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Fifty Shades of Grey: mummy porn or feminist crisis?

Critics have mauled the writing, but could the success of Fifty Shades be a good thing for women, and women’s writing, in the long run?

The phenomenal success of EL James’ sadomasochist novels has led many to conclude women’s erotic fiction has jumped out from its niche and into the mainstream. The sixteenth-century music featured in the book hit the top of the classical charts, while sex boutiques reported big increases in sales of S&M paraphernalia. But this so-called mummy-porn is much less sexually explicit than previous erotic fiction for women, and is widely read in public.

Harold Robbins’ steamy potboilers were far more pornographic and perverted in the 1970s, as were 1980s bonk-busters and 1990s chick-lit. Fifty Shades started as a blog, but it did not borrow its literary style from the burgeoning sphere of female erotic literature. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series of teen vampire novels, written explicitly about delaying gratification rather than giving into it, provided the models for the hero and heroine. Perhaps Fifty Shades and its many imitators are not just about sex, or even anticipating sex, at all.

From Austen to Meyer, women’s writing has always reflected women’s insecurities, frustrations and desires within Western society. What does it say about the relatively emancipated women of today when their popular literary figures are made helpless by desire, emotionally or physically? Is it fair to describe the heroines of Fifty Shades or Twilight as passive, when the stories are so clearly all about them and what is in their minds? What does it say about masculinity in our society if women fantasise about invulnerable and dangerous males with impeccable taste and manners, like Christian Grey and Edward Cullen? Or are women reacting to their greater role within society with a yearning to have someone else do all the work for a change? Critics have mauled the writing, but could the success of Fifty Shades be a good thing for women, and women’s writing, in the long run?


Ann Furedi | talks | www
Sara Hinchcliffe | talks
Anita Sethi | talks
Sean Bell | talks


Date and Time:

10 October 2012 at 7:30 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



Friends Meeting House
Ship Street

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Organised by:

Institute of Ideas
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Available from:

To reserve a ticket email sean.bell@thebrightonsalon.org - suggested donation £3

Additional Information:

Visit www.battleofideas.org.uk for more information.

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