Published March 14, 2012
The hugely popular erotic novel “50 Shades of Grey” is quickly becoming universal water cooler conversation for women from all walks of life.
Everyone from so-called “mommy bloggers” to hardcore feminists is hailing the tome as a triumph for women, in spite of the book’s strong themes of female submission at the hands of a high-powered man.
They also say men who feel differently should butt out.
If you haven’t heard about “50 Shades of Grey” yet, you likely will soon. The independently published erotic novel is plunging into the mainstream this week after being acquired by Vintage Books for a seven-figure sum. Written by a little-known London author named E.L. James, it relies heavily on “BDSM” -- bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.
Vintage Books, part of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, just released a new e-edition of the book and plans to do a 750,000-copy print run as soon as possible.
The book, which began as fan fiction of the “Twilight” series, has been called “mommy porn” and “Twilight for adults.” It has more than 16,000 reader reviews on the social networking site GoodReads and has sold out in bookstores nationwide. It has blown up due to word of mouth, Facebook sharing and its popularity on women-centric blogs.
According to the website GuruMommy.com every woman in Armonk, N.Y., is reading the book, and some are so obsessed that they are forgetting to pick up their kids at school. More than that, "when you put the book down, you will actually want to have sex with your husband. Like, a lot," writes Linda Meadows, the “Gurumommy,” a Los Angeles mom of three.
Stacy Geisinger, a 51-year-old married mother of one from Bedford, N.Y., who raved about the book on her website, StacyKnows.com, explained to Fox411 why she found the book appealing.
“I found it empowering! There was nothing forced,” Geisinger said. “Although many are focused on the erotic nature of the book -- and it's hard not to be -- I found the story in itself to be very romantic.”
The plot of “50 Shades of Grey” centers on a young and naïve college student named Anastasia Steele who is seduced by a rich and powerful entrepreneur named Christian Grey. Grey persuades Steele to sign a contract that allows him complete control over her life, in and out of the bedroom. Yet despite the fact that Steele becomes completely submissive to a very dominant man, feminists aren’t up in arms.
In fact, this is where the mommy bloggers and the feminist bloggers agree. Many traditionally feminist-minded writers are hailing the book for encouraging women to explore their sexuality.
A reviewer on the feminist-friendly website Jezebel wrote: “Our consensus: the book is pretty ridiculous — for every lashing there's an ‘OMG!’ — but if it's making more women feel comfortable discussing their sexuality, we're all for it.”
Jill Filipovic, a blogger with Feministe.com and a contributor to the feminist anthology “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” told Fox411.com that because the book depicts a consensual relationship (Steele does sign that contract), she is unconcerned.
“I would say that there's nothing wrong with BDSM when it's fully consensual on both ends, both partners have relatively equal bargaining power, both partners feel comfortable setting boundaries, and boundaries are communicated and respected,” Filipovic wrote in an email. “I suspect it's getting extra press because of the BDSM angle (which freaks a lot of people out).”
While women are applauding the book, some men are expressing concern over whether women should be insulted by a plot dominated by a man who tells a woman when to sleep, eat, work out and even how to groom herself. Television host Dr. Drew Pinsky recently called the book a “rape fantasy” on his HLN show. Women writers laughed off Pinsky’s remarks, saying there is absolutely no reason for men to weigh in on this issue at all, and certainly no reason for them to use the term rape.
“Why is Dr. Drew speaking on behalf of the fantasies and desires of women, let alone women he hasn't even met?” Jessica Wakeman of the women’s blog The Frisky told Fox411.
“He and every other man should not be telling women what arousal is acceptable and what is not. That's pretty irresponsible. No one should be concerned about a consensual relationship between a submissive and a dominant. The realm of fantasy is just that — fantasy.
“In this book,” Wakeman continued, “the protagonist may be naive and young, but those qualities alone don't mean she isn't following her sexual desires in the bedroom. BDSM relationships could not be farther from domestic and sexual abuse: people who practice it follow the rules that everything they do will be safe, sane and consensual."
Journalist and author Paul LaRosa blogged that he thinks the success of the book proves that women want to be dominated by men.
“Is it possible that so many women dream of becoming the submissive partner of a dominant male partner which, after all, is the central plot of the book?” LaRosa posited.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, a former sex columnist and the editor of the Best Bondage Erotica 2012, explained to us that enjoying the fantasy of a dominant sexual relationship does not mean that a woman wants to be dominated by men in all aspects of her life.
“There's nothing wrong with a man being dominant and it doesn’t mean he's misogynist, any more than a woman wanting to be submissive in the bedroom means she wants to be submissive outside the bedroom. It's about consensually playing with power and eroticizing it in a safe environment,” Kramer Bussel told Fox411. “The success of ‘50 Shades’ shows that women are becoming more comfortable reading erotica and openly claiming that reading.”