By now, I’m sure that most of you have heard of the New York Times bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey and I am equally sure that a few of you are also sorry that you have. Fifty Shades of Grey started as bad Twilight fanfic and has since become part of the zeitgeist. I am certain that banning at some libraries has added an illicit nature to this tale of a vapid college student, who cannot seem to stay sober for more than five minutes and her emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend. Before people were mindlessly reading this horrible waste of trees, they were reading The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, written by Anne Rice, under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure.
Now that public attention has been turned to faux BDSM erotica, Penguin intends to re-release Anne Rice’s erotica series. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty was originally released in 1983 and was followed by Beauty's Release in 1984 and Beauty's Punishment in 1985. As you may have guessed from the titles, the books involve a retelling of The Sleeping Beauty fairytale and let me tell you, Beauty gets punished.
Speaking about why these novels are important Rice had the following to say:
As a feminist, I’m very much supportive of equal rights for women in all walks of life. And that includes for me the right of every woman to write out her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys. Men have always enjoyed all kinds of pornography. How can it be wrong for women to have the same right? We’re sexual beings! And fantasy is where we can do the things we can’t do in ordinary life. A woman has a right to imagine herself carried away by a handsome prince, and to choose for herself as she writes, the color of his hair and eyes, and imagine his silky voice. She has a right to make him as tall as she wants and as strong as he wants. Why not? Men have always allowed themselves such fantasies.
When Rice’s books were published, there certainly was not a lot of erotica for women in publication. The syrupy romance that drones on about meeting that special someone, who will sweep you away to live happily ever after, has long been a part of women’s literature. Living in a patriarchal sexist world, it is hardly surprising that these books seem to embody the myth that all one needs is a good man to be happy. No one asks what happens when prince charming doesn’t have the first clue about the importance of your clitoris. In bolder novels, we may get a sex scene or two, but it is often filled with euphemisms for body parts. To this day, I still wonder why it is that E.L James, author of 50 Shades of Grey can have her protagonist whine about having another orgasm (cause that is the worst thing in the world to happen) but have her be unable to talk about her vagina. What exactly is a down there?
In the late 90’s, I was loaned a copy of The sleeping Beauty Trilogy by a co-worker, who thought I would be interested, because I am a huge fan of Rice’s Vampire Chronicles Series. I took them, expecting them to be the same sort of concept and when I sat down to read The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy in our break room, suddenly there were giggles and whispers about the fact that I was reading “the dirty book”. I instantly put the books away, too ashamed to read them in public. That didn’t mean that I didn’t revel in every single erotic word.
I had never read anything like and was instantly drawn in. Rice is correct, there is something about erotica written from a female lens and this is why it is so important for these books to be re-released. Today’s generation needs to see something aggressive, unashamed and in your face – everything quite frankly that 50 Shades of Grey is not.
In many ways, I find it interesting that it is just now starting to be recognized that women want overtly sexual media of all forms. We don’t want to be protected from full male frontal nudity. We want erotic stories about sex. We want it dirty and naughty and most importantly, we don’t want to be slut shamed for our desires. These are things that have long been denied women, while being at the beck and call of men. Even in casual viewing, it is clear that the full frontal female nudity is readily on display, and often used for the purposes of titillation. A few episodes of Game of Thrones makes this patently obvious because it has adult themes but treats sexuality from the lens of a masturbating straight teenage boy.
Re-releasing The Sleeping Beauty series is extremely important and I can only hope that it is not connected to 50 Shades of Grey and is not categorized as Mommy Porn. Rice does not masquerade an abusive relationship as romantic or desirable. Women don’t need a dose of shame with their porn, they need excitement titillation and hopefully enough inspiration to try something new. 50 Shades has been cast as the hot new thing, but Anne Rice did it first, and she did it better. Do you plan on reading the Sleeping Beauty Chronicles?
Editors Note: Though I didn't mention it in the piece I would like to point out that much of the homo erotica in the books comes off as fetishistic to me.