Fifty Shades (of gender differences)

What does the newly released movie "Fifty Shades of Grey" tell us about the basic nature of the genders? (Photo courtesy of Robert & Mihaela Vicol, released by authors into public domain)

What does the newly released movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” tell us about the basic nature of the genders? (Photo courtesy of Robert & Mihaela Vicol, released by authors into public domain)

Enough already with the over-analysis.

You want to know why Hollywood’s latest abomination, the movie adaptation of the #1 international best seller “Fifty Shades of Grey” is such a critical bust even though it may end up reaping in a bounty?

Two reasons: Gender and art, which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either.

Simply put, E. L. James’ book took the (mostly female) world by storm in 2011 because, well, the same reason John Gray (no pun intended) offered us almost a generation ago in his pop psychology/self-help bestseller: “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.”

So as a man who has adored women his entire life, let me break this down to basics:

Men are fifth graders, women are mothers.

That’s what it all boils down to.

Yes, of course both male and female friends of mine will holler about my stereotyping entire genders unfairly, and sure, they would be right to some degree, but not completely.

As I explained to one of my college students recently, when there is enough evidence, be it empirical or anecdotal, to support such characterizations, then we can easily replace the word “stereotype” with “reputation.”

And reputation, whatever the politically correct crowd may contend, does extend far past individuals to groups, also.

So how does this help explain the lousy critical reception for the Fifty Shades movie versus the book?

Easy: Women tend to prefer their prurient titillation slow brewed in the imagination. Men, on the other hand, lean more towards having it in their faces and on a platter where little effort is expended.

And those general but not-so-subtle gender differences account for my maternal versus grade school allusion.

Because of their more mature and nurturing nature, women just don’t like this stuff screaming at ever passerby. On the other hand, because of our frequent reduction to playground law, men would have it posted on every billboard -if they could.

That’s pretty much it. It explains why a book – and no one is claiming it was well-written – can be so well received as liberating, while the movie, an acknowledged potential cash cow, will be much less accepted.

And that’s where art comes in.

It’s difficult adapting ANY novel to the silver screen. Virtually impossible to take every important nuance from 300-400 pages onto 100 minutes of action, movies have to be exceptionally rendered to capture the narrative’s power over the mind’s eye.

These days, quite frankly, Hollywood falls far short in that department – more reputation, (and well deserved at that).

But here’s the dirty little secret: the prime reason the movie is set up for failure is because millions of women who read (and loved) the book have conjured millions of ways in their imagination of the story’s erotic nature. And Hollywood will only present one.

So while many might like it, many more will prefer the book, even though they will take a peek at the flick.

What about men? Nah, the only thing men will like is the same thing they liked about the novel they didn’t read: their partners were massively aroused during the time of reading.

Yes, I realize that you will all point out that I said no over-baked suppositions at the start yet proceeded with what seemed with more of the same.

But in the end, no erudite feminist theories, no scatological macho inanities.

Men are fifth graders, women are mothers.

And books, words, and ideas have always been more effective vehicles at appealing to a woman’s imagination than a movie which doesn’t live up to the kindling’s flash rating.

And besides, as a female high school friend of mine aptly noted when reading this piece the first night it was posted:

“Regardless of actual maternal status, let’s not forget that mothers can still have the Siren ever-lurking underneath.”

Wiser words on gender relations might never have been uttered.

Meanwhile, us guys wait, hormone-laden schoolboys at heart with TV remote in hand, for you ladies to come home.

I’m now heading to the public square for my 39 lashes.



Telly Halkias is a national-award winning newspaper columnist.

Subscribe for free by e-mail to From The Stacks at the bottom left of this page, or follow Telly on Twitter: @TellyHalkias

Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.