Before I get started on this I need to write a disclaimer. Dudes aren’t the only ones that don’t get FSoG and nor does this statement apply to all ‘dudes’ because I am sure there are some males out there who are secretly creaming themselves over these books. However, JasonWrites offered up a challenge for me to explain my comment on his review of FSoG so here goes.
When I mentioned this post to SuperGeek, on our way to do our duty at his company Xmas function, (OMG, watching Magic Danny just about gave me an embolism), he agreed on the following basis. Apart from the fact that it is no literary masterpiece (for which I thank goodness, because I don’t think I would be posting my own dodgy efforts if I thought that was a prerequisite for needing to tell a story), he felt that it was too much about the emotional aspects of Christian and Ana’s relationship and as a male that was not something he wanted to read.
When I asked him about the sex scenes he was also a little cold on them. Not that he didn’t want to read about the kinky stuff or that he didn’t appreciate the end result my reading them (he would have been one of the 34% who encouraged their wives to read it in the ECigaretteDirect.co.uk poll (London & Lloyd 2012)) but that it was all told from inside Ana’s head and he, quite frankly, didn’t want to be there.
Tyler Moss (2012) from the Huffington Post explains it like this:
Watching sex in a movie or on the computer is voyeuristic, and therefore inherently detached. To watch porn stars copulate is about the visceral act itself, minus the thoughts or emotions involved. Once the deed is done, you wash your hands of the material both literally and figuratively. Fifty Shades of Grey, on the other hand, stays with you. It’s much more intrusive. Maybe too intrusive. We’re invited to experience the thoughts and feelings behind the Young Virgin’s every groan and whimper, and I’m not sure I’m cool with that. While in most other literature sex is a fanciful footnote, in Fifty Shades, it’s in these supercharged scenes that the real story unfolds. And that, I realized, is what makes this book more sophisticated than a Playboy centerfold. And why, despite the fact that it’s delightfully dense in debauchery, more men can’t indulge. We cannot endure sitting in this woman’s psyche for almost 400 pages and hearing her connect on a deeply emotional level during these intensely intimate moments. By the end of the book, I found myself skipping over the sex because the scenes were too real for me to handle.
SuperGeek had a similar reaction as JasonWrites when he said he wanted to throw his Nook (Kindle) against the wall. The reaction though was about more than the writing, it was about being inside that emotional world. I personally love it inside that emotional world. Hell, I cried during the massive fight scene at the end of Breaking Dawn 2 yesterday, much to Mini Me’s disgust (oh Mum, not again). I like a good whimper and a groan, (obviously, no matter how badly written). Most of all I like to know why people connect – perhaps it is the humanist learning theorist in me and my inherent interest in identity work in educational settings and relationships. This is easily transferred into the desire to find out things like ‘how did you meet your husband/wife/partner’? at dinner parties. To this end I will be the first to tell you about the emotional disconnect and reconnect that went on when SuperGeek and I were first dating. We don’t get invited out much.
To me stories like FSoG do this. Take me inside that emotional world and allow me to identify with the characters. BTW I don’t feel like this about all characters but a part of me recognised myself at 22 in Ana. Probably the whiney “I want more” bits which loosely translate as “why doesn’t he love me”? Not every woman went through this or liked themselves if they did. They probably don’t get Ana either.
As for Christian, well he is damaged and needs saving and that appeals on a whole lot of levels. I have known a few controlling assholes in my time (you know who you are). I won’t be alone there. So it is not about his controlling dominant ways. It is about his journey to realise that he is deserving of love. Not just Ana’s but his family as well. The emotional blackmail I can do without. Holding back, impassivity, mood swings, controlling behaviours. Not much there for a girl to want (again, you know you are). But when he lets go and loves, now that is hot. I don’t know many men who will sit around and have the particular conversation with me, including SuperGeek who is one of the most open and loving people I know.
Next is the food thing. Victoria Coren (2012) of the Guardian suggests that there is nothing sexier than a man giving permission, if not insisting that his woman eats. Most men don’t seem to have that complex relationship with food that women have. Coren elaborates;
But what kind of a hussy says openly that she’d like a stack of pancakes and syrup? As if she cared not a fig for social rules of weight and waistline? The unabashed satisfier of calorie cravings: she is today’s outlier, outsider and outcast.
If a masterful stranger instructs us to eat pancakes, however, we’re not sluts at all. Not our fault! Just following orders! Dear oh dear, another big mouthful? Must I really? That, I posit, is the erotic charge of Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Then there is the sex. Well, again I would venture to suggest it lacks appeal for most men because of the emotion tied into it. As Moss says it is not like reading Playboy. There will be men out there who are intimidated by it. I suspect there are a few women who are intimidated by it (why can’t I come when he asks me? what is wrong with me?). As for the ‘I owe you one’, well if I had a dollar for every time…. The kinky stuff is great, not terribly kinky. But I suspect that a lot of women got to the point where it wasn’t the sex act itself but the build up and the aftermath that they were concentrating on.
Kat from BookThingo says the reasons why FSoG and books of this genre work for their target audience is safety in knowing the outcomes. She says that those of us who love the genre expect to read about “a fairly conservative approach to relationships” (eventual monogamy), “a fairly conservative approach to romance” (character driven romantic connection), ” a fairly conservative approach to sex” (again, if monogamy isn’t present at the beginning it usually will be at the end and vanilla is still the sexiest thing on offer because the romantic connection is present) and finally “a happy ending” (this is how we knew FSoG would be serialised, Ana and Christian had to end up together). There is a chance that those who don’t like this formulaic approach to genre are looking for more plot twists and while I think EL James has done this reasonably well (if she hadn’t then I suspect the movie would be off the table) she doesn’t take you to the edge of your seat trying to anticipate a range of possible outcomes.
Dudes might not be getting FSoG out of fear and intimidation as suggested by some commentators. That of course might require some thinking and emotional processing on the part of said males and that is probably more intimidating than trying to rock your wife’s world more than 3-5 times per week (night for the true FSoG diehard) for extended sessions with resultant multiple orgasms on both sides (show me a man who can perform like that and I will show you a man who is on the verge of having his bits fall off).
I leave the last word on this with Tim Peel (2012) of the Guardian who explains it best:
The spirit of experimentation introduced by the book brings another impossible complication to the lives of men. What was a natural, uncomplicated process suddenly requires kit and planning. And the British male, on the whole, sees planning as a useful tool for weddings, large IT projects and international conflict – but not for sex.
My advice, though, is not to retreat back into the safe world of marital routine entirely. My cautious, usually drunken, conversations with my fellow fathers suggest that for many couples sex has drifted as a priority. The real – and I think tremendously positive – effect of Fifty Shades is to remind everyone what a warm, funny, loving and enjoyable part of married life sex can be. What the mummies really want is not a millionaire with a pain room but for their partners to linger more attentively over intimate moments and a willingness to experiment a bit rather than stick to years-old habits. Generally, I thank EL James for reminding us all to encourage the children to watch a lot more of the Simpsons.
For years men have been portrayed as constantly sexually unsatisfied, barely restraining our roving, rampant needs. We like to perpetuate this mythology, never imagining that our partners would want to test the theory. And now there is the odd phenomenon of millions of women enjoying a book filled with detailed fantasies of acts outside the scope of their husbands’ experience.
So the Fifty Shades husband is asking himself, “How can I compete with that?” He laughs along with her hints and winks but he is afraid – and tired. The woman who shares the pesto-pasta, cups-of-decaf-tea reality of his daily life suddenly wants … more.
Partly the problem is men. We love domination, cross-dressing, gimp masks and acts of non-consensual sodomy – as mainstays of our humour. The pose is that we know about the darker side of life and, as men of the world with insatiable appetites of our own, we naturally make lazy adolescent jokes about it.
Coren, V (2012) Finally, I get the sex in Fifty Shades of Grey http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/29/victoria-coren-fifty-shades-of-grey
Kat (2012) Why readers love Fifty Shades of Grey (and why the literati still don’t get it) http://bookthingo.com.au/why-readers-love-fifty-shades-of-grey-and-why-the-literati-still-dont-get-it/
London, B & Lloyd, P (2012) Fifty Shades of Intimidation as over HALF of men struggle to keep up with Christian Grey in the bedroom http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2186418/Fifty-Shades-Intimidation-HALF-men-struggle-Christian-Grey-bedroom.html
Moss, T (2012) ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Why Women Can Keep It http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tyler-moss/fifty-shades-of-grey-too-_b_1732546.html
Peel, T (2012) Fifty Shades of Fear http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/18/fifty-shades-grey-sex-men-women