Back when the books were relatively new, a friend of mine physically brought me her copy of Twilight. No, "It's a good book, you should read it" and waiting for me to get a copy. No, "Oh, there's this book I'll bring you the next time we hang out." She went out of her way to bring me this book. I read the first few pages, didn't like Bella, and stopped reading.
She actually called and bugged me to read this book. Our teen years were a long, long time ago, and though we both adored Harry Potter, neither of us was a big YA fan. I didn't get it.
A completely unrelated friend--this one a very butch lesbian--heard that I wasn't reading Twilight and went on and on about how I should, how much I'd enjoy it. So I read it. I still didn't really like Bella, and I still didn't get it. And yet, when the first friend dumped the rest of the books in the series on me, I read them, too. All of them. In quick succession.
I continued to not be crazy about Bella (a deal breaker in a series, if not in the first book). I didn't particularly care for the "abstinence porn", as people came to call it. I didn't find anything romantic in Edward's sneaking into Bella's room to watch her sleep for weeks before she knew, nor in his having to fight his desire to attack her and drain her blood. Her curling up and going blank for months after he dumped her was literary genius in the author's execution, but disgustingly pathetic of the character. So on the one hand, I didn't think young adults should be encouraged to read the books for fear that they might follow the behavior, but on the other hand, I couldn't seem to help wanting to know what happened next.
Fortunately, a lot of people saw the same stalkery, controlling behavior I saw in the books and were talking about it. Everywhere. There was a counter narrative about toxic relationships and having self respect. And as long as you've got that straight, who cares what kind of fiction tickles your fancy?
When people started to talk about Fifty Shades of Grey...There were three conversations that I was aware of:
1. It was fanfic, and a rule of fanfic is that you don't go making money off it.
(I didn't care. The same was said about Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments, and when you got right down to it, she rewrote her fanfic into an original story that I love, yes, even if it's YA.)
2. It's not BDSM, and the BDSM community has enough against it without abuse masquerading as a Dom/sub relationship.
(Yeah, that's pretty true.)
3. The writing sucks!
I'd read samples of the story, just enough to know that I agreed with the third, and wasn't interested in buying the book. I watched the hype about the novel grow and grow, and I didn't get it. The writing really was, in my opinion, lousy. But more than that, I kept thinking, Why this book? You could get plenty of that sort of story from Ellora's Cave (I know), and Samhain Publishing (I think), and probably from lots of other sources that I hadn't even heard of. What makes this book so popular?
I'm pretty sure the answer is marketing. Erotica fans (alone) didn't make this book such an insane bestseller. Its success is all about people who didn't even know they'd be into such a thing, but they saw the ads, they heard their girlfriends talking, and they decided to give it a try.
More power to them. More power to the author. Her prose didn't thrill me, the dialogue I read left me wrinkling my nose, and what I read of Ana...hell, at least I disliked Bella. Ana couldn't even get that out of me. (Never mind that I prefer vampires and werewolves with my dubious consent.) The fact is, she wrote a book--several actually--and I give her kudos for going through the whole process and other people finding it good enough for her to have a fan base.
It was good enough to spawn a movie that I don't plan to live through, either. I want to appreciate the counter (and not so) narratives that are coming out in response--the argument that a sexy movie made for women is a Good Thing; the many posts showing just how abusive the movie is and the problems with calling the abuse a 'love story', the movement to get people to donate the money they would have spent on the movie to women's shelters...Those are all worthy parts of the conversation. What isn't worthy is the kink shaming.
"Fifty Shades contributes to rape culture" is an assertion worth discussing. "And shame on your for liking it," isn't.
I tend to believe that rape culture exists and is perpetuated because it has always existed. Now, not always in the literal sense--I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were times and places where this wasn't the case. But always in the sense of what we know. For how many generations have adults responded to news of a little boy being particularly mean and aggressive toward a little girl with, "Oh, he must like you!" (And how fucked up is that?!) This will be way too long if I try to reproduce every way in which I've seen society say boys will be boys while down playing female sexuality and warping female agency.
But even with all that, rape is the rapist's fault. No amount of "she dressed like she wanted it", "he's a guy; he wouldn't have gotten hard if he didn't want it", or other bullshit response can minimize the evil in doing that to another person, or take the blame away from the rapist. And blaming a movie is an awful lot like blaming music for a murder spree. Is Ana abused in the form of Christian coercing her into sex that she doesn't like? Sure. Who the fuck made any random guy Christian and any of us Ana? Any guy who doesn't get that was damaged long before E.L James thought, "What if Edward wasn't a vampire, just a rich guy with issues and Bella was old enough that the sex was socially acceptable?"
And dealing with that damage--hopefully healing it, but certainly keeping it off other people--is his job, not the job of the women who love the books and can't wait to see the movie. Maybe most of them just aren't politically aware enough to know how problematic the sex in this story is, but maybe, they just like what they like.
Various surveys report over 50% of women having rape fantasies that turn them on, and well over 50% in surveys that use coercive words but not actually the word "rape". Interestingly, one study I read showed that both men and women (presumably hetero, but not necessarily so) in roughly equal amounts enjoyed fantasies of being dominated by the opposite sex. And there's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't mean that they actually want to be raped in real life.
Fiction, be it in non-con fanfics, rape fantasy novels, tentacle sex hentai, or suddenly mainstream movies are a safe way to engage with that fantasy. No one is hurt in the production of a novel or cartoon. The actress in the movie wasn't force into the role, and the audience can close the book, turn off the video, or walk out of the theater if the story takes them to a place they don't want to go to after all. They have control in a way victims of abuse don't.
Can you discuss why that turns them on? Of course, though they have the right not to engage. But shaming them for their fantasies is a whole other thing, though. Let's not do that.