Alright, I'm going to ramble about 50 shades. Stick with me.
I have never read this book. I never intend to read this book. Never the less, I've joined in with the public flogging of this book. I have shamed it with friend and colleagues. It is a badly written book about domestic abuse.
Now, a confession. I really like Hannibal porn. The dark stuff. I like the stuff where Hannibal takes Will and makes him his sex slave. The more fucked up and co-dependent it all gets, the better. I have read fic that are probably morally worse than 50 shades. I mean, I guess I acknowledge that the fic I'm getting of on there is really fucked up and I know myself well enough to know it's appealing to the bit of me that feels helpless and directionless and just wants someone to come along and tell me what to do with my life and how to do it, the same part of me that loves ABO-verse and went through that really weird phase with the daddy kink ClintCoulson fics and why did we even go there, fandom? But, thing is, I read and enjoy things that are objectively worse than 50 shades.
So what right so I have, exactly, to turn around and tell this woman she can't enjoy her badly written porn but I can enjoy mine.
It seems to me that a lot of the hand-wringing is about the idea that women who are reading 50 shades are passive consumers of this book. That they're going to read it and accept it as some kind of relationship guide and go out and have unsafe, non-consensual kinky sex. The more I think about this the less I like it becasue we seem to be denying these women a lot of agency. Surely, in the same way I can acknowledge that Hannibal locking up Will and fucking with his head is REALLY WRONG but I still kind of get of on it, these women can probably acknowledge that some things in 50 shades are kind of wrong but still get of on them. They can probably work out for themselves that if they're actually going to try something kinky they should probably consult an actual guide to BDSM or talk it through or give consent. It just feels like there's been a big party to throw a load of shame on women for liking this book and how can I when I read shit that's worse.
Now, you can totally 100% make an argument that 50 shades contributes to an existing culture where women's consent is regarded as an optional extra in far too many sexual encounters, where this kind of violence in a relationship is normalised and that's 100% valid. If in season 3, Hannibal locks Will up in his sex dungeon I'm not going to like that. I think the difference is that fandom is a place of extras. Of possibilities. I wouldn't want most fanfiction to be canon, if I'm being honest. Fandom represents a place where we can explode those possibilities and play with them all, even the ones with unsafe BDSM practice and really fucked up cannibal on profiler sex, with it not being 'real' in such a way that I have to think about the implications of it. I guess there is a problem when these things move into the mainstream but a lot of the concern for women reading instead of concern about the text and how it contributes to the overall cultural messages we're sending about consent and female sexuality feels patronising. And maybe it shouldn't be in the mainstream but you have to remember how it got there. It wasn't sold to a massive publisher straight out, it got really popular on the kindle store, driven by people who found something in it buying and recommending it, THEN to went to a publisher. This is as close to women choosing their own mainstream culture as we're likely to get.
So, yeah, I think what I'm trying to say is I'm with you 100% that 50 shades is kind of fucked up but a hell of a lot of women enjoyed it so can we move on from treating them like idiots who don't understand that the media they're consuming is bad for them and maybe if we have to carry on the discussion make it about what all these women are getting out of this piece of porn, what need is it filling for them and what does that tell us about society.