The Fifty Shades phenomenon has baffled many people since the book first starting selling like a wildfire in 2011. Many men especially, are confused by it. Why do women seem to like this story so much? In the era of # me too, and the fight over greater equality on a social scale, why is it that women fantasize about a vapid rich jerk, who emotionally manipulates them and sadistically dominates them in the bedroom?
I believe the biggest factor in all of this, is the one that is most often overlooked - women's sexual repression in our current society. For so long, men have had more freedom to be open about their sexual interests, to be regarded with praise for their sexual endeavors, and to gloat about their borderline addiction to Internet porn use. Women on the other hand, have always been expected to remain proper, polite, and squeaky clean, or face societal backlash and be labeled.
I think this all came to a head with Fifty Shades. It was the first mainstreamed, cultural push of a product that was aimed explicitly at women, and was also overtly sexual in nature. It created something of a bandwagon effect. Many, many women latched onto the books not because it was the most riveting tale they're ever heard of, but as a way of saying "Yeah, I'm interested in sexual stuff. Don't judge me, all of these other women are too".
It wouldn't have mattered what the story was about exactly, or how it was written. All that mattered was that it was a sexy book that all women were "allowed to be" intrigued by. It just so happens that the story was a poor blend of the Beauty and The Beast trope, mixed with porn-inspired ideas of what S&M relationships were like. Nobody was particularly thrilled with it, but more so the idea of going to see a smutty film with their girlfriends so that hopefully their man would start to raise an eyebrow.
You'll notice that most women, even those who've read the books and watched the movies will admit that the writing is bad, the story is stupid, the characters are dreadful... but they're still supporting the material, purchasing movie tickets and buying books. Not because it's good stuff, but because that's what they feel like they should be doing to send across the message that they just like any man, can be interested in trashy, sexual things as well.
It's not as though most women actually even endorse the series. Just because they supported it, doesn't mean it's actually their own fantasy. It's more-so an exploration into openly having their own sexual fantasies. However, I think a lot of this has gotten lost in translation. Many men are taking it to mean that women more than ever don't know what they actually want. Thinking that they may say they want to be treated with dignity, but really they want to be treated like trash. I don't think that's accurate.
I think a lot of women simply jumped on this Fifty Shades bandwagon to be part of the collective message that says "women are into sex too, and you men just don't understand us". I just wish that it could have been a better piece of literature for a jumping off place. I actually think Fifty Shades has done more damage than it has helped, in any regard.
In closing, I think the Fifty Shades was an unfortunate novel, that came around at a particularly troubled period in history, only further confusing women's sexually repressed state in society. Sending mixed messages and poor representations of what women want in terms of sex, the ethics of S&M play, and what a glamorous or ideal relationship looks like. It's all a big mess, and I think people often misunderstand what it all means. That's my opinion, anyway.