Fifty Shades of Grey & My Personal Red Room of Irritation

I have to admit it: I wasn’t a huge fan of Fifty Shades of Grey.  A nice lady at my optometrist’s office who was really into the series lent me the book a year or two ago. I didn’t get too far before deciding I had better books in my TBR pile. I returned the book to her, and I haven’t had the desire to revisit it since. In the meantime, though, I’ve read plenty of articles about the series. Many of them have expressed concern about whether the Christian/Ana relationship is more abusive than romantic. I’ve also heard reasonable-sounding criticism of the book’s portrayal of BDSM practices.

All that said: As a librarian, I fought hard to get the series into our collection. Before Fifty Shades, an unofficial policy excluding erotica from the collection existed, and I disagreed with that policy. We had books in our stacks detailing grisly rapes and murders, and I couldn’t see how sexual content was somehow more damaging than violent content. Many of my colleagues agreed. So we kept an ever-growing list of patrons who’d requested the book and talked to the folks in charge of our collection.

After a few weeks of persuasion by myself and my coworkers, my former library got the series. And I can tell you, it was one of my proudest moments as a librarian. Whatever I thought of the books, I was glad to see women (and it was almost all women) reading what they wanted. And my goodness, did they want Fifty Shades. Even months later, we had a substantial hold list for the series. Though I no longer work at the library, I suspect a lengthy hold list has reappeared as the movie premiere nears. Librarians–most of them, anyway–believe strongly in the freedom to read (and watch, when referring to visual media) whatever you want without shame or any need to justify yourself. I believed in it before I became a librarian, and I still believe in it now.

Which is why I’m getting increasingly irritated by the widespread disdain for the Fifty Shades movie and women who want to see it. If I see the word “sex-starved” applied one more time to the movie’s potential audience, I’m going to beat someone over the head with that Fifty Shades teddy bear I keep seeing advertised. You don’t have to be sex-starved to enjoy reading about or viewing sex. Erotic romance is not “mommy porn.” And even if the entire audience for the books and the movie were sex-starved moms, would that somehow make it okay to mock them for watching what brings them pleasure? Do they deserve disdain for exploring their desires?

I certainly don’t think so. So I’ve pre-ordered a ticket for the movie. I’m going to see it next Tuesday. And when I do so, I’m considering it an act of solidarity with the millions of women who’ve been mocked for their Fifty Shades excitement. I’m considering it an act of solidarity with the dozens of women who shyly ventured to my reference desk and whispered a request for the series, their shoulders hunched as they waited for my expected disapproval and contempt. And most of all, I’m considering it a gift to myself. Because I’d like to see more romances and erotica made into movies. Because I think I’d enjoy watching hot people have sex. And because I may not have liked what I read of the first book, but I have seen photos and video of a bearded Jamie Dornan. Whoa, nelly.

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