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.

12 Things I Learned at the 2014 RWA Conference

1. I need to make a website. (Check!)

2. According to Elizabeth Hoyt, a heroine’s main flaw can’t be her oversized, gargantuan boobs. Sample dialogue provided by Hoyt: “My breasts are too big. I don’t know what to do.”

3. Eloisa James has, at some point, written about “a very rigid duke.” Of course, she meant her hero was inflexible (and not just in the groin region). But a couple hundred women in the session audience laughed all the same, because our minds are filthy. The same instant hilarity resulted when she advised us to “get yourself four brothers.” Rest assured, Ms. James, I’m looking into it.

4. Feminist romance authors can quickly sum up what their heroines want: “Orgasms and respect.” Added one panelist: “What’s wrong with that? We all want that.” Amen, sister.

5. Zoe Archer smells like “sandalwood…and MAN.” At least to Tessa Dare.

6. Holly Jacobs may well be the friendliest human being on the planet. She saw a first-time attendee sitting on the floor by the trash can (that would be me) and struck up a conversation. Thus saving me from having to follow the example of Jodi Thomas, who apparently spent her first RWA conference riding up and down the elevators, looking for people to talk to. I’m pretty sure Ms. Thomas no longer has that problem.

7. Sarah MacLean describes the romance genre thusly: “Shit happens while two idiots fall in love.” Sounds about right.

8. When describing how a hero smells, adding “…and MAN” is always appropriate. Shoshanna Evers: “Pretty much anything…and MAN.” Christine D’Abo, testing Ms. Evers’ premise: “Chocolate chip cookies…and MAN.” Okay, they weren’t seriously giving that advice, but it still made a roomful of women laugh.

9. How Julia Quinn ensures she accurately depicts foreign or regional accents in her dialogue: “I don’t write many characters who talk funny.”

10. Kristan Higgins advises creating imperfect characters, noting, “Prickly is interesting. Perfect is not.” Thus explaining to me, at long last, why I am an awkward and imperfect human being: for INTEREST. Thank you, Ms. Higgins.

11. Conferences are exhausting.

12. Going to San Antonio in July will make you smell like sunscreen, sweat…and MAN.