"I've heard that women will read about pornography; men like to watch it," an anonymous, "veteran producer" recently told THR in reference to E.L. James' NYT best seller, Fifty Shades of Grey. That's the novel that started out as Twilight fan-fiction, became a hot e-book seller (it has over 16,000 reader reviews on Goodreads), and is expected to sell for seven figures so that Hollywood can adapt the bondage tale for the big screen.
The British author is a former television executive and first published the book on fan fiction website ff.net. It's a retelling of the Bella and Edward relationship, set in contemporary Seattle — except Bella is a subby, virgin college grad and Edward a dominant billionaire with a huge kink in his tail. The sequels — dubbed Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed — continue the sexy saga. It's been called erotica-lite since James' language isn't particularly vulgar, but with copies selling like hotcakes there's clearly an interest here — and of course Hollywood wants a piece of that.
Women (like men) enjoy reading and watching "pornography" — but with comments like these and outlets like the New York Times dubbing James' story "mommy porn," the concept seems akin to spotting a unicorn. Is it mommy porn, because James is a mother of two, implying that women with children can't be sexual and have to be categorized in an obliquely offensive way? That's problematic and stupid. The story hardly seems like cold, hard "pornography" with all the emotionally angsty exchanges reviewers have given insight to — but again, female sexuality is still viewed as this black and white entity.
We haven't read the book and can't confirm that James' story and characters are multifaceted, but so what if they aren't? There is room for all types, and if it makes some women feel comfortable exploring and discussing their sexuality — particularly in our current climate where women's intimate lives and reproductive health are under attack — then that's a good thing.
While studios duke it out for rights to the torrid tale, let us know your thoughts on all the hype around the novel and if you've read the story.