‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – a young woman shares her thoughts

This article was originally submitted as a comment on What does ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ teach young women? I felt the Caitlin Mary’s words deserved a solo performance. I am publishing this as Caitlin wrote it, from the heart.

Montage by Caitlin Mary

Montage by Caitlin Mary

I have SO much to say on this topic so I apologise in advance for the essay I’m about to write (and potential spelling and grammar slip ups). To give some of my background I’m an avid reader of both young adult fiction and fanfiction. I’ve also studied a little bit of psychology and at one point was heavily interested in a career in sex ed. I’ve very interested in sexuality, gender and other such sex topics. SO suffice to say, I have just a few opinions on this 🙂

OK, so. The book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was actually a work of fanfiction before being picked up by a publisher due to its popularity. Fanfiction, for those who aren’t sure, is fictional works of writing inspired by fiction in the real world (books, tv, film, manga, anime, songs, cartoon etc…). Often taking place in the same timeline with the same characters OR with original characters in a similar universe… The combinations are endless. The complex genres, sub genres and styles of fanfiction writing would constitute an entire article of it’s own to explain and before I get into talking about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ specifically I would like to point out that the world of fanfiction has some of the best and most well written stories and characters I’ve ever read (and also the worst). It’s often portrayed as silly girls writing themselves into relationships with One Direction or Edward from Twilight (we’ll get to that) but to say this is all fanfiction is would be a gross, sweeping generalisation. I personally read a lot of alternate universe stories with my favourite characters in different timelines or universes entirely and I also read a lot of stories that are written in between series of shows or books (for example the 80-100 year gap between the cartoon Avatar, The Last Airbender and the follow up, The Legend of Korra that was released seven years later.) Sometimes fanfiction can be a way for fans to consolidate the loss of a show/book ending or it can be used to develop characters, relationships and plot arcs in a way the original source didn’t or couldn’t (this is where the phenomenon of “shipping” really exploded #Zutara).

With all that said, the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was initially a twilight fanfiction, Anastasia Steele being “Bella Swan” and Christian Grey was “Edward Cullen”. I have read the twilight saga, seen the films and while I have not read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I did read it while it was a fanfiction on fanfiction.net before being picked up. We can always argue that a fanfiction is only as good as it’s source material (Twilight being not that well written or developed) BUT the young people that love Twilight love ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for similar reasons.

There is a particular style of writing used in fanfiction called “reader insert”. This is where the main character will be an original character or a washed out version of the original main character (the strongest voice in the story). The idea is that the voice of the narrative is to be as dull as possible with very little personality, personal interests and individual character development. This is so that the readers themselves can project their own personalities onto this character and insert themselves in the story. Often times it will be a young author wishing to be a part of their favourite universe, so they will write themselves into the story in a plot line that they would like to experience (like documenting fantasy).

Reader insert writing isn’t inherently bad nor does it necessarily prove lack of skill, it can be done really well. This piece however, is not the case. You can argue that the original source material Twilight itself was very much like reader insert style writing, given that author had little to no experience writing (in general or about vampire mythology) and started writing it because of a dream she had (we could speculate her initial dreams were due to her subconsciously wanting those kinds of relationships personally hence the reader insert style result).

One of the main reasons a lot of young people loved Twilight was because those young girls could see themselves as Bella (the main voice). It’s not that hard when Bella has the personality of a board and who wouldn’t want to feel like a special snowflake and the most intriguing person in a room due to nothing but their dazzling existence. A lot of people that eat up this style often don’t read a lot of “literature” and may not have the best creativity or imagination in regards to reading because of it. These young people are a large portion of the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ audience.

The other HUGE factor is the BDSM. BDSM is really not talked about in the mainstream, so it’s become quite a tantalizing taboo subject in fanfiction with most of the audience still at a time where they are discovering their sexuality and experimenting. If this fanfiction was initially just a regular “Bella and Edward smut-fic” (there are literally thousandssss) then it would not have made waves at all. The fact that it did, was because of the BDSM. BDSM in fanfiction is exciting and exotic (or erotic if you’re sexual knowledge is limited or you’re virgin) for most people who aren’t familiar with that world. In fanfiction though, it’s almost always extremely unrepresentative of “real” BDSM. In this case, the problems came down to:

A)  The author doesn’t seem to know anything about REAL BDSM and her portrayal of it has caused many problems for BDSM communities all around the world.
B)  She has contributed to many of the misconceptions and myths of BDSM due to her lack of knowledge (intimate or academic).
C)  The romantic relationship could be described as abusive due to this initial ignorance; and
D)  The romantic relationship is a direct representation of the romantic relationship and undertones in Twilight itself, a book series that has often been criticised for romanticising a domestic abusive relationship and situations, teaching young girls to value the love and attention of a man over their own literal existence and person-hood.

So when it comes down to it, the real issues with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ aren’t directly related to the sex (although that can be saved for another discussion) but with how intimately similar it’s source material and how problematic and damaging THAT is for young people. In reality, we can break down the different types of young people that are going to love Twilight into these groups; readers that do fall for the reader insert trope, readers that don’t read a lot of other literature and don’t/can’t see the problem AND the people that understand all of those things but just don’t care. These same groups of people are going to like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for the same reasons.

PLUS I can’t forget to include my honorary mentions to all those who read it (and fell in love with it) because it is often described as a BDSM style Mills and Boons story and to all those young people who read it to give off the appearance of being the “cool girl” who is into sex and all things alternative but are in actual fact very vanilla.

I’d like to finish this commentary with “you do you boo” and there is nothing wrong with being apart of any of these groups of people that I have discussed above 🙂

21 comments on “‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – a young woman shares her thoughts

  1. […] you would like a highly intelligent post on FSOG you must visit Team Oyeniyi   They are rather […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sharing a link of this at the end of my post. Fantastic insightful piece from a bit of a superstar I think. I hope all the young people don’t become influenced by the twilight saga and decide to become vampires…. Oh No….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! 🙂 I would personally love to be a vampire (if we’re talking young adult fiction vampires than the house of night series is where it’s at). Think of all the things I could pretend to be doing during all those productive hours I won’t need to waste sleeping lol

      Thank you for commenting and sharing 😀


  3. What a fantastic piece Catlin. No wonder Robyn gave you your own space!
    I find all aspects of fandom fascinating and I understand that fanfics are a large part of fandom. The most intriguing thing about the the whole thing, I think, is that EL James, A.K.A ‘Snowqueens’s Icedragon’, was born in 1963…She’s my age!
    You seem like a good writer too Caitlin. Hope to see something published by you one day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. WOW, what a different take to other reviews this. My daughter is very much into her fan fiction and now you have explained to me why.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Caitlin – a really well thought out and cogent opine. I agree with your comments about fan fiction. Some of it is amazing and then some is just plain awful. What’s interesting about FSoG is that it got picked up at all and to me it says as much about the publishing industry as it does about the readers. I remember the book “The Story of O” a novel by Anne Desclos first published in the 1950s and the furore when the movie came out in around 1975. It’s subject is in the same area as FSoG but the difference is the depth of research done or knowledge of the subject by the author, the maturity with which the subject was treated and the quality of the writing. Hence the movie was treated in a similar way. It’s a shame that those quality standards seemed to have evaporated. Being old and grey, I’ve never engaged with the Twilight series, and once again, with fond memories of quality vampire literature and movies in the vault I didn’t care to pollute the bank with poorly crafted titillation just for the sake of it, but if it is written as poorly as FSoG then I hope young people use it as a springboard to real and genuine authorship.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment 🙂

      You’re right, the fact that it was picked up by publishers at all says so much about the integrity and quality of publishing. Maybe if BDSM wasn’t so taboo the “shock-awe” factor of the book wouldn’t have overshadowed any of the genuine literacy value it may or may not have had/has.

      I know personally from friends who are quite prolific fanfic writers that the fact this story was even picked up is inspiration that maybe one day their writing will be considered “valid” too, that they’re books might be considered “valid literature” one day too.

      A band popular from/on youtube just won a grammy. Times are changing :3

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Caitlin, you’ve introduced me to a whole new genre of writing. I had no idea. Putting Fifty Shades of Grey in context I kind of get the huge interest, thank you. As a young person (me) I read lots and lots of Mills & Boon so quite understand the interest.

    So perhaps I was a bit hasty in my judgement. However, concerned this has reached a much broader audience so issues raised are valid?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeah, I think youth reading books exploring sexuality is perfectly normal and healthy because it’s mirroring their own psyche and development (as well as most young people being obsessed with love and most literature and music being about love).

      The only reason I really emphasized the fanfiction origin was because it’s not fair to demonize an entire community (BDSM) due to the unhealthy and damaging relationship ideals in the books and film. If they directly reflect the relationship ideals in Twilight, the original source material, than which pieces of literature are really worse for young women (and men) to be reading? Which one more damaging on a social level and personal level?

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think the issues around self-worth and healthy relationships are very valid!


  7. Showing my age, had to look up BDSM! I had got the gist of it but wanted to be sure. Thanks Caitlin for a really informative piece. I haven’t bothered to read Shades… As there are too many good books out there to read & so little time! LOL! 👏👏😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s honestly not terrible to read if you keep in mind the fact that it was twilight fanfiction and that it doesn’t represent BDSM accurately, though it was TRYING to. Plenty of other good literature about BDSM, love stories and power struggle are out there. This just happens to be what’s popular at the moment because it’s “new”, “fresh” and “kinky”.

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. For starters, I never knew 50 shades was based on Twilight & I know it sounds snobby, but that actually explains a hell of a lot… No wonder it is so lame and aimed at the wannabe crowd. Thanks Cait, glad you did put this together, think it will give a broader idea to a lot of us.


    • well to be fair, twilight isn’t necessarily bad…it’s just also not really all that good either. I’ve read some fanfictions that are “re-tellings” of twilight that are so so soooo much better than the actual book series lol

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Brilliant! I had no idea how these things worked,Caitlin Mary, tat alone was fascinating to discover.

    And I love your attitude. Just love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you 🙂 yeah I felt as much as I despise the inaccurate portrayal of BDSM and the perpetrated myths, I’m not exactly an authority on the subject or apart of the community. Fanfiction however? I am well and truly apart of that community. Probably too much so >.> lol

      Liked by 1 person

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