Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).
Ah, so here we have it. We’ve reached the part of the book where Ana, our narrator, has developed an unhealthy curiosity about the creepy stalker who shows up at her work. You know, if this were a story about a woman courageously extracting herself from a predatory, manipulative man, I might have some sympathy here. As written, though, I can’t help thinking only, Ana, you fool.
Christian gets Ana to agree to a date (after trying to convince her that he’s a dangerous man; what a hero, warning her before preying on her). Here’s where the whole thing starts to derail. We’re expected to believe he’s noble because he doesn’t try to get her in his bed immediately. I mean, the guy waits a whole day, right?
See, he knows that giving her a teaser is going to make her want more. He’s not actually giving her an out, he’s manipulating her into signing his damn contract. Unless she signs it, she doesn’t get anything else. Just dropped right back into her boring life. Signing a sex contract, now that’s going to make her life an exciting adventure! Because she couldn’t, you know, go on a trip to Europe or apply to grad school or move halfway across the country or take up snowboarding.
This is where I start to feel uncomfortable with the way the story handles the BDSM aspect of the relationship. BDSM takes a lot of trust between partners. It’s not a simple matter of drawing up a contract on your first date. Part of the problem here, too, is that there’s a misunderstanding of the interactions. At no point does Ana really have any say in the matter. Christian is controlling the entire relationship—right down to demands about her fitness and her clothing.
It also bothers me that Christian never once explains BDSM to Ana. He doesn’t talk her through what a relationship like that means. He never asks her if she understands. He expects a level of trust from her that he doesn’t provide in return. That isn’t healthy in any kind of relationship, much less one with elements that are built entirely on the trust between the two people.
I will admit that I have no personal experience with BDSM. I have a few friends who do, and I did a lot of research before reading these books. I am certainly open to learning more. Just because something isn’t appealing to me doesn’t mean it has to be that way for everyone else.
All of that aside, I do appreciate how once again, the author underscores something unpleasant in the original Twilight series. In the original, Bella is the girl every boy (including the undead one) wants, but who sees herself as unattractive. Similarly, Ana expresses her jealousy of her roommate’s beauty, yet Ana herself is the one who lands the rich, powerful, handsome man. In fact, she’s so desirable guys want to rape and abuse her. That element is present in Twilight too, but it’s more subtle. At least E. L. James has the sense to alert us to this trope. Unless, of course, she actually believes this is a good thing. Which, I suppose, is entirely possible.
Anyway, that brings today’s post to conclusion. Stick around this week, there’s lots to come. And next Monday, we finally get to tackle some smut!