The Vagenda

Pulitzer Porn & Strippers in the Cinema

You’ve all heard of it. You’ve all scoffed at it. You’re all sick of hearing about it. And you’re all tired of the questions from your menfolk about whether it’s really that hot, what your gag reflect is like, and if girls really do orgasm that easily.
But the one thing you can’t deny about 50 Shades of Grey? It’s put the female sexual appetite firmly in the mainstream.
It’s screaming at us from shop windows, the Twitter trending list and the sides of buses, side by side with the posters for Ice Age 4 and the latest Samsung smartphone. Women’s libidos, smacking us in the face before we’ve even had our coffee.
Loathe it or not (and if you have any respect for the publishing industry’s reputation, the written word and the rainforest, you’ll probably be appalled by it), there’s no doubt that middle-shelf bonkbuster 50 Shades of Grey has done what hasn’t been seen on this scale since Kinsey was getting busy. While the top shelf is dominated by the big boob bonazas of Zoo and Nuts, this woman-friendly sex fest is right at eye level.
In the words of Caitlin Moran, I wouldn’t wank to 50 Shades (for it is a highly clinical examination of sex by numbers that manages to make S&M prudish by never actually referring to the protagonist’s anatomy as anything more vulgar than ‘down there.’) However, sub-par masturbatory material though it is, I’m absolutely in favour of the wider implications that come with having a female-centric wank-fest on the bestseller list (for all three of the trilogy remain there) and, with the news that the producers behind The Social Network are on board with the film adaptation, soon to be in a multiplex near you.
The trolling menfolk of the internet are riled – all of a sudden, they’re faced with the knowledge that, while they loudly scoff over porn and lads’ mags in the pub with their mates, the girls at the next table will be discussing that sex scene on Page 27 (you know, the one where he pulls her tampon out and fucks her against the hotel sink. Is it hot in here?) Or comparing it with the works of Jilly Cooper. Or talking in an animated Samantha Jones-like manner about Anastasia Steele’s ability to orgasm on command. No wonder some men are so threatened by the new phenomenon and talking point that is the newly acceptable female libido that they take drastic measures to keep their women away from saucy tales of debauchery.
Because that’s what has been kicked off here with some badly written prose inspired by Twilight. Where previously women were clutching a tissue and reading Eat, Pray, Love and One Day on the tube, now they’re grinning laviciously on their way to work as Christian Grey teaches Ana Steele to stop using the word ‘nice’ using some very inventive methods, all in the neatly packaged guise of a bestselling book fast enroute to cult status. Next to said woman, the man leering tiredly over his copy of The Sun looks both puerile and seriously dated. Likewise, a bunch of schoolboys sniggering at the adverts inside phonebooths are nothing compared to the gaggles of women cheering the bus-side posters of new film Magic Mike: a film about male strippers, whose main selling point is Channing Tatum’s chest. By comparison, menfolk are counting down the days until the release of buddy comedy Ted, about a man and his teddy bear. There’s a strip show for horny ladies on at the multiplexes. Given that the male equivalent is still forcing its patrons to pay through the nose and be judged as seedy when they go to Spearmint Rhino, no wonder they’re pissed.
So while I won’t be cramming the 50 Shades series into my holiday suitcase, I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen reading it on the tube. It’s about time that women were allowed to flaunt their sex drives as openly as men do, to perv gleefully over objectified men’s bodies in the way that men have done to women for years and to read softcore pornography on the bus to work. Is it the solution to years of oppression? Perhaps not. Is it mature? Doubtful. But right now, it’s damn good payback.
I wouldn’t give E L James a Pulitzer, but I’d shake the hand of the publisher who, while shallowly cashing in on the market for a good fan fiction, had the balls to sell sex to the fairer sex. We’re more than willing to buy – and trust us to be smart enough to get heterosexual female fantasies into the highbrow mainstream. While the male-dominated porn industry simmers in the back alleys of the internet, ours is on the Richard and Judy sofa and in the bestseller lists.
So keep your lads’ mags and your amateur footage on the latest wank fodder website. We’ll be picking our vice of choice, proudly and publicly, up at the airport – from where it inevitably lies next to Henry James.

15 thoughts on “Pulitzer Porn & Strippers in the Cinema

  1. “It’s about time that women were allowed to…perv gleefully over objectified men’s bodies in the way that men have done to women for years” and “it’s damn good payback”- seriously, it’s 2012 and this is STILL where mainstream feminism is. Really? Is it appropriate, or even useful, to talk in terms of payback? And if it is, is that god-awful book really it? Don’t worry girls, poorly written fan fiction is now widely available for you to wank over. You can even buy it at WH Smith. Wow, equality really is ours! Just on a broader note, is the issue of retribution and being ‘allowed’ to objectify men really the most important discussion to be having about the position of women in society today? I find it more than a little disappointing if that is the case.

  2. If i’m given to understand this correctly, a woman has written a terrible book and many other women are greatly enjoying it as we speak. Of course, I understand that anything empowering to women is a good thing in the long run but the content of said thing is still important, to that end it could be cause for concern rather than celebration that so many women are devouring this flick-fest without giving a second thought to its overall crapiness. To me, that makes them no better than the teste-scratching blokes who pore over Zoo/Nuts et al. And those men are idiots.

    I agree with Katie about objectification and payback, it should be about equality and not oneup(wo)manship. I’d also take contention with your assertion that this will have ‘the trolling menfolk’ tugging at the proverbial collar, I’d imagine most men would be thrilled rather than threatened by overhearing women talk about sex. The part about ’50 Shades…’ being seated next to Henry James in the airport A-Z made me chuckle.

  3. Not to be all hipster about it but what about Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty erotica? Why is it only now that women’s sexuality is being thrust mons pubis first into the media? And why is it only with the appearance of a vanilla-fluff, wanna-be hardcore, wanna-be erotica? Isn’t this going to cause a lot of confused feelings about how women want to be treated with regards to sex? Aren’t we soon going to be hearing the smug tooting of the quasi-feminist horns? “We knew it all along, women really do want to be treated like vacant-headed sex objects!” I can see it now. As far as I’m concerned I feel as if this is the same gender-defining nonsense that we are supposed to glom on to like cupcakes, paint chips and modular white rooms. In a way I feel like this is worse than a regular old romance novel. It doesn’t represent the whole spectrum of sexual appetites that women have and now we are expected to all be secretive Submissives or Dominatrices. Now we have to get into the sticky subject of ‘Can one be a Feminist and a Submissive/Pet/Slave?’

    • Now we have to get into the sticky subject of ‘Can one be a Feminist and a Submissive/Pet/Slave?’

      - easy answer…yes.

      Whether you think of it as a life-style, hobby or just a preference…there is nothing stopping a normal person from wanting and actively seeking equality in rights, pay, respect etc., and then going home to live out the personal relationship or sex-life that they prefer.

      If we head down this route we may return to the incredibly silly ‘Can one be a Feminist and have sex with men?’ question.

      There is too much mystique around BDSM, what about all the weird constructs within ‘mainstream’ relationships? What about the power negotiations and compromises that go on unspoken everyday, not just in the bedroom and divided much more along gender lines?

      Naturally as someone who has had a real sex-life from time to time the appeal of this book has been lost on me. It’s fine that female sexual appetites are getting an airing, but did it have to be via mediocre fanfiction? Lowest common denominator I suppose, the Da Vinci Code of the erotic novel *sigh*.

    • If we head down this route we may return to the incredibly silly ‘Can one be a Feminist and have sex with men?’ question.

      I did not think of it that way and you have opened my eyes just a little bit more. Being someone who has been in, and is still interested in, the BDSM lifestyle I have never felt the need to question any of that until recently. You bring up another good point about the societal relationship exchange policies that we aren’t even aware of as we walk down the street or ride the train.
      I feel that with sexual fetishes there are rules which govern that world regardless of gender. One can move between them as long as there is a mutual respect. That does not always happen. I think books like 50 and Twilight and misinformation lead to a lot of people joining into these life styles with the intention only to abuse and injure people from a bigoted and sometimes psychotic place. That is when I have to take a step back and reassess where these sort of power struggles and the need to be overpowered come from.
      However with the daily ‘norms’ its harder to pinpoint exactly. Why do I think I am entitled to have a door opened to me, why I demure to a male authority figure or why I cannot leave my house with unshaven legs without a crippling terror? Why do men feel that jokes about rape are inconsequential, why is it an unspoken rule that all women are ‘asking for it’, is blue really every mans favorite color? Its a circle, a ring of fire that is has to many entrances and not enough exits. Boggles my brains.

  4. I haven’t read the books, and I’m not into the BDSM scene, but I have heard talk that it gives a pretty poor/unsafe/nonconsent view of Dom/sub relationships – can anyone expand on that?

    • It’s pretty bad. There are like a billion Fetlife threads ranting on about how it presents such a poor image of the lifestyle. I’ve read some of the original fanfic way back when, so my memory isn’t entirely perfect of what happens, but the obvious points were…

      1) You don’t give fully-fledged slave contracts to naive virgins who didn’t know kink was a thing until 5 minutes ago. Such things do exist and aren’t uncommon, but they’re more normally formed between two people with at least some experience who want to make things more formal. That whole scene was just ridiculously unrealistic and manipulative – in general he just pushes way too hard and fast. These things take time and trust. Lots of it. I do appreciate that she did try to represent the negotiation and consent side of things, which those old rapey Mills and Boone books my girlfriend tells me about never did, but still…

      2) lolz hard at the bit where he calls himself “not a sadist, but a Dominant” (or something at those lines). Such people do exist, but normally it’s quite hard to bifurcate, and this supposed non-sadist built himself an entire pain room in his house. I have no idea why…

      3) It’s painfully obvious she’s just not interested in kink and is just dazzled by his aura. I haven’t read a word of the sequels, but the narrative arc is surely that going to end with him giving up his kink for love (am I right?) In the real world this situation would be every sane Dom’s nightmare. Why you would ever date such a person I do not know. It’s only going to end in tears. In reality, asking most people to give up their kink would be like asking Roger Federer never to touch a tennis racket for the rest of his life. GL with that.

      4) Apparently he started out as a bottom to a femdom and then once he’d paid his dues, got to top himself. I just find the mentality behind this so weird, but I have read about one person whose kink arc did follow this narrative, so at least the author didn’t just make it up out of thin air. In reality though I think it’s super-duper rare and very, very old school, taking 24/7 hierarchy ideals to a bizarre and slightly disturbing extreme.

  5. I agree that it’s a positive thing that female sex drives have found their way into the mainstream media and pretty much everything else you said. However, pedantic me wanted to point out that there are womanfolk who are counting down to Ted.

  6. I agree with Katie’s comment.. and isn’t all of this stuff still sprouting within a patriarchal framework? Making sex and sexuality a semi-2D thing i.e. form not content – that’s the essential psychological issue with objectification of anything, and it carriues through our culture in way mor ways than just how men see women. I haven’t read the books but had a quick look at the synopsis; when any narrative structure really strikes a chord with popular interest it’s because it resonates at a far deeper level, archetypes, mythic structure etc – no matter how trashy the superficial aspect is. In that way it reflects and/or exacerbates collective pscyhological structures, it can either be liberating, or a perpetuating subconscious programme.

    From what little I’ve heard (correct me if I’m wrong please, although limited first impressions can be revealing things) the structure of the first book looks like a very basic metaphor for the current form of patriarchy – each character a personification of gender ‘ideals’ or tendencies. I’m hoping there a genuine and progressive subversion of that in there, sounds like a potential hint of it with stuff I’ve heard something about the Grey character being a touch messed up, which is why he’s got these particular ‘issues’. And the author says it’s a love story. I do not want to have to read it to find out though :)

  7. To me, the most worrying thing about these books is not the BDSM, the sex or the poor writing.

    It’s the perpetuation of that age old but deadly myth, that the love of a good woman can change an abusive asshole. And there’s no doubting that Christian Grey is abusive; mentally, emotionally and physically.

    I think we are supposed to feel sorry for him because of his own abusive childhood, and maybe if he was only beating up his abusive mother, I might just cheer him on, but he isn’t. He’s taking his anger out on innocent people, and that can never be justified. Women were not out on this earth to heal anyone. We are not here to parent, fix, look after, counsel or care of men. They are grown adults, they can make their own decisions, take care of their own needs and fix their own problems.

    I wonder how many women (and children’s) lives would be saved if women were encouraged to leave at the very first sigh of abuse. Considering that of women who are murdered, for 9/10 of those women it’s someone they know, I’m going to say one hell of a lot!

    Above all else, that is the reason why I loath these books with such a fiery passion.

    • On the flip side of things, the other assumption people might well get from these books is that all kinky people are like this: abusive assholes who were themselves abused. Which couldn’t be further from the truth; there’s actually no evidence of higher rates of mental illness or childhood abuse among kinksters than among the population as a whole.

      But yeah, the dodgy dude whom the love of a good woman redeems is such a staple of trashy romance. I honestly have no idea – it’s so painfully overused by this point that it’s got to be stale, and as you say, definitely has negative IRL consequences.

    • With all the talk of the amount of sex in this book, that simple theme never crossed my mind and my brain fairly wrinkles at the thought that I missed it. I have read a lot (more that I really should have honestly) of fanfiction and this is a theme that runs through a good majority of them. Written mostly by young adults I begin to wonder if this is the conditioning ground for them to start accepting that pain and suffering is love. That being hit is actually affection and abuse and mistreatment are signs of adoration. This seriously bring to the forefront the underlying problem with books like this that seem to profess what women really want sexually. Somewhere along the line of “All that abuse was so worth it because in the end he loved me all along”? In a way isn’t this along the same lines as the ‘Twilight’ books? Its all crazy and messed up and I don’t think this has helped bring real female sexuality into the light. It just reinforces a lot of ‘standards’ for both men and women.

    • @Wry Sparrow – I actually don’t have a problem with Twilight. I could never figure out why so many people called it un-feminist. It’s not promoting a feminist lifestyle, but its not taking feminism backwards either. In fact I re-read the whole series not too long ago to see if I was missing something, but my opinion didn’t change much.

      Anyway, I wrote a whole blog about it here http://cswinchester.blogspot.com/2012/04/trouble-with-twilight.html if you’re interested.

      I don’t think that fanfiction can be blamed for conditioning young adults, but rather by the time they come to express themselves, they have already been conditioned to see women as nurturing/secondary/supporting characters.

  8. “It’s about time that women were allowed to perv gleefully over objectified men’s bodies in the way that men have done to women for years.”

    Ah, the mature approach. That’s really going to help matters.

  9. I think there’s a big difference between 50 Shades of Grey/Magic Mike and pornography/lad’s mags. The men in 50 Shades and Magic Mike are subjectified, and given complex personalities, a job, feelings etc. They are often active and equal to their partners. Women in (most) pornos and lad’s mags are objectified, and not portrayed as ‘real’ persons as they are not given a personality or a life on their own. They are often portrayed as submissive and not equal to their partners. I’m sure that there is feminist friendly porn made my men for men as well but I think the discussion should rather be about the differences between these two types of erotic fiction.

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