Judging by the effect ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is having on some long dormant female libiodos, all I can say is “it’s a good job it’s a trilogy”
Fifty Shades of Grey may have sold twenty million copies, but it is still the publishing equivalent of Marmite. In ‘The Times’, Caitlin Moran says she is “delighted by Mummy Porn” whereas on ’Woman’s Hour’ this week, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown of The Independent, describes it as a “savage little book”. Critics appear to have reservations about endorsing a work of fiction that promotes male dominance and female subordination, but as one of the twenty million women who has read it (ok, whizzed through the dirty bits on my iPad), I can tell you that it is, categorically, not about BDSM.
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a work of romantic fiction in which a Sub/Dom relationship is used as a metaphor for the bad boy hero who, after a lengthy pursuit (there is no sex till chapter eight), eventually seduces the unknowing damsel in distress. It is a pejorative narrative maybe, but if you break down any classic love story, you essentially end up with one man’s obsessive intent to uniquely possess his woman.
Though Alibhai-Brown and her kind are convinced that the book will corrupt young minds, in reality, the vast majority of women who get off on it will never actually get involved in the BDSM scene. The media reports a rise in sales of loveballs, nipple clamps and floggers, sex toys which are specifically referred to in the book, but there is a massive difference between a little domestic sexploration and a million women pitching up at a FetLife convention.
Richard Longhurst, founder of UK sex toy retailer Lovehoney believes “the success of the book has simply given couples permission to try out new things.” He also describes how, last week, he was on a train from Tunbridge Wells and he sat next to a twenty something girl who was openly reading a paperback copy of Fifty Shades. In conversation, she admitted to him that it was THE FIRST BOOK SHE HAD EVER READ. Wouldn’t it be ironic if, instead of turning women on to BDSM, Fifty Shades of Grey turned them on to reading instead?
Lots of members of the BDSM community have read it too, but within the scene the book seems to have caused a mixture of confusion and consternation. Some BDSMer’s had hoped that the book would bring their lifestyle into the mainstream and so were disappointed by the unrealistic portrayal of the relationship between Christian and Ana. They also point out that no responsible Dom would pick a virgin for their sub. The book has also generated some internal debate about the political correctness of using terminology such as ‘master’ and ‘slave’, or even whether it is condescending for people who live the BDSM lifestyle to refer to the rest of us as ‘vanilla’. But mostly, bloggers and posters within BDSM communities seem to be irritated by James’s implication that Christian Grey’s obsession with BDSM is the result of psychological damage which occurred as a result of childhood trauma prior to his adoption at the age of four.
‘Fifty Shades’ may misunderstand BDSM. It may be badly written. And it may be politically incorrect, however, even so, it is making women talk about, and think about sex. I’ve had a number of letters from women who claim that E.L.James has struck a match in the darkened room that was once the home of their libido and I think that is a really good thing. In long-term relationships, paradoxically, the very things that makes us desire commitment (safety, closeness) serve to kill off novelty and sexual desire and of course, once we get too comfortable with each other, we start taking each other for granted and stop making an effort. If this book reminds couples that there is more to sex than the missionary position once a week, then all I can say is it’s a good job it’s a trilogy.
Suzi Godson 9.7.12