A reader writes:
You quoted Dan Savage: "[N]on-kinky filmgoers and readers can't seem to relax and allow themselves to enjoy a good kinky fantasy unless they're told—unless they're reminded over and over again—that this kink shit is crazy and that kinksters are fucked up." I'm a published Romance author. Grey's disturbing past and Ana's doe-eyed acceptance of him fit the mold of old-style 1970s Romances. Romances these days have held onto this idea of redemption for characters who have experienced or done horrible things – that the unselfish love of another person can put someone broken back together. This is Romance's core message.
However, Romances these days have let go of the doe-eyed, inexperienced and all-accepting heroine. I read the first 100 pages of Fifty Shades Of Grey, but gave up when I realized that Ana hearkens back to this old-style heroine.
The kink didn't bother me – there are plenty of better written erotic Romances available – but what did bother me is Ana's virginity means she is unable to give true, informed consent to her relationship with Grey. Just like so many heroines in those old-style Romances, she has nothing to compare him to, no idea of what "normal" might be for her. I wasn't so much annoyed by Grey, even though his characterization was uneven and inconsistent with who he is supposed to be.
While I get that many readers put themselves in Ana's place and her virginity is symbolic of their own inexperience with this kinked-up world, as a reader and a writer I'm very happy to see this sort of heroine becoming more rare. I'd find it much more interesting to read about two people with equally messed up psyches, find their way to healing, together. Because female readers can't all be (or want to be) doe-eyed, accepting women ready for deflowering. Having said all that, the reader and media reaction to Shades has been readily dissected by the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog:
So is it any wonder that healthy sexual curiosity and arousal are something women might prefer to keep to themselves? God forbid Rush Limbaugh see you buying a book that's sexually explicit or that congress hear you defending your own right to sexual arousal… I wish things were very different, especially the way folks talk about sexuality in books predominantly written by and read by women. I wish that female arousal wasn't mocked, laughable, or demeaned. I wish it were as acceptable for a woman to say, "Hot damn, that turned me on," as it is for a man to say the same…
We cannot examine female arousal without demeaning condescension. And that is a shame. I wish it were possible to speak candidly about what books turned women on, and why. It would be fascinating to see what those books have in common, and why some work and some don't.
These issues of what "good girls" should and shouldn't do obscure the larger problems with the story but feed the sales and media frenzy. Some even write off those issues by claiming that the book is just "smut," so it shouldn't be held up to any sort of standard, but I disagree. What this book says about men and women in relationships is disturbing – and it has nothing at all to do with the kink and everything to do with consent and women's ability to choose their own fantasies without judgement.