When people discuss Fifty Shades of Grey, they usually say one of these three things:
- It’s porno trash. And it’s badly written too.
- It’s sexy-sex BDSM. Yummy!
- It’s scary and I’m not into that kind of thing. Please give me a sweeter story.
In other words, all the discussion of this book centers around the sex. Is America too puritanical to see beyond the BDSM to have conversations that matter?
I mean, we talk about controversial topics all the time when it relates to movies and books. Take The Avengers, which was basically a summer popcorn movie. It wasn’t about big issues at all. Yet it created all kinds of buzz over how we do and don’t want strong female characters in our fiction. Was Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow a strong woman, or was she the token eye candy? We talked endlessly about that.
By comparison, here comes Fifty Shades…a book that got people lined up at the bookstores…and at the sex toy stores. It made people talk about salacious acts in the bedroom.
But there is a long list of other issues that this book brings up, all issues that are relevant to our society, and no one’s talking about any of them.
Here’s a short list of things that Fifty Shades could help us talk about as a culture:
- Date rape in the college environment
- Binge drinking in the college environment
- Safe sex, including the idea that “safe” is more than using a condom
- Pedophilia and child abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships
- How mental health affects our relationships
- Why getting help for psychiatric problems helps your relationships as well as you
- The different standards we use to judge female vs. male sexuality
- How to walk away from a relationship that’s unhealthy for you
- Dealing with violence against women
Lest you think that I’m exaggerating, here’s a short list of articles that I’ve seen in the media just one day this week, all of which could relate to Fifty Shades and vice versa if we’d open up the conversation:
- Does violence in fiction produce violence in reality?
- Women don’t benefit from collaborating with violent men
- The Women Against Feminism trend proves people don’t know what feminism is
- A look at feminist science fiction
- Fifty Shades trailer is too hot for TV, which is hard to believe if you watch TV these days
- The culture of sexual harassment at ComicCon
Why is that? Why are we so afraid to examine and challenge our beliefs about sex, about men and women? Isn’t this kind of discussion exactly what books are for? To spark essential talk about how we live, and how we might begin to live better?
Sure, Fifty Shades has its salacious moments, and it’s fair to talk about them. It’s also fair to talk about the quality of the writing. But in a society where so many problems revolve around how we value or don’t value women…and how we do or don’t take care of ourselves so that we can have healthy lives in spirit, mind, and body… Can’t we use Fifty Shades to talk about something other than BDSM…especially with so many people familiar with the book at some level?
Whatever else Fifty Shades is, good and bad, it’s also an excellent conversation starter for how we treat women in America. Let’s put aside the argument that it’s badly written.
Let’s allow this book to do what every book has the potential to do for its readers: open our eyes, cause us to reexamine what we believe and value, and look for ways to change our lives and our culture.
Fifty Shades can help us do that, if we’ll let it. But will we? I wonder.
Now, you share: What do you think?