Wednesday, August 1, 2012

talking 50 shades of grey with our kids

I got an email from a recent graduate of the college I used to teach this morning, asking me about my take on the "50 Shades of Grey" phenomenon, especially now that it's being stocked on end cap displays at Target and Walmart. Currently a Master's Candidate in Library and Information Science, she commented that "I see this as fully appropriate, but others see it as a huge risk to children getting their hands on erotic BDSM material. It's been banned in certain areas (but really, what book hasn't?). I don't have any kids and don't plan to any time soon, so haven't put any particularly serious thought into the specifics of teaching them about sexuality, but I enjoy your perspectives in your blog about sexuality. I'm interested in your perspective on 50 Shades of Grey and parenting, and the cultural reaction in general."

As I wrote in my response, I think the "50 Shades of Grey" phenomenon is interesting for how it's encouraging women to get "excited and invigorated with the idea that we can try something new, get creative and have fun here," as the owner of Smitten Kitten has said (quoted in my post about it here). That said, I do think it's a bit of a shame that there couldn't have been a better written book for this occasion. Now "everyone" is reading it (including my husband's grandmother!) because of it having become mainstream as a result of all the media attention. The hype about the book shows that women want porn; but they deserve better (I should use that as a pitch for my After Pornified book!).

There are some problematic messages about BDSM in the book that I address in this post (but as others have said, the book isn't intended to teach people about BDSM. That said, if this book is readers' first exposure to it, well, then there is in a sense a lot of responsibility on it now). I go more into the psychological underpinnings of BDSM in this post at Love, Sex, and Family. I would go by what I say there when teaching my child about BDSM were she to have questions about it, say if she were to come across 50 Shades of Grey (though it would be a while for that: she's only four!).

I think if children were to get their hands on 50 Shades of Grey what they would find is another version of "The Beauty and the Beast." It's the same kind of story of a woman taming a man, and finding her prince. In other words, rehashing very traditional gender patterns and romantic cliches. And those are the ones I want to free our next generation from. I'm not in favor of "protecting" my child from erotic and sexually explicit content. Kids are curious and will want to see and learn for themselves. But I would want to empower her with the tools to identify gender stereotypical content where she comes across it and interpret that critically.
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