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Bernie Sanders Likens Salacious 1972 Essay To 'Fifty Shades Of Grey'

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally Saturday.
Charlie Neibergall
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally Saturday.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders sought to put behind him a strange episode concerning a bizarre piece of fiction he authored four decades ago, likening the work to Fifty Shades of Grey during his appearance on NBC's Meet the Press.

Answering a question from the show's host, Chuck Todd, the Vermont lawmaker said, "This is a piece of fiction that I wrote in 1972, I think. That was 43 years ago. It was very poorly written.

"If you read it, it was dealing with gender stereotypes. Why some men like to oppress women. Why other women like to be submissive. You know, something like Fifty Shades of Grey. Very poorly written. Forty-three years ago."

The 1972 essay was uncovered by Mother Jones magazine. It was written by Sanders for the Vermont Freeman, an alternative newspaper, and discusses a rape fantasy from a man and a woman's point of view.

Sanders' remarks on NBC today largely echo what his campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told CNN last week. Briggs said it was a "dumb attempt at dark satire in an alternative publication" and added that it was "intended to attack gender stereotypes of the '70s, but it looks as stupid today as it was then."

As NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben wrote last week: "You can draw divergent conclusions from the article itself. On the one hand, he's talking about liberating people from harmful gender norms. On the other, with his nameless hypothetical "man-and-woman" characters, he also seems to imply that men fantasize about raping women or that women fantasize about being raped."

Sanders' populist message — including frank talk about income inequality and the excesses of Wall Street — has won him fans, especially in the left wing of the party, but is nonetheless currently a distant second in the polls compared to front-runner Hillary Clinton. A recent poll by Public Policy Polling has Clinton at 63 percent to Sanders at 14 percent among likely Democratic voters. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who entered the race last week, was polling at 6 percent.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.