There's been plenty of discussion recently about the phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey. However, since none of us here at Bitch had any desire to read it, we haven't really commented on it yet. Since we've received a few requests from readers for some recommendations on feminist-friendly erotic fiction, though, we thought we'd finally look into 50 Shades, see where it may have fallen short, and recommend some books that do "erotic, amusing, and deeply moving" right.
Bitch Media Development Intern Tallina Long jumped on a grenade for us and volunteered to read 50 Shades of Grey. Her short review? "It was horrible! Boring, and in a word 'grey'."
But there were some pros along with the cons:
Pro: "Consent and the importance of seeking consent from your partner. Christian Grey, the main male charcter, is totally GGG in making sure that he gets a yes from Ana. He hands her a dominant/submissive contract and makes sure that she understands what she is signing. Con: She never signs it."
And there were more cons: "Anastasia Steele, the main female character, is the most annoying caricature of a woman since Bella Swan. Perhaps that's the point. They're both passive. They're both virgins, though it needs to be pointed out that Ana is 22 and has never been kissed, which feels totally unrealistic. She is, of course, well-read, thin, supposedly intelligent, and white. I just felt like she was intentionally left blank for the reader to import themselves onto her.
Christian Grey apparently is only 27 but he read like a much older man. His major flaw? He's damaged, and because he's damaged he's into sadism and domination. This, of course, makes it easy for the "vanilla" millions to swallow the bits of domination, because while hot, we know that Grey is troubled and if Ana can save him he won't want to cause anyone pain anymore!
Equating BDSM with damaged people is an old pop culture standby, and even though the DSM V doesn't include sadism, apparently the stigma is still attached. See: the book's kink scenes, primarily the last one, in which Ana wants to "feel what it's like to receive pain." Grey agrees to give her six swats with his belts so that she can understand this and receive punishment. Ana takes all six and then just as dramatically tells this man she purportedly loves that something is wrong with him and he's sick, and then storms off. While the average reader might feel like Ana was standing up for herself, it just isn't true. In BDSM, a scene is a trade-off between two people; the focus might be on the kneeling submissive, but the person wielding the belt is just as important. In walking away from her Dominant, without safe-wording, without thought, Ana hurt him. What's more, she could have seriously injured herself. Taking part in a scene requires total trust and understanding of what the top is going to do, of what the bottom is capable of, and knowledge of when that bottom is hitting their edge, which Ana obviously was. BDSM, while intriguing, visually stimulating, and undeniably sexy, isn't a game—and it clearly shouldn't be left in the hands of amateurs like EL James."
Okay, so we're basically just saying what many have already concluded. 50 Shades of Grey is a boring, badly written book that portrays people who are into BDSM as sick. Yes, it's popular, but we think erotica fans can do better.
Not pictured: Shades of Grey.
A quick browse of the Bitch Community Lending Library under the tag "erotica" yields some results for erotic fiction we can recommend, such as Curvy Girls: Erotica for Women and Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica.
Tallina recommends: "The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by Anne Rice, though be careful, they are quite graphic! The Story of O by Pauline Reage. Very good, and there is a scandal about who actually wrote the book, because it was under a pen name. Some say that the book was written by French journalist Anne Desclos, others disagree. Plus, the story is rumored to be true (maybe). It's a good, erotic read if you can find a decent translation. Though not quite erotica, Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey is an excellent read about a masochistic courtesan who becomes a spy and saves the day. "
This is where you come in. What are your recommendations for erotic fiction that is sexy, hot, consensual, inclusive, and does not play into the shame-making aspects of equating kink with being damaged? We'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments!