My partner’s mom went to Aruba this summer and came back boasting about this great book she had read while she was gone. She showed me the cover and my mouth dropped. Reading the back cover, I couldn’t help but grin.
“Please tell me you’ve heard of Fifty Shades of Grey?!” she shrieked excitedly.
Well, I had. The book was widely known to be about S&M. But I definitely hadn’t paid much attention. I’ve never been a fan of “romance” novels. That was, until I had nothing else to read.
I was sitting in the airport ready to go on vacation, waiting through a three-hour layover with a boyfriend who had just gotten a new iPhone and could care less about me. I ventured to the bookstore. Then I made what has been possibly the best decision of my life. I caved into societal pressure and bought “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I got through the first 70 pages and thought, “What’s the big deal?” There was no illicit trysts, no whips or chains.
I put it down, boarded the plane, and curled up in the middle seat and opened the novel, hoping the man dressed in business casual attire didn’t glance over at my pages. It was only then I realized why every woman in America who read the trilogy was crazy about it. It was hot. Like, what every middle-aged wife dreams of doing to her husband, but is too afraid to even think about asking. I was in a tropical paradise, yet I sat the entire week, fifty shades of red, entranced by this book that has BDSM material on nearly every page. It takes a lot to embarrass me with dirty talk, but Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey managed to do just that. I bought the second and third book and fed the need to just get to the end.
But it made me wonder. What makes Fifty Shades so popular among females? Is it the red room of pain? The vanilla sex?
Fifty Shades has girls around the country talking about their sexual desires. I like sex, my friends like sex, but females (and some males) have been suppressed throughout history to not share those desires. Attach a theme of BDSM, something considered taboo in some areas, and you have a New York Times bestseller on your hands. Women fantasizing about sex isn’t anything new; Fifty Shades has simply made it more acceptable to discuss with friends and even engage in more awkward convos like with your boyfriend’s mom. Fifty Shades made it acceptable for women to communicate with their partners about what they want in the bedroom. Studies have shown that better communication during sex makes it easier for you to communicate outside the bedroom.
But I think society felt a bit threatened when Fifty Shades became mainstream. Society generally knows what men like because it overwhelms us in culture. There’s rarely any confusion on why men like the things they do, even though we may find it disturbing and weird sometimes. When its women’s desires being disucsssed, it turns into a Newsweek article about the fantasy life of working women and how that’s either positive or negative for feminism.
With Fifty Shades, E.L. James has done for the sexual lives of women what Julia Childs has done for females in the domestic sphere. Each made different aspects of being a woman ok. Women’s lives aren’t black and white, especially when it comes to sex. Many times, they are indeed fifty shades of grey.