I wish I could say that I’m shocked that two female candidates for Senate got asked in a debate whether they’d read Fifty Shades of Grey, but sometimes, everything is weird and terrible and this kind of nonsense does come to pass:
I’m willing to give the moderators a pass for asking about culture in general, both because the questions were meant to warm up the debaters, and because I think that asking substantive questions about culture is an interesting way to get at what public figures value and the extent to which they’re inclined to pander. But asking a yes or no question about whether Kirsten Gillibrand and Wendy Long have read a book that, as of August, had sold more than 40 million copies, doesn’t actually reveal any meaningful information about their tastes that distinguishes them from other women.
The reason people think reading Fifty Shade of Grey indicates anything at all is because people think it’s weird for women to publicly admit to being interested in sex, much less in books that involve women figuring out what they like sexually. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t actually a particularly good book if you want to have a discussion of sexual self-knowledge, given that it’s a big proponent of the idea that all women have magically effective vaginal orgasms, that if you haven’t had sex before that it will automatically be terrific as long as your partner is a charismatic and kinky industrial tycoon, and that its knowledge of BDSM and power dynamics in sex appears to have been gleaned from a vigorous read of Wikipedia. But it’s still treated as if it’s some sort of scandalous text—people literally write articles about how to avoid being caught reading Fifty Shades of Grey in public. Asking Gillibrand and Long whether they’d read the book isn’t a way to learn more about them, or to start a discussion about sexuality, or to see if they’re in synch with female readers, or to warm them up: it’s in part to catch them out on something that shouldn’t be a titter-worthy issue in the first place.