E.L. James bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey took the world by storm, selling more than 3.2 million copies up to now.
Now, the novel is being offered as the subject of a course at American University (AU).
Sex educator and AU professor Stef Woods will teach “Contemporary American Culture: The 50 Shades Trilogy”, to 25 students starting in January, successfully turning popular culture into a subject of academia.
According to the Daily Beast, she will use the trilogy and related readings to tackle issues of domestic violence, female sexuality, and objectivity, as well as looking at how social media marketing is used in the promotion and success of contemporary novels.
Stef Woods outlined the curriculum on her blog, City Girl, which will ask students to critically analyze and answer questions like “Evaluate the relationship in the book in light of our readings on domestic violence.”
“Are the leads in the trilogy in a healthy or abusive relationship? Why or why not?”
And also, “What was the role of social media in perpetuating the trilogy’s success? If you were in charge of marketing the upcoming movies, how would you utilize social media?”
The class already has a waiting list full of senior honor students, and at least 22 are female and are enrolled in the school or communications or are studying sexuality, according to Stef Woods.
According to the Daily Beast, “students will also be asked to rewrite one of the introductory chapters, before Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey consummate their relationship, with an aim to improving it”.
Stef Woods argues that editing and sub-editing are useful tools ‘in almost any job’.
“Someone who has just graduated will be tasked with editing and proofreading and reviewing over and over again for their superiors in the office,” she said.
American University isn’t the only education institution to recognize “what’s driving American culture and how to study that critically”, Stef Woods added.
The Daily Beast noted that Brown University’s fall 2012 course Human Sexuality in a Social Context used Fifty Shades of Grey alongside Foucault’s The History of Sexuality and Mary Roach’s science journalism book Bonk, in the required reading.
Meanwhile the American Studies department Macalester College includes Hunger Games: Map and Mirror for the 21st Century, and the University of Delaware’s English department offers Fighting the Future From The Hunger Games to The Matrix: The Dystopian Tradition in the 21st Century.
“I love when people incorporate social media and pop culture because that’s how the field is ever evolving. It makes academia more relevant; you want something that resonates with students and inspires them to think in different ways,” said Stef Woods.
As for the books’ explicit content, she said: “This is not a sex-shop book club. We’re not looking at how these characters can inspire us to expand our sexual boundaries… We’re looking at overall themes.
“We’re not doing dramatic readings, we’re not discussing personal preferences- mine or theirs.”
Stef Woods recently told the student newspaper, The Eagle: “No other contemporary text on sexuality has transformed American culture the way that this series has.
“It never crossed my mind to use another book for a case study.”
Dr. Shira Tarrant, associate professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach, supports Stef Woods decision.
“That’s the world we live in, and it serves us well to know how to make sense of it with an awareness of gender, class, race, age, capitalism, and – of course – sexuality,” she said.