This Real Issue with Mommy Porn

By Erin Hagen

For the last few weeks, editorials criticizing 50 Shades of Grey turned feature film have been popping up all over my newsfeed. Perhaps it’s because I have been reading them while thinking ahead to our Women’s History Annual Conference, Worn Out: Motherwork in the Age of Austerity, but I have finally pinpointed the reason I cannot get on board with the 50 Shades of Grey shamming: mommy porn. The term refers to this simplistic narrative: middle-aged women who compromised an unsatisfying sex life for marriage and motherhood use 50 Shades of Grey as way to explore what they’ve been missing. In other words, it’s a term that demonstrates how much we still find mothers’ sexuality to be comical.

"Son Leaves Hilarious Note For Mother Reading ’50 Shades Of Grey’," http://elitedaily.com/humor/son-leaves-hilarious-note-mother-reading-50-shades-grey/

“Son Leaves Hilarious Note For Mother Reading ’50 Shades Of Grey’,” http://elitedaily.com/humor/son-leaves-hilarious-note-mother-reading-50-shades-grey/

But before we get into the issue with mommy porn, here’s a brief background of the series: 50 Shades of Grey originated as fan-fiction of the young adult series, Twilight. It’s an interpretation of the relationship between the two main characters in a non-fantasy world, and written created for an older demographic.

Some critiques of the 50 Shades address the misconceptions of the BDSM community, and Dom/Submissive relationship perpetuated by the series. For example, in The Guardian essay written by Sophie Morgan, she critiques the portrayal of the BDSM as influencing all aspects of the main characters’ lives. She writes, “[D]espite what you might have read to the contrary, my sexual urges don’t overshadow every other aspect of my personality and life. I’m also, and this might be a tougher sell in some quarters, a feminist.”[1]

Additionally, there are a number of important criticisms of the emotional abusiveness of the main characters’ relationship, which is not part and parcel with the Dom/Submissive relationship. 50 Shades of Abuse: A Critical Review of the Abuse Relationship in the 50 Shades Trilogy is a blog entirely devoted to breaking down the interactions between the two characters, and presents many convincing analyses that exposes some of the sex scenes as rape scenes.[2]

Then there are not so thoughtful critiques. One of the worst perpetrators was a blog entry I discovered last summer. Written by blogger Matt Walsh, it is addressed “to the women of America.”[3] The blogger  judges women, complaining those who “give [him] a hearty ‘AMEN’ every time [he] write[s] a post condemning pornography, are the same ones gushing frantically about this film.” He goes on to say, “They don’t want their husbands watching porn, but they’ll not only watch and read porn themselves — they’ll advertise that fact to the entire world. As if the hypocrisy isn’t bad enough, they had to add in a touch of public emasculation.”[4] Walsh’s “appeals” to women are not uncommon in the 50 Shades conversation. He calls for women to simply realize they are smart, deserve better men than the fictional character of Christian Grey, and remember they are feminists.[5]

It is easy to write off Walsh’s appeals as sexist. He is, after all, making sexist statements about females who read the series. However, a greater issue is that it is not only the Walsh’s of the blogger-sphere making these appeals. As a woman who identifies as a feminist, I’ve seen numerous articles targeted at me to avoid poorly written pop-culture novels like the plague, and partake in degrading other women’s choices of leisure literature.

Although I sometimes have differing opinions from fellow feminists, I am sensitive of how I discuss those those differences. The biggest issue I have with the criticism of 50 Shades of Grey is that, whether or not it originated in feminist critique, it has come to shame women, particularly mothers. The Saturday Night Live skit in which mothers are found reading 50 Shades of Grey on Mothers’ Day is a perfect example of how mothers’ sexuality become has become the punchline.

Avital Norman Nathman, in her essay “Women Deserve Better than 50 Shades of Grey” poses a question that exposes the absurdity of mommy porn: “If this had been a book marketed toward men, would we be seeing the same sort of equal parts derision and patronizing reactions? Would the media dare coin the term ‘daddy porn?’”[6] Ironically, mommy porn isn’t even an accurate descriptor for the demographic reading the series. According to a Newsweek Magazine article, the majority of women reading the series are in their 20s and 30s.[7]

The problem with calling on feminists and feminism to disassemble the 50 Shades of Grey series is that it assumes a pretty narrow feminist agenda. What feminists like myself find much more concerning is that we’re being called on to do the work of patriarchy: to demean women who read 50 Shades of Grey.

[1] Sophie Morgan, “I like Submissive Sex but Fifty Shades is not about Fun: It’s about Abuse,” The Guardian (August 25, 2012), http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/aug/25/fifty-shades-submissive-sophie-morgan.

[2] 50 Shades of Abuse: A Critical Review of the Abuse Relationship in the 50 Shades Trilogy, http://50shadesofabuse.wordpress.com/.

[3] It’s also funny that this blogger also doesn’t seem to be concerned about the fallout of 50 Shades the global phenomenon. Mat Walsh, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” The Mat Walsh Blog, (July 25, 2014), http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/#3CAIF69OfFgm8gLY.99.

[4] Mat Walsh, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” The Mat Walsh Blog, (July 25, 2014), http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/#3CAIF69OfFgm8gLY.99.

[5] He goes on to say that he has never fully understood what makes a feminist, but “if 50 Shades of Grey makes the cut, then feminism is dead and buried.”Mat Walsh, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” The Mat Walsh Blog, (July 25, 2014), http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/#3CAIF69OfFgm8gLY.99.

[6] Avital Norman Nathman, “Women Deserve Better than 50 Shades of Grey,” HLN, (August 22, 2012), http://www.hlntv.com/article/2012/05/08/opinion-fifty-shades-grey-feminism-literature.

[7] Katie Roiphe, “Working Women’s Fantasies,” Newsweek Magazine (April 16, 2012), http://www.newsweek.com/working-womens-fantasies-63915.

PANEL: Education and Activism

Saturday March 2, 2013 10:00 AM

This panel will be moderated by Dr. Kathryn Hearst of Sarah Lawrence College. 

Feminist Pacifism and Gendered Nonviolence in the Age of New Media

Amy Schneidhorst

The Sixties anti-nuclear and anti-war group, Women Strike for Peace was known for its media savvy. Their creative direct action attracted broad media attention and created a space for moral and ethical critiques of realpolitik policy during the Cold War. This paper analyzes the legacy of WSP on the rhetoric and tactics of post-Cold War era, feminist-pacifist CODEPINK and maternal nonviolence proponent Kathy Kelly. This paper
finds, in an era where citizen journalists have a great latitude to craft their own brand, that Kelly and CODEPINK both perpetuate maternalism to justify female participation in international debates about war and militarism while at the same time they utilize post-modernist and feminist critiques of international relations in their criticism of U.S. economic sanctions and drone warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Amy Schneidhorst received her Ph.D. in History with a concentration in Gender and Women’s studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, England, has completed M. Ed. coursework at University of Illinois at Chicago, and holds a BA in Art History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her most recent publication, from which she draws material for this presentation, is Building a Just and Secure World: Popular Front Women’s Struggle for Peace and Justice in Chicago during the 1960s.

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For the Public Good: Connecting Women’s History and Public Education Advocacy 

Jessie B. Ramey

Public education is a public good. That’s the rallying cry of a new grassroots
movement in the United States opposed to a substantial wave of education “reformers” interested in privatizing public education. These reformers promote the fairly radical belief that public education – an institution widely regarded as a cornerstone of American democracy – has failed. Using the language of choice, competition, accountability, and data-driven decision-making, they argue that public education ought to be subjected to the business techniques of market capitalism. Ironically, those who promote these corporate-style reforms and privatization plans do so in the name of civil rights, equity, and racial justice. Yet privatization efforts of public education have actually harmed our poorest students. To understand how and why local communities are rejecting these corporate-style reforms, this presentation takes Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a case study, situating the struggle for public education in historical and political context.

Jessie B. Ramey, Ph.D., earned her MA in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College in 2002. She is a historian of working families and U.S. social policy and an ACLS New Faculty Fellow in Women’s Studies and history at the University of Pittsburgh. Her new book, Child Care in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages won the Lerner-Scott Prize in women’s history from the Organization of American Historians, the Herbert G. Gutman Prize from the Labor and Working-Class History Association, and the John Heinz Award from the National
Academy of Social Insurance.

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Who Needs Feminism? Feminist Pedagogy and Public Engagement in a Digital World

Rachel F. Seidman

As a final project in my class at Duke on Women and the Public Sphere: History,
Theory and Practice, the students created a poster campaign called Who Needs Feminism. In this campaign, individuals from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and gender identities held up signs completing the sentence “I need feminism because…” When the students posted these pictures online, they instantly “went viral.” Today Who Needs Feminism has received over 23,000 “likes” on Facebook, thousands of submissions of new posters from around the world, and the attention of media giants. The students
continue to organize and expand on the campaign, and to use it as a springboard for activism. Faculty on other campuses are using the campaign as the basis for lesson plans in their classrooms. I hope to use our experience to open up a dialogue on how these shifts affect the powerful connections between feminist pedagogy, civic activism, and what we might call public scholarship.

Rachel F. Seidman received her B.A. in History and Classics from Oberlin college, and her Ph.D. in U.S. History from Yale University. She is the Associate director of the Southern Oral History Program at the Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill. Her most recent publication is “After Todd Akin, Why Women – And Men – Still Need Feminism” for The Christian Science Monitor.