50 Shades of Nonsense

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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May 20, 2014

Oh, where to begin with this nonsense?

It’s a bunch of petty clickbait, that’s what it is. Shame on New Republic for publishing such a poorly done article about romance.  Shame on William Giraldi for writing it–he should really know better. Or does he? Looks to me like this kind of hatchet job might just be the only kind of criticism he knows how to do.

There’s so much wrong with the article that enumerating its sins would take entirely too much time.

So instead I’m going to ask that everyone go read this article about nuns and art over at The Toast. Because it’s awesome but it’s also pertinent.

Those nuns. Just couldn’t make good art because they’re women and you know how women are:

She didn’t write it.
She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have.
She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.
She wrote it, but “she” isn’t really an artist and “it” isn’t really serious, of the right genre–i.e., really art.
She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.
She wrote it, but it’s only interesting/included in the canon for one, limited reason.
She wrote it, but there are very few of her.

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

Giraldi’s article is an absolute textbook example of the ways women’s writing is suppressed. The thing that struck me the most about the article, apart from the thoroughly insulting language used throughout it, was Giraldi’s flat refusal to use the name under with E.L. James publishes. In fact, he states that James is a “sacral” name (real interesting use of that word there, was sacred not fancy enough for you, big guy?) and refuses to use it and instead uses James’s legal name through out the article–right after he calls her a “charlatan amorist”.

Of all the crap in the article, this is the one that I find most upsetting. E.L. James publishes books under a pen name. When talking about that work, one should use the name under which it is published, even if her legal name is something else.  I don’t care that her legal name is public knowledge–it’s not the name she uses for her fiction.  Lots of public figures use stage or pen names because, you know, that’s the name they use for their work.  He’s doing this to put James in her place, to wrest a small bit of control over her public self away from her.

It’s appalling.  And I’m saying that as someone who doesn’t even like Fifty Shades of Grey!

Like or dislike the work all you like. Criticize the text–tear it to tiny little pieces with your rapier-like intellect. But leave your personal feelings about the author and their readership out of it. Otherwise, your article may end up telling us a whole lot more about who you are than about the text you think you’re criticizing.  As is the case here.

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  1. --E

    He’s just jealous no one finds his self-aggrandizing posing hot like they find Christian Grey, so he’s got to go all Bad Dom. Someone needs to explain the concepts of consent and a safeword to him.

  2. Jessica

    People who refuse to use someone’s name as given give me the icks. Even when it was some journalist going off on Mitt Romney, of all people, going by his middle name. Just, let people tell you what their names are, and then call them by that name. It’s seriously the least you can do.

  3. Merrian

    Out of all the awfulness that is the article and it’s author I was really disturbed by his use of EL James’ IRL name. It is so clearly an attack – an attempt to control through public shaming. It is also ugly-fascinating that writing about sex and female sexuality is in his mind worthy of shame. Such sad misogyny and classism on display. At least every comment on the post (at the time I read it) takes him to task. I usually have to nerve myself to read comments so that was a pleasant relief.

  4. Tasha Turner

    I’m getting really tired of romance novels being put down. I’m not a fan of 50 SOG myself but it does seem many critics pull it out to criticize – maybe they can’t find anything in their genre to praise?

    Frankly I suspect there is a good reason for “Romance novels are a billion-dollar-a-year industry and make up 46 percent of all mass-market paperbacks sold in America”. Might it have something to do with our sexist society and a need to escape into easy romance to get away from our complicated romantic lives? Yes much romance is sexist but at least for a short time romance and/or sex is ideal and there are happy endings that readers can count on.

    Maybe if our society changed and started treating women as true equals to men the romance book industry would see a drop in sale. Or maybe romance books would get more complex and not rely so much on formulas.

    Men’s adventure books are the equivalent of romance. The first few times I read adventure I was really puzzled until I figured that out. Once I did how they got published made so much sense.

    It’s sad how if it’s made for or by women it’s drek but if it’s for men it’s good or at least a step above. While reading geeky books/SFF is now mainstream/ok; romance is still looked down on. Yet romance is still outselling all other genres.

    Sexism is still alive and well in the US. In academics, in media, and unfortunately in our everyday lives. Articles like this just remind us how common it is. Got nothing interesting to say knock a woman or work for women down.

  5. sylviarachel

    I’m also not a fan of 50SOG (which has most of the stuff I don’t like about category romance & erotica with none of the stuff I do like) but that article really crossed some lines for me. The subtext couldn’t be clearer, IMO: how dare women write (or read) about the sex they’re having (or would like to be having, or like to imagine having) without prior male (literary critics’) approval?! And also — echoing many, many other reviews of genre books by critics who don’t read or even actively dislike said genre — I don’t like this kind of book and am DEEPLY OFFENDED that other people do! Seriously, how dare they?!


    And the use of James’s legal name is just mean, creepy gratuitous ad hominem. Yecch.

  6. HelenS

    AND he’s gotta throw in allllllll the fat-shaming, too. Because life is not complete without it, I guess.


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