50 Shades of Legally Binding

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).

Happy Monday, everyone!  It was a great vacation, but I’m ready to get back to dissecting the freak show that is Fifty Shades.

While I was away, I was thinking about the horrible writing in the book.  (Naturally; why wouldn’t I spend my vacation dwelling on literary crap?)  Here is the conclusion I drew: I don’t think E. L. James actually believes the messages that this book sends.  I think she’s just a terrible writer.  It’s unfortunate, because if it had been done better, this book could have been a commentary on how and why women enter into potentially abusive (or actually abusive) relationships.  It could also have been a fun romp about two consenting adults doing naughty things together.  It could even have been a sensitive love story of two people discovering things about themselves and each other.  Sadly, it’s none of those things.

Anyway, moving along, we’ve cum come to the part where Ana actually reads the contract Christian gives her.  This part was just so much weird that I had to read it twice to figure out what the hell was going on.  I will admit that I know next to nothing about people who are actually into BDSM, so I don’t know whether or not they regularly have contracts.  What the one in the book looked like to me was essentially unpaid prostitution.  This didn’t seem to be about D/s so much as “Here’s a list of what I want.  Do it or you’re fired.”

I can’t quite figure out why Ana still wants in.  She really has no vested interest in this man other than the fact that he’s gotten her off.  She herself says, when researching being a sub, that it doesn’t sound good to her.  I think my impression has always been that people in consensual, mutually satisfying D/s relationships actually want to be in those relationships.  They have a lot of trust for their partners.  Ana has none of that.  She doesn’t know Christian well enough to trust him yet, and they certainly aren’t in any kind of mutually beneficial relationship (unless you want to count all the orgasms—and I mean that literally).

I’m pretty uncomfortable with a few of specific things here.  First, Christian is the one entirely in control from minute one.  He’s the one dictating the terms; Ana can negotiate, but she’s not the one drawing up the contract.  Second, she has misgivings; why doesn’t she listen to her own conscience?  (Oh yeah—it’s too busy being overridden by her stupid “inner goddess.”)  Third, he sends her to the Internet for information rather than introducing her to other people within the community.

That last one really gets me irritated.  It’s not just the safety aspect, either.  I’m concerned for her that he’s isolating her by demanding she have no one but him to talk to about what’s going on.  She can’t talk to Kate about anything having to do with what’s in the contract.  She also has no one to go who has experience in a D/s relationship other than Christian.  People, this is what abusers do.  He has cut off her communication with anyone who could help her process all this.

Even as someone new to D/s relationships, Ana could enjoy a journey of self-discovery.  She could push her own boundaries (or, in her case, discover what those boundaries are).  Instead, she has to put all her trust in a man she barely knows because he has an insane need to “protect” his own interests.  I think this is the thing I find most disturbing and distasteful about the entire scenario.

As I said above, I don’t think this is what Ms. James was going for.  I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that she was just out to write a hot, sexy story about characters in a book she liked.  In that sense, it sort of works.  Fanfiction is notorious for having characters interact in non-canon ways.  It’s a type of literary candy, and most people know that.  As a standalone novel, however, Fifty Shades doesn’t work well.  It’s just flat characters and clichés, which leads to the story coming across as horrifying rather than romantic.

This is the point at which I was so tempted to put down this awful book for good.  But you all know that I love you and I’m willing to make sacrifices for the sake of anyone reading this who wants to know what I really think of Fifty Shades.  I am grateful to Rachel Held Evans for writing a book that was good, so that I have something to look forward to reviewing tomorrow.

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