Fifty Shades of Grey and "Mommy Porn"

Curator's Note

Among the many different conversations that have sprung up around the 50 Shades phenomenon, the “mommy porn” angle is, for me, the most interesting in terms of what it reveals about our continuing cultural hang-ups about sex and (white, middle-class) motherhood. The phrase itself, “mommy porn” is almost oxymoronic. Mommy is maybe the most desexualized term for a mother, perhaps because of its association with younger children, whereas “porn” (though itself a word that has lost some its power since it has commonly been appended to less scandalous objects such as food and fashion) brings to mind the opposite of mommyhood: sex, desire, debauchery. Mommies are not sexual. They wipe noses and drive minivans. They don’t fantasize about "red rooms of pain" and self-indulgent things like orgasms and trips in helicopters, because to be a “good” mother in the U.S is still to be completely self-denying.

The SNL clip included here, along with this fanvid, both make reference to the escape from the everyday life of motherhood the 50 Shades trilogy seemingly provides some of its readers. The humor in the SNL video trades on the idea that all mommy really wants for Mother's Day is some time alone free from the daily demands of mothering and not a new washing machine, especially when the old one appears to be doing such a good job. In the “Christian Penetrates the Suburbs” vid, “Suburban Ana” finds "Suburban Christian" attractive because he picks up the ice cream cake and runs other simple errands. What’s sexy then isn't so much the sex the novel depicts, but the escape from the mundane the novel can provide. Yet this need for escape is what we find humorous as the SNL clip demonstrates. Perhaps this is why the term “mommy porn” grates so much. It is used to dismiss not only the novels, which we could dismiss for other more valid reasons such as the poor writing and paper thin characters, but calling it "mommy porn" also dimisses the very notion that mommies might find pleasure in or for themselves. The term expresses our incredulity at the very idea of a woman’s desire for pleasure that exists beyond the joys of motherhood.





Also, the fact that the term uses "mommy", a kind of diminutive, belittling term, is probably significant. There's "mothers" and there's "mommies." Mothers are to be championed and lionized and rewarded with their own Day (full of, obviously, feminine pampering - flowers, bubble baths, etc.). Mommies are for little kids.

Ultimately, I agree. Dismissing 50 Shades, etc. as "mommy porn" is largely an attempt to dismiss its readership as being just as fluffy and ridiculous as the books themselves.

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