I won't claim to understand much about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, though not because I have moral or personal objections to the subject matter. In fact, I'd posit that the key to world peace lies not in economic policy or cultural diplomacy so much as a few good (healthy, consensual) shags for all.
But, I do find offensive the idea of repackaged Twilight fan-fiction, sold as kink and featuring a female character who identifies as "submissive" based on rote gender stereotypes that are one-dimensional and contain little nuance. Not to mention that its author, E.L. James, is pulling down $1.34 million per-fucking-week, thanks to a protagonist whose most distinct personal identifier is the eloquent catch phrase, "Holy crap."
So, prompted by a friend's recent email regarding as much, I took to the intertubes where I quickly learned women have been commenting, blogging, raving about and re-discussing Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy, a trifecta of kink written under a pen-name and initially published between '83 and '85.
Rice is, of course, best known as the original vampire lady (team Lestat, y'all!) who spent her formative years in North Texas at Richardson High before marrying her high school sweetheart in Denton.
As it turns out, Rice's camp just relaunched the series with a new preface and what publicist Liz Keenan calls updated jackets that speak "more to the new generation of erotica readers." In other words, you can read them without the risk of being kicked off a Southwest flight.
Rice's trilogy was written and thrived -- underground -- during the notoriously conservative 1980s, and the relaunch seems shrewd in its timeliness. Rolling off of James' success, but in bolder tones, Rice's erotica -- originally published under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure -- hits a scene where women are reminded daily that frank and honest expressions of sexuality amount to moral turpitude of the basest degree. With regard to Fifty Shades of Grey, my friend - who is, in fact, a "mommy" - says that the "love story is sweet," but that she kept reading the "juicy" parts thinking, "been there, done that." If the relatively tame Fifty Shades of Grey series can be considered kink in this climate, the Roquelaure books are poised to foment revolution.
In Rice's new preface, penned last month, she writes, "This is shamelessly erotic. It pulls no punches at being what it is. It's excessive and it is erotica. Before these books, a lot of women read what were called 'women's romances' where they had to mark the few 'hot pages' in the book. I said ... you don't have to mark the hot pages because every page is hot."
Upon their original release, Rice's books met criticism at the hands of those who argued that an element of female submission necessarily reflects unhealthy, anti-progressive themes. But, Rice contends that the collection is not about sexual politics based on staid gender dynamics.
Lots of people enjoy imagining themselves passive, in the hands of a beautiful lover, male or female, who will force them to enjoy themselves. It's a common idea, and it cuts across gender and class. Men love these sorts of fantasies as much as women. And these books offer all kinds of gender combinations; women dominating men and women; men dominating men and women. The books offer ornate and seductive variations on the themes; and all of it is interwoven in stories with real characters...As a feminist, I'm very much supportive of equal rights for women in all walks of life. And that includes for me the right of every woman to write out her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys.
Rice admits that she has considered re-approaching erotica, possibly under a pseudonym again, but that she has no formal plans to do so and that she considers the Sleeping Beauty series complete. Re-released last Wednesday, Rice's trilogy has all the potential to take "mommy porn" to the next level for the next generation. Dare we hope that Rice's frank fairy tales empower and inform women on as wide and as culturally accepted a level as Fifty Shades?