Saturday, February 22, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 16

We're going to dive deep into the abuse in this chapter. This chapter, more than any other so far, is a confusing morass of consent issues where rape is eroticized, abuse is romanticized, and the English language is kicked into submission and left for dead. Also, there's spanking.

Here, check out the opening paragraph: "Slowly the outside world invades my senses, and oh my, what an invasion. I am floating, my limbs soft and languid, utterly spent. I’m lying on top of him, my head on his chest, and he smells divine: fresh, laundered linen and some expensive body wash, and the best, most seductive scent on the planet… Christian. I don’t want to move, I want to breathe this elixir for eternity."

That's prose so purple that even Prince is getting bored with it.

Let's get through this part:

:: You know, for a guy who doesn't like the closeness of sleeping with another person, Christian sure sleeps with Anastasia a lot. Apparently, they were both knocked out by the strong orgasms of Christian's magic penis. (It's still evening.)

:: He still doesn't like to be touched. Why? "Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia." Also "I had a very tough introduction to life. I don’t want to burden you with the details. Just don’t." Ana is desperate to know the story of Christian's early life, which is unusual given that her interest in other people so far has been forced, arbitrary, or non-existent. I still say her fascination with Christian is purely rooted in her narcissism. Given the way she treats family and friend connections like a terrible burden, you know.

:: Christian is all business again, asking about when Ana is due to start her period. He needs to know because he hates wearing condoms. He tells her more or less that contraception is her responsibility, and agrees to set her up with his doctor. The message being, of course, that contraception is always the woman's responsibility, because he just doesn't want to wear condoms because it ruins his fantasy. Also, does it creep anyone else out that now Christian's picking out Ana's doctor, too? Like, you know the doctor's going to report back to him about everything she says and does, right? Because this is that kind of shitty book?

:: Remember how, in the last chapter, I pointed out that Christian was basically feeding Ana alcohol? He was always refilling her glass and occasionally even ordering her to drink while they were supposed to be negotiating the contract. Well, here he admits he did it on purpose because "you overthink everything and you're reticent." He follows that up with "This will only work if we're honest with each other."

I actually laughed out loud when he said that, because I'm not sure a man who gets you drunk so you'll agree to his insane contract and then, technically, date rapes you is a man who values honesty. Certainly he doesn't value integrity.

But hey, she came, so she must have wanted it, because orgasm = consent, right? (Note: no. No, it doesn't.)

Anyway, Ana doesn't have a moment to think about the ethics of getting your date drunk so she'll fuck you, because she's still horny and Christian has to go, but he does stop to have some of EL James' thudding, dull flirty banter about how great it would be if Christian could just kidnap her, hold her against her will, and engage in a total power exchange (read: make her his total slave).

Ana rolls her eyes at that. Uh oh.

"What did I say I would do if you rolled your eyes at me again?"

I'd like to point out here that she still hasn't actually signed his contract, something which she points out and he completely ignores because consent and honesty are so fucking important.

"I told you what I’d do. I’m a man of my word. I’m going to spank you, and then I’m going to fuck you very quick and very hard. Looks like we’ll need that condom after all."

There is a long buildup to the actual spanking, during which Ana is excited, but also feels afraid and manipulated. She's nervous and scared, and understandably so, because she's never done this before, and because she thinks if she doesn't go through with it, it will be the end of their relationship. She's really internalized some of his manipulative shit, because he didn't even imply that their future hinges on this, but she's clearly worried that it does.

She says she's turned on, but she also says she's afraid. She keeps using words like that through this whole scene. "Afraid." She characterizes it as "demeaning and scary and hot." She keeps talking about how much it hurts, how she wants to beg him to stop. She never characterizes it as play or spanking--she keeps telling us that he's hitting her. "Holy fuck, it hurts."

Christian really draws this out, too, and I kind of imagine him all sneering and sweaty while he's ordering her around and spanking her. It's perverse, and not in a fun way. He even tells her that if she keeps struggling, he'll spank her longer.

You shouldn't be afraid of your partner, okay? I mean... look, fear can be a great element of BDSM play, but in the same way that fear is a fun part of seeing a horror movie or riding a roller coaster. In the back of your mind, you know you won't get seriously hurt. But Anastasia is nearing panic here, and that's not good. And she doesn't mention liking this at any point. She's scared, but she's also turned on, and it's confusing to her. This isn't erotic or romantic, but this book... I've been giving this book shit for trying to romanticize abuse, but I haven't been giving it nearly enough shit for normalizing, even idealizing abusive behavior.

She hasn't consented to this. She even tried to protest. She's afraid of what's going to happen next. How is this erotic? It isn't! It's uncomfortable to read. This isn't romantic; he's punishing her because she's displeased him.

And then, he sexually assaults her.

She even says the word; when Christian stops spanking her, he puts two fingers inside of her and "I gasp, this new assault breaking through the numbness around my brain."

She's very wet. "Feel this. See how much your body likes this, Anastasia. You’re soaking just for me."

No, no, no, no, no, no, NO. Just because her body is having a physical response to sexual stimulation does not mean that she wants it. And I'm still not hearing a consent here.

"And he’s inside me, quickly filling me, I moan loudly. He moves, pounding into me, a fast, intense pace against my sore behind. The feeling is beyond exquisite, raw and debasing and mind-blowing. My senses are ravaged, disconnected, solely concentrating on what he’s doing to me. How he’s making me feel, that familiar pull deep in my belly, tightening, quickening. NO… and my traitorous body explodes in an intense, body-shattering orgasm."

"'Oh, baby,' he breathes. 'Welcome to my world.'"

Gross.

:: In the aftermath, Ana feels confused by the way her body reacted and tells us "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." And she can't bring herself to look Christian in the eye.

He puts baby oil on her smarting ass. Aftercare is a very important part of the trust relationship that's integral to BDSM, so I get that, but what would be more important here is to sit and have a talk about how Ana is feeling about what just happened. Instead, he just leaves, which I think a lot of BDSM aficionados would consider an abandonment. You just don't do that. It's abusive and unfair. She's not a real sub; she's never done this before. And he's going to just do it and leave? What happened to honesty and trust?

Of course, I really feel like we're in the wake of a rape, here, so maybe those concerns are moot.

:: After Christian leaves and Ana's alone in her apartment, things get really depressing. She can't even cry at first. She says that she feels very uncomfortable in her own home, a place where she's only ever felt comfortable before. She seems embarrassed and is deeply confused. She feels lonely and numb. Ana calls her mother because she needs to hear a familiar, comforting voice, and that's when she starts crying heavily. (Her mom, by the way, actually gives her some really good advice, even though Ana is very vague about why she feels so bad.)

Look, the only word that I think accurately describes how Ana feels in this passage is violated.

Remember, fans of the book call this thing erotic and romantic. So why am I so depressed right now? Probably because I just lived through someone's emotional, physical and mental trauma.

It's worth noting here, too, that Ana is taken aback when her mother tells her not to be with someone unless she's sure they're worthy of her. Ana literally cannot process the idea of someone being worthy of her. "I always wonder whether I am worthy of him." I recognize that schema, for sure. That kind of mentality is very hard to combat. But I kind of hate how her self-worth issues only serve, in the context of the book, to make her even more the perfect victim for Christian Grey, and that we're supposed to take that as some kind of destined romantic pairing.

:: As an aside, I'd like to add that I'm very sure that I despise Kate Kavanaugh. She's like this little pronoid monster that washes in and just fucks things up because she has no respect for anyone. She comes in and sees Ana crying and is all "Has that obscenely rich fucker upset you again?" It's like her whole function in this plot is to just remind the reader that Christian is objectively rich and handsome and desirable. Even when Kate's mad at him, she's referencing his wealth or how "devastatingly handsome" he is. Shut up. Your friend has a real problem, here.

:: "All the warning signs were there, I was just too clueless and too enamored to notice." Finally: a breakthrough. Not that it changes anything with this book--Ana's stuck in a book written by a woman who thinks abusive behavior is romantic, so all of Ana's decisions will inevitably reflect that... wow, just imagine a metatextual version of this book where Ana realizes she's in this terrible, abusive relationship and makes all of these counter-intuitive decisions and doesn't understand why she's making them, until she finally manages to discover that she's being forced to follow the grand design of a shitty fanfic writer who thinks sexual assault is really, really hot. Anyway, it's nice and surprising to have that one moment of clarity. Too bad she can't run for her life.

Isn't it just bizarre how this novel keeps emphasizing how fucked up this relationship is? It's always telling us how fucked up this is, what a controlling asshole Christian is, and then expects us to accept him as a romantic ideal.

:: "She hands me a cup of wine. It won't taste as good as the Bolly." Why not just include a wink and your home address with all of these bizarre product placements?

:: Kate's brother Ethan may be moving in with the girls, which is good because "Ethan is a hoot." Does EL James know that the way kids talk has changed since she was in high school in the seventies?

:: Another pointless email exchange happens. Because Ana is never just honest about her feelings, she chooses to passive-aggressively fight him on how to dispose of her shitty Volkswagen. I really wish Ana would just actually tell him how she feels sometimes, because I'm getting tired of her talking around her feelings and then Christian crossing lines without even realizing he's doing it.

That's what happens here. She emails Christian that she doesn't like him right now "because you never stay with me." So he races back to her place and apologizes, but makes sure to clearly emphasize that all of this confusion she's feeling is her fault. He accepts that part of his role is to look after her needs, but he protests that he never would have left her if she hadn't told him she was okay.

Look, she does need to be more forthcoming about her feelings, that's true. But I don't want you to think I'm blaming the victim, here. She absolutely needs to be more honest at every stage instead of just throwing herself into this, hoping it works out, and that magically at the end he'll change and they'll just be a normal couple.

BUT, another part of his role is to foster her trust, nurture her growth, and talk honestly with her about what she's feeling every step of the way. And he's not done a single one of those things. Instead, he got her drunk, date raped her, beat her, and then raped her some more and left her alone. Romantic hero, everybody.

:: "I have fallen for someone who's so emotionally shut down, I will only get hurt--deep down I know this--someone who by his own admission is completely fucked up." Ana, focus on your feelings. Stop focusing on being so fascinated with why he is the way he is.

:: When she starts sobbing again, just before Christian returns, she says "the sluice gates open." I do not associate that phrase with crying. There's a Monty Python bit about Australian table wines, with one being described as being made for "those keen on regurgitation" because it "really opens the sluices at both ends." To be fair, EL James probably doesn't know that bit, it not being [classic British literature] or a simpering teenage romance about an abusive relationship, but it just grossed me out for a second with this horrible image.

:: Kate: "Grey--you're on my shit list and I'm watching you." Who the fuck even are you, Kate? Don't you have a bridge to scare children from under?

:: Now that Christian finally does have a talk with Ana about how the punishment made her feel, he's totally disingenuous about it and continues to try to manipulate her into taking some responsibility for what happened. He admits that he likes the control, and the whole thing is about power, but he's missing the point that a large part of the thrill of the power exchange is in the consent being given and the trust someone is placing in you that you will never go too far with them. He also tries to play it off as "It's the way I'm made." Lame.

Look, I firmly believe that fetishes don't have to make sense. If they did, they probably wouldn't be fetishes and we wouldn't be so fascinated with whatever ours are. EL James seems to believe that every fetish can be explained as an outgrowth of however we grew up. I don't like that Christian seems to feel a weird self-loathing about his fetishes and his need for control and his dislike of being touched. Two reasons. First, because it makes people who are into kink seem like they're actually psychologically or emotionally disturbed, which is not true for everyone. And second, because this characterization is apparently supposed to make Christian seem broken and sad and tragic and, most importantly, fixable with the love of an understanding woman. It's disgusting.

He does at least admit that he's having a hard time explaining all of this because he's never had to; he's always been with experienced people with similar kinks. But when she admits she felt confused, he immediately jumps in and points out "You were sexually aroused by it," which, sorry, just sounds like something a rapist would say. It's so leering and petty at the same time.

But then Ana's distracted by how wonderful it is that Christian's going to spend the night with her and sleep. Something he hates doing, but which he's done something like three times already. Holy cow. She says "holy cow" about five times in this chapter. Jesus.

So what did we learn in this chapter? Apparently we learned that if you physically respond to getting raped, that's consent and you wanted it (and apparently it also absolves your rapist of any responsibility). We also learned that birth control is the sole responsibility of the woman, and that sexual assault is romantic. Great messages, America. I don't like what it says about you that this book is so freaking popular.

4 comments:

Autumn said...

There are a couple of moments in this book where I really despise Ana because she notes this relationship isn't what she wants, that it's screwed up, and not healthy for her. But he is just so hawt she can't resist. Which makes me feel like she is such a weak character.


And now I hear your version of the story and it's terrifying how easy it is for him to convince her this is all her fault and use her feelings for him to manipulate her. Ugh, I hate that there are REAL people out there who would do this to another person...

Carl said...

It's so hard to believe that it just keeps getting WORSE. Congratulations, humanity. Just when I think I'm jaded, something else comes along and disappoints me even further.

Aaron, I think I owe you a palette cleanser for this one.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Carl: I've already sent him TWO!!!

Carl said...

I always come up with something, then he reports on the latest chapter, and I just think,"He deserves better..."