on love and sex that I hope my daughter sees for what it is – total crap. Any young woman with half a brain should see this and aspire for more in life. Yet, there are thousands of girls like her friend Katy who see the ticket to success in a handsome billionaire like Christian with his wonderful hips and hair.

    As far as the sex goes, it’s pretty predictable, hardly raunchy or hard core. I have no objection to escapist, erotic, or romantic fiction as such. I just think it should be a lot better than this crap.

    • “I hope my daughter sees for what it is – total crap. Any young woman with half a brain should see this and aspire for more in life.”

      Regardless of the merits of the book, I can tell you this parenting attitude is a FAIL (gotta keep up with the lingo). So your stance is that if she doesn’t view such literature in the same light and draw the same conclusions, she doesn’t have half a brain? Kids see that for the intellectual fascism it is, reject it and possibly you along with it. And how would (or even why would a portrayal of sex be much more than predictable? There’s not much new under the sun in that department. It doesn’t seem like a cogent criticism.

      Yes, the Cinderella story is as old as dirt. There will always be those who make choices in their lives based on the possibility of its occurrence due to its great appeal. It is a terrible argument that it *never* happens. Of course it does, if rarely. The result, however, is a whole book itself… likely one you’ll condemn before you read.

  5. Why a book like this, which I have not read it yet, could cause a stir in women readership?

  6. 50 Shades of Grey sounds like 50 shades of misogyny.

  7. Lover Girl says:

    Stephanie Meyer for adults.

  8. Lover Girl says:

    Babeland even has a bondage kit based on this book that includes this book. I like erotica when its LITERATURE not trash.

  9. For someone who hasn’t read the book series saying that it is a rape fantasy is really careless. Everything that happens in the book is consensual, trying to make it seem like it isn’t is a full out lie.

    Also calling it anti-feminist is slightly amusing since it is erotica. I don’t know many young girls who go to erotica for their how to’s on living life.

  10. I don’t understand anti-porn. Sorry.

    As for this book, I thought it was a good read.
    There’s nothing anti-feminist about BDSM.

  11. kristy says:

    I just finished this book, and you’re wrong. This book is wonderful. She’s not trying to “save him through sex” she’s trying to offer him everything he needs to be happy, just as he wishes to do for her. It’s the most moving novel I’ve ever read regarding the BDSM lifestyle. I’m not sure what the hell “mommy-porn” is supposed to mean, but I’d like to get one thing straight; THIS—This book is NOT porn. This is art, a magnificent work of erotic art.
    And as far as “rape fantasy goes” I thought that you people where intelligent beings. However, maybe I was wrong? First of all, there’s nothing regarding any form of “rape fantasy” in this book. Kink is not rape, it is kink. Maybe you don’t know the difference?
    This book is not for everyone. As grown women, I’d figure we were mature enough to handle a few kinky sex scenes in our literature. Maybe not? You know what your limits are, and you know what the book contains. Secondly, if you are not going to read it, then bite your tongue! You don’t know anything.
    While I’m at it, I’d like to touch base on the BDSM topic a little more. From the way you respond to it, I get the feeling that you think those [women] who partake in such a lifestyle are weak and helplessly controlled by a man/Dom against her will. Especially when implying that it’s all just one big a “rape fantasy”. You seem to think it’s like abuse, or that the “debasement” in a sense is “anti-feminist”. Well, I have news for you.
    I’m nether weak, nor helpless. It IS a choice. Maybe not yours, but, considering your cause, you shouldn’t be so quick to judge. We are women too. Free women, with a choice. We just chose to be dominated. Some of us believe that it’s in our nature, we all enjoy pleasing, and it’s not any of your damned business. We should be allowed literature that shows the beauty of our lifestyle. We don’t need your judgment.
    The only thing anti-feminist about this ordeal is the way you make me feel by saying such seemingly senseless crap.

    • There Is *NOTHING* "Erotic" About Men's Violence,Cruelity & Hatred Of Women! says:

      I thought I was on a true *feminist* blog Ms.Magazine that was founded by the great brilliant true feminist Gloria Steinem who rightfully wrote in her excellent 1977 and 1978 article Erotica vs Pornography *AGAINST* sexualizing sexist woman-hating male violence against women in typical pornography and sick damaging S&M,any kind even the rare reversing with a man in the “female” role of victim that this horrible damaging sexist,sick,woman-hating,male violent novel also erotices,sexualizes and normalizes like typical visual pornography does.

      I really hope that most of the posters with women’s names on here supporting this and pornography in general are not really women,although typical sexist woman-hating men are upsetting enough!

      And sadly in the sexist,gender divided,gender stereotyped woman-hating,pornographic male dominated society we live in,many women are socialized to be masochists for men,and from the time they are girls they see women and girls presented in ads,mainstream movies and pornography as nothing but sex objects and victims to be used and abused by men,and this is sexualized as it is in this pornographic book!

      I have read sexist woman-haters(including some women) say on message boards that the popularity of this book with women proves that women want to be sexually dominated and that this male dominance and female submission is natural and that women like to be used and abused. One woman-hater said,the Dice man was right,(he was referring to the once very popular woman-hating comedian Andrew Dice Clay) treat women as the pigs that they are. And other men agreed with him. The book is also re-enforcing very common sexist gender myths,roles and gender stereotypes,many people are saying things about how “masculine” and “feminine” are natural and in talking about this horrible damaging book.

      As we know,there is *Nothing* “erotic” about men’s sexual violence,domination and hatred of women! Only in a sick woman-hating pornographic patriarchy is it twistedly considered so! It’s so disturbing that very few people men and women even recognize this,and say things such as,like it’s really surprising that women like sex,or like to read about erotic literature, so they disturbingly define sex as men sexually using and abusing women,and the woman loving it,and male dominance and female submission.

      This isn’t an erotic book that has an equal loving affectionate relationship between women and men(which is so rare in this society!) that just has graphic sex described.

      The next phase is going to be men killing women for their sexual pleasure and it will be presented as giving pleasure to women to be killed by men,and then people who object and protest will be called prudes. I’m sure that if this book had the woman in the “male” role of sexually brutalizing a man,it never would have gotten this kind of media promotion and normalization,and it wouldn’t be so popular with women! It’s not healthy to reverse this and have anybody liking to be sexually abused and liking to abuse the other person,but it’s just that women wouldn’t identify with being a victimizer and dominator of men,like too many (still!) do with being sexually dominated and abused by men sadly.And if it was a black person willingly sexually submissive,and brutalized by a white dominating man or a Jew for a Nazi!

      And I read some excerpts on the fake “feminist” site Jezebel and they were so horrorfying,sick,dangerous and brutal! Like the description where the young woman(masochist victim) describes how she’s a virgin and the sick woman-hating sadist Christian says to her I’m going to f*ck you,hard (of course just like in porn videos) and then she says he slammed into her and tears her virginity out and she feels pinching pain. This is what you Dr. Levkoff say is enhancing women emotionally and sexually and what women are sharing with their family and friends?! How totally screwed up and disturbing! And he also tells her when to eat,sleep,beats her with wips and canes etc etc. It’s so unreal that as another poster said in another topic on here about this terrible book,that she finds it really disturbing that so many women are saying that reading a book about a man sexually abusing a woman is what is improving their marriages and getting them to want to have sex with their husbands!

  12. Really sick of the rape apology in the comments section. Feminists these days are more likely to defend rape porn than the rights of rape survivors. As a survivor I don’t care if you like BDSM, but it is NOT without its abuses. If you want to bury your head in the sand regarding porn, fine. But please do not also claim to care about rape survivors, because you are paying into an industry that produces trauma victims everyday.

  13. Oh, and by “care about rape survivors” I mean calling yourself a feminist while encouraging sexual abuse. Nice to know your orgasms are more important that the lives destroyed by rape.

    • BDSM is NOT sexual abuse. Just because it’s not your thing, doesn’t mean you should judge someone’s lifestyle. In no way am I supporting rape or anything like that, but I’m not sure where it fits into this particular topic.

  14. You’ve judged and condemned a book without reading it? Says tons about you and nothing about the book.

  15. Read the first book by the way, it was great. However, the following books were pretty shitty. I was let down quite a bit. It felt like a child wrote it.

  16. never read the book(s) but my 48 year old partner has. she teaches (not me) english to teens. she says it is poorly written and childish because it is aimed at teenage girls. she prefers black lace books.

  17. 50 Shades of Subservience. If the BSDM community really believes in equality, they should encourage women and men to trade off the dominant and submissive roles.

  18. the fuss around this book is the funniest thing since death wish 2

  19. There Is *NOTHING* "Erotic" About Men's Violence,Cruelity & Hatred Of Women! says:

    This is all very *disturbing* and just proves what radical feminists (the only true feminists!) both male and female (like you Rebecca) have been trying to explain for decades,that pornography in a very sexist male dominated woman-hating society,sexualizes gender inequality which male dominance and female submission and violence are the epitome of,and sadly many women have been socialized and influenced by this. And this is the sad unfortunate effects of the unjust mainstreaming of pornography that has been going on for years and that the internet helped to legitimize and make acceptable!

    Please check out acclaimed important books Refusing To Be A Man:Essays On Sex And Justice and The End Of Manhood A Book For Men Of Conscience by anti-sexist anti- male violence,anti-pornography educator pro-feminist John Stoltenberg who founded Men Against Pornography.

    Rhea at the sadly former Women’s Alliance Against Pornography,who sent me a lot of great important information on the unjust harms of pornography back in the early 1990′s and who I spoke to off and on and I learned a lot of important information,always said we live in a very sick society that hates women. She also said most men hate women and then they marry them,and she said most men don’t see women as being anything like themselves they see them as the “other”. The radical anti-pornography cause is all so hopeless now.

  20. I am SO sick of feminists who bash on things they don’t understand.

    BDSM is not violence – its love. The fact you perceive it as violence or rape – is a flaw in yourself not in those who practice it. If I decide that “making out” is an act of hate and start preaching to others that their lovers hate them…. think anyone who makes out with their partners aare going to care what my opinion is? Equally those who practice bdsm, vastly don’t care what feminists think.

    Kathy said ” If the BSDM community really believes in equality, they should encourage women and men to trade off the dominant and submissive roles.”

    Lets try looking at this through the opposite end of the spectrum. If YOU really believed in equality you would allow other women the same right you had to make up their own mind instead of trying to persuade them your way is the only way and trying to convince them they only believe this way because they have somehow been corrupted and brainwashed by men and the porn industry to believe they are submissive (in the case of women, no one cares about the submissive men because that’s outside the realm of feminism and thus can’t be blamed on men right?).

    Lets use some real world perspective. Based on this idea that society and a male dominated “woman hating” porn industry can somehow cause women to be influenced by, and accepting of a female submissiveness, then wouldn’t the same thing have happen in times of slavery? Wouldn’t slaves throughout history have grown to accept and embrace the idea that they were meant to be slaves…. yet that vastly never happened when slaves were freed. They didn’t run back and beg to be slaves again. Those in the south of the USA were not influenced to believe they should remain slaves – even though everywhere they looked thats what they were taught and raised to believe.

    The truth is some people both men and women have a desire to be under constant guidance and constant control always being told what to do. Those people tend to be defined as submissive. They like pleasing other people and being told good job in every aspect of life. Nothing makes them happier than to know they have pleased their significant other – at any cost. In my opinion such a deep level of devotion and love is something feminists want to stomp out of both men and women.

    Now to Elizabeth who created this post – I could careless your opinion on this or any other book – however I find it extreme hypocritical to try to come online and convince people to not read a book that both:

    A. Admitted you never read and
    B. You will allow your daughter to read.

    How about spend the same energy getting your daughter not to read it or explaining to her what your views are. Is it really so bad that she will trust views developed after reading a book over that of her own mother? Stop trying to persuade the internet at large of your beliefs if you can’t even persuade your own family.

  21. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Just want to add that I responded to the critics who said I hadn’t read the book so I should shut up!
    Elizabeth Titus says:
    April 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm
    Your point is well taken and I will read these books.
    I stood by my points after reading the first book.
    Nearly a year later, as I returned to the comments, I’m glad that I opened the debate! I respect the opinions of others.
    But as I have become involved with brave girls and women in Afghanistan through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (awwproject.org), I believe even more strongly that societies must address gender violence. It’s epidemic in Afghanistan, with beatings and fathers selling daughters and daughter burning themselves to death. And the recent gang rape and killing in India has revealed deep cultural beliefs in that country, where the police seem to be part of the problem. I’m pleased by the writer on this blog who re-read Gloria Steinem, who has been a strong proponent for Afghan women. Her legacy is felt around the globe, and she was just named Humanist of the Year by The Humanist magazine! Yes, a feminist, but so much more — a true humanist.
    Liz

  22. I know that this blog post is old, but since people are still ever talking about 50 shades of grey, I decided to respond. Of course, discussion about feminism and media should always continue.

    I’m surprised that this post passed as bloggership and/or journalism. It reads pretty irresponsible to me. I always thought that feminism was about empowering women to make their own choices, and creating a world in which equity of opportunity is a reality for folks of all genders. If the author, Titus, chooses not to read the book, it is her choice not to do so. Likewise, other folks can read the book, can practice BDSM, can indulge in porn (not all porn and erotica is aimed at women-hating men. Furthermore, in discussions of porn, people hardly seem to talk to/about the women who are in porn and their opinions about their job, etc, and they are effectively silenced). I believe that much of the problem about this post is that the author cites two women she knows who, due to their personal experiences, would not want to read 50 Shades. This then becomes the idea that 50 Shades is bad for all women, for our society at large.

    I understand the concern that many folks have about the objectification of women pornography, the worries about 50 shades of grey and the protag’s responsibility to heal the man through sex, and other misogynistic stuff that rears its head in many a media. However, I do not think this blog post is nuanced in any way about its discussions of these issues. It just comes across as highly judgemental to complicated topics.

    Furthermore, I have not read the book, but I don’t have to have read it in order to understand that BDSM is not rape. BDSM is about consensual activity between adults. As a feminist, I’m tired of hearing people slam other people’s sexual practices. We should be encouraging folks to make our own choices as consenting adults, regardless if they engage in vanilla, practice BDSM, or other sorts. Though I’m not a practitioner nor part of the BDSM community, I don’t think that BDSM inherently encourages the oppression of women (or of sub somebody) under the power of a man (or the dom partner). I don’t think people argue about, in vanilla sex, if a women is penetrated by a man she is being submissive and being dominated, and that women who are penetrated are oppressed. I think that if a woman wants to be penetrated, enjoys it, and gets it, she’s being empowered because she’s acting on her own desires. That in itself is revolutionary, for as women we are taught to be passive and not to enjoy sex. It could be the same way for BDSMers–the sub enjoys being dominated, gets it, and is therefore empowered. Of course, I’m not a part of this community. What do I know. (And it’s important to acknowledge that the BDSM community is not sexism free.)

    I think that creating (counter)media that encourages education and empowerment is really helpful to feminism. Perhaps this post validates people who are anti porn and anti BDSM (the author trivializes the practice as mommy porn), but anything more? This post doesn’t go further.

    • oh sry, the mommy porn thing isn’t BDSM. But the point still stands when BDSM (or at least the ‘BDSM’ represented in the story. some people even argue that the Author of 50 Shades isn’t even writing about ‘real BDSM’ at all. Is she a practitioner???) is being equated with beating someone abusively w/o consent…

  23. I don’t care what someone does privately in thei sexual life. I am however offended by the images of sexual violence and degradation toward women that come out of the BDSM community. Seeing a women’s behind beaten raw is messed up. Seeing a man’s hands around a woman’s neck with the caption ,”just one squeeze,” is dark and terribly creepy. It’s not just about control and pleasing some one. That’s baloney.. It includes physical violence and humiliation. And it is contributing horribly to the treatment of women. I don’t want see a woman crawling around on her knees like a dog tethered to a leash. But sadly these images are everywhere on Tumblr. This is mainstream now. Search the ‘trussed’ on Tumblr. It will make you sick. I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking masochism is healthy or normal. It’s not.

  24. And by the way when did sex that doesn’t include sado-masochism become ‘vanilla?’
    I have heard men my age (50s) complain that
    Porn today versus 30 years has changed dramatically. The sex has gotten very cruel and degrading to women. No tenderness.

  25. so, how do you ladies feel about the film. every woman I know over the age of 40, and that’s a lot, is planning to go and see it as soon as it is released.

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