This is an essay by K. E. Argonza.
One of the chief complaints against 50 Shades, Twilight and other such tween trilogies was not on its style or rather surface plot. It was in its ability to influence our young girls into becoming docile, anti-feminist creatures that love abusive, temperamental men which will only, eventually, lead them to a life of disappointment, heartbreak and lead society back down a path of putting women back into the kitchen. Misinformation is harmful in itself when let loose to an audience that does not know any better. Some say that the world would be better if these books were not available.
I am of a different opinion, but before I make my assertion, allow me to insist on a few parameters: That we are talking about a population that has some basic education (High School) and ready access to a democratized Internet (or one that is not government regulated). I’d also like to make it clear that I am not defending its literary merit. Personally, I think that point is indefensible.
I am of the opinion that if women are so stupid as to fall for a few badly written books, then we women (or girls) obviously lack the critical thinking skills to handle responsibility of equality. Saying that women must be protected from such negative influences is an infantilizing statement.
If these teen trilogies have sent women back in the feminist movement, then men have been thrown back as well. So, men, you had better be prepared to take care of women for the rest of their existence and protect them from that big cruel world. I say that with complete sarcasm, though, as I am not of the cynical mind to think that one badly written book can send us back in time to a world pre-Sister Suffragetes.
There are women who will suddenly want a stalking, cannibalistic vampire for a boyfriend. There are weak and easily malleable women out there. I’m sure there are some women who now romanticize the early stages of an incredibly abusive relationship because they were influenced by these books in their formative years. Yet, anyone with an inquisitive mind and access to a smart-phone would be able to debunk that and figure out that in the world we live in, no good comes from that situation. Were 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight not works of complete fiction, they would have ended more like a Lifetime movie, instead of a supernatural fairy tale.
Yet, the same could be said of most works of fiction. In the real world, it would never have ended that way! We understand that about fiction. It is not true, so we must take it with a grain of salt.
When Elif Shafak was taken to court for something her fictional character said, she wanted to cry out that it was all a work of fiction! The voice of a fictional character is not the voice of an author, and even if it is, it should not be held as perpetuating some kind of truth. The story is made up! The people in it are completely falsified. It’s just a story. Therefore, it must be harmless.
We, as humans, feel a great need to protect. We want to perpetuate the values that we strive for and wish to impose it on the world around us. That includes protecting the women susceptible to the harmful rhetoric such as the aforementioned Trilogies. It takes considerable concentration to not try to shape the world to what we view as correct. It takes incredible humility to not assume that others do not have the faculties to effectively do that for themselves.
It is funny how the men and women who declare these books as “bad”, morally repugnant and rail against it being sold are rarely the sort of people who would ever say they were susceptible to the book’s influence. These people are better. They are the critical-thinking, educated elites that would not fall for such things.
We think that people are weak and somehow in need of our protection. In that, we fail to see the inherent inequality and snobbery of our own thoughts.
We are the protector. We protect others. We must save others from themselves.
We must protect women from the subversive themes of these trilogies.
We take the expectation and onus of critical thought from the reader and place the blame elsewhere. More often than not, we put it on the author. We put it on society. We put it on religion. We do everything but put it on the person who made the conscious choice to crack the book open.
One contrarian bit of misinformation will not topple the progress of an entire generation of women. If it does then my generation of women deserves to be toppled. Part of advocating for women’s equality is that women must be equal. If they are equal, then they are expected to be a strong, informed, critical-thinking population because that is what we expect of our men and routinely mock if they are not.
After all, it’s just a book. The rest is up to us.
By all means, criticize it. Point out the misinformation in the books. Critique the plot, the writing, and the characters. Opine on its literary merit! But do not make the misguided assumption that any book or author is at fault for the reader’s choices. This book will be no more responsible for a young woman in an abusive relationship than Marilyn Manson was for every child that shot up his school. The fault lies in the individual, not in a work of fiction. It never has. It never will be.
These books are not the end of society. It is not even the end of feminism. In a place where people can critically think, it is the end of nothing.
Let us not give in to our paternalism, but instead, expect greater of our thoughtful reader.
K. E. Argonza has lived in four countries, was once fluent in three languages and has an annoying inability to stay in one place. This addle-minded millennial beat writer is an Afghanistan veteran, blogger at ShoesNeverWorn.com and can be followed on twitter @KEArgonza.