Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Brilliant Analysis of Fifty Shades Of Gray From Feministing

"Um, didn't we, in our negotiations, agree to three weights per nipple clamp? I'm pretty sure it's right there in Section B, Paragraph 3 ..." Image source:

I'm fascinated by the 50 Shades of Gray phenomenon, that's why I follow the news media about it. Otherwise I couldn't manage it, because by FAR the majority if the articles I find are absolute dreck. I've learned to scan and dismiss them in seconds.

So you can imagine my pleasure when I find a really good, insightful article, like the one I found on Obsidian Wings months ago, or the one I found on Alternet more recently.

I've found another really great analysis of 50 Shades of Gray on the Feministing Community site, entitled "Unconventional Sex Ed Lessons from 50 Shades of Gray". It's written by Mimi Arbeit, a feminist educator who teaches sex education to teens. She says she expected to find the book a huge disappointment because of all that she'd heard about it, but was pleasantly surprised by it, finding it a welcome change from the dominant themes about sex and romance in the media.

By that she means the book covers a lot of things that other books do not. Most importantly, Ana and Christian communicate clearly and honestly with one another about sex throughout their relationship. Christian is always careful to get Ana's informed consent before he has any kind of sex with her. They discuss and plan for contraception before they have sex. And the book directly and powerfully portrays Ana's experiences of sexual pleasure and desire. As I've noted repeatedly, James does a REALLY good job of conveying how much Ana and Christian enjoy their sex play.

Wildly popular books about sex read by teens NEVER have any of this stuff, says Arbeit, so she is enormously grateful to see an erotic romance that mentions all of the lessons she is trying to instill in her teen students, whose media experience does not include ANY of it.

Mind you, Arbeit's opinion of the book is not wholly positive -- she says she could just as easily write a list of ten things she finds problematical about the book, and I believe her. But she is glad of the book as a chance to open up a dialog which allows her to convey the importance of some of these themes to her teen students. And I think that's what opens her up to the positive aspects of the books that a lot of other readers missed. She saw what was there because her experience teaching teens had sharpened her eye to it.

Sadly, Arbeit is one of the relatively few non-romance reviewers of the books who has the guts to say they like elements of it. Most non-romance reviewers project a sort of arrogant, snotty attitude, often confessing that they read very little of the book or that they did not read it at all, following up by condemning it wholesale on the basis of all the stuff they did not read. Clearly, such reviews are all about confirming their status of not being the sort of person who reads 50 Shades of Gray or anything like it, rather than an honest examination of the book.

Here's a great example of what I'm talking about, a post to a fantasy message board called "The Black Gate by someone named "Theo." A choice quote:

So does 50 Shades of Grey go too far? Not on the surface, as according to its description it is little more than John Norman’s Gor brought back to Earth, minus the sword battles and the awesome tarn birds. And it’s not a question I can legitimately even try to answer, since I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, nor do I have any intention of doing so.

Didn't read it, so of course he makes a completely wrong comparison of 50 Shades with the Gor novels, which as a guy who read 20 or so of the Gor novels, the slavery was of the distinctly nonconsensual kind (the Gorean slaves just loved it because they were natural born slavegirls) which makes it WAAAAAY different than 50 Shades, which is all about the consensual.

But then Theo goes and accuses 50 Shades of being stealth pedophilia, based on the accusations of an anonymous poster on another message board who relates the story of a purported child psychologist who read the book and decided that Ana is written as a 12-year-old for some reason, possibly the "oh my!"s "Inner goddesses" and suchlike. It smells like one of those classic put-up jobs with a made-up friend who is an authority (child psychologist) is used to attack something to make it seem awful (pedophile porn) with vague evidence (even though Ana is identified as a twenty-one year old college grad, she's "written as a child") hoping it will stick.

Fortunately, a couple of posters on the Black Gate board who responded saw this piece of shit for what it was and gave it a thorough going-over.

To be honest, the Black Gate post is about an order of magnitude worse than any of the other posts which have dissed the book. But there are still plenty who will hate it based on a verbal description and a lot of social prejudice. You can see why I liked the "Unconventional Sex Ed Lessons" article so much ... it was a real breath of fresh air compared to much of what I read on the topic. And "Unconventional Lessons" is a real antidote to the dreck post from the Black Gate.

1 comment:

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