I made a promise to myself a while ago to stop writing about what everyone else was writing about. You either want to read every single article written about fifty shades of grey, or you don’t want to read any of them at all.
Later I made myself a promise that I’d start trying to write about these things again. They are culturally relevant and they are the dirty work of the sex-positive. I am my own worst critic.
Instead of focusing specifically on Fifty Shades, I wanted to write about the idea of being a bad feminist. This is an idea that I gathered and have taken on as part of my own ideology from badass writer Roxane Gay.
To summarize, there is no perfect feminist. There is no one feminist. To put a woman up on a pedestal of doing everything right is only to set her up for her inevitable downfall. What is feminist to some is not feminist to all.
A lot of people who take on Women’s Studies end up leaving the program with an inability to enjoy pop culture. This is understandable. In class we spend hours breaking apart film, movies, articles, comics, books, actors and actresses, quotes, statistics, posters, advertisements. We look critically at things that exist, for many people, in their peripheral vision.
A lot of people leave and struggle to enjoy what is around them because they are constantly being distracted by these images. Why is she being gazed at by ten men while she lays there in a bikini? Is this about rape culture? Why can’t women talk to other women about things besides men? What movies are playing today that weren’t written by men? If you’re struggling to live in an entirely female friendly world, you’re going to hate a lot.
I’ve escaped somewhere in the mid-ground. This is what makes me a bad feminist. I can enjoy all that media without actively pulling it apart, but I can, also, pull it apart if I want to.
I appreciate the opportunity that media like Fifty Shades gives us. You can look at it like an abusive man and a virginal women and the unhealthy relationship that breaks down and bastardizes BDSM culture.
You can also:
1. Laugh at the writing / be happy you’re reading.
2. Be sucked in to the ridiculous characters and fantasy of wealth and excess.
3. Use the book as a conversation starter for talking about BDSM and sexuality. (How many other books that discuss these subjects do you see in the aisles at your local grocery store?)
4. Consider the messages it gives us about how women are treated by men.
5. Give us messages about how men can also go through emotional trauma and how that influences their psyche. (What could we be doing to better help young boys grow into better human adults?)
It is very easy to read a book like Fifty Shades and pull it apart for how poorly it explores a healthy sexuality. But this book was never about a healthy sexuality. This book is about a broken man who is hurting and, then, goes and hurts someone else. I don’t believe that it tried too hard to pretend to be otherwise. Though it reads pornographic, there are frequent nods to how this man is not right.
Being a good feminist doesn’t mean you have to take this book and disregard it immediately. You can both enjoy what you take from it and critically exam the flaws it presents. Of course, you can equally think it is a pile of garbage and throw it away. Many have. And if you are unable to enjoy media that blatantly hurts women, this isn’t for you, period.
There is a lot going on in the world that is worth thinking critically about. Worth examining my real feelings about. I know how I should feel as a “perfect feminist” but that rarely aligns to how my actual, real, complex feelings end up. Sometimes a book can be more than just “a really bad book about abuse” or “a love story about a man and a woman having sexy sex.” It can be an excuse to talk more about how we think and how we feel and how we’re always struggling to figure out just exactly whats right.
While I can’t say that I’ll make a huge effort to engage in popular dialogue (because holy shit every week it’s something else) I will try to give me feelings on these bigger stories as they present themselves, if theres something to say.
As always, if there is something you’d like me to discuss, you can submit prompts for blogs by clicking ask advice and entering the subject in the same box questions are asked in.