Why are women so fascinated by Fifty Shades?

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The Image of Perfection?

Following on from my last post I’m ashamed to say, perhaps unsurprisingly, I couldn’t persevere with the terrible trilogy any longer and despite purchasing all three books I found it a chore to keep going beyond the second instalment. Unfortunately (or perhaps uncaringly) therefore, I didn’t find out what happened between the enigmatic Mr Grey and the nationwide herione Ana, but given the predictability and ludicrousness of the first two books, I assume it’s a no expenses spared Disney-style happy-ever-after ending (please correct me if I’m wrong). Despite this, I did find myself rather fascinated as to what exactly it is about Fifty Shades that has made it such a worldwide sensation. Discussing this with a friend he pointed me in the direction of this interesting article, the author of which hits the nail on the head when she says ‘Fifty Shades is just Mills & Boon for the generation that would once have been embarrassed to be seen reading Mills & Boon’:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/06/why-women-love-fifty-shades-grey

Apart from pointing out, quite rightly, that the beauty of kindles, ipads and even smartphones these days is that we can hide behind technology and no-one has a clue what we’re reading; the author of this article also suggests that one of the reasons the books are so popular is that we live in a society where sex and sexual images are so common that authors/film-makers have to continually push the boundaries in order to capture and hold our attention, and I think she’s right.

I don’t think anyone can argue that the more controversial, boundary-pushing or taboo something is, the more likely we are, as a nation, to be interested in it. In the era of the internet it’s rare for the youth of today to be shocked by something but the more shocking something is, the more tempting it is to look. To use a very bad example, a few years ago a friend told me about a video ‘two girls one cup’ – “trust me”, she said, “you won’t want to watch it”, yet contrary to my better judgement I couldn’t resist checking out this video I ‘definitely wouldn’t want to watch’ – morbid curiosity had got the better of me! (In all seriousness though, you do NOT want to watch this video). I think the reason for the popularity of Fifty Shades is linked to this inherent interest we have in exploring topics outside our comfort zones and/or experiences whether it be through films, books or the internet. Mainstream erotica is something that hasn’t really been done before and therefore regardless of the quality or content of the novel, it was always inevitable that it was going to springboard to success.

I think its popularity may also be linked to the idea of female empowerment. Whilst many of us would consider gender equality an issue of the past it nonetheless still exists, albeit to a lesser extent and perhaps the fact that it’s acceptable for us as women to sit on the train and openly read a novel which, unless you haven’t left the house for the last couple of months, everyone quite clearly knows is highly sexually explicit, is a sub-conscious way of us expressing our sexuality and declaring to the world that in modern society it is OK for us, as women, to read and be interested in novels about sex. Ironically, however, I personally feel that the novel is quite the opposite – as my friend quite rightly pointed out, ‘how on earth is it empowering when the premise of the story is a girl falling for a rich man who dominates everything she does’ but that’s another topic for discussion!

On a much simpler level, I also think one of the fundamental reasons for the book’s success is the force of the lead male character of Christian Grey. Every single woman who has read or even just started to read Fifty Shades will undoubtedly have some picture in her mind as to what this fine figure of a man should or would look like. He is undeniably perfect, yet perfection is highly subjective which is why I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult to cast him when work gets underway on the film version of the trilogy. In March of this year it was announced that Fifty Shades would definitely be adapted into a film with the rights being secured by Universal Pictures (or so the reliable informant Wikipedia tells me) with a few leaked names as to who might be in the pipeline to play Christian Grey. Finding this fascinating, I googled a couple of the potential actors and whilst I’m still musing over my personal preference as to who should play Christian Grey, here are images of the current favourites to play the two lead roles: Ian Somerholder and Ashley Benson:

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The gravity of the hype surrounding the novels is also demonstrated by the fact that scientists have actually spent time and money coming up with a reader’s ideal image of Mr Grey (cover image). This is apparently being done using software used to catch criminals – makes you wonder doesn’t it! The image, however, does provide interesting viewing and below I’ve added photos of some of the famous faces used to create this image of Mr Perfect. On that note, I’ll leave you to decide what you think this fictional sensation should look like and who you think should play him.

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15 Comments

  1. I haven’t had the courage to purchase/read the book yet. But I have seen my co-worker being literally “engrossed” in it, even reading it on her smartphone while driving…. !!!! I was scared for my life because I was in that car. So I am not sure I want to go that way. So for now… I am leaving it alone.

  2. I think you are right in that it allows us to go (in our minds at least) beyond our comfort zones. It also nurtures stereotypical views of women (the need to change a man, the need to be taken care of, etc) even if they are taken way to the extremes. There’s not a whole lot of women I know that would have put up with Christian’s sh*&%! for too long, no matter how good-looking he is.

    Christian isn’t the perfect man. He’s 50 shades of f-ed up, no matter how perfect he looks on the outside (isn’t that the point of the trilogy). And since physical beauty is one of the most subjective things, no matter who gets chosen for the part of Christian, there will undoubtedly be outrage from someone.

  3. I heard the author banned her teenage sons from reading it – to me that’s encouragement for not only them but other young people to go out and buy it. Being told not to do something just makes you want to do it. Several of my friends have brought it and a couple of them agree with you, that it’s over hyped. When I first heard of it, I was intrigued but now, after being told by quite a few people that it’s terrible, I’m not going to bother.
    And given everything I’ve heard about this book, the film is surely just going to porn?

  4. Recently, I friend mentioned this book to me, saying her daughter was reading it. She asked if I had read it. Knowing nothing about it, I read a description and at that point could tell my friend I had no desire to read it. I value my time and my choices are based on reading reviews and sample chapters. You’re right, it’s Fifty Shades of Garbage, and probably quite a lot more than fifty.

    1. Though I’ve heard the scuttlebutt about Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s hard to find the time to read a trilogy, and often if a book is long, I wait until it’s been out for a while and buy it cheaper on Amazon’s used category. So, I’m commenting in the dark here, as it were. But do we have a verified and verifiable female author for it (i.e., has she appeared in readings in the public eye, or in publicity)? Or is the author male, either outright or hidden? I hope the guys reading this don’t assume that I’m trying to suggest that only men write books which people find trashy. I do know, however (and according to a man I once was in a class with at school who had participated in a job of this sort) that it’s often actually men who are drafted to write such romances as the Harlequin ones and others like them, so that it’s women’s fantasies at one remove, with men writing according to a combination of what they think women should or might enjoy plus the formulae the men are given by the company itself to adhere to. Please excuse me if the author is definitely female. As I said, I’m speaking from a relative position of ignorance, just casting around for a explanation for another popularity phenomenon.

  5. Here is the thing, when they make Fifty Shades into a movies they sure as hell not going to all of that crazy BDSM stuff in there, they just can’t!! It won’t be a movie, it would just be PORN. I believe that the number reason why Fifty Shades is popular amongst females is the fact that it has close links to twilight. Full stop. No Twilight. No Fifty Shades of Garbage. Also…. as humans we just need something to hype about and go crazy.
    Loving your blog!

    1. Yes, though I haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey” to check this out myself, I think anyone wanting to distinguish between porn centering on BDSM and something with real societal signficance–as the comedian Tom Lehrer once sang, “to be smut, it must be ut-terly without redeeming social importance”–might be well-advised to view the trilogy of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” sequences of this nature. In “The Girl” series (at least in the original foreign film with subtitles), there’s no romanticizing or peddling of the violence and sexual aggression, it’s shown as the debilitating and destructive thing it is. That might be a good contrast for people to make, and any movie made from what people tell me “Fifty Shades of Grey” is about would probably have to pass the same test in order not to be considered porn plain and simple. Though it may sound humorless and dowdy and prudish to some to say “everything is political,” that catch-all phrase that annoys so many people and has upon occasion annoyed me, may be true: in terms of sexual politics “Fifty Shades of Grey” is, according to many of you who have written, a step backward for women’s political awareness (but it’s easy to comment in ignorance–maybe I’ll have to borrow a copy before the book goes on sale at Amazon, to check out my initial impressions from what so many of your writers have written in).

      1. I beg you please borrow these books from someone, the money you would spend on them could have been better used by charity. Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey is a massive step back for women’s political awareness, I’d go as far as saying that the trilogy is a step back for women full stop. Although I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone who has better things to do – you should see for yourself though, tell me what you think.

      2. The library would probably be a good place to start, I guess. The one I belong to is probably not the sort that has been regularly banning the books all over the U.S. (yes, I’ve heard that, too–as someone pointed out, what better way to make something irresistible, and I don’t mean just teenagers!). Maybe I can make some sense of what passes for fiction in this case, though I understand you to say it is clearly too fictitious to even fit within the bounds of probability. I’ve written a spoof romance, one which takes off on the conventions of the Harlequin and others by going beyond them and playing, but it never occurred to me to write real porn–it’s too funny! Come to think of it, sex can be plain funny, in real life and in fiction. And just as in the stage play “Dracula” from the ’80’s, the comedy and thrills of fear played off each other by being combined, maybe sex and comedy (and I don’t mean the average romantic comedy) can be so combined too, so that each heightens the other. “Fifty Shades of Grey” sounds humorless, but thanks, I will give it a look-see when I can get the books to determine if it is truly as bad as most everyone says.

      3. You’ll only find it bad if you don’t read a lot. If you can recognise a well written book (which I’m guessing you can) when you see one then you’d hate it to pits of hell. The trilogy has no humor, no suspense, the porn scenes as I like to call them are so unrealistic, it’s almost (almost) laughable. A spoof romance? Now I’m intrigued.

  6. I agree! I read the first one and got so sick of hearing about Ana’s ‘ inner goddess and her subconscious’ that I gave up and stopped reading! I find the writing is not higher than a grade 10 English essay filled with porn, not my cup of tea.

  7. Nicely crafted point. Be it Fifty shades or Twilight, ‘Girl power’ is behind the success of these titles. Else, as you said previously, this book is nothing but ‘Fifty shades of garbage’.

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