Earlier this week I saw an article about a charity bookshop in South Wales which had received so many copies of 50 Shades of Grey that they built a fort out of them.
First of all, that just strikes me as an awesome option to do with books. Forget couch cushions, I want to create myself a literary fort out of my collective bookshelves. An inspirational structure to curl up and write in. Of course, then I'd have to pull the fort apart whenever I wanted to read... so it's not practical long term. But it would be cool for at least an afternoon.
However, once the entertaining musings died down, what stuck with me was the tone of the article. It was snide, beginning with "It seems like there's no end of the pain Fifty Shades of Grey can inflict" and continues with such asides as "Come on, Fifty Shades - haven't you done enough?" and "The problem with the Fifty Shades books (apart from the fact that they exist at all)".
Now, I am not a Fifty Shades fan. I tried to read the book and put it aside because I found it poorly written. I know a number of authors who write BDSM romance and erotica and they were upset because they felt the depiction of BDSM in Fifty Shades was inaccurate and likely to get people hurt. There are a number of valid complaints about the book but it deserves better than such cheap shots.
However one might personally feel about it, the book opened up a conversation about a side of human sexuality. It prompted a huge number of discussions about consent and boundaries. It gave people permission to speak about things they might have otherwise been too ashamed to share. For that, it deserves some respect.
I don't think the backlash against Fifty Shades is simply because it's popular (although there are always those who try to appear superior by dismissing anything to achieve popular success). I think the ridicule has been triggered because of its target market: women. Or rather one particular subset of women: mothers.
Mothers are not supposed to be sexual or have sexual feelings or dreams (as determined by the almost universal "ick" from our collective children at the thought). North American society is uncomfortable with sexuality in general but particularly when it threatens to crack the whitewash of wholesomeness applied to moms. I believe that this is the reason why romance as a genre is subject to ridicule. It strikes too close to the nerves and refuses to allow the Victorian stereotype of the "angel of hearth and home" to prevail.
Women do not deserve to be ridiculed for having fantasies and feelings which don't fit into comfortable preconceptions. Nor do they deserve to be made the object of shame for enjoying Fifty Shades. I'd still encourage them to seek out other authors who do their research and can present a better written alternative. But I won't indulge in snide mockery.