(No, I'm not depressed from reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I'm depressed from the stuff that made me so good at spotting abusive behaviors in Fifty Shades of Grey.)
In our last installment, our Brave Hero threatened to rape the heroine, and then they went off and had consensual sex, or as consensual as it can be immediately after a rape threat. Making jokes about this book has become increasingly difficult. It's like, I want to write about things besides abuse, but literally nothing else happens!
Content warnings for this chapter: Kidnapping, extremely graphic physical abuse, sexual assault for the umpteenth time, homophobia, even more emotional abuse than usual.
“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.”Damn skippy.
Hang on... how does he know the title of the book???
“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?Your eyes do not deceive you. Stone PunchBeef is having an abusive episode over the possibility that she dreamed something he wouldn't approve of.
“You need to sort out some contraception.” He is so bossy. I stare at him blankly. He sits back on the bed as he puts on his shoes and socks.“Do you have a doctor?” I shake my head. We are back to mergers and acquisitions – another 180-degree mood swing. He frowns. “I can have mine come and see you at your apartment – Sunday morning before you come and see me. Or he can see you at my place. Which would you prefer?”Ewww. ("Mergers and acquisitions" is how Ana refers to the contract-y, weirdly formal aspects of their relationship. It's also an American Psycho reference but I'm not sure if E.L. James knows that.) If the issue is money, just give her cash to cover the appointment and prescription. Having his doctor see her is just incredibly inappropriate and suggests that he's planning to make the doctor violate her confidentiality bigtime.
“I’d like to do a scene with you. But I won’t until you’ve signed, so I know you’re ready.”He sure does a lot of rapid back-and-forth between "nothing until we sign a contract!" and "except for repeated sexual assault, hitting you, domination, bondage..."
“You’d kidnap me?” “Oh yes,” he grins. “Hold me against my will?” Jeez this is hot. “Oh yes,” he nods. “And then we’re talking TPE 24/7.” “You’ve lost me,” I breathe, my heart is pounding… is he serious? “Total Power Exchange – round the clock.” His eyes are shining, and I can feel his excitement from where I sit. Holy shit.God dammit, whoever's teaching E.L. James kink-related words and then leaving her to imagine the definitions on her own, could you knock that off? Or at least teach her some fake ones so we can have some fun when her characters start saying things like "I'm going to give you the Ostrich Valentine tonight, my little Weasel."
Total power exchange is, like the name implies, an exchange. It's where a person says "I have power, but I am giving control of that power over to another person." (I need to do an entire post elaborating on this, but "power over someone" doesn't just mean "hurt them all you like." You can use power to care for them as well.) You can't do total power exchange with someone you're holding as a hostage, because they have nothing to exchange. They can't give you anything if you've forcibly taken it all already.
...And that was far more gentle and reasonable than I needed to be when explaining why it's wrong to kidnap and torture people, holy shit indeed.
Anyway, the context for this conversation was Ana asking what would happen if she didn't sign the contact. Y'know, it's one thing to have a flawed romance between characters who still have a lot of issues to work out. It's another to make the reader want to call in a SWAT team.
"What did I say I’d do to you if you rolled your eyes at me again?” Shit. He sits down on the edge of the bed. “Come here,” he says softly. I blanch. Jeez… he’s serious. I sit staring at him completely immobile. “I haven’t signed,” I whisper. “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.”Okay, buddy, she didn't fucking sign. If you're not going to do a scene until she signs, don't fucking do a scene. "Oh, but it's different, because she was bad." Bite me.
My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire. [...] Should I run? [...] Do I let him do this or do I say no, and then that’s it? Because I know it will be over if I say no.This is "Fifty Shades of Grey," summed up, here in this quote. She claims she's turned on by BDSM... then goes on to talk at much greater length about how she's terrified and doesn't want this and is only putting up with it so she won't be a lonely cat lady forever.
He places his hand on my naked behind, softly fondling me, stroking round and round with his flat palm. And then his hand is no longer there… and he hits me – hard. Ow! My eyes spring open in response to the pain, and I try to rise, but his hand moves between my shoulder blades keeping me down. He caresses me again where he’s hit me, and his breathing’s changed – it’s louder, harsher. He hits me again and again, quickly in succession. Holy fuck it hurts. I make no sound, my face screwed up against the pain. I try and wriggle away from the blows – spurred on by adrenaline spiking and coursing through my body.She is not a bottom. She does not like pain. She is not a sub. She does not like punishment. The book is stunningly clear about these facts. Which means we're just reading a description of a woman being beaten. Which makes it really hard for me to consider wanking to this.
He hits me again… this is getting harder to take. My face hurts, it’s screwed up so tight. He strokes me gently and then the blow comes. I cry out again. “No one to hear you, baby, just me.” And he hits me again and again. From somewhere deep inside, I want to beg him to stop. But I don’t. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction. He continues the unrelenting rhythm. I cry out six more times. Eighteen slaps in total.Different people have different styles of BDSM, so your mileage may vary on this part, but even if this were consensual it would be an absolutely wretched spanking scene for me. The top's not doing any warm-up and he's not checking in with the bottom. His technique is probably terrible because he's never had any education or solicited any feedback. The bottom is getting nothing positive out of this and the only reason she's not safewording is because she knows her top would be a shit about it.
“Enough,” he breathes hoarsely. “Well done, Anastasia. Now I’m going to fuck you.”Do we have to even discuss whether she consents to this? She doesn't run away, is about all I can say. Except that if she did run away, it's pretty clear (he already did it when she struggled during the beating) that Three WolfMoon would just physically restrain her and then he'd be angrier. So our definition of "consent" is basically down to "doesn't teleport away" at this point.
So he fucks her, and:
He gently strokes my hair. I’m on his chest again. But this time, I don’t have the strength to lift my hand and feel him. Boy… I survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought.Survived. Wasn't so bad. Stoic. This is not how you spell enjoyment, E.L. James. This is not how kinky people feel after good scenes.
I rise stiffly and put my sweatpants back on. They chafe a little against my still-smarting behind. I’m so confused by my reaction. I remember him saying – I can’t remember when – that I would feel so much better after a good hiding. How can that be so? I really don’t get it. But strangely, I do. I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience, in fact, I would still go a long way to avoid it, but now… I have this safe, weird, bathed in afterglow, sated feeling. I put my head in my hands. I just don’t understand.I guess this is supposed to be our "realizes she was kinky all along" moment, but honestly, it still sounds like she hated it and is basically just glad it's over.
“I found some baby oil. Let me rub it into your behind.” What? “No. I’ll be fine.” “Anastasia,” he warns, and I want to roll my eyes but quickly stop myself. I stand facing the bed.You have to remember, this book was written. Like, E.L. James decided what to put in it. She could've decided to put in Ana wanting and welcoming the baby oil, or Slab BulkHead going "okay then, suit yourself" when she said no. But she did not make these decisions.
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. I know it’s late, but I decide to call my mom. [...]“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 begin to flow. I have cried so often in the last few days.So I didn't realize this needed saying, but... constantly crying and hating yourself is not a sign of a good relationship or a good BDSM dynamic. This isn't one of those "the more you suffer, the more you're earning your true love" dealies. It's just suffering. It's not okay, it's not romantic, and it's not much fun to read about, for that matter.
[Ana's mom:] “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.”
[Kate:] “Just tell him to take a hike, Ana. You’ve been so up and down since you met him. I’ve never seen you like this.”It's things like this that occasionally make me pause and wonder about E. L. James' personal life. Because she's hardly what I'd call an astute observer of natural human behavior, but her details about an abusive relationship are always pitch-perfect. Friends and family voicing their concern, telling her she isn't herself, that they can see how he's making her miserable? Something about this is harrowingly realistic.
I don't want to make assumptions, but it worries me that E.L. James thinks Portland is north of Vancouver and people in the US say "pram" a lot, but she knows exactly how abusive relationships develop. It worries me a lot.
[Kate:]“Are you okay?” “I fell over and landed on my behind.”"I walked into a door." ROMANCE!
...Okay, I've lied about where I got bruises, but the difference is that I actually enjoyed getting those bruises.
So she chats with Kate for a while and has one of those rare moments of actually seeming comfortable (GO TEAM KATE), then trades some inanely pissy emails with Prick ManMeat, she breaks down crying and hating herself again, then goes to sleep. And then Splint ChestHair breaks into her house, again, but this time Kate is there.
“Do you want me to throw this asshole out?” she asks, radiating thermo-nuclear hostility. Christian raises his eyebrows at her, no doubt surprised by her flattering epithet and her feral antagonism.Oh the writing. E.L. James certainly can turn a phrase... into complete hash.
Still - GO TEAM KATE!
“Talk to me,” he whispers. “You told me you were okay. I’d never have left you if I thought you were like this.” 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?
“I take it that when you said you were okay, you weren’t.” I flush. “I thought I was fine.” “Anastasia, you can’t tell me what you think I want to hear. That’s not very honest,” he admonishes me. “How can I trust anything you’ve said to me?”Ana having an emotional breakdown because she was beaten against her will--yet another thing Buck BurpSteak can make all about himself and his needs!
Have I mentioned yet that I have never hated a fictional character this much in my life? I mean, I feel downright cozy with Sauron and Cruella De Ville, compared to this fucker. And he's supposed to be some kind of too-good-to-be-true swoon-object. I can't believe it.
The "you have to be honest with me" thing really sets me off, because I got a lot of that. A lot of "how can I trust you, you have to tell the truth" silently accompanied by "but it better be a very specific truth or you're in big trouble."
“How did you feel while I was hitting you and after?” “I didn’t like it. I’d rather you didn’t do it again.” “You weren’t meant to like it.”
Well, there you go. I mean, there's nothing that can really follow that in the discussion. What's she supposed to say now, "I don't want you to do stuff I don't want"? We've established he doesn't care. There's basically nothing left now except the decision of whether to try to physically escape.
"I’ve wanted to spank you since you asked me if I was gay.”There's a really weird undercurrent of homophobia in this book, on top of everything else. Ana repeatedly asks if Brick HardMeat is gay (and at one point tells some women that he's gay so they'll stop swooning over him, then titters over her cleverness), and both of them agree that this is the worst thing you could possibly say to a man. It's really unpleasant.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he murmurs. I frown. Jeez what have I done now? “I don’t have any condoms, Anastasia, and you know, you’re upset. Contrary to what your roommate believes, I’m not a priapic monster."Oh, the "I'm not a monster" line. I remember that one too. The way it works is, they hit you a bunch and make you afraid of them, and then they raise their hand, and when you flinch, they yell at you about "Did you think I was going to hit you? What kind of monster do you think I am?" I've been there.
“You beguile me, Christian. Completely overwhelm me. I feel like Icarus flying too close to the Sun,” I whisper. He gasps. “Well, I think you’ve got that the wrong way around,” he whispers. “What?” “Oh, Anastasia, you’ve bewitched me. Isn’t it obvious?”What a lovely romantic exchange, if we can sort of forget somehow that this whole discussion started with "how dare you be upset that I beat you."
Holy cow. Christian Grey is sleeping with me, and in the comfort and solace of his arms, I drift into a peaceful sleep.By holding such petty things as "being able to sleep with him" hostage and treating them like unreasonable requests, he's able to make the most basic gestures seem extravagant. Wow, he didn't beat her again and he didn't make her sleep alone, that's basically winning the lottery as far as that relationship goes.