I read an article this weekend on CafeMom that absolutely infuriated me, but I’m not going to share it here because my blood pressure will spike. Also, I’m saving it for my wrap-up post, because it fully encapsulates everything that is wrong with a culture in which a book like this can thrive. But in short, it was written by a dude saying, “Buy your wife this book, because you’ll have crazy good sex!” And then there were a bunch of ignorant comments about how great the book is and how it doesn’t matter if it promotes abuse because OMG IT’S FICTION U GUIZE DOEN’T LIEK DOEN’T READ!
“Don’t,” he murmurs, then kisses me lightly.
“Why don’t you like to be touched?” I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes.
“Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia.”
“I had a very tough introduction to life. I don’t want to burden you with the details. Just don’t.” He strokes his nose against mine, and then he pulls out of me and sits up.
Now, I’m not an expert in etiquette or anything, but don’t you usually have the conversation about being emotionally fucked up when you’ve already put your penis away? This conversation is taking place literally moments after orgasm. So, it’s basically been, Ah! Ah! Yes! Oh yes! Spurt, collapse, I had a fucked up childhood. WHO DOES THAT?
Ana is totally frustrated by his reluctance to share anything personal with her, but she makes “an enormous effort to smile at him,” and tells him that she knows she was never really in charge during the sex. In an exchange that doesn’t seem to follow her statement in any way, he reveals that he’s been keeping count (and creepy possession) of her orgasms.
“Miss Steele, you are not just a pretty face. You’ve had six orgasms so far and all of them belong to me,” he boasts, playful again.I flush and blink at the same time, as he stares down at me. He’s keeping count! His brow furrows.“Do you have something to tell me?” his voice is suddenly stern.I frown. Crap.
“I had a dream this morning.”“Oh?” He glares at me.Double crap. Am I in trouble?
Why would you be in trouble, Ana? Isn’t the man you’re sleeping with the totally normal kind of sex-contract guy who understands that there are things in this world that are out of your control, like the quality of wine at your graduation and whether or not another person calls your phone? Oh, shit, no, that’s right. You’re with Christian Grey. Luckily for her, she was dreaming about him whipping her with a riding crop, because he lets the sleepgasm slide. I guess it still counts as “his” orgasm if she was dreaming about him. He gets up and starts to dress, and Ana is totally bummed because she wants him to stay. He’s more interested in her lady health, though, demanding to know when she’s going to get her period. He hates wearing condoms (and actually throws this one on the floor. Pff, who the fuck are you, Chedward? My lazy husband?) and tells Ana, “‘You need to sort out some contraception.’” Of course she does. She’s the woman. If you have the vagina, that responsibility falls directly on you. Ana doesn’t have a gynecologist (because she’s a fucking idiot. I’m sorry, if you’re reading this and you’re twenty-one and you haven’t been to the gynecologist, please go. There seems to be this weird misconception that you only have to go if you’re sexually active and/or need the pill, and I’m so glad to see this pop culture juggernaut reinforcing that dangerous opinion), so Christian offers to have his doctor come over and see her at his place. In terms of romance, nothing says “I love you” like meeting with your boyfriend’s gynecologist.
Ana asks Christian why he’s leaving, because she’s hoping he’ll stay. She offers to drive him home, but he points out how much she had to drink.
“Did you get me tipsy on purpose?”
“Because you over-think everything, and you’re reticent like your stepdad. A drop of wine in you and you start talking, and I need you to communicate honestly with me. Otherwise you clam up, and I have no idea what you’re thinking. In vino veritas, Anastasia.”
And the award for fucking amazing rationalization for getting someone drunk so they’ll do whatever you say goes to…
Ana asks him to stay and have sex with her again, since, you know, they have that extra condom he can spunk in and throw on her floor. He says he’s crossed too many lines, and he has to go. So, I’m guess this is not the one night a week he kinda maybe sort of is her pseudo boyfriend? He also says he’ll have the revised contract ready for her to sign on Sunday, so they “‘can really start to play.’”
“Play?” Holy shit. My heart leaps into my mouth.
“I’d like to do a scene with you. But I won’t until you’ve signed, so I know you’re ready.”
Do a scene? Don’t sign that contract Ana! He gets off on torturing you by making him gear up for auditions!
Wait a minute.
That reminds me of something.
Christian Grey won’t take his shirt off, ever.
Christian Grey… is a NEVER NUDE.
“Could get really ugly.”
His grin is infectious.
“Oh you know, explosions, car chases, kidnapping, incarceration.”
“You’d kidnap me?”
“Oh yes,” he grins.
“Hold me against my will?” Jeez this is hot.
NO IT IS NOT. Here’s why it’s not hot. Even though the author is striving for a playful tone, it doesn’t work when the hero has already exhibited threatening behavior in a way that has truly frightened the heroine. This is not some cute little exchange, because Chedward has already stalked and intimidated Ana. He has threatened to rape her, he’s locked her into a room with him. He took her from a bar when she was passed out, and brought her to another city that is hours away from her home. He has proven several times that he has the money and the power to exert his will over her, making this conversation so completely not funny, and totally not hot. He’s telling her that she no long has the option of consent in this relationship, she’s either going to sign the contract and do things his way, or he’s going to force her. The only way it would be funny or hot is if we did not already know he would be perfectly capable of doing exactly these things.
Of course, this all gets thrown to the wayside when Ana rolls her eyes at him.
“I told you what I’d do. I’m a man of my word. I’m going to spank you, and then I’m going to fuck you very quick and very hard. Looks like we’ll need that condom after all.” His voice is so soft, menacing, and it’s damned hot. My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire. He gazes at me, waiting, eyes blazing. Tentatively, I uncurl my legs. Should I run? This is it, our relationship hangs in the balance, right here, right now. Do I let him do this or do I say no, and that’s it? Because I know it will be over if I say no. Do it! My inner goddess pleads with me, my subconscious is as paralyzed as I am. “I’m waiting,” he says. “I’m not a patient man.” Oh for the love of all that’s holy. I’m panting, afraid, turned on. Blood pounding through my body, my legs are like jelly. Slowly, I crawl over to him until I am beside him.
Is it just me, or does this paragraph seem to imply that Ana is doing this BDSM stuff to keep Christian? I know, I know, it’s probably just me, because I’m uptight about sex or not getting enough sex or something. I hear that’s why I don’t enjoy the Anita Blake books anymore, so it’s obviously why I’m not enjoying reading about a woman making sexual compromises she’s uncomfortable with in order to keep a man’s interest.
The scene plays out pretty much how you’re thinking it does. He spanks her, it hurts like a motherfucker, she wants to ask him to stop, but she doesn’t because she doesn’t “want to give him the satisfaction.” Then he jams two fingers up her and says it’s obvious that her body loves being spanked, because she’s wet. Okay, but you did just have sex like, two minutes ago. Then he fucks her face down on the bed, and she thinks how awesome it is that she “survived” her first BDSM encounter.
“Well done, baby,” he whispers, quiet joy in his voice. His words curl around me like a soft fluffy towel from the Heathman Hotel, and I’m so pleased that he’s happy.
Are you happy, Ana? Oh, shit, that’s right, that doesn’t matter. Because this book is all about the fantasy of pleasing a man, not being pleased, yourself. Ana has a difficult time reconciling the way she feels post-spank-sex and the way she feels about the whole BDSM thing. She also slut-shames herself a little while Christian rubs baby oil into her butt. Then, he has to leave, because his man-servant has been waiting in the car this whole time, like that scene in Scent of a Woman where Charlie waits for the Colonel to fuck a prostitute.
I close the door and stand helpless in the living room of an apartment that I shall only spend another two nights in. A place I have lived happily for almost four years… yet today, for the first time ever, I feel lonely and uncomfortable here, unhappy with my own company. Have I strayed so far from who I am? I know that lurking, not very far under my rather numb exterior, is a well of tears. What am I doing? The irony is I can’t even sit down and enjoy a good cry. I’ll have to stand.
In other words, Ana is still not into this BDSM thing and doesn’t want to do it. Let’s refer really quick to that abuse literature Kel sent me, okay? Remember these universal red flags?
- You feel uncomfortable about something he has said or done, and the feeling remains
- You feel bad about yourself when you are around him.
- You find yourself accepting him “for now” even though you have plenty of red flags that would help you to terminate the relationship if you paid attention to them.
“Ana? What’s wrong?” She’s all seriousness now.“Nothing, Mom, I just wanted to hear your voice.”She’s silent for a moment.“Ana, what is it? Please tell me.” Her voice is soft and comforting, and I know that she cares. Uninvited, my tears being to flow. I have cried so often in the last few days.“Please, Ana,” she says, and her anguish reflects mine.“Oh, Mom, it’s a man.”“What’s he done to you?” Her alarm is palpable.
“It’s not like that.” Although it is… Oh crap. I don’t want to worry her. I just want someone else to be strong for me at the moment.
- You make excuses for his character and minimize his behavior.
“Ana, please, you’re worrying me.”I take a big breath.“I’ve kind of fallen for this guy, and he’s so different from me, and I don’t know if we should be together.”
- Your past and his are very different, and the two of you have conflicts over it.
- You tell your friends you are “unsure about the relationship.”
“Oh, darling, I wish I could be with you. I am so sorry I missed your graduation. You’ve fallen for someone, finally. Oh, honey, men, they are so tricky. They’re a different species, honey. How long have you known him?”
Christian is definitely a different species… different planet.
- You think no one else in his life understands him.
“Oh, nearly three weeks or so.”“Ana, darling, that’s no time at all. How can you possibly know someone in that kind of time frame? Just take it easy with him and keep him at arm’s length until you decide whether he’s worthy of you.”Wow… it’s unnerving when my mother is so insightful, but she’s just too late on this.Is he worthy of me? That’s an interesting concept I always wonder whether I am worthy of him.
- You sense he is pushing too quickly for an emotional connection with you.
“Honey, you sound so unhappy. Come home – visit with us. I miss you, darling. Bob would love to see you too. You can get some distance and maybe some perspective. You need a break. You’ve been working so hard.”Oh boy, is this tempting. Run away to Georgia. Grab some sunshine, some cocktails.
- You wish he would go away, you want to cry, and you want to run away from him.
The world of Katherine Kavanagh is very clear, very black and white. Not the intangible, mysterious, vague hues of gray that color my world. Welcome to my world.
Of course, Ana. No one understands the special and unique, mysterious relationship you have with your abuser. You’re the first victim of an abusive relationship who thinks this way. I’ve been very careful to separate my comments re: abuse from consensual BDSM activities. I have to tread very gently here, because what I’m about to say is a minefield. Ana lies to Kate about falling down and hurting herself, so that Kate won’t know that Christian spanked her. Ana consented to be spanked, but her consent was forced by emotional manipulation, so it really wasn’t consent, at all. Now, she’s lying to her friend about what happened. Guess what we’re reading here? We’re reading a story about abuse, complete with the “I walked into a door” trope.
Kate suggests they drink some wine (because the state wide boil order has left the population with nothing but alcohol to drink, apparently) and Ana realizes that there were “warning signs” about Christian all along, she just wanted so badly to be with him that she ignored them. Rather than talk to Kate about it, she changes the subject to Kate’s day. As it turns out, Christian’s brother might be moving in with Kate and Ana at their new place in Seattle. Immediately, Ana thinks that Christian won’t like it, but then thinks he will have to suck it up. Good for you, Ana. You are not responsible for making sure the universe pleases Christian Grey.
Ana goes to bed and checks her email, and of course, Christian has emailed her to tell her she’s “The most beautiful, intelligent, witty and brave woman I have ever met.” I try to think back to a single thing Ana has said in Christian’s presence that could be interpreted as witty or intelligent, because usually she’s snide and childish. He tells Ana not to drive her car again, and warns that he will know if she does. Probably he’s put some kind of tracker on the damn thing, because that’s how much he cares. She tells him caning is a hard limit, and he accepts that and tells her not to drink too much. This, coming from the guy who was all, “Yes, I got you drunk so you’d do what I wanted you to do.” Ugh, this guy. He tells her Taylor will sell her car for her, and when she argues with him, he says he’s tempted to drive over to her house and spank her again. He also warns against making him angry, because he’s the Hulk. She tells him she doesn’t like him because he never stays the night with her, and then she goes to bed.
Then, we get this very telling paragraph:
And then this evening, he actually hit me. I’ve never been hit in my life. What have I gotten myself into? Very slowly, my tears, halted by Kate’s arrival, begin to slide down the side of my face and into my ears. I have fallen for someone who’s so emotionally shut down, I will only get hurt – deep down I know this – someone who by his own admission is completely fucked up. Why is he so fucked up? It must be awful to be as affected as he is, and the thought that as a toddler he suffered some unbearable cruelty makes me cry harder. Perhaps if he was more normal he wouldn’t want you, my subconscious contributes snidely to my musings… and in my heart of hearts I know this is true. I turn into my pillow and the sluice gates open… and for the first time in years, I am sobbing uncontrollably into my pillow.
- You think no one else in his life has ever really loved him/helped him.
- You notice he quickly discloses information about his past or present or his emotional pain.
“Why are you here?” I ask, ignoring his question. My tears have miraculously ceased, but I’m left with dry heaves racking my body.
Wait, was she puking or crying? Christian explains that he came back because he should “look after your needs” and since she wanted him to stay, he will. Okay, except she wanted you to stay before, and you left. He makes her take some Advil, which is a GREAT idea, since she’s just drunk like two bottles of booze, right?
I stare down at my hands. What can I say that I haven’t said already. I want more. I want him to stay because he wants to stay with me, not because I’m a blubbering mess, and I don’t want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable?
Just wanted to highlight that she’s considering it beating now.
Christian tells her that if he’s supposed to know what’s going on her head, she has to tell him honestly. So, she does, and she’s all, “I don’t want you to hit me,” to which he responds that she wasn’t supposed to like it. When she asks him why he likes it, his response is to intimidate her, although he tells her he won’t hit her again… tonight.
“I like the control it brings me, Anastasia. I want you to behave in a particular way, and if you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn to behave the way I desire. I enjoy punishing you. I’ve watned to spank you since you asked me if I was gay.” I flush at the memory. Jeez, I wanted to spank myself after that question. So Katherine Kavanagh is responsible for all this, and if she’d gone to that interview and asked her gay question, she’d be sitting here with the sore ass. I don’t like that though. How confusing is this?
I’m not entirely sure I can convey, in intelligent, rage-free terms, how I feel about this nonsense. So, instead of focusing on the homophobia, the markers of an abusive personality, the continuing Kate-blame and jealousy, I’m going to just let you watch this video of a star going supernova and you can interpret that as my shivering, full-body rage:
“So you don’t like the way I am.”
He stares at me, bewildered again.
“I think you’re lovely the way you are.”
“So why are you trying to change me?”
“I don’t want to change you. I’d like you to be courteous and to follow the set of rules I’ve given you and not defy me. Simple,” he says.
Here is a video you can watch of a nuclear explosion underwater:
Christian explains that the control he exerts over her gives him sexual excitement, and Ana finds that a somewhat satisfactory explanation, for the time being. Christian says he’s never had to explain his predilections to anyone before, because he’s always around like-minded people. To me, that just points to a stunning lack of self-examination in his life. “I like to beat people with canes and I’ve devoted a very expensive room to just that. I’m sure I don’t need to think about the whys or wherefores, right?” Even if the only conclusion he arrived at was, “It turns me on,” he should have at least thought about it before.
Ana confesses that she feels like she’s Icarus, and he tells her she has it wrong, he’s the one completely in her thrall. Oh, that makes it okay to emotionally manipulate her then, I guess. He stays the night with her, even though he doesn’t really want to, and suggests that since she communicates better in email than face to face, she should keep showing him her real emotions in email.
Because you can delete an email, see. You can’t delete a person crying in front of you.