Is the Fifty Shades Movie a Sly Domestic Violence PSA?

50 shades

Back in 2012, when the furor surrounding EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey was in full effect, I wrote a series of snarky mini-reviews on the book which focused primarily on how bad the writing was, and how silly much of the non-existent plot was. But for the most part I didn’t seem concern myself too much with the deeper themes of the book because mocking inner goddesses and ellipses took up an awful lot of my time.

Now, three years later, with the movie finally in theaters, it seems like media outlets are tripping over themselves to cover every minute detail about both the production and the final product: Do the stars have chemistry? Do they secretly hate each other? What caused all of author EL James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s on-set fights? And, finally, is it any good?

MarkReads and the Case for Domestic Abuse

But while said outlets are dying to tell you whether or not Jamie Dornan’s accent was up to snuff (it wasn’t) or whether Dakota Johnson’s performance transcended the text (it did), many are shying away from what’s become a growing and troubling question surrounding the movie and the series it’s based on: Beyond the BDSM, beyond the helicopter rides and the dungeon of endless orgasms, is this just a story about domestic violence dressed up as kinky romance?

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Sali Hughes’ Pretty Honest is the Feminist Beauty Manifesto Every Woman Needs


I remember getting my first beauty book when I was about 12. It was a huge and very 90’s manual of how-tos which, while somewhat outdated today, did teach me some important basics of color matching, hair care, skin care and makeup application.

The book didn’t dwell on larger questions about cosmetics or their implications — why do we need them, and why in particular are women singled out? — instead, it assumed you had bought it for functional advice. So rather than a history lesson, it served up a no-nonsense guide with huge glossy photos showing you each step of the process. Whether it was how to do a blow-out, line your lips, shave your legs or achieve a day look for your skin tone and hair color, my first introduction into the world of makeup explained everything in helpful detail. I loved it, even as it got covered in smears and stains from ill-fated attempts at liquid liner or mousse application.

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Goodreads Poll Finds that Readers Stick to Their Own Gender


Goodreads recently polled 40,000 British citizens on their reading habits and among the many trends that popped up, the one making the rounds today is all about sex. Namely, the surprising gender divide between male and female readers and the writers they prefer.

The survey found that men and women stick closely to their own camps with 90% of the 50 most-read books by men coming from male authors, and an identical 90% of the 50 most-read books by women coming from female authors. Female readers were also slightly more critical in their ratings of books penned by the opposite sex — giving them an average 3.8/5, compared to the 4/5 for works by female writers.

What this brief glimpse at the study doesn’t determine is whether female authors who use male pseudonyms, or initials in place of gender-revealing first names, might be more likely to gain an unwitting male audience. It’s also a little surprising that the enormous success of John Green in the past year doesn’t account for more books by men on women’s lists. Is the scant 10% of books those written by authors who are actively trying to appeal to the opposite sex, with men reading Hunger Games and women reading The Fault in Our Stars?

In one sense, it seems logical that people prefer to read books or stories that are aimed at their own experiences and come from a perspective that they can relate to. On the other hand, it is disappointing that more people aren’t trying to branch out and identify with more foreign points of view.

But what’s really disheartening is that we still tend to view books written by women as less substantial and less “important,” which — given Goodreads’ findings — may just say more about who’s in charge at the top newspapers and publishing houses than anything else.

Does the Goodreads poll reflect your own reading habits? Are you trying to branch out and try new things, or do you prefer to stick to particular genres and authors?

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Zoella’s Book Deal Is Not the End of the World


Many a snarky editorial has been written over the past few months following news that Penguin was publishing a novel by Youtube beauty guru Zoella (Zoe Sugg), Girl Online. The snark increased significantly when the book made it to #3 on the Amazon bestseller list based on pre-order sales alone.

“What about our student loans?” cried thousands of frustrated English majors.

While Penguin Children’s editorial director Amy McCulloch praises Sugg for her “incredible voice for teens” that she developed on her YouTube channel where she tackled “real issues like anxiety and cyber-bullying” which McCulloch believes enabled Sugg to “deliver a poignant, romantic and heart-warming debut novel,” some have cast doubt as to whether this isn’t yet another ghostwritten work with a famous name slapped on top to promote sales.

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Update on The Man-Booker Challenge 2014 and Some Delightful Links

To Rise Again

The shameful truth is that I’ve been a bit lazy so far with the Man-Booker challenge. I’m about 75% of the way through Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (which isn’t great after a week and a half). Without spoiling the review I plan to give later, I can at least say that it’s not the book’s fault that it’s taking me this long. It reads at a pretty fast clip, but I just got Dragon Age: Inquisition which is a beautiful time suck.

In any event, I should have the review up by the end of the week and then we can start on the next book on the short list.

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No, The Fall is Not Just Classy Misogyny

The Fall

Last Sunday, Observer columnist Rachel Cooke took The Fall to task over her belief that the show was little more than the fetishization of violence against women. She noted the camera tends to linger for too long on Gillian Anderson’s body in scenes where the show’s central figure (a hard-nosed female detective in a very male-dominated sphere) is just, say, having a shower or catching a work nap. And that the lead villain, played by Jamie Dornan, is a little too handsome, charming and good with children — leaving the show’s audience confused. How can they hate him, even when he’s brutally strangling women? Her argument is that critics overlook the show’s sexist overtones because it has great writing, acting and cinematography — but that ultimately the show is a celebration of the exploitation, rape and murder of women.

Allow me to disagree.

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Fear Not: The British Luther is Also Coming Back


Well, color me confused.

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Fox is producing an American version of the gloomy, violent British crime drama Luther for Fox, BBC One has just come out with the news that the original version of the show is returning in 2015 as well.

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Review: Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl

Caitlin Moran


I’m sure that it would be nobler or higher-brow to do a review of How to Build a Girl while ignoring its sometimes controversial, quasi-celebrity author. A good book (some might argue) should exist in a vacuum and be evaluated on that level. The trouble with that noble goal is that if you’re at all familiar with Caitlin Moran and her massive bestseller, How to Be a Woman, you’ll know that Girl is often little more than a fictionalized account of many of the previous book’s anecdotes from Moran’s teen years. Moran gives herself a new name (Johanna Morrigan), and a gay older brother who acts as her sounding board and oracle for most of the book, but for the most part you’ll be treading through familiar territory.

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You Should Be Watching: Peaky Blinders


At this point in the television game, it seems like a safe bet to argue that binge-watching really is the best method for enjoying non-procedural shows. For a couple of reasons.

The “what will happen next” tension from episode to episode often leads to false predictions and an overabundance of expectation that most shows just aren’t prepared to deliver on. But more than that, a good show is often as absorbing as a good book. And just as it would be hard to read 5 or 6 books at a time and invest emotionally in each one while remembering the intricate relationships and plot points, TV — particularly when it comes to shows with dense seasons and only a handful of episodes — is becoming an equally hard thing to juggle.

That’s why I highly recommend devoting your next weekend to both seasons of the BBC’s 1920’s crime drama, Peaky Blinders.

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Book Challenge: 2014


All excited to re-start the New York Times project, I logged online yesterday to see what the front runner was for this week. There, at the top, was a book called Blood Magick by Nora Roberts, and I steeled myself. Then I found out that it’s the third book in Roberts’ Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy and I just decided I liked myself too much to go through that. Would it mean having to read the first two? Could I even dive right into the third — especially of a trilogy? And a Nora Roberts trilogy at that?

No, friends. Not today.

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