So today I’m going to talk about something that has been bothering me for a while. I’m not usually one to share my opinion on something like this so publicly but I’ve gotten tired of people doing this: shaming people for what they are reading, all without reading the book or books in the series oneself and only ever listening to what other people have to say on the book(s). Now mind you that this is my opinion, and just like everyone else out there I’m entitled to it. Just as you are to yours. You don’t have to like it and I’m pretty sure that not everyone will. This entire post/essay is on the opinion of one person and will reflect that, just as I have voiced my opinion so can you. The only way that we will be heard is to speak out and voice what we have to say.
The reason that this post/essay has come about is because there are people sharing pictures of women reading the book series Fifty Shades of Grey and saying that because they read these books, they should not have a problem with how the new President treated women or what he said about women. The one argument has absolutely nothing to do with the other, just because some people assume that the books are about one thing, they believe that if you can read a fiction book about something like “that,” then you should have no right to complain about what a man, who is leading our country, was heard and recorded saying he would do to any woman just because he can. I’ll be coming back to this later.
What one must remember is that on the one hand we have a fiction book, in this case the Fifty Shades series, about fictional characters and on the other a real person, President Trump, who said some horrible and hateful things, about women and what he would do to them.
The role of literature in our society is a widely-debated topic. One of the definitions of the role I found most was that it played a vital role in preserving and passing down the knowledge we gain and have gained throughout past generations. The book itself does not have to be non-fiction for readers to gain a type of knowledge from it. It takes creativity and imagination to continue to invent something new, and books provide us with that. Reading both fiction and non-fiction provide us with pieces of the past or the present or even possible futures. Fiction and non-fiction books have a good habit of showing us something about ourselves that we would never have thought of before, reading them are good ways to provoke a change in ourselves.
But what is fiction? Fiction is defined as “literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people.” This form of prose can come about in many different forms and types in stories, including but not limited to, erotics in fiction. Fiction novels allow us as readers to explore things that we would never have done before, from being a pilot or president to exploring forms of sexual pleasure we never would have thought to try. Reading this type of fiction does not make a person bad or immoral or any other negative characteristic, it is simply a form of exploration that we as readers are trying.
After some research, I found that erotica in fiction is a subsection of the romance genre. The romance genre itself is a $1.4 billion industry that jumped 40% higher after the sales of the Fifty Shades of Grey series began selling. It became even higher when eBooks came onto the market allowing the anonymity to what you as a reader where reading. But that is for another post. Both the Romance genre and its subsection erotica comes in many… flavors if you will. Not every erotica fiction out there is BDSM or about fetishes, just like not every romance out there is more than just about a man and a woman meeting and falling in love. The backstory is just as important as the main story. They tell us about the characters, their needs and wounds and unacknowledged pains that led them to where they are. The Romance genre has come a long way, from the chaste books of Barbra Cartland, who wrote over 700 books in her career, to the newer authors of EL James or Sarah MacLean. There is no right or wrong way to write a book, as long as it feeds a need of the reader. Erotica, as a genre, helps readers explore their fantasies in a safe and private environment. To make people feel ashamed that it is wrong.
Let’s look at the books in question, the Fifty Shades series, for a moment. Spoiler Alert! We have a character, Christian Grey, who after a childhood that was horrible, was taken advantage of by an elder and grew up knowing he was messed up. After meeting someone new and scaring her away, he decides to change because he wanted her more than he wanted his old life. So instead of having a man who abused women because he could, we now have one who was abused himself and changed because he found someone who was worth it. The other character was a girl, Anastasia Steele, who met someone who she believed was out of her league and lived in a world that she couldn’t. When she falls for him anyway and after learning how he “really” was she runs. She leaves because she knows that what he wants isn’t what she wants. But as a grownup she knows that she’ll still have to deal with him, so when he asks her to give him another chance and to see that he’s changed she agrees. So now, instead of having a woman who wants a man to abuse her, we now have one that decided to love a man who was abused even though he didn’t believe himself worthy of it and until he could do it himself.
But where in this story does the author present having a man doing something to a woman without her permission? Nowhere. Reading this story does not mean that the reader condones abuse, are anti-feminist, or even disregards violence against women. It simply means that they have an open mind and like to read fiction or whatever genre they happen to be reading at that moment.
Turning our attention back to Trump and his comments about women: as the leader of our country, he has an obligation to lead by example and show us that as a nation we should treat others respectfully. Not just women, but everyone. Instead what we received was what they, in the media, labeled “Locker room talk.” While logistically he was nowhere near being a president or even a candidate for that matter, when he made these comments. He was still an influential business man. That alone should have curbed the media talk after the news source surfaced footage of him as he was giving an interview.
I have always been of the opinion to not judge a book by its cover nor on the opinions of others. So, if we haven’t read the books then perhaps we shouldn’t be shaming others who have. There should never be shame attached to reading of any kind. Just because you believe a book shouldn’t be read doesn’t mean that someone else won’t read it and that it’s not helpful. It’s really simple really, if you don’t enjoy the books, then don’t read them and don’t tell someone that they are wrong because they want and do read them. It’s just that simple. The fact of the matter is that these books are a work of fiction, and that’s fine. But don’t assume that just because someone reads a work of fiction, that it is ok to assume their beliefs and morals are based on something else that they have read. Just because you read this type of book does not in any shape or form mean you deserve to be mistreated. It does not mean you are an abusive or disrespectful person. As a whole we as readers need to learn that what we read does not define who we are as an audience and should not reflect badly on us. A book is a book, but as a rule, it is not inherently evil. That would be like saying that because someone was reading Harry Potter, they worship or practice witchcraft.
However, one also needs to remember that you should never be ashamed of what you are reading. You should never feel the need to hide your book or whatever you happen to be reading on. Something to think about would be that if you feel the need to hide a book you are reading from the world then you probably should not be reading it. Face the world head on and with a straight face.
I’ll be the first to admit that as a teenager I read books that I probably should not have. I read my first romance novel at 13 or 14 and by 16 had amassed a large collection of books of all genres that were my own. Some books that my own mother said made her blush at the time. But in all the time of reading and owning books, I have never felt the need to hide one away. Even from my very religious grandmother. My grandmother who did not read very much because she was from a time when girls did not really go to school. (even though she later went back to school and graduated… not with a GED but an actual High School Diploma) My family, while vocal about the amount of time I would spend reading rather than doing my chores or homework, never said that I could not read a book that I wanted to read. They would chastise me for spending the amount of money I would on books, (I hadn’t found out about ½ price books yet) but would never tell me I could not read something. When I was in the sixth grade my mother actually had to go to the school, after they told me I could not read something because of my age, and tell them to allow it. That if I had problems understanding something that I would approach them. This should be the approach to anyone who reads, you should be able to read whatever strikes your interest. There should never be a time when you feel that you should not be reading a book.
So back to the original topic of this post, I’m not here to say that you should think the same way that I do. But in that same regard, you should not be trying to say what other people are thinking. Reading a book, no matter the genre, is not wrong or bad or shameful. We should be thankful that others are out there reading. Literacy in the United States is harsh compared to other countries. 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That is around 14% of the population, 21% of adults can’t read above a 5th grade level and 19% of high school graduates can’t read at all. Instead of making a person ashamed for reading a book, not just the Fifty Shades Series, but any book be glad instead that they can read at all.
Until Next Time!