Episode #3: Girl Fantasies & 50 Shades of Grey


Episode #3.  We discuss the movie and book of 50 Shades of Grey as well as the concept of girl fantasies.

Subscribe in iTunes here; listen via Stitcher here. 

Show Notes for Episode #3

-Christa mentioned reading The Story of O as a young person
– Re: talking about sex with your kids – Carrie’s blog post on the first sex talk she had with her own daughter
– Christa mentioned the gang-bang at the end of Stephen King’s It 
– Christa mentioned BDSM (Bondage/Domination/Sado-Masochism) guidelines/values: Safe, Sane, & Consensual
– on the origins of 50 Shades of Grey as Twilight fanfiction
– Carrie, on the “broken boy” or “damaged man” concept
– Christa, on the topic of healing a “damaged man,” also mentioned Crazy Heart, a movie featuring Jeff Bridges & Maggie Gyllenhaal

On 50 Shades of Grey

Some Recommended Analysis
Sex, Lies and Fifty Shades of Grey” by Leslie Bennetts
The Trouble with Prince Charming or He Who Trespassed Against Us” by Roxane Gay
“There Is a Line Between Dominance & Abuse — and ‘50 Shades of Grey‘ is Blurring It” by Leslie Morgan Steiner
These Are Strictly For Amusement
“141 Thoughts I Had While Watching 50 Shades of Grey” by Jarett Wieselman
Our live-tweets of the movie, Storified here by YA author Molly Backes

Book Recommendations
Young Adult
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

BDSM erotic romances
The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
Breaking Leila by Lucy V. Morgan
The Special Delivery series by Heidi Cullinan
Bared to You by Sylvia Day
Having Her by Jackie Ashenden
The Dark Garden by Eden Bradley
Nine & Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair  by Elizabeth McNeill (our generation’s version of 50 Shades of Grey, featuring a dominant man and a submissive woman, in both book and movie form); related: “Who Was the Real Woman Behind ‘Nine & A Half Weeks’?” by Sarah Weinman


We’re here for you, baby. Tell us what you’re thinking: feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com

– Special thank you to Andrew Karre for helping us this week on the production aspects of the podcast. We appreciate your behind-the-scenes tech support so much!

3 thoughts on “Episode #3: Girl Fantasies & 50 Shades of Grey

  1. Heather Anastasiu says:

    Gah, I feel like I need to write an essay with all my thoughts about this podcast!! First of all, I want to marry you for your thoughts about the parental responses to 50 shades and etc. While I hear ya on not wanting to give to much advice to other parents, I’m still the kind of parent who really appreciates your plain talking without going to like a ton of parenting books like you’re talking about. For me especially, who came from Crazy Bible Belt land, who’s only sex ed was True Love Waits and the only adults who ever talked about sex was like the crazy pastor guy weeping at one of those rallies talking about how he fell into sin masturbating over porn and how guys just needed to ‘stay strong against sin.’ Or then there was the couple at the front of the church who were also crying because they had to confess their sin that they’d been having sex (she was pregnant) but were now repenting and how we had to stay far FAR from the slippery slope of sexual temptation (hence my first kiss ever of my life on my wedding day). So yeah. Just trying not to fuck up my own kid and trying not to make him have guilt about sex and keep it in a positive light, but like, then, how do we deal with access to the internet as responsible parents? GAH. But I like the idea of answering only the questions he asks, as far as that goes in the mean time.

    Then getting into your thoughts about the movie itself, so much good stuff there. I agree about the mixed consent messages and Christian just being a bad Dom and Ana never really getting the whole picture about what BDSM is about (I’ve read some other beautiful BDSM lit that tackle this, especially Natural Law by Joey W. Hill, and 50 Shades misses the message complexly). Female fantasy – this is a tough one. So true – the fantasy that a woman can fix a man’s emotional and psychological issues is a favorite romance novel trope – and dangerous if applied to the real world. But I guess this gets into the issue of what we expect our fiction to do. Are we hoping that it ought to serve a moral or prescriptive purpose in not leading women astray by perpetuating a false myth that might be damaging to them in their real lives? It could be argued there’s the same problem with the happily ever after. I don’t mean to take this too far, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about as regards romance fiction and female fantasy. And just the idea that we sometimes unintentionally shame women for the fantasies they have and the books they like. In no way do I mean to shut down these kinds of extremely valid discussions like the ones you’ve had here—every point you made I was nodding my head along with. I just wonder, discussions of this novel are almost always polarizing. Here all three of you have taken a negative point of view on the novels and movie. But if we’re talking female fantasy, I was wondering if there could be some acknowledgement that both Twilight and 50 Shades DID fill something for women and sparked something for them, a powerful something. Maybe neither was the best written or best performed of its genre. But both sparked movements.

    Few women who read 50 Shades stopped with 50 Shades. I’m part of a Facebook group of voracious readers, many of whom started with 50 shades and then went on many other BDSM reads where the BDSM aspects were done more true to the lifestyle, with Doms much better than Christian. Even within 50 Shades, I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure that in the second novel when Christian and Ana start coming to terms with each other again, Christian is so confused about their last scene together because he’d assumed she would have said ‘red’ if she was so uncomfortable and he continued thinking everything was awesome because she didn’t, whereas she let it happened becoming more and more traumatized because she’s thinking he’s a monster. But like you guys have said, he was a bad Dom and Ana not really into the lifestyle and none of that was clearly delineated between the two because unlike better portrayed Dom and Sub relationships, they weren’t communicating well and he wasn’t picking up on shit.

    But apart from all of that, 50 Shades came along when Kindles and other ereaders were becoming popular and the books were jokingly made fun of as ‘mommy porn,’ i.e., there was a way for women to access and read erotica without as much stigma attached because they could download it on their ereaders, and for A LOT of women, it helped them get more in touch with their sexuality (or so the women on my FB group say). In this way, 50 Shades can be seen as a sex positive event. Women were reading about sex, talking with their friends who had read the books, forming FB groups, reading more and more books. Every once in awhile in my FB reading group the women will share personal stories about how things in the books have spiced up their love lives with significant others. Others will post how they are in loveless marriages they can’t get out of and how the books are their escapes–both kinds of posts gets tons (hundreds) of ‘me too!’ comments.

    Other interesting things happened after 50 Shades. Romance books became more graphic sexually because they were often self-published. They became more violent too – there’s a whole crop of ‘dark romances’ that are extremely popular, after the trend of bdsm it went into non-con and kidnap stories. Gritty motorcycle clubs, mob stuff, drug lords, these self-pubs are popping up on USA Today bestseller lists (and then promptly getting snapped up by publishers, who at first refused them because of their dark content). This is not your mother’s regency romance anymore. Most people point back to 50 Shades as launching the starting shot.

    I suppose I’m fascinated by female fantasy when it comes to romance novels, by trends, by taboo, these submission and non-con stories are not what liberated feminist women of this enlightened age ‘ought’ to want, but what they are snapping up (I sometimes theorize it’s because submission is taboo in a feminist era).

    Maybe some women read things in romance novels and then expect the men in their real lives to act the same ways, I don’t know. Or maybe we’re able to separate that reading fantasy from the real world very well. I suppose in our own writing, we can try to do the very difficult and write ‘responsibly.’ I guess this just gets into what we believe the ‘function’ of our writing is, something else I’ve thought long and hard about. What are we trying to DO with our writing—to affect people’s behaviors? To change their minds? To stop and think longer about a particular topic? In the end, personally, I’ve decided the only ‘function’ I desire for my own writing is to affect emotion in my reader—to make them cry, particularly, if I can manage it 😉


  2. Christa Desir says:


    What a great and juicy starting comment and I have so much to say about this! First, in terms of female fantasy and taboo topics and getting book clubs/women to start talking more about sex, I am super duper pleased that 50 Shades ended up breaking into the mainstream. Do I wish it were a better book that actually had a better representation of BDSM in it? Yes. But I similarly wish my entire high school career wasn’t filled with English classes of books written by dead white dudes. You get what you get and you’re right, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to at least opening the door on sex talk.
    That being said, my fear when it comes to things inaccurate that become so mainstream is that a) we now have mainstream thinking this is what BDSM looks like and b) we continue to perpetuate myths of abuse that are not healthy for our culture. Believe me, I am pretty well-versed in non-con/rape/abduction fantasy romance and I do understand the purpose it could serve. I actually wrote a whole post about it for the Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project wherein I acknowledge what reframing a non-con fantasy does for me as a rape survivor (i.e. if I’m “in charge” of the fantasy, isn’t that being able to take this horrible thing that happened to me and make it a story where I get the choice to engage in this?). And I think that I would be more okay with the fantasy trope of “a broken man just needs the right woman to fix him” as a reader, if it didn’t absolutely dominate the genre. You are on point to say that writers don’t have a moral responsibility in creating fantasies, they write books and putting that kind of weight on anyone’s shoulders is not a great thing. However, we as “consumers of culture” are also allowed to (and frankly should) hold up the problems with these things so that we at least aren’t blindly accepting the mythology. I guess it’s the discussion afterwards that I find so juicy. The movie itself fell flat for me, but the discussion was so lively. And it gave me such an opportunity to do a check-in on where I stood with my own feelings about BDSM, consent, romantic tropes, etc.
    I guess that, in the end, is why Carrie and I decided to see the movie in the first place (in addition to Carrie wanting to see that dude having THE SEX on screen). We wanted the opportunity to look at our own feelings on things, have a good convo about what parts made us uncomfortable, and what parts we liked (we both liked the drunk dial!). And for that, I’m super grateful for 50SoG.


  3. Heather Anastasiu says:

    Hey Christa, yeah, I hear you we and do agree with this line – that ‘we as “consumers of culture” are also allowed to (and frankly should) hold up the problems with these things so that we at least aren’t blindly accepting the mythology’ and the fact that you love the discussions this kind of movie brings about. That’s what I get excited about too. I love talking about this stuff. I guess I just feel for all the women who DO enjoy these books – and Twilight – when all intellectual discussions (even by women) are dogging on the books. Yes the movie did well at the box office, but then I wonder if there’s not this subtle shaming of women for liking the things they do – because every intelligent outlet says BAD, STUPID, ABUSIVE, then they are put in the position of feeling shamed for this sexually liberating story they may have enjoyed. Whereas guys don’t have to feel that way about their less than stellar sexual fantasies that are put on movie screens – with all these media attention making fun of their ‘daddy porn’.

    I don’t say this to shut down all the valid discussions and say women shouldn’t have the discussions you guys are having? NOT AT ALL. I just… I don’t know. Women get so much disdain and mockery for their fantasies. Even if perhaps the problems in Twilight and 50 Shades made themselves easier targets, I don’t know, I’m just like, women enjoyed them in a big way, I want to celebrate that too!


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