Saturday, January 18, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 11

So: the contract.

The first 10 pages of this chapter are all contract, written in stupid faux-legalese, which is basically talking in a circle and never getting anywhere. It's... not hilarious, exactly. Well, not on its own. It is kind of hilarious that a grown person wrote all this and thought it sounded, you know, hot or something.

Also, given what we already know of Christian--and what we've seen of his Rules--I'm pretty much forced to think this whole thing is a pack of lies. Let's start off with the lies right away: "The fundamental purpose of this contract is to allow the Submissive to explore her sensuality and her limits safely, with due respect and regard for her needs, her limits and her well-being."

As the kids say, lol, no. Because here was the first entry in the Rules: "The Submissive will obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities which are outlined in hard limits (Appendix 2). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation."

So... what you're telling me is the whole point of this arrangement is to let Ana explore her sensuality and limits in a safe, respectful way, where she does whatever Christian tells her immediately without complaint? Okay, it doesn't work like that. Especially with a person who just had sex for the first time and has no idea yet what her limits are. The language of the contract says that Ana is exploring, but the language of the Rules says that Ana just has to receive what's done to her with no backtalk. So which is it? We're allowed to discuss it or not?

None of this is about what Ana wants, anyway. Christian can go on all he likes about "There's just something about you specifically, herp a derp a derp a derp," but really he just needs a body, and preferably one that isn't going to question his rule.

The contract also throws in the little safety net that everything that happens between them is "consensual," which kind of scares me a little. I mean, that's a trap, isn't it? I mean, by the terms of the contract--combined with the increasingly-idiotic Rules--she's basically being forced into a position where she's basically agreed that everything is consensual, even when it's not. I'm expecting a lot of "Hey, you didn't have to sign the contract," arguments.

Another gem: "Any breach shall render it void with immediate effect and each party agrees to be fully responsible to the other for the consequence of any breach." Do you think that Ana thinks this contract could be legally binding in any way? I bet she does. We already kind of fought a war over whether or not it was legal to contractually own other human beings, and the pro-ownership side lost. I would love to see the last third of this novel be something where she tries to take him to arbitration and the retired judge is just sort of mystified that someone in 2011 thinks that they're actually bound by the terms of a slavery contract.

This contract goes on forever. It's as dry and uninteresting as a real contract, so even when idiots write contracts, they're still boring. It's ludicrous, but boring. It specifies that the term of the contract is three months with an option for renewal, and that she's really only supposed to be available to him from Friday night through Sunday afternoon, with other times to be agreed on, which is kind of hilarious, because if there's one thing you don't need to throw into a BDSM agreement, it's a place where things are vague and ill-defined. Oh, we'll just make up this part as we go along, I guess.

The contract also specifies that he'll pay her travel costs, which seems like another piece of idiocy. You don't want anything where someone's going to construe prostitution.

Here's one of my favorite clauses: "The Dominant shall make the Submissive’s health and safety a priority at all times." Ha ha ha ha! That's cute that you think so. So far, his only interest in her well-being has been making sure that some other guy doesn't fuck her first and ordering her to eat because of his weird, controlling food hang-up. There's a difference between making someone's health and safety a priority and just having another way to control a person. More manipulative shit from a manipulative shit heel.

The contract, by the way, stipulates that either person can walk away from this arrangement if it becomes too much. Do you think Christian's going to let that happen? I mean, we remember the abuse cycle, right?

There's a lot in here about how Christian is supposed to take care of her and stuff, but the language makes it pretty clear that Ana is basically property by the terms of the agreement. Right here: "The Dominant accepts the Submissive as his, to own [emphasis mine], control, dominate and discipline during the Term. The Dominant may use the Submissive’s body at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times in any manner he deems fit, sexually or otherwise [emphasis mine because red fucking flag]." Otherwise? What otherwise? Although, remember the Rules: Christian can punish her whenever he wants to for whatever reason he wants to in whatever way he wants to and he doesn't even have to tell her why he's doing it. That's how they break kids down at those horrible camps where they think they can torture teenagers into not being gay anymore. This is like a how-to on brainwashing. Can't wait for EL James' romance novel about a prisoner and her torturer at Camp X-Ray.

If you've read this far into the book and you're still thinking this is romantic, I'd really like you to stop and reconsider.

And the thing about the Rules--which the contract stipulates she follow--is that this is not just about play guidelines. This is about controlling all aspects of her life. That's fucking slavery. Fuck this contract, and fuck the Rules. Things aren't consensual just because you've forced your partner to agree beforehand that they are, no matter what happens. That's just trying to make someone feel like they're responsible for their own abuse because they've "agreed" to it, and that's what a monster does.

"The Submissive accepts the Dominant as her master, with the understanding that she is now the property of the Dominant, to be dealt with as the Dominant pleases during the Term." Nope. That's not how consent works, and it's not how Dom/sub works. This is abuse hiding behind a legitimate kink. (For more on this, here's an article about consent in the world of BDSM that Roger forwarded to me a couple of weeks ago. What someone like EL James, who hasn't done any actual research, doesn't understand is that the thrill of this kind of play isn't hurting someone, it's in someone being willing to surrender themselves to you. That's something you respect and nurture; it's about an unconventional way of caring about someone else. There's a lot of ethic and respect that goes into it. You don't force someone; they give themselves. It's a gift. Some guys just don't get it and think they've just found a way to hurt other people because something inside of them is so broken that they need to hurt other people. Those guys tend to find situations in life where they can abuse their power over someone else, no matter how limited that power is.)

Here's a run-down of some of the stuff that bothers me in the way the contract stipulates the Submissive role and what Ana is and isn't supposed to do:

:: Birth control is her responsibility.
:: She's not allowed to touch herself ever because, ladies, only a man can give you an orgasm.
:: She has to submit to whippings on a whim and without hesitation.
:: She has to submit to any sexual demands he makes on a whim immediately, so if you don't like it in the butt, too fucking bad, because this is all about respect and well-being.
:: She has to accept any punishment whenever and without being given a reason.
:: Hey, he agrees not to share her with another Dom, so I guess he cares about her in some small way after all.
:: She has to always call him "Sir" or "Mr. Grey."
:: She's not allowed to touch him.
:: She's not allowed to look him in the eye. Ever. She has to always have her eyes cast downwards and keep "a respectful bearing." THIS IS NOT A RELATIONSHIP WILL YOU GET THAT THROUGH YOUR THICK HEAD?

And the one that actually pisses me off the most is that she has to "remember her status and role in regard to the Dominant at all times." Fuck. No. What this means is that no matter where she is or what she's doing, she has to remember that all of her behavior reflects on him. Except no, it doesn't. Especially since this isn't something that's going to be public. She can do whatever she wants when she's not with you, dude. That's just life. You're basically contracting her for a service, but also adding in that you own her and she can't burp without your permission. That's such bullshit. It's fucking ridiculous. Look, I know you're still pissed that she got drunk one time in her life and then puked in the street. We've all done things we're not proud of. But stop acting like she did that to you. He's exactly as immature as she is. Both of these people are idiots, and I'm always on the fence about which one I hate more, but really it's him, because his expectations are so ridiculous. She's naive and self-centered, and that sucks, but he's just an abusive dick.

So, to recap all of that section: Ana is not allowed to ever raise any complaints or concerns about anything Christian wants to do to her body or her mind.

Oh, but he agrees not to share her or leave any marks (evidence), so hey, what a pal.

If you've read this far into the novel and you want this kind of relationship, please re-evaluate your priorities in life.

There's an almost begrudging couple of clauses outlining safewords, and I can't wait to see how Christian completely ignores them because, you know, contract = consent, Ana.

Then we get a recap of the Rules and Christian's Hard Limits and now we get into his Soft Limits, which is basically a checklist she's supposed to fill out that outlines what she will and won't do, and it's kind of hilarious, because how does she even know? She just lost her virginity literally last night. They're also--to me, a known pervert--pretty tame. If EL James did any research, it was the most cursory kind.

Here's the first grouping--and sorry, here's where things get really graphic in terminology, but, come on, this is a book about the weird psychological hang-ups that fanfiction writers have about fucking: masturbation, cunnilingus, fellatio, swallowing semen, vaginal intercourse, vaginal fisting, anal intercourse, anal fisting. (Hehe, the spellcheck doesn't recognize "fisting.") All of that's pretty regular bedtime stuff, although you can count me out on fisting. Never appealed to me. We can have a lot of fun sex without me having to shove my whole hand up your vagina.

Next grouping: vibrators, butt plugs, dildos, other toys. Meh, pretty tame stuff. Even if you've never used any of these things, a decade on the internet has probably desensitized you to their existence. When is the weird stuff supposed to happen?

Next: bondage with rope, leather cuffs, handcuffs/manacles/shackles, tape or "other." I wouldn't recommend bondage with tape, honestly. And when it comes to rope, you need a particularly soft kind of rope. Be careful with that shit. And always, always have a pair of those shears that EMTs use, because they cut through almost anything. That's just proper safety.

It all continues in that vein: how she can be bound, where, blindfolding, gagging, what's her pain threshold (like she knows yet), and are you okay with spanking, paddling, whipping, caning, biting, nipple clamps, genital clamps, ice, hot wax or "other." Which, again, seems pretty par for the course for me. I don't know, doesn't seem dark or weird.

Ana, of course, is totally horrified. She can't even bring herself to read the appendix that's the approved food list, because that's a rare bit of detail EL James doesn't feel like bothering with because she can't imagine what healthy eating is any more than she can imagine what a healthy sex life is. For her, both are a source of terror.

But, of course, even with all of the reservations she has about not being able to look him in his "beautiful eyes--captivating, intelligent, deep and dark, dark with dominant secrets" and wondering when she'll ever see her friends if she has to spend every weekend with Christian, she's still thinking about it. It's bizarre to me that someone could look at all of that stuff about not having any consent and immediately get concerned about when she'll ever have time for her friends, but you have to keep in mind that Ana is deeply stupid.

Then she has to have a conversation with her subconscious and her stupid fucking inner goddess who I just wish would die slowly after being closed in a jar with no air holes. "My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old. Please, let’s do this… otherwise we’ll end up alone with lots of cats and your classic novels to keep you company." Yeah, good advice, inner goddess: jump onto the first guy who ever gave you an orgasm, because he'll treat you like shit, but at least he's interested and will give you orgasms, because probably there's no sweet guy who will treat you wonderfully and also give you orgasms, and it's not like a woman can ever have orgasms on her own ever. That's totally well-adjusted.

Anyway.

Jesus.

Anyway.

Yeah, that was only half of the chapter, so let's breeze through the rest of it, because EL James gives us a great many pointless details, because you know this is a rich tapestry. Or at least very, very long.

Note: I read a lot of this out loud to my wife in a Frasier Crane voice. I recommend it.

So the next morning, Christian has a MacBook Pro delivered to Ana so she can research BDSM. Computers are apparently another thing EL James has no idea about. She probably thinks they're powered by ghosts and a wizard's spell. The guy delivering it is supposed to show Ana how it works, which seems like the exact opposite of what everyone says is so great about Macs. You're about to graduate college and you need to be shown how the computer works. You're about to graduate college in 2011, and you have never had an email address before? Bullshit. I call total bullshit on that. I went to college from 2001 to 2006, and 99% of how the college and your professors communicate with you is through email. When you go to college, the college gives you a specific email to use if you don't have your own. Every syllabus has the teacher's email address on it, and let me tell you as someone who has worked in a college in the department ordering textbooks, it is their preferred method of communication. YOU ARE A FUCKING LIAR ANA HAS TO HAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS MORE THAN SHE NEEDS AN ACTUAL PHONE NUMBER.

I'm not casting aspersions or making judgments here, but EL James is 50 years old, so maybe she's not up on how actual colleges run and writing a novel about a 22 year-old virgin who doesn't know how computers work is maybe kind of ridiculous.

This MacBook Pro isn't even in stores yet, by the way. The guy who sets it up for her--which, by the way, it's a laptop, so it seems like he's probably mastered the complicated concept of "taking it out of the box and plugging it in"--actually seems angry and disappointed when she says she just plans on using it for email. Which is totally accurate, because every Macolyte I've ever met is like that. That gaping look and the implication of "God damn you, if you aren't using your Mac to watch videos and read blogs and calculate satellite orbits and cure cancer and try to discover the location of Atlantis all at the same time, you don't fucking deserve one" is absolutely my experience with Mac fans.

The Mac specs here are hilarious: a 1.5 terabyte hard drive and 32 gigs of RAM. What? What fucking laptop has a 1.5 terabyte hard drive? Granted, I don't have a MacBook Pro, but my Acer laptop from two years ago runs at 500GB. And 32GB of RAM? Lion takes, like, 4, I think. I could look it up on the freaking Apple website, but why bother, since she clearly didn't. Can any laptop even run with that much RAM? Is that even physically possible? Why do you even need that much RAM? This is... this is just stupid. Oh, but Kate, easily impressed as ever, says "That's next generation tech," so I guess we should all just be, like, really impressed, you guys.

(Also, does this constitute a gift in return for sexual favors? Just wondering. Still trying to figure out the hilarious legal ramifications of his contract and shit.)

(Also, she basically describes the computer as big and grey because this author can't describe what anything looks like.)

Then Ana and Christian email back and forth, where she thinks they're flirting, but really it just seems like he's telling her to do her research, and then he ends it with "Laters, baby," which totally sounds like something a person who once said "Well, to 'chill out,' as you put it..." would actually say. Christian still talks like an alien pretending to be a human being.

"I race into the shower, unable to shake my face-splitting grin. He e-mailed me. I feel like a small, giddy child. And all the contract angst fades." You need a whole team of psychiatrists.

Then she has lunch with Jose (where she has to explicitly remind us that Jose is Hispanic-American--her words--in that white person way of "Look, I know an ethnic fellow") and totally forgives him for his attempted sexual assault, which makes him grin, probably planning his next attempted sexual assault, because you said it was okay and that just encourages a person, so great move on that one, too.

Then there's more email and Christian gives her one of these ;) and she does an Oh my and you get the impression that he could throw her in the dirt and stomp on her and as long as he gave her a smile she'd be totally okay with it, because what's the point of having a self-esteem if no one's making you come?

And then she look up "Submissive" on Wikipedia. "Half an hour later, I feel slight queasy [her typo, not mine] and frankly shocked to my core. Do I really want this stuff in my head? Jeez – is this what he gets up to in the Red Room of Pain? I sit staring at the screen, and part of me, a very moist and integral part of me [emphasis mine, because Jesus, wtf] – that I’ve only become acquainted with very recently, is seriously turned on. Oh my, some of this stuff is HOT. But is it for me? Holy shit… could I do this? I need space. I need to think."

Here's the thing: Christian, if he were an actual caring partner, should be easing her into unfamiliar territory, building up slowly to things she's not sure if she wants. That's actually testing limits. But that's not what he wants--he wants to rush right into caning and nipple clamps. Look, if Ana's first response to all of that is to feel sick, it's probably not for her. There's nothing wrong with that. Either something feels good, or it doesn't. If you have serious reservations, don't go through with it. It doesn't mean something's wrong with you. We all enjoy what we enjoy, and as long as we all consent to it and it's not illegal, that's what life is.

Someone who wanted Ana's genuine submission would go slow, find her limits, and ease her into this kink.

But Christian's an abusive asshole who doesn't care about her feelings, so... I'm guessing that's not what happens.

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