Earlier in the semester, Alex Korba, a writer for the American University literary magazine, asked if she could interview me regarding my 50 Shades trilogy class. Alex's article is available in the latest issue of AmWord Magazine and reprinted with permission below. (Fellow bloggers might find the last paragraph to be especially relevant!) Hope you enjoy the piece as much as I did!
Fifty Shades Risque? American University's Newest Class
By Alex Korba
Professor and sex educator Stef Woods came up with the idea for the course based on her interest in the double standards regarding female sexuality.
When asked why she picked Fifty Shades as the subject for the course, Woods responded passionately.
“My background is as an attorney, so I started thinking about copyright issues with books on the computer and fan fiction,” she said. “I am also a sex educator; I do a lot of health advocacy and health education. I read it and I immediately thought, this is an abusive relationship.”
It is not uncommon for college courses to use polarizing books as a lens to study cultural facets. For example, Twilight and The Wire have both been utilized in classes as case studies to examine issues that transcend the books themselves. In the case of Fifty Shades, the very real topics of abuse and mental instability are at play. Just behind the glossy love story these issues beg for attention and they deserve to receive more of it.
Though she believes fervently in the goals of the class, Woods has no delusions as to the literary merit of the book.
“You’re not reading them as you would read a Shakespearean sonnet,” Woods said with a laugh. “You don’t have to analyze every word, or even every chapter.” As an exercise in literary criticism, the class has to edit the first chapter of the book. Woods believes this to be good practice for future careers where employers will need documents proofread promptly.
When asked her opinion on whether the Fifty Shades books give American girls an unrealistically rosy image of BD/SM relationships, Woods replied that she believes this current generation knows better.
“My entire class agrees that there are glaring control issues. The author wrote it as her fantasy and it was targeted at women of that same demographic,” she said. “Their idea of a perfect man on paper is one who takes control of everything when at the end of the day they’re just looking for a man to take out the garbage.”
Because of the controversial subject of the class, opposition is inevitable. Since its publication, the series has been dubbed “mommy-porn” and received scathing reviews by many reporters. This didn’t stop hordes of women from flocking to the bookstores and firing up their Kindles. If anything, the taboo reputation served to increase the book’s popularity. Like these women, Woods is not fazed by the book’s repute.
“It’s not a book club,” Woods asserted, “There are 60 other resources. My syllabus is 11 pages single-spaced. I stand by my work product; I stand by this course idea. If you think it’s an easy A, that’s not my class.”
When asked whether she would consider teaching the class again next semester, Woods shrugged and responded, “It’s a short shelf-life class.” She continued on to say that she is very interested in teaching a course with the topic of blogging as a social force. In a world where technology is ever changing, Woods is a professor unafraid to adapt to the changes, even if it means embracing a subject that she could potentially catch flack for.
“Opposition? Ok, that’s fine,” she said dismissively. “For every compliment there’ll be a hundred criticisms, especially in an anonymous online world.”