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Do Bad Moms Really Need Mommy Porn?

By Emma on April 18, 2012

Have you read it?

You know: the hottest mommy porn to hit e-readers everywhere. The S&M the title that is being discussed on every media site, and being read on every pool side.

50 Shades of Grey.

I'm not embarrassed to say I read it, for work purposes of course. And it made me uncomfortable.

It wasn't the graphic coupling, and the descriptions of her “sex” and her many almost  orgasms achieved under dubious circumstances that turned me off. It wasn't even the bad writing, the typos, the need for an edit. It wasn't  the multiple references for a need for a hair tie, as in: he asked me if I had a hair tie, I  had two hair ties, he braided my hair and put on a hair tie; where did the hair tie come from? [Note: these are loose quotes as I can't be bothered to go back and read the book looking for hair tie quotes -- believe me there are many.]

Or as Maria at Bored Mommy noted the multiple uses of the word Mewl.

Or the lazy anachronisms such as a 2011 university student not having a computer, or a cellphone or the strange cropping up of British terms such as “satchel”.

Or even that the book was first posted at a fan site as a re-write of Twilight complete with dashing man, virginal lead and a secret room filled with darkness and red leather.

I hated it because of the power dynamic. The story is of a young 21-year old university student, weeks away from graduation who meets a very handsome, fabulously wealthy, controlling man a few years his senior. Their attraction is immediate but before they can have a relationship she has to commit to being his “submissive” and not look him in the eye, and only eat what he tells her, and succumb to punishment if she breaks the rules. Of course, the punishment is a turn-on, at least for him.

Fans say that Anastasia Steele  is actually the one in control because she can say refuse Christian Grey's rules.  I didn't think she was the one in control, she may have had the ultimate say in the relationship but she is not an active player in the sex scenes, she is completely passive with her hands figuratively and literally tied. And since this is a book about sex, I think that says a lot about her agency.

I could have lived with all that if I had found Christian Grey remotely attractive.  I could put aside my need for equality and succumbed to this charms if he had any positive attributes other than his auburn hair and smouldering eyes. But no, I found him dull, handsome and rich, but dull. Only the email exchanges showed any humour in any of the characters, in fact they were the best part of the book.

But putting aside the writing issues and one-dimensional characters, what does the book's popularity say about us moms, who are indulging in the “mommy porn”? Some pundits suggest that the attraction to this novel is that women in the feminist age want to read about submission, “to counteract the the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality,” says tiresome anti-feminist writer Kate Roiphe.

Yes, after storming the ramparts of the patriarchy all day, all I want to do is lie down in my pajama jeans and read some sexist smut.

Unlike Roiphe, I don't think that this book says anything about the state of feminism in North America, (I look to the eradication of our reproductive rights to know that is true).  Maybe the term “mommy porn” has more to do with the media, than it does with us moms. There is little proof that this book was in fact, more popular with moms than it was with women of all kinds. But the fact that it got dubbed mommy porn, probably increased it's popularity with moms. And so the viscous media cycle, mom panels and blog posts began.

Why the interest in moms reading smut? Are we moms so sexually mordant that a badly-written book about BDSM gets us all atwitter? The term mommy porn implies that moms read this book because our sex lives are over.  Or our need for romance is so strong that we sit around in our yoga pants craving a literary getaway where the man takes over and tells us to “eat!” and “bend down and don't let go of the bedpost” [again loose quotes].

There is something sexist underlying the hype, as if we tired, frigid moms need a book to put some spice back into our lives, it is implied in all the coverage that our husbands are lucky if we read it — maybe we will get adventurous in the bedroom.

Corinna Lawson over at GeekMom says the mommy porn label does a disservice to the romance genre, which is the largest segment of the book publishing market:

Women are interested in the romance genre because the stories feature women, something that’s somewhat lacking in other genres and sorely lacking still on the movie screen.

The fact is that the largest single segment of the U.S. consumer book market is being derided because it’s fiction written by women for women or dismissed as “mommy porn” should be concerning to all women or all those interested in judging someone not on their gender but as an individual. It’s yet another way in which female sexuality or girl parts can be derided or dismissed as unimportant.

I admit I don't read traditional romance novels, nor have I read too much erotica. (I haven't read Twilight either.) But I would read some of the books that Lawson or Jezebel recommends to see if they appeal to my inner romantic or outer vixen.

The embarrassing thing is, that even though I didn't like the book and do not want to give any more time to the twisted world of Ana and Christian, I kind of want to know what happens next.  So if anyone could tell me, I would appreciate it.

Have your read it?  Did you like it?  Do you generally read romance or erotica?

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About Emma

Emma Waverman is the mistress of her domain to three kids and husband in Toronto. She co-wrote a cookbook called Whining and Dining, but still considers ordering take-out everyday. You can see what she is thinking about five days a week at her MSN.ca blog: www.embracethechaos.ca.

Comments

  1. Amy says:

    I”ve downloaded the sample, but I haven’t read 50 Shades… yet. Still slogging through Game of Thrones. I am not in the habit of giving my reading material the feminist critique, but I do love a good sex scene. The Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon still win the prize for great sex scenes (and there’s substance to them, which helps me give a damn when bodices start getting ripped). If you want pure steam with just a touch of story, try Megan Hart. I especially enjoyed Broken, although it was a sad story. I think her female characters have enough agency to make the grade as feminist characters – especially if you allow that expressing sexuality as a woman is a feminist act, which I think it still is in literature in general.

    • John says:

      You complain about the book’s editing, but don’t bother to proof read your own article!? Epic Fail.

      “The story is of a young 21-year old university student, weeks away from graduation who meets a very handsome, fabulously wealthy, controlling man a few years his senior.”

      Clearly should say:

      “The story is of a young 21-year old university student, weeks away from graduation who meets a very handsome, fabulously wealthy, controlling man a few years HER senior.”

  2. I think that there is nothing wrong with reading erotica, and if the kind of erotica that floats your boat is bdsm, than go for it. What I take issue with is that there is SO MUCH BETTER stuff out there. For some reason, this book has turned into the kind of erotica moms can proudly put on their shelf, because, hey, everybody else is. I don’t even care about the feminist issues. I think porn, even male-dominated bdsm porn can be argued as feminist, but the point is, it’s fantasy. Fantasy – as in, please give me something that is not my reality. I like stuff like that, but 50 Shades of Grey is such a weak example.
    Honestly, girlfriends, go read The Story of O or anything that Anne Rice wrote before she was Anne Rice or anything from Carina Press. Because this? Is not good porn. Not even close. //rant.
    karengreeners´s last [type] ..The Great Divide

    • EarnestGirl says:

      I have read Twilight, I have not (nor will I) read 50 Shades of Grey. Twilight (the first book) was not particularly good writing but was readable: she wove folktale, familiar romantic storylines, and traditional roles into an engaging and imaginative narrative. The syntax was exhausting and my feminist buttons were more than pushed (stalking does NOT equal loving) but I understood why it crossed over into mother readership. However. The submissiveness of Bella in the Twilight sees sounds like it becomes sexual currency in %0 Shades of grey and that is distressing. Not even curiosity will stir me to read this book. As Karen and Amy point out, there are other, better books for this. What frightens me though, is what happens when 50 Shades falls into the hands of our daughters and sons?
      EarnestGirl´s last [type] ..Listening For The Language Our Hearts First Learn

      • They’lll read it, have a good time with the shower head and put it back in their mother’s bedside tables. Doubt it will lead to real-life bad choices.
        karengreeners´s last [type] ..The Great Divide

        • EarnestGirl says:

          Ha! Fair point Karen.

          For the sake of the conversation though: while I agree that it would not likely contribute to real-life choices per se, I do fret. Just as fairy tales lead to unconscious expectations of perfect princes and happily ever afters, I wonder about the current pervasiveness of the one-two girl sucker punch: the depiction in print, film and song of “powerful” hyper-sexualized young women who are at the same time at the mercy of or controlled by men. A very toxic mixed message and it is everywhere.

          Here’s to putting better smut in our bedside tables for our kids to find.
          EarnestGirl´s last [type] ..Listening For The Language Our Hearts First Learn

        • Rebecca says:

          You rock, Karen Green.
          Rebecca´s last [type] ..Pretty, pretty please?

    • Ashley says:

      I agree…there are so many good erotic, well written novels out there. Always been a fan of Anne Rice and her many pen names, but recently been turned on (no pun intended) to Jaqueline Carey, not as many erotic scenes but great storylines, and the erotic stuff that is there is really good too. Also for anyone wanting to pull out the feminist stuff…the main character is amazing…she enjoys being submissive in the bedroom, but is one of the strongest female heroine’s I’ve read in a while when outside the bedroom. Anyways, as one reader to another, if you haven’t read her stuff, give it a shot.