Friday, February 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Shaming

This post started out as a review of the 50 Shades of Grey movie. Truly it did. I was going to talk about what I liked and disliked. I was going to talk about how much I adored Dakota Johnson. I was going to gush about the attractiveness of Jamie Dornan. I was going to tell you that it was funnier than I anticipated. How the changes from the book were good changes (the way Laters, Baby was incorporated for instance, or Anastasia's lip biting). I wanted to debate the effectiveness of Ana saying "stop" vs. "red" in the final scene of the movie (I think 'red' would have been way more striking and powerful). I wanted to discuss how if you strip everything away it's a Beauty and the Beast archetype at it's core. Sadly, that post is not what this is going to be.

Instead of discussing Jamie Dornan's backside, I am instead going to rant a little bit. Pretty sure this is the most I've ever expressed an opinion this vocally on this blog, and I am pretty nervous about it. I've seen something that has truly troubled me in the book community recently and had to vent a little.

Since the movie's release (and subsequent success) there has been a constant stream of shaming flooding the internet. There are those accusing people who enjoyed the book or movie of supporting abusive relationships. I am not here to debate whether or not it does (from the movie perspective, Anastasia consents to everything that happens to her, and I cannot speak for the book). I've seen this shaming creep into my 'offline' life recently, and knew that this post needed to go in a totally different direction. A girl I know was reduced to tears because someone decided to express their (quite vocal) opinion on what they thought of her for reading 50 Shades of Grey. Someone literally made her cry for reading a book. I personally get shamed all the time for reading young adult books. People ask me if I cannot handle adult novels (never mind the fact that I read those too),  or if I am stuck in adolescence because there is no other reason I would read this genre. I know women who get shamed for reading romance novels, or novels deemed 'chick lit'.

First, I haven't read the books. I attempted to and found the writing not for me. I was curious about the movie and did go and see it. I do not think the relationship between Anastasia and Christian is a healthy one, but that is MY opinion. I am entitled to it, just as others are entitled to have a different one.

To be clear, I am not talking about expressing your opinion of something. That we all have different opinions is a wonderful thing. It is anyone's right to express those opinions on their social media, blog, or where ever else they chose to. It creates a healthy area for discussion. What does not sit right with me people not respecting other opinions than their own. Messaging someone on Twitter telling them that they are going to hell for enjoying a book is not acceptable behaviour. Neither is teasing someone to the point that they cry because they dared to be curious about the hype surrounding a book (or, shocker, enjoying said book). The second it changes from having an opinion that you are voicing to actively seeking people out to message it becomes counter productive. People get hurt and it makes any kind of rational discussion impossible. Instead of trying to understand each other's view points (or agreeing to disagree) we have someone who will now be afraid to express their opinions on something for fear of being ridiculed and attacked.

My heart aches to see people being shamed for reading something, anything, for pleasure. I am positive I read some where that the average person reads five books a year. FIVE BOOKS A YEAR. Let that sink in. That is less than one per month. Literacy is still an issue, and anything that gets people reading is a good thing in my opinion. That book may open them up to more reading experiences. Many people bemoan Twilight, but it cannot be ignored that it brought in a wave of young adult novels that have people reading more than ever before. You may not agree with their reading choices, but there are better ways to get someone to read something else than shaming them for a selection they have made.

Book publishing is a business and as such they need to make money. A friend pointed out to me that 50 Shades of Grey's success most likely allowed that publisher to publish other books with the money made from it's success. Some of those books may even be your favourites. Books that have a smaller fan base were able to find it's way into the hands of those who love it because the publisher made money off other books. I am pretty thankful for this as I love the variety and choice we have in our entertainment in general.

I anticipate that people will read this and come to the conclusion that I support unhealthy relationships, and only read badly written books. Not at all true. I am a strong believer in thinking critically about the media/entertainment we consume. I also think it's possible to think something has flaws and still enjoy it. It is possible to appreciate a darker romance, or themes without supporting them. There are plenty of books that deal with murders, rapes, and abusive relationships, but reading and enjoying them doesn't automatically mean you support it. The author doesn't even have to support what they are writing. They can be two entirely separate things. You can, for instance, write a novel about a killer without supporting murder. Same would be said for writing an unhealthy romance (or enjoying a novel written about one). Are there elements of 50 Shades of Grey that are problematic? Of course. Does it romanticize some troubling behaviors? Of course. So does Beauty and the Beast and many other fairytales. We as consumers can ask questions, and that doesn't mean everyone who reads it, or likes it, is going to hell, is immoral, or any of the other things I've seen tossed around recently.

I, personally, would like to see more love spread than shaming and ridicule (and sometimes outright hate). Next time you see someone reading a book that you don't consider up to your 'literary standards' might I suggest one of a few options (this works for movies, and TV shows too)....

1. Ignore it. It's not your business what they are reading. We all have our opinions and are entitled to them, but taking those opinions and using them to hurt someone else is not okay.

2. Kindly suggest they check out a book of a similar nature that you enjoyed. Simply saying something like "Hey, I see you're reading (fill in the name of book). I recently read (fill in name of other book you consider better) and it's similar. Maybe you'd enjoy it too." You might just end up broadening their reading horizons and might help them find the next book they fall in love with. I think that is a much better way to get the book in their hands and they might even thank you for it (instead of feeling awful because you've made them feel ashamed for reading or enjoying something).

3. Ask them questions. Someone reading 50 Shades of Grey, YA books, etc will (most likely) happily discuss it with you. Before you say something negative, maybe have a discussion with them. Ask questions like "Oh, I hear that some people think this portrays an unhealthy relationship, what do you think?" or "What elements of  Young Adult novels do you enjoy?" This only works if you are capable of having a rational, adult conversation. Their answer might just surprise you though, and that would be a good thing.

If there are books that you feel strongly send a bad message, maybe do something positive as a means of counteracting that. Volunteer somewhere (like a women's shelter, for example) if you feel strongly about the portrayal abusive relationships in books. Spread the word (and love) about a book you feel sends a good message - gift it to people, make sure your local library has a copy, review it on websites like Amazon. This will not only make you happier, but could also benefit someone else.

In conclusion, I think everyone should read, watch, and enjoy whatever they want to. Being made to feel ashamed that you're a fan of something is awful. We need to own what we love, and not be apologetic. Strike 'guilty pleasure' from your vocabulary. Anything that makes you happy is something good in my opinion and we need more good and happy in this world. Thinking critically about something is important, but that doesn't mean that it cannot still be enjoyed, flaws and all. It also doesn't mean that the person supports the unhealthy aspects of the particular book/show/movie/etc in question. I mean, you can consume entertainment about killing people (like the TV show Dexter for instance), and I'am pretty sure you don't support that, right?

What do you think? Have you ever been shamed for something you enjoy reading/watching/etc?


  1. I think it's not so much the fact people enjoy a book about an abusive relationship, the same way they might enjoy one about a killer. It's the fact that they find it SEXY and seem to think that kind of relationship is something to aspire to. That's very different than simply enjoying the material. And I think that's why people get so critical of those that like 50 Shades. Because the people that like it defend Christian Grey's attitude and actions and try to reason that all of the awful things he does are because of a bad childhood, or that basically stalking a woman is simply his way of showing how 'protective' he is. They see it as endearing and that's where the danger lies.

  2. Love this, if everyone took this approach the world would be a MUCH better place!

  3. This is a fantastic post. I couldn't agree with you more. It's about reading and it shouldn't matter what people are reading, as long as they ARE reading. I am a fan of the books and the movie, but it's fiction and for entertainment only. No one, including myself, should be made to feel bad about enjoying it. Thank you for this post!


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