Let’s talk about 50 Shades of Grey. No, don’t smile in preparation of another scathing review, because I’m ready to have a nice long rant about how full of shit some of you critics are, and I don’t care if you think you’ve got a great argument for why the books shouldn’t be published. Yes, I know it’s a Twilight fan-fiction that got a face-lift and went mainstream. Yes, I know it’s got BDSM themes, which is why I won’t be reading the books. Even the merest hint of these themes starts to eat at my nerves, and I can’t explore these ideas without remembering how much of my life belonged to other people who told me how to act, what to think, and when to think it.
But where I’m coming from is a place of anger after reading one review after another by women who have the same exact complaints that they had about Twilight. In fact, some of you seem to be buying the book because “Holy fuck, a book based on Twilight? I can shit all over someone else using the same arguments I was making ten years ago! How awesome is that?” Actually, it’s lame as fuck that you can carry a grudge this long, and it’s bordering on pathetic.
First of all, let me address the “badly written” fan club. We have yet to see a book hit the top of the best seller’s list that used the Queen’s bloody English, and no one is going to give the best selling writers any awards for their sterling prose being timeless, or even well-phrased. This kind of complaint is sour grapes, both from writers whose books will NEVER sell as well, and from avid readers whose favorite book heads to a factory undersold, remaindered, and forgotten. Boo-fucking-hoo, and get over yourselves. If you really think your book, or your favorite author’s book, is well written, then get out there and hustle that book with a POSITIVE message about the merits of the work itself without attacking someone on the best sellers list. If your message is “This book is better that that book,” you’re whining, and people will rightfully ignore the work you’re tying to pimp. (Probably while buying the book you’re spitting on, even if it’s just to see if they should be spitting too.)
And don’t hand me shit about this being a valid reason to go on the attack, because jealousy of success is never valid. As a self-published author, I’ve seen other self-published folks pick on established writers and say, “My writing is better than this author’s.” (IE, some wannabes hit on Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas to boost their own horror, a theme I once jokingly riffed on in a bad review of a Mamatas story, Sensation.) I’ve seen established authors advise that this approach does not work for making sales or finding new readers, and I agree with them. But man, some of those same published authors write a vampire book, and suddenly bitches just can’t resist saying, “my vampires are the real deal, unlike some posers. They don’t sparkle.” Well aren’t you just precious?
Setting aside fan-fiction—including my own—only one set of vampires in the world sparkle. No one else does it, so this bullshit of claiming it’s a trend is getting tired. No, there’s not an industry of sparkling vampires in teen literature, although there are a lot of teenage vampire stories. That’s because vampires are a popular trope. Which is what you wanted, isn’t it? For your tropes to become accepted and go mainstream? So if that’s what you wanted, why the fuck are you bitching all the time now? Those teens may graduate from the lighter stuff to your darker work if you’ll just be patient and stop dissing what they’re reading now. But if you don’t shut the fuck up, you’ll turn them off forever by coming across as bitter about someone else’s success. Which you are, by the way, and everyone can see it.
If you tell self-published people not to take this route, why in the fuck is it okay for you to go on the attack for this one exception? Is it because you’re jealous of the success of the pretty sparkles? YES, IT IS. I’ll say it again; it’s sour grapes, and you’ve got to let this grudge go. It’s getting so ugly that once an admitted fan-fiction of Twilight has become a cultural zeitgeist, some of you are queuing up your same tired pseudo-intellectual complaints based solely on this fact. That’s a sad grudge, and you need to move on.
Next, let me address the “poor examples of womanhood” crowd, because this group is the saddest, most deluded group of critics out there. I normally hate talking about feminism because I don’t feel right defining what is and isn’t feminism. But it’s been my understanding from my early teens that feminism fights to ensure that all women have a safe space to define themselves. This includes their sexuality, even if they choose to be a submissive in a BDSM relationship.
Feminism is supposed to tell us that it’s okay to be a tough businesswoman and never be a mother or a wife. Feminism also says it’s okay for a woman to choose to be a wife and a mother. AND, they can do both of these and still be allowed to have a career. They can be a soldier, and they can do anything a man can.
BUT feminism is also about breaking down gender roles so that a man can say, “Honey, I want to stay at home and raise the kids while you’re in the boardroom.” Feminism is supposed to make it okay for a boy to play with dolls without anyone beating him up. It’s supposed to allow girls to play with guns, or to take up “boyish” activities like playing video games without anyone looking down on them. Feminism is supposed to allow girls to explore their developing sexualities without someone telling them “God, you’re such a slut.”
Is all this true? “Well yes, Zoe, but the writer of 50 Shades of Grey is doing it wrong because—” STOP. If a woman writes a book that she considers sexually exciting to her, and other women buy it and consider it sexually exciting as well, then the real definition of feminism is, you let them enjoy their little bit of kink and keep your mouths shut. It’s fine if the kink kind of weirds you out, because it freaks me out so badly, I couldn’t even tie my ex-girlfriend up when she requested it. The closest we could come to bondage was her tying her own wrists together with slip knots and holding the ends of the ropes to make the “cuffs” tighter. I couldn’t do it myself. I couldn’t even fathom taking away someone’s freedom for the purpose of a fantasy because I remember losing my sense of self-control, and it upsets me to revisit those feelings even in a fictional setting.
But if you claim to be a feminist who wants to break down these roles of gender, and then you can still tell women who like 50 Shades of Grey “You’re doing feminism wrong,” then ladies, I’m sorry to break this to you: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. You are in fact holding up a certain role and enforcing it on other women as the right way for them to act, which means you’re not fighting patriarchy. You’re enforcing it and not realizing how you’ve allowed patriarchy to move the goalposts off of your field of debate and shift it back onto theirs. If you really mean that all women are equal in feminism, you need to bite your lip and stop criticizing other women for liking this book series. (Or for liking Twilight.)
Next, let me address the “co-dependency is evil” crowd, and this will take the longest and head to some personal places for me. But I have to go there because a lot of you are married women who are co-dependent, and you’re some straight up hypocrites for casting judgments on fictional forms co-dependency used as a method of conflict. Maybe these aren’t the perfect relationships you want to see, but nobody writes a perfectly happy relationship in fiction because that shit would be boring as fuck. Conflict is the heart of storytelling, and while you can claim that you didn’t like the way a conflict was handled, you can’t claim it’s “unhealthy” because it’s completely fictitious.
This “co-dependency is evil” claim is the same charge you leveled at Twilight, and you made up shit that didn’t happen in the book to support your claims. One of the things I see over and over is people saying, “Bella does everything Edward says.” Uh, no, she doesn’t. In fact, a great deal of the conflict in their story is that Edward tries to tell Bella what to do, and she ignores him. Edward says, “I don’t think you should be around Jacob,” so Bella…goes to see Jacob anyway. And this happens both before and after this point in the series. To make your claims, you have to ignore what the author actually wrote in order to come up with a “hidden agenda” that only exists in your deluded interpretations.
(Or you claim that Edward hurt Bella, and he was mean to her by leaving, and “that’s not what a healthy relationship is about.” Bullshit. We all know the saying, “You only hurt the ones you love,” and it’s true in all relationships, even healthy relationships. And again, this story needs to have a conflict, and the author chose to do it this way for her series. If Bella and Edward had been perfectly happy for four books straight, no one would have a reason to read that, would they? No. So let’s move on.)
But let’s set that aside, and I’ll talk about my co-dependency using themes from 50 Shades of Grey. Women are saying that because Christian pursued Anastasia, he was exploiting her. Okay, so let me talk about me and hubby. We met on a trans support forum, and he took an interest in me because I’d just posted a story retelling Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. (That’s right, some of my earliest work was fan-fic. What a shock.) In my version, the old friend arrives to find his best friend’s family has been cursed by a demon. The brother’s sibling was a pre-op trans who claimed that she tried to conjure a demon to change herself, and she blames herself for the decline of her father and brother. So in the end she castrates herself to commit suicide. Hubby read that and wrote to me to make sure I was not going to kill myself, and we started exchanging friendly emails.
Back up. What was hubby doing there on a trans support forum? He was running a search for a song lyric about Madison Ave, and ended up on our site, which was called Madison Ave. The moderator and site owner, also named Madison, was running a mirror of the webcomic Venus Envy, and hubby was reading that and lurking in the forum, learning about us. Hubby lurks in all kinds of forums, and ours was just a new place for him to learn. An atheist, he has lurked on Rapture Ready and on many other religious sites. He studies people and their behavior to try and understand them, and when he approached me, it was to try and understand my suffering as much as it was to talk about my early writing.
We were emailing each other for months, exchanging recipes and jokes when the tone of our messages began to change. Then he was flirting with me more and more often. He asked for a photo of me, and I decided to let him see me. Hubby liked what he saw, and he began to actively pursue me, even though I was not sure I wanted a man in my life, particularly before I had surgery and felt right “down there.” This kind of courtship moved to video chats, and then to arranged dates, where we would both watch the same movie, or we would eat meals together. He would have dinner while I ate lunch, but we had our web-cameras on, and we did this almost every day.
I couldn’t believe this man could really love me, because who would want a broken and ugly thing like me? I had so many insecurities about my appearance, about my bad teeth, about how he might react to me having a penis instead of a vagina. What if we couldn’t have sex? Would he still be able to love me if we couldn’t be intimate?
Hubby waved down all of my concerns, and while this was somewhat comforting, it was also unnerving. I’d been in a ton of relationships with women who insisted they were comfortable with who I was, and most left me saying things like “I’m leaving you for a real man.” I made those women so uncomfortable with our sexuality being decidedly lesbian that they had to hurt me to make themselves feel better. So here’s hubby, making the same promises that he can love me no matter what, and I couldn’t quite believe him, even if I had come to love him, and even though I’d become co-dependent on him for emotional support.
I told hubby I couldn’t see him without fixing my teeth, so he paid for me to have oral surgery and get dentures. He paid for a round trip ticket to Italy, so that I could come see him and still have a way to get home if I didn’t feel right with him. He pursued me relentlessly, even in the face of my constant rejections. Is that unhealthy? No, I didn’t think so, and still don’t. It was simply one part of our evolving relationship.
I can’t say with authority whether Christian’s pursuit of Anastasia is healthy or unhealthy, because, again, I can’t read the books. But I do know that this is a story which a woman feels is exciting enough to her to write and promote, and which other women also find exciting enough to buy and read. Again, this gets right back to the principles of feminism. We should all be allowed a safe space to decide what kind of partnerships we have. So if some women decide that they want to be controlled, shouldn’t we respect that they made that choice?
Let me get back to me and hubby. Because of our distance, I felt I maintained some control in our relationship. I was afraid of closing the distance not because I thought hubby would take over my life. I was afraid he’d see me as broken neurotic fake woman and cast me aside after I’d given him my heart. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I only validated his beliefs that we were meant to be together. He even started to do something unthinkable and convinced me that there was nothing broken about me. He convinced me to promote my writing and myself, and if I seem to have great self-esteem in my appearance now, it’s only because hubby convinced me to stop thinking I was ugly and broken.
When hubby and I are together, he smacks my butt and clings to me. He talks about how I’m his trophy wife, and he loves the way other men look at me and wonder what I’m doing with an ogre like him. These things are kind of cute the way he does them because he offsets his “playful sexism” with his other roles in our lives. He does almost all the cooking, and even when I try to do the dishes, he moves me aside and says he can do it because he likes cleaning for me. He handles most of the shopping, though he calls home to ask what I feel like eating, and he won’t let me turn the question back over to him. I have to phone ahead and ask him what he wants as a preemptive strike if I want to be surprised for once.
So for all he does for me, I do the laundry and the dusting, and we split up the other house duties. We’re codependent, and we’re happy about it. We don’t have to be together 24/7, but when we are together, we orbit each other, and become aware of one another’s movements. If I hold out my hand, I know hubby will take it. We hate being apart even for the few hours he’s at work, and when hubby goes on week-long business trips, both of us feel lost without each other. We don’t sleep at night, and we both tend to drink a little more.
Hubby often says he can’t remember what single life was like before I came along. I remember, and I remember that I was miserable. So, this “co-dependency is evil” ideal? It doesn’t sit well with me. And as I said before this long ass confession, many of the women criticizing co-dependency in fiction are themselves in co-dependent relationships with their spouses. Which will lead some of you to say that there’s a right and wrong kind of co-dependency, and that these writers are depicting the wrong kind, the unhealthy kind. That leads me to say, respectfully, “you’re full of shit, ladies.” Because again, if you only want to celebrate the kind of relationships that you approve of, you’re only two steps away from supporting patriarchy all over again. You have to allow other women to enjoy their fantasies of the “wrong kind” of relationship, or you’re doing feminism wrong by defining what women are and aren’t allowed to think.
And finally, let me address all of you complaining “why is this book so successful?” Because this is a double whammy that comes back on you twice. First while many women are buying the book and praising it, they wouldn’t know the series exists without your constant bitching and moaning about “this horrible series.” You’ve brought it to their attention, and you’ve provoked their curiosity with your hate. It was your hate that made Twilight a success too, and ten years on, people are STILL buying Twilight based on your inability to stop complaining. Fandoms are lazy these days and can’t sustain praise the way you haters sustain your constant online diatribes. So the series audience grows because of you, not the fandom.
Secondly, there’s a whole faction of people who are buying the books knowing you hate the idea, but you want to read it and give your full educated opinion about how terrible the writing is, and about how destructive the moral values are inside. Well, by buying the books, you are contributing to their rising success, and to the spread of those same heinous moral values. You can be sure the author isn’t reading your reviews and boo-hooing over you. No, she’s laughing like a loon as her bank account explodes with your support of her story.
Do you think it matters to her that 50,000 of her 100,000 buyers hated her guts? No. But it should reach through your supposedly vastly superior intellects that by picking up the series, reading it, and reviewing it, you’re doing more for the author than the vast majority of her fans would. You’re doing all the heavy lifting for her promotions by generating a zeitgeist level of awareness for her books, and for the topic of so-called unhealthy BDSM relationships. So, how smart are you feeling now?
You can keep on going with your complaints and ignore what I’m saying to you. You can come up with some weak ass excuse for why you still need to diss books like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, but by doing so, you are undermining the same feminist values you claim to support, and you are helping the author to reach new readers when your supposed aim was to discourage the spread of this series. Do you want to make these series die? Then close your mouths, stop talking about them, and get on with living your lives. Otherwise, you’re just contributing to the same problem that you’re bemoaning.