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FIFTY SHADES OF … WHAT?
By Ken Capstick
SAT in my usual armchair, reading the latest edition of i, I am dragged away from the endless analysis of the banking crisis by my 20 year-old granddaughter who bounds through the door with apparent endless energy of the type I think I once possessed. She drops into the armchair opposite and says "Mek us a cup o' coffee" granddad."
I get her special cup from the cupboard; it has to be that cup. I think it gives her some kind of foothold in our house that makes her feel she belongs here anytime she may need to – but I'm not a psychologist - nothing new so far.
Before I have chance to make the coffee she has already opened the book she brought with her, a book that is apparently shaking all the previous notions about women and erotic reading.
"It's not for you granddad." She says when I ask what she is reading, "It's porn."
She says this without the slightest hesitation or concern, it's just a fact and that's it. It isn't long before she is absorbed in the book.
Eventually I am made aware that the book is titled Fifty Shades of Grey. My daughter (40) later tells me that it has taken the world by storm and that it is mainly women that are emptying the bookshelves in the mad rush to get their hands on it.
More worrying, and something that has startled many feminists apparently, is the main theme of the book, nay the only theme, that of a young, willing, virginal female agreeing to be subjugated to a man's dominance and actually signs a written contract to accept his dominance in all things for a three-month period. Feminists are beside themselves trying to explain how this could happen; how women, the powerful, independent women of the 21st Century, should be so fascinated by female powerlessness and subjugation.
The contract goes so far as to submit herself to various degrading sexual acts including physical punishments for disobeying her master. The columns of newspapers and other publications, online and offline, are full of journalistic analytical debate about this latest "phenomenon" and what is driving so many women to acquire the book. The women who buy it are "predominantly in their 30s and 40s. An entire female generation seems swept up in a story of a young virgin submitting to lots - and lots - of sadomasochistic sex at the hands, and the instruments" of the anti-hero. We are informed by Michael Buerk , the famous newsreader, no less.
Suzanne Moore, writing for the Guardian's "Comment is Free" says "it peddles the tired old fantasy of romance that keeps women in their place." Others say that, in reality, the submissive female in the story is actually in control of events and consequently the masochist as well. I have heard of women's wiles but for me this argument takes the biscuit.
The author, a British woman going under the name of E.L. James, is a squillionaire having already outpaced J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, the Koran and the Bible all in the space of about 11 weeks and therefore warranting serious assessment.
I obtained the book from Amazon (£2.69) and downloaded it to my Kindle. I have read about one quarter of it and find it boring, monotonous crap. The writing is extremely poor and that seems to be the conclusion of most reviewers, yet it cannot be ignored given its massive following. The first book is to be part of a trilogy. I have had enough already but what on earth is drawing so many women, both sides of the Atlantic, to its pages and apparently enjoying the porn? For descriptive pornography is undoubtedly what it is.
So, what has happened to our 21st Century liberated woman who is apparently drooling over what are endless descriptions of an unbelievably handsome Adonis who is totally irresistible to women, filthy rich, a total control freak and a sadomasochist all rolled into one vile creature?
Being a man I am limited as to how to analyse what is going on here.
For the past four decades I have been conditioned to accept that women have rejected male-domination in all things, including the bedroom, but as I read online comments to a Guardian article denouncing the book from a feminist perspective, I see comments from women saying they have never accepted the feminist arguments and want decisive men, want to feel "owned" by a man, are fed up of having to make all the decisions and deal with the stresses of holding down a job and looking after the kids and dealing with the things they think the man, or couch-potato, in their life should be dealing with. I am thoroughly confused like one of Pavlov's dogs.
What does this say about women's fantasies? Do they after all mirror those of men? This is another part of the unfolding debate. I don't think many women fantasise about scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final but who knows, maybe everything is up for grabs after all.
One explanation averred for the massive increase of women readers of this genre is the development of ebooks (electronic books) and the electronically downloadable books now easily available and cheap. The suggestion being that nothing has really changed at all in respect of women's attitudes to erotica or even pornography, just that women can obtain the books much more secretly and read their Kindles on the Tube without anyone knowing what they are reading. Mills and Boon has suddenly resurrected many of its more sexually explicit titles to meet the increased demand following the success of Fifty Shades.
Honestly I do not know what to make of it all. But then again I am probable just a man treading on dangerous ground. Nothing new there either.