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Ronalda Walsh: 50 Shades of Debate

Ronalda Walsh.JPG Maurice Fitzgerald Photography

Ronalda Walsh is a former journalist and currently a communications professional in N.L.

If you haven’t heard of the best selling trilogy “50 Shades” you must have missed the news and entertainment reports for the past six to 12 months. Forty million or more books have been sold. The book is written entirely from the female perspective. Too bad it is probably one of the worst written pieces of literary work you may ever lay your eyes on. Despite its poor composition, it does have a way of drawing the reader into the world of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey and has caused women to giggle, gasp, snort in disgust or run (or send their husbands or partners) to the nearest adult store to buy some of the sex toys written about in the book. No doubt, for those who enjoyed the book, many a partner will reap the benefits of this book in the bedroom. The online joke is that there will be a “50 Shades of Grey” baby boom in the coming months. I’m sure researchers are already lined up.

From my own personal experience, 50 Shades has polarized women to levels of intensity I’ve not witnessed before over a book. While on vacation in this summer, I casually asked people poolside why they read the book, canvassed colleagues and friends, and listened to the debate that came up during board meetings. Yes, I said board meetings. When I wrote a final exam this summer the exam invigilator was reading the book. I found it distracting though because I was more interested in gauging her facial reaction to the book than I was writing my test! Everywhere I went this book was there. And so was the debate.

In the UK, there were groups publicly burning the book in protest. Burning something in effigy is hardly a new approach to protest, but it emphasizes just how wide the spectrum of debate. At the other end, sex stores are having a hard time keeping the items in stock and the book is flying off the shelves in book stores. Those I’ve spoken to recognize the relationship has its “challenges” (likely an understatement). Others appreciate what they referred to as “the love story”, some were interested in the raunchy sex and then there are the groups that say it is a complete waste of time and isn’t worth the energy to read it.

I can’t reference the male perspective because I couldn’t find one guy who read the book or who would at least admit to reading it. The women I chatted with told me that the book has been a catalyst for people to feel more comfortable to talk about relationships - in and out of the bedroom, as well as sexual health, more openly. They also told me that it was a good conversation piece to get into discussing the intimacy in their relationships with their partners. For those who did not enjoy the book, some found it offensive, others felt it was so poorly written they couldn’t get past the first chapter. Then there were others who felt it encouraged acceptance of unhealthy relationships and would spark young women to think it was OK to be treated the way the main character, Anastasia, was treated.

What these people may not realize is that they’re talking about sexuality and what constitutes a healthy or non-healthy relationship. How often do we do that?

Having something in pop culture create a stir or cause a debate is nothing new. Why we’re so closed off about talking about sexuality and relationships in 2012 is somewhat disappointing. But do we really want to use this book and the relationship it portrays as the basis for this discussion? It’s true that this experience will open doors to more open discussions in the future, but what other books should we be talking about that would lead to a more realistic discussion. What do you think?