What's Black And White And Read All Over?

12/09/2012 14:53 BST | Updated 10/11/2012 10:12 GMT

I knew it was going to happen: months ago.

Back at school, asking my classes about what they'd read during the holidays, I just knew that some teenage boy with a glint in his eye would nudge his friend for courage and then say, 'Miss: I read Fifty Shades of Grey.' Have you read it, Miss? Have you?'


Fifty Shades of Grey has been the publishing sensation of the year. It's been nicknamed 'mummy porn', which is seemingly the acceptable face of what used to be termed 'soft porn', which middle-aged women might enjoy, as opposed to being some sort of necrophiliac convention involving ancient Egyptian sarcophagi. I'm actually shivering with horror as I type this. This is all just... unpleasant. It's darker than grey and, when I think about it, it makes me a bit angry...

It makes me angry because there are so many books worth reading, and this (or these, for there are three of these godforsaken books flying off shelves and into handbags and onto bedside tables and perched on the sides of bathtubs everywhere... oh the horror...) is just not one (or three) of them. I'm going to own up. I read a bit of it. Not even a quarter of book one. Engaging with the amount of it I did, I just felt ill, and that was before all the stuff that I overheard two middle-aged sales assistants in a department store saying had "made them have hot flushes" got going.

I'm hard to shock: when it comes to explicit description, I'm more likely either to laugh, or to try to figure out some kind of logistical assessment of credibility. But what did shock me about what I read of Fifty Shades was just how badly written it was. The two central characters, Ana and Christian, do an awful lot of gazing at one another. He does a bit of frowning and a bit of chuckling. She experiences an increased heart rate and a weakening at the knees. Fifty Shades is basically Twilight with added S&M. This is not just romance, this is S&M romance, to paraphrase an advertising campaign familiar to yummy mummies everywhere.

I gave up on reading Fifty Shades at the point where Christian showed Ana his 'red room of pain', the room alleged to drive the mummies wild. There are whips. There are chains. There are shackles. There are throwbacks to an age of subjugation and the thing that makes me angry beyond reason is that over 10 million women have been too blind to see this. Women have felt 'liberated' and 'excited' by reading this stuff, saying that pornography has been the preserve of men for many years, and now it's their turn. Otherwise sensible, often intelligent women have commented that the book has been the stuff of fantasies and daydreams. This horrifies me. If a yummy mummy found her husband accessing pornographic material, she'd be outraged. He might find himself cast out of the perfect household, his Jaeger suits flung unceremoniously across the stripe-rolled lawn, the yummy mummy wrapping her Boden drapey cardigan around her shoulders ...

But being serious. Women are saying they feel liberated as sexual beings who have an identity beyond being wives and mummies. And yet what are they actually reading? Three offensively badly written novels which offer titillation in the form of a physical subjugation of the central female character by a serial sado-masochistic anti-hero.

Even when Christian seems to be being considerate towards Ana, persuading her to eat, or advising her to dry her hair after a shower lest she catch a cold, he is merely controlling her behaviour further, making sure that she is still physically able to fulfil his fantasy. It doesn't take to be Sigmund Freud to decode the symbolism of Grey's skyscraper residence, his piloting, his driving, while the 'red room of pain' clearly references just exactly the very opposite of what these silly, deluded yummy mummies are feeling so very liberated about.

He ties her up and whips her, and you feel liberated reading about it? What - seriously? It baffles me, the whole thing - but it makes me angry as well, because just how on earth has this writer and her agents and her publisher made so much money by peddling these primitive, atavistic atrocities which put women so firmly in their place - and tie them there with belts, buckles and handcuffs. It scares me that a marketing campaign really can fool so many of the people, so much of the time: that so many women think this stuff is liberation personified.

So in response to any teenage boys with glinting eyes who ask me if I've read Fifty Shades of Grey? I'd prefer to paint a wall and watch it dry.