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Mediocre Mom Manual: ‘Fess Up! Fifty Shades of Denial

Okay people. It’s time to come clean. No use pretending you’re above reading the controversial Fifty Shades trilogy. You know you’ve got those books on your Kindle. The truly brave ones own them in paperback (but you’ll never catch them reading in public).

Admitting that you’ve read the “Forbidden Trilogy” is now akin to admitting you’ve battled lice in your home; people whisper it and only to others who’ve also quietly divulged their own underground secret. Being the brazen, mediocre mom and wife that I am, I publicly admit that I’ve read the books. All three in two weeks. Really, they’re that addicting. For those that are worried about people knowing you’ve read them, let me put your mind at ease. Reading the Fifty Shades trilogy doesn’t make you a perverse, debase, sexaholic anymore than reading Silence of the Lambs makes you a sociopathic killer, or Gone With the Wind makes you a determined and mouthy Southern Belle, or trying to decipher Finnegan’s Wake makes you a Mensa member. They are books containing ideas that you don’t necessarily have to embrace or even understand, quite frankly. Yet people are worried about their mother’s knowing they read them (or worse, knowing your own mother read them), whispering in hushed tones about the content, and feeling guilty that they liked them. What gives?

As popular as these books are, I don’t think there is one person who’d argue that they’re well written tomes with poetic prose. These books certainly aren’t going to be added to the literary canon anytime soon, unless of course the books are held responsible for our society’s subsequent baby boom nine months from now. And though I read all three books and enjoyed certain aspects of them, if I ever see the words mercurial, megalomaniac, or sardonically again, (not to mention the many and varied uses of words beginning with “F”), I’m going to have to gouge my eyes out with a battery operated toy of some sort. These books have been pegged “mommy porn” by media outlets, been spoofed by Saturday Night Live and Ellen, and the jury is hung (pardon the pun) when it comes to determining if they are pornography or merely smutty fiction. Which I suppose is the larger debate instilling fear into the hearts of readers everywhere.

A member from my book club picked Fifty Shades of Grey for last month’s read. Opinions at book club were mixed. Some felt the books were pornography. Some disagreed because there aren’t visuals, only the images the reader creates in her mind. (We’re all women, but I’m sure plenty of men have read these too.) The one thing we all wanted to know: Why are these books so popular? Sure, maybe people envision their private life to be a bit more exciting and risqué than it actually is and living vicariously through Ana and Christian is cathartic. For some perhaps, they needed a few new ideas and inspiration after having grown weary of their own playroom paraphernalia. For me personally, the sex scenes got a little old. Kind of like when I went to Europe and visited magnificent castles and churches; I was so awed and enamored I wanted to savor every moment. The gilded columns, Oooh! The al fresco paintings, Ahhh! The opulent tapestries and ornately carved furniture, Oh My! But there’s only so much decadence a person can take and before long, I found myself saying, “It’s another bloody castle, let’s find a pub.” I felt that way about the sex scenes half way through book two. Enough already. There’s a red room and a big dresser with many drawers filled with lots of things. I get it. Skip, skip, skip. The best part of the books for me were the notions of “hard limits’ and “soft limits” which I plan to employ in my everyday speech and decision making skills. Cleaning the toilet and ironing my husband’s work shirts, for example, are hard limits for me, while mowing the lawn and making dinner are soft limits. Still not agreeable, but will perform if necessary.

I’m sure I’m going to be attacked for suggesting this, but I felt like the books were more a statement about women and what we want versus what we think we want, more than the salacious nature of the extracurricular activities. And for simplicity I’m going to use the word WE as a sweeping generalization for women everywhere—knowing full well that all women do not fit into any one specific category, BUT disclaimer notwithstanding—we want what we want. Women want the good guys but are attracted to the bad boys. We want someone to come sweep us off our feet, take care of us, cradle, coddle, and watch us sleep, but then feel smothered, controlled, and stalked. We want independence and have the ability (the RIGHT!) to make our own decisions, and yet crave for someone else to decide where to eat dinner and then pay for the check (at least occasionally). We want romance and hearts and flowers, and we want someone to take control and kiss us forcefully against a wall, to grip our face, hold our chin as he moves from our lips to our neck (Seriously, how many movies have this very scene in them?). We want vanilla and yet crave chocolate, strawberry, and butter pecan and secretly dream about the banana split covered in hot fudge. More than anything, we want to believe in the notion that love conquers all; overcomes all manner of dysfunction, can save a person from the heinous horrors of his or her past. We want to believe that if we love someone hard enough, long enough, give enough, concede enough, that those choices and that unconditional love without strings will save a drowning man’s very soul, will make him be the person we know he could be. Whether we want to do the saving or want to be saved ourselves, we want to believe that love can do this. We want to believe that true love is always redemptive.

And surely it can be. When you are Christian and Anastasia and you have no monetary concerns or constraints, you don’t have to really work for a living, you have no children, you’re both under 30, and have 24 hours a day to devote solely to sating each other’s incessant desire for, er, physical touch. Oh, and both parties are extremely hot, have personal trainers, cooks, and assistants. In situations such as these, perfect, redemptive love is totally doable.

So now’s the time to rip up that NDA and share. Why did you read these books? If you haven’t, why not? Do you consider them pornography or simply smutty fiction? What do you think is the big appeal? The sex scenes or the messages of redemption and romance? And tell us: do you own the books in paperback or on Kindle? Be bold! Tell us what you think!!

More from GEM:

Ask Rene: I Lied To My Son About Making the Team… Now What?

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Rachel Vidoni: Little Changes.. Immerse 

Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer, blogger, social media specialist, and author. She’s also a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at or purchase her latest book, Little Changes. You might not be a better parent after reading her stuff, but you will feel like one. Follow her on Twitter @RachelVidoni.


  1. Janet

    June 5, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I read them! They’re terribly written but I read all three. I would say they’re just smutty fiction. They reminded me of when my friends went through a gothic romance phase in high school – same kind of idea. A viking kidnaps a princess and then they fall in love after a lot of activity with her “petals of femininity” or whatever term they’d use.

    I think these sorts of stories are always popular because they’re absolute escapism. In real life, dealing with a guy like any of these men would be exhausting and well, terrible! But in fiction, it’s a nice little escape to being “swept off your feet” like you said.

    I think the 50 shades books came along at a perfect time and technology has a lot to do with it. Ipads and e-readers are flying off the shelves. I’m sure a ton of women got them as Christmas gifts and when they found the free downloads of the original version (which was just Twilight fan-fic) it was the perfect blend of a story they’d all read a few years ago, with some adult changes and it was FREE. Plus, no one could see what they were reading so it cut out any embarassment. I think that’s how it snowballed into this cultural phenomenom.

  2. Stacy

    June 5, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I will admit that I read the first book. I am NOT a fan of romance novels of any sort but I was curious about this one after numerous overheard conversations about it from coworkers. I refused to buy it so I instead took advantage of the free hour of reading any book at Barnes & Nobel on my Nook. At one point while indulging in this book, I did look next to me and notice a young woman reading a bible. Boy was that awkward!
    It was a terribly written book but I see why several women would be drawn to this book. It gives one a way to leave the pressures of our lives and live a little exciting fantasy. Lately it seems like there have been so many popular “fad” books being marketed to teens (I will admit that I did give in and read “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight”), this is one targeting a slightly older generation.

  3. Rachel

    June 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Janet, thanks for weighing in! Hopefully your the first brave soul of many! And I LOVE “petal of femininity!” I think I almost prefer that description to E.L. James’ down there reference. 🙂

  4. Abby

    June 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I was “turned on” (haha) to the books by a teacher-friend. The last month of school was spent discussing the books in detail in the teacher workroom during our “lunch bunch,” which consists of three women and two men. Only one of us had read the first book at that point, and the rest of us were intrigued. Yes, the men too (one is young and single). Hmm… Probably not the best topic of discussion at an elementary school.

    I am painfully halfway through the first book and don’t think I’ll be able to read the rest of them. If I hear about Ana’s inner goddess jumping up and down clapping her hands one more time I think I will vomit. It’s not the sex, toys, erotica, punishments, etc. that are getting to me. The writing is terrible, Ana is WAY too innocent-but-willing-to-learn, and Christian is a freak. And not because of the sex. He’s a controlling asshole that throws gifts and cash around like it will persuade Ana to see things his way. Because I’m of such opposite mind, I’m having a really hard time getting past this.

    I don’t think the books are pornography (what I’ve read so far, at least), and I certainly don’t want to live vicariously through Ana and Christian. Even back in my 20s, I’d have passed on a relationship like that in a heartbeat for a real, normal man who could sweep me off my feet.

    I haven’t gotten to the messages of romance and redemption in the books yet, but I’m certain the draw is the sex. That’s all my married friends are talking about. My married non-reading friend read all three in about a week. Maybe that’s the key: It’s my married friends that are falling all over the books while me, the older single friend, is bored to tears with them. (And that certainly doesn’t speak to my personal sex life! I wish!)

    I do not own the book(s). Instead a group of us is passing around various paperback versions (ew).

    Thanks for coming out of the closet, Rachel. Though some of your FB posts HAVE given you away! 😉 My soft limits include cleaning the floors and scooping poop while my hard limit is simply ironing for someone else. Hopefully my inner goddess will attract a man who either does his own ironing or isn’t afraid to send his clothes to a dry cleaner.

  5. Rachel

    June 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Abby, I agree, halfway through book one, I was just about to throw in the ropes. (Ha!) I was so sick of the way he was always mad at her and punishing her for everything. I did feel like you during book one, but I’ll tell you what my friends told me, KEEP READING. No, they don’t get any more lyrical or well written, but you will start to understand Christian more. As a librarian you should read the rest purely for research!
    Oh, and passing the same book around? Gross. You can buy them at Costco now for ten bucks. I’ll send you ten bucks for book two if you want. 🙂 Thanks so much for leaving a comment!!

  6. Rachel

    June 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Stacy, yes, I could see how reading this book next to a woman reading the bible would be awkward. Unless she was reading about Sodom and Gomorrah. In that instance it would have been a little less so. 🙂

  7. Becka

    June 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I liked the 2nd and 3rd books better, because it told the whole story. But I read the whole series 3 times now. I just lent out the 1st book…it took a lot for me to do that lol. But I have it on my Nook!

  8. Shanika

    June 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I haven’t read the books not because I have something against them but I usually stick to mysteries but thinking about reading it

  9. Ella

    June 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Rachel, I only barely knew of these books. I guess too much work for me. But reading your account of them I can tell you why I probably won’t be reading them. My dirty little secret is that I read WAY TOO MANY Harlequin romances when I was a kid. I spent summers reading them probably two a day. And trust me. I don’t need to read another love scene for um…let’s say “the sake of reading” again.

    I didn’t even know this was supposed to be a dirty little secret. The only people who mentioned the books to me seemed to do so without any shame, but then again. They ARE *MY* friends!

  10. dianthe

    June 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    my friends seem to be divided 50/50 – half of them are “OMG it’s the best book ever” or “your husband will be glad you read it *winkwink*” and the other half are in the “worst written crap i’ve ever read” camp – i read a few pages over the shoulder of a woman on the plane and i was less than impressed

    i think most of the women that read it are in it for the sex – oh sure, it could be the escapism and the draw of Christian Grey, but would they be as interested without the graphic sex scenes? doubtful.

    either way – i’m out – as one of my girlfriends put it, if you’re just in it for the sex, tere’s plenty of well written erotica on the internet for free!

  11. Dawn

    June 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Good points well made, Mrs. Vidoni!
    After reading these a good friend of mine offered me a recent read of her’s, ” Rules of Civility”..smirk.
    P.S. remind me to return it to you….. 😀

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