Meet the writer who gave ‘Fifty Shades of Grey' a feminist facelift

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Meet the writer who gave ‘Fifty Shades of Grey' a feminist facelift
Interviewer: Kit Steinkellner at Hello Giggles
Interviewee: Laurie Penney
Date(s): February 20, 2015
Medium: online
Fandom(s):
External Links: page one; page two
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Meet the writer who gave ‘Fifty Shades of Grey' a feminist facelift is a 2015 interview with Laurie Penny about her Fifty Shades of Grey satire "Fifty Shades of Socialist Feminism."

Some Excerpts

Hello Giggles: What inspired you to do a feminist reinvention of Fifty Shades and a “socialist” one at that?

Laurie Penny: The short story is that I was snowed in, bored out of my mind, had run out of snacks, and was chatting to my friend Meredith online. We were annoyed at the endless gushing Fifty Shades think-pieces and started coming up with lines a hardcore feminist journalist might use if she were to get involved with a capitalist monster like Christian Grey to make each other chuckle.

The longer story I’ve been a feminist all my life, and a socialist since I was old enough to read the relevant books, and as a kid I was obsessed with geeky fan-fiction — I’m still an enormous nerd. I’ve been a working journalist and feminist author since I was 20, but right now, I’m on a year out, studying at Harvard University. Part of the terms of my fellowship mean that I’m not allowed to do what I’d normally do, which is write angry articles, so I had to get all my feelings out in fan-fic, just like I did when I was 14. I tried to imagine what would happen if someone like me, a feminist investigative journalist, were to actually meet someone like Christian Grey. I named my main character ‘Emma Gold’ after the anarchist feminist philosopher Emma Goldman, who is one of my personal heroes. But I never expected it to go quite so viral!

HG: How do you feel about the original Fifty Shades? Do you love it, or hate it, or love to hate it, or something else entirely?

LP: Straight up, I’m a fan of pornography, and have a lot of friends who make ‘alternative’ porn or are involved in the BDSM community. What bothers me about porn is that so much of it, including Fifty Shades, is so boring, and so sexist. Go on to any mainstream porn site and you’ll see women being slapped around, hurt and degraded in the name of eroticism. There’s nothing new transgressive or subversive about suggesting that women submit physically and financially to very powerful men, and there’s nothing new in the fantasy that women can use their sexuality to get what they’re supposed to want out of those men, which is money and marriage. Personally, I don’t find that interesting or sexy.

To my mind, actually transgressive, actually interesting pornography is out there, it’s all about exploring different possibilities, different forms of sexuality — and it’s deeply political. If you look at the history of pornography, it has always been used for satire, to critique mainstream political culture. Before the French revolution, radicals wrote sleazy satires about members of the court at Versailles, including Marie Antoinette. The intention was to portray the royals as decadent and depraved — all underground, very racy and totally illegal.

As pornography, Fifty Shades is passable, though the ratio of actual sex-scenes to endless steamy descriptions of Christian Grey’s immense wealth, the number of cars he has, the quality of his suits, could do with a tweak. The fantasy isn’t just about the hot guy — it’s about the money. I read the original books because I think porn is important — what we fantasize about, especially in such huge numbers, affects the way we behave. I’m not interested in policing people’s private fantasies. I’m definitely not interested in telling women what they should and should not find sexy — part of what people find shocking about Fifty Shades is the idea that women and girls might be consuming pornography for their own enjoyment at all. At the same time, the way the theme of female submission to wealthy, abusive partners has been taken up and celebrated as romantic by the mainstream press is deeply worrying — and there’s no question that Christian Grey, just like Edward Cullen from the Twilight books that the series is based on, is a straight-up abuser. If you were Anastasia Steele’s best friend, you’d be advising her to stay the hell away from him. The ideal of romance as extreme codependency, as something you’re supposed to sacrifice your entire personality and identity for, that’s something that really deserves to be challenged, particularly for women. I talk about that in my book.HG: Were Hollywood to make a Fifty Shades of Socialist Feminism movie, what would that casting look like?


References