50 Shades of Grey and Human Resources

 50 shades of red

Over the past couple of weeks, a new book series crept into my awareness via Facebook.   It seemed like suddenly a lot of my female colleagues were bubbling with excitement about a new book called 50 Shades of Grey.   This sudden excitement made me wonder what the buzz was all about, so I headed to Amazon and downloaded the first two books.  I’m now several chapters into the second book.

The website for the book describes the story line this way.

Fifty Shades of Grey

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

 Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Monmy Porn?

Turns out I had downloaded a novel that is part  a newly developing cultural phenomenon that is being referred to by some as “mommy porn“.  Penelope Trunk also wrote an interesting take on why she probably won’t read the novel, and included this information in her observations:

The novel Fifty Shades of Grey is selling faster than a Harry Potter book right now. The book is about sexual domination in a contemporary setting, including the career woman who has everything, including a hot, successful boyfriend.

The big news is that we have enough data to show that the majority of women buying Fifty Shades of Gray are in their 20s and 30s living in urban areas, according to the publisher’s data, and the Atlantic. To be clear, these women are incredibly powerful.

Kind of sounds like my group of friends on Facebook who led me to the book in the first place.

All tied up in knots

When I started thinking about this post, I was envisioning writing a snarky piece about HR and steamy erotic novels, but I found that I can’t do that.   I’m pretty sure that I’m not enjoying this book for the same reasons as many of my female HR colleagues, but it is  thought-provoking and provocative.    There are some great observations about human nature in this book that reach beyond the steamy eroticism and graphic descriptions.   It’s not for everyone, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless.

Here’s what stood out to me:

  • some outstanding insights into the relationships of people, and how much we are impacted by our past.
  • Really good explorations about the boundaries and limitations of roles and relationships.
  • some great discussion on the differences in the way men and women communicate.  Women talk about things to form community and to share.  Men view discussions of almost anything as a call to action or a problem to solve.  We may be working too hard, guys!

I wanted a perspective from a  woman of HR who read the book, so I reached out to one of my go-to peeps, Trish Mcfarlane,  who had read the book and was enough to share her thoughts and let me share them here.

As someone who read the book, not even thinking of it as mommy porn (lol) I think it touches on a few important themes:
  • CEOs are people too.  Sometimes kinky people who are into all sorts of things you would never imagine.  You really can’t judge the book by the cover.
  • Training can happen anywhere.  As it turns out, this trilogy can be a sort of training guide for any reader who wants it to be.
  • I disagree with Penelope.  Women other than her demographic love the book.  Also, powerful women are often demure in relationships or the bedroom.  I like the idea that a woman can be in control in the bedroom and experiment in a safe way and can set limits.  I think that is why so many women in their 30’s and 40’s love the book.
  • Fantasy is fun.  HR people deal with really crappy things sometimes.  It’s nice to have a way to escape.

If you can’t take the hard stuff , maybe you’ll enjoy a lighter touch from Ellen.

Ellen Degeneres reads 50 Shades of Grey

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26 thoughts on “50 Shades of Grey and Human Resources

  1. Mike, thanks for sharing some of my comments about the topic. I wonder if male HR pros are used to talking about topics others may find “touchy” because we have every possible subject come up during an HR career. I agree with your take on the communication piece- regardless of the sensationalism of the book, it shows again and again that men and women really do communicate differently. We also view certain responses differently. Looking forward to what other HR pros think about the book.

    One thing I talked about with Bryan Wempen is that once you get past the *ahem* factor of book one, you really start focusing more on the relationship between a very powerful CEO and a young, inexperienced recent college graduate (Ana). It’s interesting that the CEO turns out to be much more insecure than his persona would have you believe and Ana, who I would call quite reserved and naive, turns out to find her inner strength. She shows that men are not all about the physical and can benefit from some stimulating conversations as much as they don’t like to have them.

    Can’t wait to see what other readers say…

  2. Mike, This is your post of all time in my opinion. It’s non-HR topic that the HR community(that we know) which does happen to be 80% (ish) female is talking a lot from various perspectives. I respect the HR community even more for discussing a topic like sex more openly, bravo! It’s the start of a new HCM era. (ok maybe not but still fun)

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