Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Let's Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 12!

This is not going to be a very funny chapter. I would not blame you one bit if you skipped it. I'm going to go through it, for the sake of complete commentary, but there's a point in this chapter where there's no hope of making any jokes.

Plot summary if you choose to skip: Ana "jokingly" breaks up with Christian Grey. He thinks it's real and breaks into her house and rapes her.

MAJOR content warning: Rape. Not rape references or "that's kind of like rape"; outright graphic rape. Also home invasion, emotional abuse, child sexual abuse.
For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run. I find my nasty, never-used sneakers, some sweat pants, and a t-shirt. I put my hair in pigtails, blushing at the memories they bring back, and I plug in my iPod.
This raises so many questions. How are the sneakers "nasty" if they've never been used? Why does she own sneakers and sweatpants if she never exercises? Even making allowances for how new she is to sex, isn't it a bit hair-trigger to go all wibbly because you're wearing the same hairstyle you did when you had sex? If she never used a computer before, how did she put music on her iPod?
I pace through the park. What am I going to do? I want him, but on his terms? I just don’t know. Perhaps I should negotiate what I want. Go through that ridiculous contract line by line and say what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Yes. Yes, you should do exactly that. ...Well, actually you should turn and run and find one of the thousands of men in Seattle who will have the kind of relationship you actually want with you, but since you're convinced that no other man on the planet could ever arouse you, this is a very good second choice.

It's unsettling how often Ana lucidly spells out what she should be doing, then goes right ahead and does the opposite.
I am plagued by one question - why is he like this? Is it because he was seduced at such a young age?
Firstly, it's not "seduced" when an older person rapes a fifteen-year-old and forces them into submission. Secondly, apparently all her research into BDSM didn't dissuade her from thinking of it as a tragic flaw.

And thirdly, why isn't she asking "why am I like this?" Usually in BDSM smutfic, this is the point where the submissive would be discovering the hidden kinky desires that were in them all along. Ana doesn't seem to be going through that. She's just resigning herself to tolerate kink because she thinks it's the only chance she'll get to have sex.
[Ana emails Lump CrabMeat:] Okay, I’ve seen enough. It was nice knowing you. Ana
I press send, hugging myself, laughing at my little joke. Will he find it as funny?
How... how is that remotely a joke? If Rowdy sent me an email like that, I wouldn't think it was funny. I wouldn't go breaking into his house and assaulting him, but I'd probably burst into tears. There's no tip-off there that it's anything other than a curt rejection by email. That's not how jokes work.

I guess the joke is that she could never possibly break up with him for real? Oh damn, it just got even more depressing.
I don’t know why I glance up, maybe I catch a slight movement from the corner of my eye, I don’t know, but when I do, he’s standing in the doorway of my bedroom watching me intently. He’s wearing his grey flannel pants and a white linen shirt, gently twirling his car keys. I pull my ear buds out and freeze . Fuck!
Fuck is right. He just snuck into her house after, as far as he knows, she genuinely broke up with him. Fuck!

...Under the circumstances, I'm not sure I'd be making note of which fabrics he's wearing. Or maybe I would, but only so I could give a more detailed police report.
“Good evening, Anastasia.” His voice is cool, his expression completely guarded and unreadable. The capacity to speak deserts me. Damn Kate for letting him in here with no warning.
I would be quitting Team Kate on the spot, except that I read ahead and Kate has no idea he was there, so apparently Truck DodgeRam just straight-up broke into her house.
“I wondered what your bedroom would look like,” he says. I glance around it, plotting an escape route, no – there’s still only the door or window.

I think it's Ana's reactions that push this from "non-con fantasy" to "E.L. James what the FUCK are you doing?" Like, if Ana were secretly delighted to see him, that would be unrealistic and problematic, but not totally unexpected in a bodice-ripper. But no, she's panicky and scanning the room for exits, and it's fucking terrifying.
“So, it was nice knowing me?” Holy cow, is he offended? I stare down at my fingers. How am I going to dig myself out of this? If I tell him it was a joke, I don’t think he’ll be impressed.
I'm just putting this in to establish that Slam ThudBoom genuinely thinks she broke up with him. He's not punishing her for a bad joke (not that this would be okay either). He is, as far as he's concerned, raping his ex.

...But no worries, because it was a joke, so he's really just raping his girlfriend.

I think this is that point where I have to stop making jokes, except perhaps the saddest and bitterest kind of joke, like, "ha ha, and she's genuinely afraid of talking to him, sounds like the ideal romance, what a fuckin' kneeslapper."
“Well, I thought I should come and remind you how nice it was knowing me.” Holy crap. I stare at him open mouthed, and his fingers move from my ear to my chin. “What do you say to that, Miss Steele?” [...she says nothing...] I take pre-emptive action and launch myself at him. Somehow he moves, I have no idea how, and in the blink of an eye I’m on the bed pinned beneath him, my arms stretched out and held above my head, his free hand clutching my face, and his mouth finds mine.
She totally consented, see? Because she, uh, started moving. Maybe to run out of the room or to punch him, he doesn't know, but since we the readers know it was a sexy movement then we can rest assured this is totes 100% consensual.

(Important note: even if it was a sexy movement, that still doesn't constitute consent to being forcibly held down. "Yes" does not mean "yes to everything you could possibly want to do with me.")
He bends and starts undoing one of my sneakers. Oh no… no… my feet. No. I’ve just been running. “No,” I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you."
I... oh god. I'm out of even bitter jokes now. Basically I'm down to "I want you to know that this happens in this book, and this is why it is not just a bad romance novel, it is fucking horrifying."

I mean, this is as completely unambiguous a "no" as you can have. (Not that "no" needs to be unambiguous; ambiguity is also "no.") It's out loud, it's something she genuinely doesn't want, and she never agreed to a D/s relationship. There's no fucking excuse at all here. It's just rape. Presented as enviable and sexy.

And yeah, you can say it's not so bad because she's only saying "no" because her feet stink, but you know what? First of all, he doesn't know that. And secondly, there's no list of approved reasons to say no to sex. "No" isn't something that's only valid if it means "no, because I oppose this with every fiber of my being and would be psychologically scarred if it went on." No means no even if the reason is petty or irrational or stinky feet, because no is not up for debate.

This is the point where I actually had to take a little break in writing this and go outside for a bit. I would not blame you if you did the same reading it.
“Now then.” He licks his bottom lip slowly. “You’re biting that lip, Anastasia. You know the effect it has on me.” He places his long index finger over my mouth, a warning.
See, the reference to biting her lip is because Kristen Stewart always did that in the Twilight movies, and the reference to "the effect it has on me" is because rapists often try to make their victims blame themselves.
I hear the ice clink against the glass, and he puts it down again and leans down and kisses me, pouring a delicious crisp, liquid into my mouth as he does. It’s white wine. It’s so unexpected, hot, though it’s chilled, and Christian’s lips are cool.
Yeah, so... now he's drinking wine and spitting it back out in her mouth. (And it is hot and cold at the same time, and he is cold because E.L. James once again forgot he's not supposed to be a vampire anymore.) I'm honestly a little grateful for something that's merely disgusting and absurd.
“I meant it as a joke,” I whimper. [...] “A joke?” His voice is menacingly soft. “Yes. Please, Christian,” I beseech him. “Are you laughing now?” “No,” I mewl. [...] 
He pushes both my knees up the bed so my behind is in the air, and he slaps me hard. Before I can react, he plunges inside me. I cry out – from the slap and from his sudden assault, and I come instantly again and again, falling apart beneath him as he continues to slam deliciously into me. He doesn’t stop. I’m spent. I can’t take this… and he pounds on and on and on... then I’m building again… surely not… no…
At this point, I'm not even mocking this. I'm just documenting it. This happens. In this "sexy" book. This is one of the "sexy" parts.

To be fair: at this point she has said a couple times that she wants to have sex with him. To be much more fair: she was already tied up when she said that, and there was absolutely no indication he would've stopped if she said differently, and she certainly never said she wanted to be hit.
[Somewhat later, because fucking hell, there's only so much I can take:] “You still talk to her [the woman who molested him] regularly?” I can’t keep the shock out of my voice. “Yes.” He’s serious now. Oh… and part of me is suddenly insanely jealous – I’m disturbed by the depth of my feeling.
I'd be disturbed too, but not from jealousy. That's incredibly fucked up, being jealous of the person who raped your partner as a child.
"If you’d like, I can introduce you to one of my former subs, you could talk to her.” What? Is he deliberately trying to upset me? “Is this your idea of a joke?
For once, Spark FlintSteel actually has a good idea, except that E.L. James clearly doesn't know it is. Subs communicating with each other is a really good thing. It's an opportunity for education, support, and, if necessary, a safety net. Getting references from former subs of a prospective partner is also a good thing, and not rare in the BDSM community.

But to Ana, and I suspect also James, this exchange isn't about that; it's about the misery of knowing your partner has ever had sex with anyone besides you.
“Are you staying?” “I have a breakfast meeting tomorrow at the Heathman. Besides, I told you, I don’t sleep with girlfriends, slaves, subs, or anyone. Friday and Saturday night were exceptions. It won’t happen again.” I can hear the resolve behind his soft, husky voice.
This is not a man who needs true love to melt his wounded heart. This is a douche who needs to be single until he can learn to treat his partners like people and not possessions he can put away when he isn't using them.
“God, I’d like to give you a good hiding. You’d feel a lot better, and so would I.” “You can’t say things like that… I haven’t signed anything yet.”
I suspect E.L. James actually thinks all BDSM must be guaranteed by legal contract.

But Ana is right; she hasn't signed anything. She hasn't agreed to be tied up or slapped, much less forced into sex. And (I believe) she never does, but that never stops him.
This is the first time I have ever had sex in my home, and as sex goes, I think it was pretty damn fine. But now I feel like a receptacle – an empty vessel to be filled at his whim. [...] I have an overwhelming urge to cry, a sad and lonely melancholy grips and tightens round my heart. Dashing back to my bedroom, I close the door and lean against it trying to rationalize my feelings. I can’t. Sliding to the floor, I put my head in my hands as my tears begin to flow.
I thought this would be "she was raped but she loved it" fiction. Instead, it's "she was raped and she hated it... SEXY ROMANCE, EVERYBODY!" fiction.

Somewhat later, Ana emails Rump ButtCheek:
Dear Mr. Grey, Here is my list of issues. I look forward to discussing them more fully at dinner on Wednesday. The numbers refer to clauses: 
2: Not sure why this is solely for MY benefit – ie to explore MY sensuality and limits. I’m sure I wouldn’t need a ten-page contract to do that! Surely this is for YOUR benefit. [...] 
9: Obey you in all things? Accept without hesitation your discipline? We need to talk about this. 11: One month trial period. Not three. 12: I cannot commit every weekend. I do have a life, or will have. Perhaps three out of four? 15.2: Using my body as you see fit sexually or otherwise – please define “or otherwise.” 15.5: This whole discipline clause. I’m not sure I want to be whipped, flogged, or corporally punished. [...] 
15.22: I can’t look into your eyes? Why? 15.24: Why can’t I touch you? [...]Food – I am not eating food from a prescribed list. The food list goes or I do – Deal breaker. [..]. Exercise – We agreed 3 hours, this still says 4.
So this is actually kind of awesome. She's sticking up for herself and very clearly negotiating about her needs. Every deity lodged inside me is positively doing backflips.

So how does Crap ShitHead respond to this?
Miss Steele, That’s a long list. Why are you still up? Christian Grey
That smarmy condescending rapist BASTARD. Ideal fantasy man? I have rarely hated anyone as keenly as I hate this fucker.
GO TO BED ANASTASIA. [...] Oh… shouty capitals! I switch off.
Good plan, Ana. Good fuckin' plan. Gonna follow your lead there.


  1. Jesus fuckin' christ. I thought the book was merely bad. I did not realize it was actually about rape stockholm syndrome. How do people enthusiastically support this shit? How do they even tolerate it?

  2. and here I thought you couldn't possibly have a worse love story than Twilight.

    fanfiction, knocking it out of the park again.

    and goddamn it, but I've read some really good fan fiction in my time on this good green internet, why couldn't somebody like DarthAmmonite, who can actually write a believable meet-cute, why can't somebody *good* be a multimillionaire meat-space published author huh?

    1. I'm taking the quite controversial stance that Twilight really isn't that bad. The main characters aren't bad people so much as poorly thought out and meant to be empty vessels to plonk yourself down in. They're bland and nonsensical. But there's a lot of good world-building and a lot of the background characters are genuinely interesting. (Did you know that one of the Cullens ran away from a Mexican gang and was joined on the road by the woman he would later marry, who can see the future? Did you know that Carlisle, Edward's dad, was born centuries ago as the son of the village monster-hunter, and that he spent years trying to kill himself from the shame, before he discovered that he could drink animals and survive that way, then dedicated his life to being a doctor to undo the harm vampires wreak on society?)

      And I have read some truly incredible fanfiction as well. It's stuff like 50 shades that devalues fanfiction as an artform in the public perception.

    2. There's incredible Twilight fanfiction out there. Check out Luminosity to see what I mean.

    3. Actually pencilears, DarthAmmonite IS a published author in meat-space - she doesn't do romance at all, and she's not a multimillionaire, but she makes a living.

  3. As a writer, I should be kind of impressed with her ability to develop a villain that friggin' everybody can truly hate. If only I could believe that was her intention.
    As a person, I think I'm gonna be sick now.

    1. As a writer, I should be kind of impressed with her ability to develop a villain that an awful lot of people (too many people for my tastes) friggin' LOVE.
      Literally millions of women are crazy for him, dream of a man like him (sorta). And he an absolute -let me use an Italian word which literally is slang for testicle but is used to say someone is very bad- COGLIONE.
      Well, I actually *am* impressed she managed to do that (and a lot less impressed with womankind and people in general to fall for it)
      (and as a person I've been sick all the time I spent reading these books. Yes, I endured them all)

  4. Not that it needs to be said (though apparently it does...) someone saying "Yes" after being tied up and threatened is not actually evidence of consent.

    This chapter is like when you're in a haunted house ride and suddenly it turns out the demons are real and they already ate your friends.

  5. Joke-breakup or not, the consequences are insiduous: she now KNOWS that she CANNOT break up with him. This threat is going to hang over the rest of their relationship. Which obviously will last as long as HE wants to, unless she manages to get some serious protection that's immune to his money.

    Sorry for posting twice, this took a while to process :)

    1. Spoiler Alert: Tosca, Christian Grey, and Mario Cavaradossi die at the end.

    2. I noticed that too. To be honest, the way the whole ''joke breakup'' thing came off for me was that she was testing the waters to see how he'd react; to reassure herself that she had the option to leave. That it panned out that way just makes it all the more horrific.

      Just generally.... gaah. Dirty fanfiction is available for free on the internet!! Some of it's good!! Why do people pay actual money for this?!!

  6. OK.
    This is the third time I've experienced this scene.

    The first time was when we got hold of a totally-legal-honest copy and read it with friends, first with stupid sound effects and ranting, and when we hit this chapter it turned into collective horror and ranting.

    The second time was the das_sporking recap.

    The horror never wears off. And I'm not entirely sure it's meant to be 'sexy'. Poor Ana winds up sobbing her eyes out. This can't be a 'sexy' scene.

    1. Yeah, it's Ana's reactions that really make this book weird(er) for me. I expected a "things are kind of abusive but she loves it and finds her inner submissive" book.

      I got a "things are outrageously abusive and she hates it and cries and openly says she's only tolerating it because she thinks she'll never be loved any other way" book.

      This is the point where I stopped understanding the fandom this book has at all.

    2. My personal theory is that they're not actually reading the book - they're focusing on the 'sexy' bits (so they stop really reading this scene once Christian leaves, for instance), and the bits where Ana is all "Oh my he's hot" and the puke-inducingly extravagant displays of wealth.

    3. I like to believe that's the case. I don't want to believe that the readers are really glamorizing someone crying after being raped--I would like to think they're just not really seeing it. They're, I don't know, skimming, and they see there's hot sex and there's dramatic crying, and don't really make the connection.

      That's what I hope.

    4. My theory is similar to that of Anonymous. I was working at a bookstore when the Twilight craze hit, and I had a lot of people ask why the books were so popular. The explanation I gave was that they're popular with people who don't have the habit of reading critically -- which many teenagers haven't yet developed. They're written in such a style that if you're reading critically, you immediately notice the numerous flaws, but if not, the prose just sort of slides through your brain and leaves vague good impressions with very few specifics.

      I developed this theory from talking to some Twilight fans who'd leapt to the books' defense on a feminist forum. "Bella is smart and brave and generous and independent!" they said. I told them, "Okay, I haven't read the books myself -- could you give examples from the text to illustrate these traits?" Crickets.

    5. You got a similar response from Twimoms - many of whom I suspect jumped to 50SoG when it came out. I'm basing my theory on that.

    6. Cliff, I think it's exactly that. A bunch of my former coworkers loved loved loved this book and told me I *had* to read it, how sexy it was and how they wished their husbands were more like Christian Gray. I never thought Twilight was as bad as people said, pretty middling for (at that time, it's gotten better) young adult romance and hey I like sexy fiction so I figured ok, I'll see what the fuss is about. And, I do read romance novels and sometimes erotica so I was used to those elements of it. I thought that maybe it was because I was not shocked by the sex that I was able to focus on *every* horrifying thing in there.

      But I really do think a lot of readers don't focus on that, or even *notice* it. It does make me want to write something where all the actions are exactly the same as what happens here except the descriptions are different, and then see what the "Mrs Christian Gray" people think of that.

      also how much do I hate it when people think detractors of this book are anti-BDSM in general? so they say things like "feminists can be submissives!' and so on. yes they can, that is not the problem people have with this book! '

      (though it does kind of annoy me that bdsm erotica always seems to mean 'female sub' but anyway...)

    7. @ShifterCat
      I developed this theory from talking to some Twilight fans who'd leapt to the books' defense on a feminist forum. "Bella is smart and brave and generous and independent!" they said. I told them, "Okay, I haven't read the books myself -- could you give examples from the text to illustrate these traits?"

      Bella is smart: she enjoy reading literature in her spare time, we see in her first appearance that while some other students are struggling with their biology assignment, she is doing just as well as Edward, who has gone to medical school several times.

      Bella is brave: She flies to Italy to save Edward's life even though this means very likely encountering the most powerful vampires in the world who have no regard for human life and enforce the Masquerade by murder.

      Bella is independent: she came to the conclusion that it would be best for her mother if she (Bella) moved across the country, and then did this. She later puts together a worst case scenario plan to help her friend and her daughter escape, and carries it out, complete with fake documents, despite having no experience with this and being unable to tell anyone about it.

      Twilight normalizes and romanticizes abuse and unhealthy relationships, and that's an issue and really harmful, especially since it's so popular. Bella's good qualities are not a defense against that. But everything else- what kind of characters you like, what kind of writing style and plot works for you - is a matter of taste, and there's no moral hierarchy of taste.

    8. Of course, at the same time, it has also been noted that all the books that we see Bella read are already frequently assigned reading in high school, so there's that. Though, I tend to see that as the fault of the author, not necessarily the character.

    9. There is Joey Hill's Natural Law series with female doms and male subs...

    10. I think the whole "only reading the sexy bits" thing might have some truth to it, cause if you only start reading at the part where they're on the bed it reads more as "we are getting sexy and he didn't warn me before putting his penis into me" instead of "he rapes me out of anger".
      Context is everything.

    11. I don't think that's enough. She pretty clearly said "No!" about getting undressed, and he did it anyway.

      They might be thinking of Ana as consenting in a more subtle way, though. After all she signed up to be the sub character in a BDSM novel, so she must be ok with it. She probably negotiated the script off-screen.

    12. Anon who mentioned Natural Law:

      I just looked up the book on Amazon, and the most helpful critical review contained the words "I don't mind overly sexual books as long as there is an interesting plot (as in 50 Shades). In this book, the plot was very much an afterthought."

      ...I think this reinforces the argument going on right here. Maybe? Hell if I know. They're complaining about too much time spent on sex, so I'd imagine they'd read more than the sex in 50 Shades, but...where is this interesting plot? Is there some secret second version where things happen in this trilogy, that span more than one chapter?

    13. I concur that I have yet to see a plot in the 50 shades book. From the people I know who read (and loved) 50 shades I think what they appreciated wasn't so much a plot but having incredibly satisfying (for lack of a better word) lazy sex. Ana gets to be really passive and has like 15 okay. Big McLargehuge does everything and is omniscient knowing exactly what Ana needs and wants even though she doesn't. This is probably also how people justify the rape. Well Ana wouldn't orgasm if she didn't like it. Since Rump Buttcheek knows what Ana needs he's doing this for her benefit not his, showing her how much she needs him. Really scary commentary on how much of a hold rape culture has on our society. The crying after the fact is glossed over by a non critical reader. I think the idea of a lover who "knows" what you need provides the fantasy for some. Unfortunately 50 shades is terrible and a poor representation of BDSM. I suspect the critical reviewer assumed that liking 50 shades meant that the reviewer would like other BDSM fiction, but the concept of a female Dom kinda ruins the lazy girl fantasy. I'm sorry I was not clear in my post I was a little rushed I was offering twomoogles a suggestion for female Dom BDSM erotica.

    14. @Anonymous: How well your examples actually illustrate the character traits... well, a certain amount of that is going to depend on context and delivery. The "Bella's smart, see, she reads books" thing is, from the little I did read, undermined by her apparent failure to understand the classic novels she read, and to cop an attitude like, "Oh, I don't need to listen to my English teacher 'cause I've read the syllabus", which is both arrogant and stupid.

      But all this is beside the point, which was that when called to back up their assertions with textual examples, the Twilight fans on that forum just kind of floundered.

  7. I honestly hate this shit, and I hate that otherwise smart people think this is OK.

    I was listening to a podcast on literature from the BBC, where a man claimed this book set back feminism a couple of decades. A woman argued against him, saying just because the heroine wants to be dominated, that doesn't make it bad for women. Obviously she was missing the point completely. Christian Grey is a controlling, stalking rapist (and a bit of a poopyhead), and letting someone like that be a hero *is* a problem, and it *does* affect women. Unfortunately, the host wouldn't let the man respond, so the issue was dropped.

    It's so infuriating when people think the only issue anyone might have with this crap is the sex. The sex is terribly written, but by itself it's fine. It's when you put everything into persepective, that you see that the sex is not concensual, and that the knight in shining, white armor is a poopyhead.

    1. I'm all for books where the heroine wants to be dominated.

      It's just that this isn't one of them.

    2. Yeah, I agree. A heroine wanting to be dominated would be fine. A jerk character who's a stalker and even rapist could also be fine, but he should never be the *hero*! It doesn't even make any sense.

    3. I'm all for a heroine wanting to be dominated because she can express agency in seeking out that experience.

      But Ana doesn't even want to be dominated... not really. She's just getting coerced into it and rationalizing the abuse as romance.

    4. An awesome heroine (At least from my point of view) whom is sometimes sub is Anita Blake, by Laurell Hamilton. It has a lot of sex scenes and a story where she decide, and grows up and understand what and why she wants what she wants.
      I really feel bad for Anastasia, I hope (from the bottom of my heart) this story has an arc and things change, but I don´t know how a relationship can work after your partner rapes you

    5. a man claimed this book set back feminism a couple of decades. A woman argued against him, saying just because the heroine wants to be dominated, that doesn't make it bad for women. Obviously she was missing the point completely

      ...I don't know. Like, for all I know the lady in question was a misogynist twerp and the guy in question was a lifelong feminist activist, but the way you put this I'm getting a strong odor of mansplaining. Because, let's be honest, godawful rape-filled books are written and published by the score every year with no particular comment from mainstream media. To be honest, I'd really appreciate a trigger warning from a lot of books, movies, tv shows, and so on; at most you get "adult material" warnings which can mean any damn thing with regard to consent. And this isn't just in the romance/erotica genre, where at least you can usually tell from the back cover that there might be some concerns; fantasy, science fiction, historicals, mysteries, spy thrillers, horror, and the most hallowed of "literary" books have all on one occasion or another thrown some horrible graphic rape at me, very seldom to explore the issues and psychology and social implications involved. Rape is a wildly popular plot device.

      I can't help but think that the reasons Fifty Shades gets a lot of its criticism essentially boil down to: (a) there's not a lot else to talk about w/r/t plot or substance, (b) it's wildly popular, and (c) it's a book about ~sexy sex stuff~ that was written by a woman for a primarily female audience. And the first two are fair enough, but I have a real problem with (c). Shitty books with consent issues and regressive attitudes towards women's rights are wildly popular all the damn time. They're just usually written by dudes, and not shelved in the romance section. And they stand a much better chance of being accepted into the literary canon, too - Pamela, I'm looking at you.

      All this tl;dr in order to say: I can't help but side-eye most male-identified persons who want to tell me about how [creative work done by a woman for women] is "setting feminism back." Like, there are lots of cultural forces unquestionably trying to do literally that, and even only considering popular works of fiction I'm a lot more worried by the cases where lack of consent either goes completely unnoticed or is just a handy device to make things more dark and edgy, and/or give a female character a plotline (because nothing else ever happens to women!)

      All of which is not to say that this book isn't nauseating on every level, and definitely unworthy of its success, but yeah.

    6. Ximena -- The Anita Blake books are just as bad or worse after Obsidian Butterfly-ish than 50 Shades. It's just that because it's Anita doing the raping because of the ardeur or arduer or however the author decides to spell it this week (and in many, MANY cases being forced into sex herself against her will because of said authorial agency which serves as the lamest plot device ever, the ardeur) doesn't mean it's any better than this drek. Maybe in the later books she might develop some sense of "Hey, I want that" instead of "OH GOD, I HAVE to HAVE SEX RIGHT NOW or my VAGINA and the WORLD will EXPLODE... but I don't really want to", but in the 17 or 18 books I read before I finally gave up, I never saw it.

    7. Anon @ January 8, 2014 at 7:06 PM
      Well, I agree with lots of what you say, but Pamela was published in 1740. Attitudes to women in the UK in 1740 were not exactly progressive. I haven't read Pamela, but I am prepared to believe that it also has some literary value, unlike 50 Shades, but more importantly it (and what we know of its reception at the time) is a useful source on British attitudes to gender and sexuality at the end of the early modern period.

      Now I am sure there are modern books with shitty writing and popularity and terrible terrible messages which are written by dudes and get less flack than 50SOG does, but I can't think of any that are as wildly popular or as shitty about consent as 50S, and especially none whose plot revolves around someone repeatedly raping a woman and then being portrayed as good because of that...

    8. Ximena and Maximilia - yeeeeah, I sort of hate the Anita Blake series myself. I can count the number of times I feel like anybody is wholeheartedly consenting to something sexual (or a lot of other things) on the fingers of one hand, not including my thumb. It apes some of the "communication is important! Consent is vital!" stuff, but I don't really see a lot of it being put into practice in the books.

    9. I loved the Anita Blake series when I was in high school, back when it was still mostly about supernatural monster detectiving. (In retrospect, I think Anita was kind of a jerk even then, but that's more a matter of taste.) Then she started having sex, and okay, big change in tone, but kinda fun.

      Then she got a supernatural curse that meant she had to constantly have sex, and the books became about nothing but "she doesn't want to have sex because then she would be a slut, but she has to, so it's okay," and ew ew ew and I stopped reading.

    10. You might enjoy the Meredith Gentry series by the same author, which has a lot of sex which is actually important to the plot, and most of it is almost consensual! (as in, she picks who and when and she enjoys it, but she doesn't really have the option of no sex). She also totally owns her sex drive and makes good use of it.

      On the other hand it has a massively abusive mother figure so maybe you won't enjoy it.

    11. I liked the first Merry Gentry book--although the whole "every color-coded man she runs into lusts after her for no particular reason" stuff wore a little thin, there was some good worldbuilding. But after that it seemed like the series went into this weird lethargic time-dilation mode where every book only covered a couple days that she mostly spent lying in bed.

    12. The scene in the first one where she sexes a selkie's lost sealskin back has stuck with me to this day. It came right after a Branwyn's Tears magic-made-me-do-it scene that I remember as being really hot, but really off-putting in a way I couldn't understand, and then the selkie man shows up and they have really hot sex that wasn't off-putting in any way, and good things happened after and nobody got hurt! I think I was twelve? I wasn't able to articulate at the time why the first scene made me feel weird and the second scene just made me feel good, but it was consent. That's all.

    13. I liked (mostly in the first book, but some in later ones) when she was really accepting of other fae's traits and didn't hold them to human standards. Like, when the selkie leaves her to go splash in the sea, she isn't offended, she's just "well, can't keep a seal on land forever." Or when one of her lovers has tentacles in his belly and another one is a tiny snake goblin, and her best friend has too many legs and no nose; she's got a very matter-of-fact "yep, that's how they look" attitude that's really refreshing.

      Unfortunately, after a while I felt like the series just devolved into "she slept with the green guy. then the white guy. then the BLACK BUT NOT A BLACK PERSON IT IS SO IMPORTANT YOU UNDERSTAND HE'S A TOTALLY CAUCASIAN GUY WHO IS MERELY COLORED BLACK (this part got kind of racist imo) guy. then the green guy some more. whoooo." and bored me to death.

    14. Anon @ January 9, 2014 at 5:07 AM

      "The Sheik"? I have a weird affection for it and how important it was to the romance genre as we know it today, but it is absolutely Stockholm Syndrome: A Love Story with bonus racism. And yet it launched Rudolph Valentino into superstardom, is the namesake of a condom brand, made "sheik" slang for "hot guy" throughout the 20s, and has never been out of print.

      Also, who's to say that in 200+ years 50 Shades won't be seen as a useful perspective on contemporary cultural attitudes towards women? I'm sure there's more than one women's studies graduate thesis being written on it even as I type this.

    15. And right after posting that, I realized that what I should have been looking for was an example not of a rapetastic book that made it big, nothing new under the sun etc., but of a bestselling male book/author who doesn't get the same amount of flack for having consent issues.

      So, idk, off the top of my head, OH JOHN RINGO NO? Also a fair portion of the works of Piers Antony.

  8. Yup! And it just gets worse; this was why I had to stop MSTing around Chapter 15. I COULDN'T MAKE IT FUNNY.

  9. A couple of thoughts that occurred to me a long time ago.
    1. The word 'love' can refer to a variety of specific emotions. Love between family members is obviously different than romantic love.
    2. A 'relationship' can contain multiple kinds of 'love' which usually go together. You want to be with the person, AND you want to know they are doing well and usually others.
    3. Maybe an abusive relationship is caused by someone who desperately wants to keep the other person around, but compared to that their concern for the other's welfare is relatively low. Yes, breaking their legs is bad, but watching them walk out the door is far, far worse to the Christian Grey types.
    I'm not an expert. I only read blogs, and Women's Studies classes. However the idea might explain why some people get so excited over possessive acts, even downright abusive possessive. It is love, but mostly because "love" is a flawed word.

    It is true that women sometimes orgasm during rape, which is depicted here. It was explained to me once; and it often causes women to blame themselves even more; since you assume you must of wanted it if you orgasmed. I once read an online message board "Describe your best orgasm ever" and there was a woman who's most powerful orgasm was during rape. Clearly the same is now true for the fictional character of Anastasia Steele, leaving a surprising number of women wondering how they can cum like Ana. (Another disturbing thing I've seen online). I guess if you don't know that you can orgasm during rape, maybe the fans are just assuming it was supposed to be consensual because of that?

    I get the impression that anyone who can get off to Fifty Shades in general does not think of sex in terms of consent or non consent, or even "I want" or "I don't want", let alone "I have decided to have sex" or "I have decided to not have sex". Sex is just a pile of unthinking urges unleashed by alcohol or maybe the right guy. Sex is something that happens spontaneously or doesn't. It just full out of the sky making you wet like rain. If you're a woman then thinking too hard about it risks dissolving the magic. If you're a man forcing a woman to stop and think about her desires destroys the magic and thus you're chance of getting laid!

    Look at the Louis CK video in the previous post. He's describing a woman who doesn't want to have to think about her desires. A woman who doesn't want to have to risk acknowledging "I want this! I chose this! I'm getting what I want!" right when she has a man inside of her, since apparently that would ruin it for her.

    I'm sorry. I'm ranting about female sexuality, when I have little hard evidence. I am a man, so don't take my word for it. Though I think my theory above does explain Fifty Shades of Grey fandom. In summary, these are women who are turned off by the realization that they are turned on. To acknowledge that they WANT sex is too terrifying. BDSM isn't enough because you still have to acknowledge your sexuality. They can deal with a sexual inner goddess that is inside of them, and influencing them, a mischievous spirit forcefully possessing them, but acknowledging that the sexual inner goddess is just an element of themselves is at best a major turn off. Acknowledging that the sex is enjoyable makes these women so disgusted with themselves, so worried they might be a subhuman "slut," that they can't enjoy the sex, let alone a literary sex fantasy.

    So thoughts anyone? Are there any women who can confirm or deny my little theory?

    1. Whoa! First, didn't know women have had rape experiences that included orgasms. That sounds horrible and confusing as fuck and I hope this gets out more because they need all of the support. Seriously.
      That actually leads me to think about my first sexual fantasy, way before I hit puberty. I was not even ten and I liked the idea of strangers in dark alleys kissing me (I didn't really know what sex consisted of) and uh, hurting me. It's actually a very good explanation of what desire felt like to me: something that when acknowledged, faded, because I was too embarrassed and ashamed of it.
      It's not something exclusive to women, though. My partner used to have frequent lapses of "if we talk about it, I won't like doing it" when we were younger (because I get really chatty about sex, I guess). Even with BDSM, where you have to make sure everything is okay, like really, he used to prefer dealing with stuff once sex was already happening. Just so you don't think this is awful and rapey, an example would be anal play: he wouldn't say before sex, "hey I feel like we should do anal", but would start saying he'd do it during sex and if I didn't say no (which I often did, to be honest, it's better to plan that sort of stuff), then he'd go on.
      SO. Rape fantasies are indeed more about not acknowledging sexuality than anything else, and they might also apply to guys as a way of not acknowledging the need for consent, maybe? What would you say about this?
      Also, way happy you're a guy. Yay for guy feminists!

    2. Right on the money, sonny.

      The women I personally know who are really into these books also tend to be in terrible, non-communicative relationships. They also tend to be offended or put-off by my somewhat blunt approach to discussing sex. They're okay with acknowledging they like these books, but if I actually dare to talk about doing very light BDSM play with my husband, suddenly they are mute or shocked that I just dared to say these dirty words aloud.

      Additionally, the biggest fan I personally know once told me that EVERY TIME her husband and her have sex, it hurts, but he wants it so much she just deals with it. She said this with laughter in her voice, as if this was just a funny little occurrence women have to put up with at times. I was completely horrified- but suddenly realized why scenes like the one described above seem like a perfectly sexy little encounter to her. She is barely consenting to painful, unenjoyable sex with her husband, so of course a rape scene that ends in orgasm seems sexy to her.

      This goes back to a concept I believe Cliff has covered here already. This idea that women don't really want sex ever means that a scene like the one above is considered to be a successful encounter. Of COURSE she didn't want it at first, Of COURSE he had to force her to do it, of COURSE she doesn't actually know what she wants and needs a man to tell her what she wants, that's just how women are sexually.

      And the scary thing is, way too many women I personally know actually have this attitude about sex.

    3. @ V: yes, it's really disturbing.

      There's an interesting text content warning: child rape

    4. I do like your analysis, but I would also like to say that I really, really loved this line: "Sex is something that happens spontaneously or doesn't. It just falls out of the sky making you wet like rain."
      As to the analysis, I once read a blog post (sadly can't locate it just now) by a young woman who'd been raised in a religious household. She talked about how her teenage years had been torture because she felt physical, sexual desire - and while boys had been taught that lust was a sin, at least they were taught that it was usual to have it, and they could talk to their pastor or whoever about praying it away. Girls were supposed to be incapable of naughty pantsfeels, so she felt unspeakably broken and dirty for wanting sex.

    5. I'm sure that for many women rape fantasies are about not wanting to acknowledge sexuality, but for myself, I feel that they're about something else. I have a low libido and a high sensitivity to certain kinds of touch - like, I hate riding in a car with the window down because of the way the air moves unpredictably and irregularly. I also have some ADD-like attention issues. Having sex with a partner, for me, demands the mental effort of staying focused on a lecture class (instead of doodling in my notes) and the physical effort of, hm, I'm not even sure what's a good comparison here. Trying to stay relaxed, so I don't flinch away or tense up to brace myself, but without the sort of distancing/distraction I might use to get through a dental appointment? Maybe it's sort of like doing yoga? And then there's the tedious manual labor of getting someone *else* off... Anyways, for me, my rape fantasies, of sex just happening to me and then having an orgasm anyways, are all about *not having the personal/bodily limitations I myself have*. Sex where I *didn't have to do one bit of work, on my own behalf or someone else's* and *still got off* would be like the polar opposite of what I get in real life. And, yes, sometimes I do instead fantasize situations where I'm passive but fully consenting. But, I don't know, the idea that I could even be *reluctant* and still get to come, as opposed to desperately chasing triple cherries knowing that most of the time I'm gonna end up frustrated, that is just a thing that revs my personal engine. Now, if someone really wants to believe that, no, this kind of fantasy is always 100% of the time about Women Not Embracing Sex, then, sure, they can go ahead and believe that subconsciously I have problematic beliefs about sex, I can't disprove that. All I can say is that, consciously, I feel pretty darn pro-sex, I collect porn comics, I'm pretty sure I would earn the Creative Masturbation merit badge if I joined the Sex Scouts, but these challenges of mind and body that I deal with in other areas of my life don't turn out to magically disappear in bed. (Dammit.)

    6. My theory isn't really that original. I read a lot of blogs like this one. A strong miasma of "sex is bad for women" seems to pervade the culture, or else "women don't really like the sex itself; only the potential romance around the act" "a woman who likes sex is weird/damaged/crazy/evil/hurting on the inside in some subtle way even she isn't aware of".

      Of course men are also sometimes shamed for sex, though usually it is for different reasons. Often men are praised for having a lot of sexual partners; however since men ostensibly benefit from sex and women are harmed, a guy who mentions his desire is a horrible exploiter of women, he takes advantage of the poor little ladies. What a mean guy, wanting to have sex! Escaping this judgement is difficult as people often assume ALL men exploit women. Google schroedinger's rapist. It is a set of stereotypes that helps the actual rapists but hurts decent men.

      Men can also be shamed for not having sex in the right way, and definetely if they don't have sex with women at all. Virgins and gay men can expect a lot of bullying and shaming, including internalized shame.

      One belief is that men are compelled to have sex, they can't help it. Sometimes rape isn't treated as a crime, but as a force of nature, even in the context of a specific rape and a specific rapist. Women are blamed for failing to respect the danger and power of the male libido; which supposedly can force a man and woman together regardless of what they consciously want.

      @Most recent Anonymous: What you describe seems different from Fifty Shades style rape fantasies. A lot of people might have sexual fantasies where they are passive; scenarios where they are never required to act or think. I think it would be common to both men and women if it weren't for sexism. Even mainstream porn has lot of women initiating things. Also, I have also found that ADD attention issues can interrupt sex even masturbation. However FSoG describes something different, she specifically doesn't want sex, even actively avoids it, but it is forced upon her and she apparently orgasms and enjoys it on one level anyway.

    7. I have heard about the orgasm during rape thing many times. I could not comprehend it at all until someone told me what happened to her - WARNING - her rapist had throttled her unconscious and then did oral sex on her, as she was coming round she was aware she had pleasurable feelings. This caused even worse feelings about the rape as the rapist said she enjoyed it. This is the only context I have heard of it - I think in a conscious situation it would be about a period of 'grooming' or supposed gentleness, but I do still struggle with understanding it as I was never taught to be ashamed of my sexual feelings.
      I do agree with the basic idea - many women ARE very uncomfortable with true ownership of their sexuality, and this can fuel the rape fantasy, and I agree with whoever said that those who find this horrorshow sexy are so limited in their experience or true expression during sex that any orgasm seems amazing.
      I find all this very sad.

    8. quenzmo,

      Um... I might be reading you wrong, but are you saying that you were unable to believe a woman could orgasm during from rape until someone told you about one unusual context that you found believable? Having an orgasm during rape doesn't have anything to do with being taught to be ashamed of sexual feelings - it's just a physical response and it can happen regardless of how you feel about the experience or your sexuality.

      Sorry, I just don't want you to (hopefully, unintentionally) enforce the idea that there are only special circumstances where that could happen and therefore if it happens during "textbook" rape (and it *does*) then it's really just the woman enjoying herself and it wasn't really rape.

    9. Yeah, that comment rubbed me the wrong way as well. Some women (not a lot, but some) orgasms easily, even from penetration alone. Is it so hard to believe that an orgasm, which at the end of the day is nothing but a bodily reaction, may come simply because certain body parts were rubbed?

    10. Dvärghundspossen

      Thanks, I thought I might have been overreacting/too-sensitive. Full disclosure, I am one of the women you've mentioned so it hit close to home for me to read that.

    11. It's not just the fact that some women orgasm from penetration so the friction does it. It's sort of a not-conscious defense mechanism of the body that triggers the orgasm (because orgasm = lubrication and lubrication = less pain, for example) even when the person who is experiencing it is NOT liking the situation at all. Some sort of automatic and totally not voluntary "let's minimize damage" thing. And of course not a symptom that the person who is undergoing rape is happy to be raped or wants to.

  10. OMG haha this is almost as lame as the book i read one time in which a girl was raped and being forced to have oral sex and the next line was " she tried to scream but something was blocking her throat " ........................ I dont know how shite like this gets published but someone seems to think its what women want to read ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, YAWN

  11. My level of disgust and utter contempt for this book and its author are off the charts.

    1. Seconded.
      And the case of a potential partner having read and liked the book is being added to the "red flags for potentially manipulative relationships" list.

    2. Now that's just brilliant.

      I'd also like to add that anyone who's read and liked the book/s clearly doesn't have the first clue what a D/s relationship is supposed to look/feel like, nor do they know diddly squat about BDSM. I'm henceforth free to ignore their opinions. When you look at it like that, this book is doing wonders to educate the BDSM community...on who to avoid.

  12. I agree about it being a red flag, and not just because of Christian Grey. He's just the most prominent abuser. I would worry about anyone who identified with any of the main characters.

    There's so much victim blaming, emotional manipulation, and just general awfulness in these books. Almost every character is abusive (including Ana). Not that that makes any of the abuse OK or deserved. It just makes it all more horrifying.

  13. I have taken to reading out your commentary to whomever is in the vicinity (usually Boy). He declined to listen after the warning tonight, and instead suggested I would be much happier massaging his shoulders. I continued reading.
    Boy "You are making distress sounds you should stop reading"
    Me "How do you know they are not happy sounds?"
    Boy "They aren't. You are making distressed sounds. Massaging my shoulders would have been a much better plan, you NEVER make distressed sounds when giving me a massage"
    Me "Not the point."

    Anyway, thankyou for the commentary. You are making me hate all the things, but I am glad to see others are horrified/disgusted/outraged. Why oh why was this considered such a good romance book?!?! *vomit*

  14. I've been wondering all day about this "joke". Why did she do it? How did it make sense to her?

    The unfortunate conclusion I come to is straight out of the PUA writings: she's testing his confidence. Or possibly she's testing how much power she has over him. She's asking "Does this guy love me enough to pursue me even in the face of rejection?"

    This way of thinking is alien to someone who lives in consent culture, but I do think it's what's going on.

    Once again E.L. James is remarkably honest in her portrayal. Our heroine ends up crying in her bedroom. And she would have ended up crying in her bedroom either way, because she has set up a situation where she can only lose. Her guy will turn out to be an abuser/stalker/rapist, or her guy will walk away. And she finds out that "love" has nothing to do with the answer.

    1. I have seen the interpretation that Christian, by coming over to Ana's, is doing exactly what she was really asking him to do. No, it didn't make sense to me either, but I think that's probably close to what ELJ thinks is going on.

    2. (Goddammit, I typed out this whole long response and then Blogspot ate it. Grrr. Trying again, apologies if you get this twice.)

      The unfortunate conclusion I come to is straight out of the PUA writings: she's testing his confidence. Or possibly she's testing how much power she has over him. She's asking "Does this guy love me enough to pursue me even in the face of rejection?"

      See, I definitely think this is how we're supposed to real his actions here — he's Proving His Love to her by not taking "no" for an answer! — but I'm not sure it explains her actions. We're in Ana's PoV here, after all, and she thinks of it as a funny joke, not as a test. Which makes no sense on the face of it, unless you assume that the idea of Ana (or any woman, really) leaving a man like Christian Grey is inherently silly and ridiculous, and the fact that the "joke" isn't explained at all implies to me that the reader is assumed to share that view.

    3. I read her as teasing or pranking him. And that's one way that people test each other's limits and reactions so it kind of fits. (I hate it with a passion, and I think I'm not alone here, but it's still part of our culture).

      But of course we're given so few clues that your reading works just as well :)

  15. I think that what happened with the 'joke' is, Ana did that thing where you don't realize that tone of voice doesn't get transmitted in writing. Like, there is indeed a tone of voice in which you could say "Okay, I’ve seen enough. It was nice knowing you" and it would clearly be a joke. And presumably she was thinking it in that tone, and it didn't occur to her that nothing in what she wrote actually carried that information.

    1. That syncs up with the ongoing evidence that she hasn't really used a computer much before and wouldn't know to watch out for that.

  16. It seems to me that the basic source of this book's many, many problems is James' investment in the rape-culturey idea that there is absolutely no reason a "normal" woman would want to participate in BDSM except as a means to trap the man of her dreams (and his fat wallet) into wedded bliss.

    And yet, here she is, writing BDSM erotica targeted at women. So basically all she can do from this hypocritical starting point is sell rape voyeurism marketed as sexy romance. And the really disturbing bit is that this kind of voyeurism seems to be considered more socially acceptable than the idea of a woman actually enjoying BDSM.

  17. I never in my life thought I would ever advocate book burning, but I have this overwhelming desire to go to my local B&N and have a bonfire in the parking lot with all their copies of this shit-fest.

  18. I thought abusive manipulators were supposed to be charismatic and charming, like Walter White. Christian Grey sounds like a real whiny asshole.
    Although in retrospect, maybe Walt wasn't all that charming. He was kindof a petulant unlikable asshole too.

    1. Oh my god, Walter White was like the least likeable character in the entire fucking world. The only time I liked him is when (spoiler alert) he slaughtered all those Nazis.

  19. A (now ex, for unrelated reasons) boyfriend listened to an audio book of these books, and he told me how "hot" they were. Before reading this I thought only that he had poor taste, but now I find it rather frightening. I think, after reading the comment thread, that he is well described by the commenter who talked about people thinking sex is something that falls out of the sky like rain, but I can't help being bemused by what would be going through head listening to something like this. :/ I suppose it's no longer my problem, as I wouldn't consider dating him again for various reasons, but still.

  20. Yeah, this is the chapter when FSOG really went off the rails, from rape-y to just plain rape.

    I like the theory that this book is popular with women who don't have a good connection with their own sexuality, who externalize their desires onto other, "bad" women, or onto their "inner goddess", or "he made me do it" in the ever-popular rape fantasy. For them, Ana is the perfect woman, completely asexual until the Right Man comes along (yet still desired by other men).

    She's a lot like Betty Draper in "Mad Men": "You don't kiss boys. Boys kiss you."

    1. I've heard this theory before, and I think it holds true for some women, certainly. (I remember my mom talking about how she found out that it was a thing from a blog she reads by a very conservative woman who thought that it was hot.) I've also heard the theory that it's also popular among women who haven't read much romance and erotica... but then there's my boyfriend's mom. She's a big-time romance reader, and I'm assuming that she's well aware of what she wants sexually... and yet she's a huge fan. I'm thinking that there's something else going on. Perhaps it's that in some ways it's Twilight with sex, and that hits a lot of people, or that a lot of the demographic that grew up with that is now reaching adulthood. Maybe hit has something to do with abstinance-only education, or...something. And then, I think a lot of it is also people who heard the hype and simply wanted to see what the fuss was about. But, I guess the only way to figure out exactly what it is would be to do a large survey of fans about it and ask them why they like it, and then generalize from there.
      (For what it's worth, the boyfriend said to me last night that it was getting harder and harder to resist the temptation to confront his mother about why she likes and defends the books. But, I'm afraid that everybody will just keep defending it with "oh, he gets better in the third book!" though it really doesn't matter if he does or not, it's indefensible NOW.)

    2. The thing is, he DOESN'T get better in the third book. If anything the abuse is even more obvious, but Ana reveals herself to be such an awful person herself that it's harder to feel sorry for her and as the reader you just want them both to die in a fire.

    3. Actually "Mad Men" is another example of a franchise where they can depict a scene that is obviously just rape, and yet the fandom acts like it is the sexiest thing ever. There was even one scene that caused a minor commotion, women gushing "How sexy!!!!" all over the interwebz, but you watch the actual scene and it is clearly stated that Don Draper is fingering the women not out of lust, but as a calculated attempt at intimidation. The main character is a rapist, a sympathetic, ultra manly rapist, but the show doesn't obscure the fact that he'll rape you.

  21. A thing that is really disturbing me now:
    This is the second time I've read this scene. The first time I read it in full, and at that time, I read it as
    'Ana is scared because she thinks he's mad at her about the joke. We have that situation where she does want to have sex (so, internal consent) but he doesn't know that and if fact has absolute reason to think she does not, so what he did was wrong and screwed up and not OK and he's only not a rapist because he got lucky and she did. She then cries because of the 'but it's just sex, he doesn't love me' issue.'
    I'm also pretty sure this reading of it is Ana's current understanding of what happened too, minus the 'wrong' part (and also likely the reading of most people reading this, also minus the 'wrong' part, which is why they can enjoy it).

    But, you're right. You're absolutely right. What this actually reads as is that there was no internal consent either (even though there was desire, because the two are in no way the same thing) and she ends up crying because of the violation she just experienced.

    I was (in a much more minor way, but I was) sexually assaulted last spring. And, I also cried in the immediate aftermath. And at the time, my understanding of the situation was that I was upset because the thing that had just touched my genitals was probably not properly clean and what if something bad happened because of this because I was so stupid and didn't get out of the situation. It was only after more time and a lot of support from people close to me and validation from an anti-rape culture activist online that the 'I was sexually assaulted' part became part of mental reality for me.

    Ana doesn't have that kind of support. She doesn't even have the foundations of several years of exposure to sex positivity and consent culture and information about rape culture that I had. So at this point my reading of this situation has turned into 'This was rape, and Ana has that reality on some level - but not at all on the conscious level, and she likely never will'.
    That would be disturbing enough.

    But also - EL James wrote this, and I'm pretty sure she would also give my original reading as her understanding of what happened. But all the information is there - not recognized for what it really is, but there. Which makes me thing - how is she able to put all that in there, without any awareness of that herself.

    (I remember at the beginning of the novel, I was kind of worried for James, because the things Ana was experiencing were exactly what my social anxiety felt like at its worst, only she wasn't thinking about it as social anxiety, she thought of it as normal, and so did the narrative - it wasn't being shown as 'she has social anxiety but thinks everything is normal', it was being shown as 'everything is normal'.
    And now this feels like a much, much more horrible version of exactly that).

  22. I'd like to throw this in the "FUCK THIS HORRIBLE BOOK" pot:

    Having an orgasm (or a billion of them, apparently) while being raped doesn't make the rape suddenly okay. This seems in step with a common Hentai theme. A woman (or revoltingly young girl) is raped, she cries and whimpers a lot, but then she cums so the rapist knows that she secretly wanted it all along.

    Elevated heart rate, adrenaline, and other symptoms of terror are similar to what the body experiences when it is excited. The difference is how you actually feel about the situation. I bet that my body would experience the same chemicals if I turned on my light and found a surprise birthday party for me or if I discovered dismembered limbs.

    So if someone is so terrified and their body is all jacked up and they are having scary intercourse which is causing friction in their vagina, any resulting orgasm isn't "YAY! I must actually like it!" It's "hey! action caused a reaction which I can't control and it doesn't mean that my body gave you permission!"

    1. The idea that "I'm right; you were attracted to me, so therefore I'm doing this for your own good" is really creepily common in romantic stories, both with straight and gay couples. I see it a lot in a more 'minor' way than in FSoG, where's it's like...Person A states their intention not to have sex, for whatever reason. Person B convinces them otherwise often using seduction techniques of some kind. Generally the consent happens before sexy things do, but I can't help but think it's saying that it's OK to persuade someone to sleep with you after they've said no so long as it's because they really *are* attracted to you. People are allowed to say no even to people they *do* desperately want to sleep with, whether it's because they're seeing someone else, morally object to the idea of sex, or any other reason.

    2. I am possibly the least likely person in the world to orgasm from rape because I have a hard time orgasming when I'm fully consenting, but it's still one of the most horrible nightmareish things I can imagine. Like, it must feel as though your own body has become the rapist's accomplice. I tense up even thinking about it. Anyone who thinks an orgasm makes it automatically consensual needs to fuck right off as far away as possible and stay fucked off forever.

  23. I fear for the damage this book might do to young women by normalising abusive relationships. I say this as someone who can trace reading rapey literature targeted at teenage girls as part of my journey towards being in a relationship with someone who repeatedly raped me.

  24. TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE ...and a really really terrible Court of Law.

    I live in Sweden and read a terrible terrible terrible news story about a rapist who had been declared innocent at court (even after the court had declared that the man had had sex with the woman against her will) because "it isn't shown that he had intent to do so, even though the partners had no agreement to that kind of sexual game". What are they basing this lame lame excuse on?

    Yeah, the man said that he could see that she was into "dominance sex" and recognised the way she said no during the entire sex act from other girls he had slept with, and that he knew that what he did to the woman was satisfactory because of muscle clenches in her body...

    And I went from that... to this. And everything is just fucked up. He is the real Christian Grey. Just assuming that the girl wants to have BDSM sex and then justify everything with "I think she enjoyed it!". And then the court goes "Oh, we are sorry, we all think that he raped you, but it wasn't his INTENT to rape you, so we have to let him go".

    1. I'm Swedish too and came to think about this post as well when I read about that horrible legal scandal. Yeah, apparently she had been yelling NO and everything, but the dude had been like "oh I can totally tell that she's into being dominated in bed", forcing her down and raping her. And he got away with it.

  25. Makes me cry, but not from laughter. Fuck FSoG.

  26. Reading through these posts, I'm coming away with the take that FSoG is serious non-con smut. I don't have a problem with non-con stories or people negotiating consensually non-con scenes. I think the real problem is just that FSoG is being portrayed as consensual when it is not. That's a very bad issue. It makes non-consensual activities seem okay in reality, when they are only okay as sexual fantasies. It's also not okay, because I think non-con needs to be properly labeled. It's obviously going to be triggering or just plain disturbing for many people, and it isn't something you should be surprised by. It's something you should make a choice to read, if it's something you want to read or be able to easily avoid. I'm not surprised that there is a market for non-consensual sexual fantasy writing. But I really do wish people would admit that is what it is. It could be a totally fine (well, except for the bad writing) bit of porn for those who enjoy the scenarios it contains, if it were just being upfront about itself. And then people could take a pro-fantasy stance in saying, yes, I do get turned on by rape fantasies, but that's totally okay, because it's not real rape and there is a difference between enjoying stories about rape and actually raping somebody or actually wanting to be raped. However, the people who are promoting the idea that any guy should act like that in reality... that's where it becomes really scary and disturbing. The people who aren't seeing the non-con or see it but think it's okay in reality, that's scary. So, basically, it's not the book itself but how the book is presented and how people are interacting about it that really disturbs me.

    1. This, exactly. As someone who is turned on by rape fantasies, I find this book horrifying not necessarily because of the content, which could be sexy to me if properly contextualized, but because it is *not* properly contextualized. This book actually gives the impression of promoting the idea that if someone doesn't want to do something, you should force them to do it anyway until they start to like it. It creates this idea that Anastasia's unwillingness to participate in BDSM is a problem, a flaw, and one which Christian Grey must correct by force. Because lol those vanilla girls just don't know what they want, amirite? Show them a good time and soon they'll be begging for more. (SARCASM. *So* much sarcasm in those two previous sentences. I feel the need to label this because without that sarcasm they are too horrifying to contemplate, and because a lot of people actually think that and I can't stand the idea of anyone even accidentally coming to the conclusion that I support such views.)

      If they left out that fucking contract, along with any pretense of consent or negotiation, this would be a much better fantasy because it would be completely obvious that it *was* a fantasy. No one would ever make T-shirts saying "Waiting for my Christian Grey" because Christian Grey would be an *actual rapist*, as portrayed by the text, and everyone would be able to recognize that however sexy the fantasy might be, having these things happen to you in real life would be fucked up and awful. That's what makes rape fantasies work for me: knowing that it's just a fantasy, and not allowing the fantasy to spill over into the real world.

      With FSoG, it spills over big time. And that's super gross.

  27. I was reading something an earlier anon was saying about how fans of the book (and you, I think, on earlier matters?) and then it finally hit me: the reason that this book is more fucked up than most erotica is because it is straight-up cultural tourism/cultural exotification, with the "culture" in question being BDSM.

    Ana, in this story, is the archetypical "Mighty Whitey" (ykwim), intrepid explorer. The reason she's not really into it all is because she's just an innocent "vanilla" girl, a.k.a. Not Like These People At All. Christian Grey gets a pass because he's just "part of the culture." His coercive behavior is tied to that, as with his curious aversive-yet-fascinated-by response to things like sleeping in beds and vanilla sex. The paragraph near the end is supposed to represent his resolve to resist "corruption" by vanilla culture.

    The contract serves as a kind of "exciting threshold" between the real world and James's representation of BDSM culture, because it's a powerful image.

    It kind of makes sense as Twilight fanfiction because then there are actual magical thresholds and strange unified behaviors, but applying it to real people is icky as shit.

  28. It's a pretty common theme in romance novels to have the hero 'punish' the heroine with sex for a real or perceived slight that may or may not have been her fault but they usually employ certain things to make it feel less rapey. Such as making it obvious that the heroine is turned on and while she may be frightened she doesn't believe he will truly hurt her. He may just focus on getting her off and showing his control that way. Oftentimes, he will stop himself before it 'gets bad'. Which leaves you with the message that even though she makes him feel so strongly he would never allow himself to hurt her. The ones that don't make that distinction make me feel yucky. I think James was trying to use that type of scene here but interpret it in a BDSM context. Obviously, she failed miserably.

  29. Or you could stop pandering to your audience and do something useful like try your hand at writing erotica that doesn't have any issues with consent.

    1., you sound like you think you're issuing a challenge or something. as if writing fully consensual erotica is difficult. it's not and there's no lack of it out there if you know where to look. it doesn't have to be vanilla, either - I could rec you off the top of my head at least 3 fully-consensual rape fantasy stories, not to even mention other kinks where explicit negotiation is brought into view.

    2. Yeah, yeah, and why don't you go write the perfect blog post that never pisses anyone off.

      Anyway, there's a big gulf between "issues with consent" and "hero breaks into heroine's house and she scans for escape routes and screams 'no' at him." I mean, that's not an issue, it's not like some oversight or difficulty on the part of the author. That's deliberately writing a rape scene.

    3. And, you know, if she wanted to write a rape scene, then fine. The problem is that it's not marketed as rape porn, but as "This is totally normal BDSM, guys, don't you wish your husband were more like Christian Grey?"

      But I'm fairly sure that discussion came up here before :)

  30. Nice One !!!
    I m excited for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie.I cant wait for releasing date of Fifty Shades Of Grey.
    Fifty Shades Of Grey

    1. Did... did we just get a FSoG spam bot?

  31. My original comment got eaten by blogger, so trying again. I loathe Twilight as I see it (in addition to other glaring and we'll covered flaws) as a handbook for aspiring predators. THIS book is so much worse!

    Secondary comment - re: orgasm during rape...(trigger warning?) I was in a long term relationship in my late teens. We basically lived together and had sex regularly when I didn't want to. It's still hard to call it "rape" but I knew it was pointless to fight it (a couple of times early on he kept going when I said no - those I can call rape more easily) so I basically would do my best to enjoy it. I am lucky enough to come very easily under most circumstances, so I'd just kinda force myself to, regardless of my interest in the sex itself.

  32. I CALLED IT! I called IT!

    I KNEW if Ana tried to break up with Christian Grey he would actually force the issue.

    And that folks is why Christian Grey is a monster.

  33. I think you dodged a bullet with that one.

  34. Thank you for a very thought-provoking post. Wow! I am so confused now. I really don't know what to think. I read all three books. They're not great and can be boring at times but I did think they were erotic and there's just something about the Christian / Ana relationship. I thought it was sweet and loving, now I don't know what to think. I always thought that she consented to whatever he did. Yeah they have rough sex but she said she enjoyed that and wanted it. Yeah, he spanks her but she wanted him to and she was aroused by it. She did consent orally, but not in written form. The rape in this chapter - I just don't know. I mean, if she meant the email as a joke then she doesn't want to break up and does actually want sex? I'm disturbed by her looking for a way out of the room - is she really scared? But then she's the one who initiates sex - she launches herself at him. Before he goes ahead he asks if she trusts him and she nods. Later she clearly says she wants him. And her crying after he leaves - I thought that was because she missed him already, but now I think she may have been having conflicted feelings.

  35. 150,000,000 copies and still selling. any chance you radfems might just be wrong about all this?

  36. Crappy fantasy. Let me cite the first comment:
    I thought the book was merely bad. I did not realize it was actually about rape Stockholm Syndrome.
    VoilĂ .

  37. Yeah I'm with the people saying that most people skim read the books for the steamy scenes. I know I only skimmed through the first book (so this blog has been an interesting read for me) and not being into BDSM most of the book didn't connect with me that much anyway. I did hate this scene too. Interestingly when I read books 2 and 3 I started to skip past the sex scenes just trying to get to the end of the story and see if she every makes it work... and while ultimately this ends up being a 'girl reforms the rake' kind of series I still finished the series hating both Ana and Christian. (And seriously CHRISTIAN being the superawesome perfect guy? Ugh seriously she can't even come up with good names.)

  38. Also, I do disagree with your premise that this series glorifies abuse - *SPOILER* it actually ends up with her leaving and sticking up for her rights, and transforming the relationship into a non-abusive one. But I think that by the end it equates BDSM relationships to abuse.

  39. the BDSM isn't even that good. If the author is too scared to even name parts of anatomy or describe sex more detailed why the heck is she even writing this? Even I can write better porn lol.
    Porn aside this book is in fact a crappy rape fantasy. a girl with low self-esteem who wants to be treated like crap by a guy with equally low self esteem. and it's f*king disgusting how Ana was 'jealous' of Grey's child molester. f*cking gross and describes her level of intelligence.