50 Shades of Commodification

Everyone's talking about how the book 50 Shades of Grey and the movie Magic Mike are "mom porn." I disagree.

I think they're commodification of moms.

When I first heard about 50 Shades of Grey I was kind of baffled about why it was such a big deal, because so many of the women I know either read sex-filled books or watch porn. It might not be BDSM-themed, like 50SoG is, but whether it's the kind of book that euphemizes body parts or the kind that describes every detail in detail, we've been reading them for years. And whether it's just a racy movie or something more hardcore, we've been watching, too.

So the idea that by reading 50SoG we're doing something racy or titillating or being "naughty" and that that's a break from our usual boring, buttoned-up little lives is silly. Insulting. Patronizing. And all the fuss over 50SoG and Magic Mike, and, I'd argue, those works themselves, is commodification of us and our lives.

Remember when moms used to put a piece of cheese and some crackers and a piece of turkey and some apple slices in their kids' lunch? Then marketers packaged it up and called it Lunchables. That's all 50SoG is–the Lunchables of erotica.

Thank you but I can put together my own lunch.

The one good thing I can say about 50SoG is that maybe it's allowing some women to think about and talk about sex who were afraid of reading or thinking or watching or talking about it before. I've heard of women worrying that they were being "bad Christians" just by reading (or thinking about reading!) the book. (Have you read the actual Bible? There are way more than 50 shades of every color in that book–sex, violence, deceit, betrayal, eternal damnation, etc.) But they're still reading it.

So maybe it's giving them a starting point to start verbalizing thoughts about sex and sexuality in a way that isn't too personal. (And isn't that the appeal of all erotica and porn? That you can have sexual thoughts that aren't a betrayal of your real relationship because they're happening to a different protagonist?)

I just wish the book wasn't so wink-wink "Oh I'm reading something naughty." And that it was better-written. And fact-checked.

And didn't feel like a carefully-calibrated attempt to package up our desires and expectations and sell them to the world.




46 thoughts on “50 Shades of Commodification”

  1. Anais Nin set the stage for this type of literature in the 40’s ( I believe… But they may not have been published until after her death). I haven’t read the books because I’ve heard the writing is awful. I’m in total agreement with you, why read something poorly written just because it’s ‘naughty’? And is it still naughty if everyone and their mother is reading it? But maybe that’s the good that has come of it… That women can now acknowledge and take ownership of their own sexuality.

  2. i have read children’s books that are better written than 50SoG, including “goodnight moon.” That being said, it is highly insulting that our culture has so demonized women’s sexuality that women feel guilty about reading erotica at all…it is a genre that contains extremely well-written novels and short stories that show sexuality in all of its beauty…50SoG adds nothing to the conversation except to create another stereotype of a bored housewife who has to escape into a pretend version of the big, bad world of bondage in order to make her life fulfilling

  3. I tried to read 50SoG just to see what the hype was all about, but I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. What I find bizarre is the assumption that a series about the sexual awakening of a fairly silly girl is supposed to be *mom* porn. Are moms really reading this more than non-moms or is this a media-created phenomenon?

  4. I think the reason moms specifically find it hot is the idea of someone else making all the decisions for once. That theory certainly plays into a lot of stereotypes, but I do know tons of moms who are exhausted from owning all the decision-making and information-holding in their families. So they are all about having a Christian Grey in their lives.

  5. I refuse to read it. But that won’t stop me from critiquing it, lol! That said, I listened to what some reviewers had to say about it on Slate, and it all sounded extremely sexist and promoting domestic abuse, not to mention it is extremely poorly written:http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2012/06/e_l_james_s_fifty_shades_of_grey_audio_discussion_and_podcast_.html
    “Magic Mike,” OTOH, I’m not sure it is a slam dunk case of “mom commodification” at all. I actually saw it with a group of gay men and we all loved it (there weren’t many women in the audience). It’s comedy and delicious eye candy sans the overtly problematic patriarchal bs.

  6. Public service announcement for people who might enjoy X rated reading, but share a kindle account with their children and don’t want to share *that much*.1) Purchase your goodies.
    2) Download to your kindle
    3) Save in folder with boring name
    4) Go to your Amazon account on computer, select digital orders, and delete the purchase. (Otherwise it will show up as available to download on any other device linked to the account.)
    5) Look at your “recommendations” — porn will probably be showing up now. Find an item, and look for the “why was this recommended?” button. You can then tell it to ignore certain purchases when making recommendations.

  7. I agree totally. I haven’t read it, and I’m right on board with the what-is-the-big-deal camp. I read the Sleeping Beauty books by Anne Rice (under a pen name) back in college… WOW, those were naughty. I suppose I’m automatically suspicious when something goes viral. In regards to 50SoG specifically I’ve been trying to 1) ignore it and wait until the fuss dies down and 2) be kinda glad that it has probably helped some people like Moxie said.@ Jacquie- you are so right! Moms are a huge marketing target.
    @ hush, haha I feel the same way. Won’t read it but won’t hesitate to critique 🙂 And I think Magic Mike looks hot. That hasn’t happened in awhile, that I think a movie looks hot. I should definitely try to see it!

  8. I haven’t read it, but totally agree with Danielle’s line of thinking. Yes, please, will somebody take on the responsibility of, I don’t know, every single thing that goes on in this family for a day or two? Please please please. Some days, deciding between strawberry yogurt or vanilla yogurt is enough to make my head explode.

  9. Here’s what’s baffling about the 50SoG books (which I haven’t read): they weren’t produced by some huge company, focus grouped, and then foisted onto mothers. They were self-published on Amazon and became a hit without marketing. Presumably those women had access to other erotic books, but it was 50SoG that really took off. I have no idea why, but their success is really pushing this mom marketing trend. (Magic Mike, however, supports your argument.)

  10. OK, moms, what are some good quality “naughty” books which you recommend? I haven’t read 50SoG, since the S&M aspect turned me off, but other suggestions are welcome!

  11. I haven’t read them and don’t really plan to, I’ve heard that they are terribly written from some of my reader friends I trust. The other 90% of women I know are all atwitter over them which I don’t get. I have no problem reading erotica or even some super sexy romance. It’s smoking hot and my husband appreciates it!

  12. I read them and found them to be very poorly written and somewhat tedious times, not to mention highly fictional. A virginal college grad meets a wealthy, handsome, emotionally tormented man who just happens to be extremely competent at pleasuring women and is cured by her love…give me a break! These books were boring at best. I’ve read more sexually arrousing do it yourself guides!

  13. Other than the terrible (terrible!) writing, my biggest complaint with 50 shades and many other similar books is that so many of the female leads are painted as young, innocent, inexperienced… and enough with the alpha males! Contrary to the comments above, the idea of someone making all my decisions for me is not my fantasy.Several of the books Moxie linked to above feature women in their 30s and 40s, and I’d be curious to know whether commenters have others to recommend.

  14. I think part of the 50SoG phenomenon is that the book started out as Twilight fan-fiction, and was lightly edited for real publication. Thus, it shares a plot structure and motional resonance with an extremely popular book and movie series. Which, incidentally, also containe problematic treatments of romance and sexuality. It delivers to Twilight fans the same experience they already enjoyed, with an additional layer of much more explicit erotica.

  15. Oh oliviacw, you are much nicer than I was just going to be about the twilight fanfic angle. Nothing better to follow up a female as passive object trilogy with a female as super duper passive except *omg she gets off on it* objectified being. Sigh. No offense to anyone who might like the book or that type of erotica. Just seems oppressive to me. Are there not enough places in the real world where I feel like men are in control of aboslutely everything? Hate the books but, yes, I’m glad it is somehow okay to talk about women and books and sex in the same sentence in the mainstream media. Happy to refer bookie types to the sleeping beauty trilogy instead.

  16. My problem with mom-porn, or mom-anything for that matter, is that I still don’t understand why they (and I say “they” because I don’t know who it is – marketing, media, who?) are so hell bent on convincing us that we all have these things in common because we’re moms. I have about as much in common with a random group of mothers as I do with a random group of brunettes. Oh wait, I do have so much in common with brunettes…it’s the blondes I have nothing in common with.I mean, seriously, who is in charge of these forced groupings? I remember when it used to be blondes vs brunettes. And men vs women. And gay vs straight. And now it seems like the two big wars are republicans vs democrats and women vs…other women. The media (or whoever it is) is pushing all this mommy-wars bullshit on us, but at the same time treats us like we are all the same. Like some poorly written Twilight-esque porn is getting all these moms everyhwere all hot and bothered. Like Moxie said, we’re all buttoned up and now we’re Moms Gone Wild. Are we all ripping off our glasses (or in my case, gently removing our contacts) and unbuttoning our mom jeans (or again, in my case, expensive and highly-flattering brand name jeans?) Who is buying into this bullshit? And why? Hasn’t anyone told them they don’t have to? That they are free to think for themselves?
    I recently invited a new mom to join my friends and I at the local water park. She was clearly nervous as we stood around and once the other women and I began removing our cover-ups, she totally relaxed and let out a little laugh. “Oh my god, I was so nervous because I don’t have a mom bathing suit and I didn’t know if you guys would and I didn’t want to be all self-conscious in my bikini. I wasn’t sure if it was a rule that you had to wear one of those.”
    We all looked at her and laughed. Someone piped up, “The only rule around here is that you make your own rules. That and you can’t throw sand.”
    I often contemplate what we, as women, are doing for our daughters. Women before us fought to give us the right to vote, to get paid 3/4 of what men get paid for the same job, etc and I feel like what we are doing is creating a society in which we are allowed to, and hopefully someday encouraged to, question all the bullshit that is put upon us, take what we like, and fight against the rest.

  17. I read them out of sheer curiosity, and they are terribly written, and by the time I got to the third one, I was just finishing it because I felt like I needed to follow through and finish the damn thing. I would hard pressed to be find worse writing. Moxie’s statement “Remember when moms used to put a piece of cheese and some crackers and a piece of turkey and some apple slices in their kids’ lunch? Then marketers packaged it up and called it Lunchables. That’s all 50SoG is–the Lunchables of erotica.” is spot on.

  18. I haven’t read 50 Shades, or even been tempted, no idea why. At the same time, with three wee kids and a stay-at-home husband and a stressful job, I’ve been feeling … less than erotic, shall we say. SO, I followed the links to each and every LUNCHABLE you linked to, and either paperback swapped them or purchased them at Barnes & Noble (I had a free gift card). Thanks — and my husband thanks you, too.

  19. I’ve had no inclination to read this series, either, and now I really don’t. I cannot stomach bad writing.@nej, good to see you! I have missed your blog terribly.

  20. @Vacationland Mom “I suppose I’m automatically suspicious when something goes viral.”For books? YES.
    See: The Lovely Bones, Water For Elephants, and pretty much anything that’s followed up with a movie 2 years later. (Probably why I haven’t ponied up to buy the Hunger Games trilogy.)
    I have no interest in 50SoG, even moreso now that I know it is/was Twilight fanfic.
    I think it’s just where the algorithms are taking the marketers, because all of our choices (on Amazon, on Facebook, etc.) are so public. But obviously we’re more than the mere sum of our parts/purchases.

  21. @ Kate: Oh man, I loved The Lovely Bones, even as I was horrified and saddened by it. I thought the ending was weird though. I didn’t see the movie because I loved the book; I tend to do that. I actually just finished reading Water for Elephants and loved it too. I haven’t read the Hunger Games trilogy yet but did go to see the movie. I guess I’m usually one or the other, even the Harry Potter movies were somewhat disappointing after the books IMO.That makes total sense what you said about algorithms!!!
    @nej “The only rule around here…” LOVE THAT. Thank you.

  22. I wrote a lot of smut a few years back (you can look for Selena Jardine) and I, too, take issue with the idea that this crud is either new to women or hot. I guess the main difference is that it’s big-time mainstream; I didn’t make a penny for what I wrote. (Had a lot of fun, though.)

  23. I totally read 50SofG… after I read the first 50 pages, got pissed off, let it sit on my nightstand for 3 weeks and then, finally, picked it up and read it this way:Forgot the characters and their backstories, pretty much everything leading up to any sex;
    Read just the sex;
    Imagined two completely different people having this sex.
    Tried to ignore the 3 exclamations Ana says about everything: That’s Hot (who are you, Paris Hilton?); Holy Shit! and that she feels “shattered and fragmented” after every orgasm (for which there were many).
    It was quite exhausting but a quick read. My husband benefited. Maybe we’ll name a kid that results (if it happens), Christian or Ana….NOOOOOOOO.

  24. I’m a librarian, so I am ALL about women (and men, and children!) reading whatever they want. Yes, 50SoG is poorly written. I am a personal romance novel addict, but I read a half page of 50SoG and put it down with a roll of my eyes. Still, I absolutely support women reading it. Heck, if we condemned every poorly written book that people love anyway, library shelves would be half empty! I think what it’s done is given people, especially women, license to read erotica. Because the book is so popular and such a (temporary) cultural event, people don’t feel as dirty or ashamed reserving it at the library, asking for it at the bookstore, or ordering it online. If all it takes is a bit of marketing savvy to give women the “permission” to read sexual material and perhaps go on to seek out more, I’m ok with that. Of course women have been reading sexually-themed books forever, but 50SoG has reached out to a whole new audience. My 70 year old mother in law cheerfully told me the other day that her library hold on the book finally came in after waiting months! In my mind, it’s not really more of a commodification than any other publisher-driven title, like Oprah’s famous book club, or the newest unauthorized celebrity bio, or authors like Danielle Steele who after hundreds of books seem to be just phoning it in at this point. All those books rely heavily on marketing to drive interest, but I would never disparage them or detract from the enjoyment someone gets reading them. As librarians like to say, every book has it’s reader and every reader a book!

  25. I normally (at least 75% agree with you Moxie) but this is off base. Not only was it not marketed at all, the only reason it’s called “mom-porn” is that some moms read it. It’s not “aimed” at moms in any specific way. And yes, the writing is terrible, but so what? I think it’s shaming to tell women that this is beneath them. If they like it, they like it. FTR, I’m saying this as a woman who read it and didn’t really like it. But to write that 50SoG commidifies moms really makes little sense when it wasn’t aimed at moms and isn’t about a mom – it just happens to be read by moms and other people. And if it improves their lives somehow, so what?

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