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Nowadays, various film production studios have been optioning books left and right. In film production, specifically in book to film adaptations, optioning is a process whereby a film production company drafts an agreement with the author of a book and his or her representatives and publishers for the rights of a film for a certain negotiated price (Honthaner, 513). In recent weeks, one of the most controversial book series has been optioned for a film adaptation by Universal Pictures(Keegan & Sperling). The process would have been a simple negotiation but people are talking about the book series and the attention it has been getting from readers because Fifty Shades of Grey by author E. L. James is an erotica. Erotica is a genre in literature in any form – prose, poetry, novel, novella, etc. – containing explicit sexual material (Harvey, 12). The book, however, does not contain simple sexual subjects because it is about a taboo topic in erotica – bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism (BDSM). Considering the content of the series, the research will focus on the reason why many people, especially women are drawn to it, so much so that it has become a bestselling series and was optioned for a film adaptation.
Perse (488) studied the use of erotic novels and the responses of readers toward it. In the study, Perse (488) specifically addressed the effects of erotica on the conceptions of women about conservatism and rape myths. Questionnaires were distributed to five hundred sixty-nine college students and the results of the study revealed that they read erotic novels as source of “sexual enhancement, diversion, sexual release, and substitution” (488). Perse also proved through the study that readers tend to accept the nature of rape myths when they are more exposed to sexual content like erotica. Scott and Cortez (165) also studied the specific responses of men and women to erotic films and novels. In the study, the two hundred twelve participant male and female undergraduate students were exposed to films and novels with explicit sexual content that are considered taboo. The results of the study revealed that majority of the population that felt sexual arousal as a response to the films and novels constitutes women. Moreover, the women likely responded to scenes in the films and novels where female characters portray suggestive roles (Scott & Cortez, 165). Osborn and Pollack (250) also conducted a study in order to determine the effects of erotic literature to physiological and verbal manifestations of sexual arousal among women. In the study twelve women were asked to read two different erotic novels – one was realistic erotica while the other was classified as hard-core pornographic literature. The result of the study, which was evaluated through self-tests and vaginal photoplethysmograph revealed that all of the participants was more aroused while reading hard-core pornography.
Based on the psychological studies conducted about the responses of men and women towards erotic literature, it is palpable that women respond more significantly to erotica than men, and women respond more to erotic literature with more explicit themes. On a sociological level, studies on lifestyle reveal that the interest of women towards erotic novels contribute to the frequency of their sexual activity (Carroll, 44). Overall, the research studies that have been reviewed during the research prove that despite preconceived notions about women and their interest in erotica, research suggests that women respond to sex, especially more explicit scenes, in novels. Furthermore, the results could be used to explain why many people – majority of them are women – are drawn to and psychologically and sexually influences by the series (Flood), “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James despite the controversial themes that include sexual violence in bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.
Erotica, BDSM, and the series, “Fifty Shades” by E. L. James have been one of the more controversial topics in both the literary world and the film industry. Since becoming a bestseller in the New York Times and selling thousands of copies worldwide, the series has garnered attention from everyone. For this reason, the series was optioned by Universal Films and may possible released as a movie despite its contents. If the series is about a different theme, like the popular ones that were previously released like books under the paranormal or dystopian genres, the kind of attention it would have received will be different. However, the sexual themes in the book, especially the one about bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism, have raised the alarm. Moreover, people are now talking about why readers, especially women, are drawn to the series. People want to understand and the research studies that were reviewed provide a factual picture that proves how women enjoy these kinds of novels, which is unexpected considering the common notions about women and their perceptions of sex, and that women get sexually aroused by explicit themes and scenes in books.
The attention the series has been receiving and the debates and discussions about it may just be a good thing in influencing social change, especially when it comes to the views and perceptions about women. Some people argue that books like “Fifty Shades” are an instrument for sexual reawakening and consciousness among women. The growing interest of women towards erotica like “Fifty Shades” as well as their willingness to talk about it in public may be signs that show women are now becoming more comfortable about their sexuality. Before the hype surrounding the “Fifty Shades” series and the revelations that many women are addicted to the series, women have admittedly read other erotic novels but never talked about it in the open for fear of judgment. In an article written by Matyszczyk, the availability of books in digital formats allowed women to hide what they were reading at the time. Martyzczyk also said that “modern gadgetry has liberated women from the need to reveal themselves.” However, the success of “Fifty Shades” thrust women in the limelight and now people are seeing and understanding that like men, they are similarly interested in topics, discussions, and stories about sex, even the dark and explicit ones.
Although many people would agree about the contributions of E. L. James’ bestselling series to women empowerment, some are saying that the themes in the novel may teach the opposite of sexuality and empowerment. In the story, the female protagonist meets a man who is a dominant – in BDSM culture, a dominant is a person who enjoys power play in the bedroom, acting as the dominant while engaging a submissive in explicit sexual acts. The male dominant in the story is controlling and manipulative in treating the female protagonist and instead of leaving the man, the woman stays in the relationship. Many people are worried about the implications of the story because since many women have read and are planning to read the series, they may adopt the trait of becoming submissive in a relationship and dependent on men. Thus, the series is not empowering, but on the contrary, a representation of female oppression and slavery because of the character of the main protagonist and how the man, as a dominant, treats the female protagonist.
Overall, debates about the series border on two extreme sides. On one side, women are supporting the series and found a way through which they can communicate their interest in the issue. Some women have also voiced how the series has helped them become comfortable with their own sexuality. On the other hand, other people are saying that the novel represents female oppression. Either way, the issue, specifically how erotic literature affects women and feminism, needs close attention. Since the subject and the series is fairly new, research studies are yet to be conducted in order to further study the opposing viewpoints about the series and erotic literature in general.
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