Welcome back to the feminist read through of E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. If you haven’t yet read part one, you can find it here. This section covers chapters three through five.
by Cedar Goslin
As predicted in my previous entry, Paul (the brother of Ana’s employer) is sexually interested in Ana– I say sexually instead of romantically because this book is all animal lust and no human emotion. Like Jose, Paul continues to pester Ana for dates, despite the fact that she has made her lack of interest clear. Again, this behavior is normalized, as none of the other characters view Paul as creepy, and no one reprimands him for continuing to dog Ana. There has yet to be a male character who actually gets dialog that doesn’t want to get up in Ana’s knickers, but why is that? As previously noted, she’s completely unremarkable in personality. She describes herself as a “converse and tee shirt kind of girl,” and I can tell you that such a girl doesn’t typically have males beating down her door, lusting after her body. The reason Ana inspires lust in every man she meets boils down to yet another exhausted, sexist gender stereotype that James is shamelessly pushing in her hard-bound fanfic: the idea that the ideal woman is innocent and pure, childlike even. In this entry, we’ll explore Ana’s childishness, and where that puts her in relation to Christian Grey, as well the appalling normalization of attempted rape. Yes, there is much to discuss.
Ana, the 21 year old little girl
Ana’s character would be more believable if we were told she is seven rather than 21– a disturbing thought, considering the way men lust after her, seemingly for this very reason. Her manner is that of a child; she is meek, insecure and clumsy. She trips over her own feet so often, that it alludes to a much younger creature, still growing accustomed to its own body. Whenever she speaks to someone other than close friends, she refused to make eye contact and she mumbles, like a little girl shyly talking to a “grown up” that isn’t her mother or father. In addition, Ana is probably the only 21 year old living away from home who has never gotten drunk. Nor has she ever, in all the years since going through puberty, experienced attraction for another person, or sexual desire of any sort– indeed, she is truly a freak of nature. In one scene, Ana is almost run over by a bicyclist–frightening, I know– but is rescued, of course, by Christian Grey, who yanks her by the arm (Grey does a lot of arm yanking, actually; it’s a wonder Ana’s arm hasn’t come out of its socket) out of the road and into his arms. As she leans stupidly against him Ana’s inner dialog informs us that “for the first time in twenty-one years, I wanted to be kissed.” Um, really? I have a hard time believing that there is a single person in existence that didn’t fantasize about all manners of kissing, groping, grinding and swapping of bodily fluids during the hormone heights of their teens. But no, James would have us believe that Anastasia Steele is as pure and innocent as an eight-year-old flower girl, just as all women should be… until they meet just the right man to both father and deflower them. Which leads us, of course, to Christian Grey.
Christian Grey, the sexually abusive father
If Ana is the innocent little girl, then what does that make Grey? Actually, he fulfills several roles. All in one, he is the forbidden impurity– the villain, if you will, the white knight, and the father figure. Yes, it’s every bit as creepy as it sounds. Grey continues to make advances on Ana. He makes sexual innuendo that her pure little mind can’t understand, he invites–rather demands– her to join him for coffee (which Ana doesn’t actually drink, because coffee is for grown ups, of course), and roves her tee-shirt clad body with his calculating grey eyes. Kate, Ana’s room-mate, apparently senses that Grey wishes to taint Ana’s purity, as she warns Ana that Grey is “Dangerous to people like you… innocents.” So not only is it public knowledge that Ana is a virgin, but it’s also something that defines her– it makes her someone in need of protecting. Oddly enough, Kate isn’t the only one out to protect Ana’s virtue; Grey, too, wants to protect Ana… from himself. He repeatedly warns her to stay away from him, that he’s dangerous, that he is not the right man for her (again, James doesn’t thank Stephanie Meyer for the use of this very familiar sounding plot detail). Yet Grey continues to make his advances, while at the same time warning Ana to stay away. This is particularly disturbing, because it enforces the absurd idea that men can’t control themselves. Grey doesn’t want to pursue Ana, but he can’t help himself; he is a man and he has urges. His only chance to save her is to try to make her heed his warnings. At one point, Grey sends Ana two very expensive books, the only card being a slip of paper that reads “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that warn them of such tricks.” The quote is from one of the books, spoken right after a woman is ravished. Again, the implication is that Grey can’t help himself; it’s up to Ana to read the warning signs and save herself from his inevitable nature.
Between being predator and protector, Grey remarkably also finds time to be Ana’s father. When he speaks to her, it’s with the authority of someone who has every right to interrogate, and he’s constantly scolding her. Between chapters three and five, James used the word “scold” to describe Grey’s dialog towards Ana at least 15 times. Rather than be appropriately offended by Grey’s behavior, Ana accepts and bends to it. There’s a scene in a bar, where she gets drunk for the first time and ends up drunk dialing Grey. He interrogates her, again like a parent might, and it’s obvious that Ana is intimidated. In her narrative she says “Part of me wants to say if I want to get drunk every night like this, then it’s my decision and nothing to do with him– but I’m not brave enough.” After Ana hangs up, Grey calls her back and informs her that he’s coming to get her– her permission is not requested. Keep in mind, she’s displayed no signs of distress or being in danger, he is coming after her merely because she is drunk, much like a father going to pick up his daughter from a wild party. To top it all off, he finds her by tracking her cell phone. Creepy, inappropriate, rude and insulting: all words that accurately describe Grey’s behavior. Once Grey arrives, there is a great deal of scolding, vomiting, and a scene where Grey watches to make sure Ana drinks an entire glass of water, drawing to mind the image of a parent making sure their child takes their medicine. And at some point in all this, Grey forces Ana to dance, once more nearly ripping her arm out of socket. After Ana passes out, Grey takes her to his hotel rather than sending her home with Kate–because that’s not weird or anything. He continues to lavish her with inappropriate gifts–this time in the form of a change of clothes– which she is forced to accept. And, of course, more scolding over anything that happens to slightly annoy Grey–including Ana’s hair being damp after a shower. Here are some key quotes that showcase the bizarre father/daughter relationship forming between Grey and Ana.
- “He sounds like a middle-aged man, scolding me like an errant child.”
- “He holds me in his arms, close to his chest like a child.”
- “I feel like a two-year-old.” (this takes place in another scene when Grey is, once more, scolding her)
- “Eat what’s on your plate. If you’d eaten properly yesterday, you wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be declaring my hand so soon.”His mouth sets in a grimline. He
- “You’re lucky I’m just scolding you…if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday. You didn’t eat, you got drunk, you put yourself at risk. (The only reason this quote made it onto this list rather than the assault section is because he’s alluding to spanking, but let there be no mistake– this is ABUSE).
Sexual assault is just part of being a woman.
At least that’s what E L James would have you believe. Every major male character is obsessed with Ana and violates her in some way or another. There’s Paul who continues to ask her out and invade her personal space, Jose who won’t take a hint, and, of course Grey who we’ve already discussed. In the cases of all of these men, the behavior is not condemned. At worst, it’s perceived as a minor annoyance. Because no one seemed especially alarmed by any of this behavior, we are left to believe that this is just part of life–part of being a woman. And it gets worse. In this section of the book, while she is drunk at the bar, Ana is assaulted by her “friend” Jose. Despite her verbal and physical protests, he pins her tried to force her to kiss him. Before he can get too far, he is stopped by Grey, but we are led to believe that he would not have stopped at a kiss. Yet, no one calls the police. Indeed, no one seems particularly
shocked by this behavior– would Grey have even stopped Jose if he didn’t want Ana himself? There’s no way of knowing. Right after the assault takes place– and let there be no mistake, that is assault– Jose is allowed to go about his business and Ana and Grey move on. She’s not remotely traumatized. Ana’s lack of concern over her would-be-rape is possibly the greatest crime that James has committed in this garble; effectively, she trivializes rape, implies that it’s really no big deal. That you can just get up and move on. Once more, sexual assault is brushed off as merely a part of male nature that can’t be helped. Perhaps Ana should have been more careful; serves her right for getting drunk.
At one point, Grey informs Ana that he would “like to bite her lip.” When she asks him why he doesn’t do it, he says that he has no intention of touching her until he has written permission to do so. The absurdity of some sort of written kissing contract aside, let’s look at what’s really disturbing about that statement. Typically, one wants something in writing to prove the existence of a prior agreement, usually in court… now, why would Grey need to prove that he had permission to touch Ana? This part made me shudder, because the clear implication is that whatever he has planned is somehow violent, intrusive or otherwise threatening, so much so that it will be a liability to act on his urges without having proof that he had permission. The existence of a “contract” also suggests that Ana would not be able to withdraw consent in the middle of whatever activity they might engage in. In other words, Christian Grey will not touch Ana until he feels he has enough legal backing to rape her. That’s what this means. There’s no way around it. It’s not romantic, it’s not pretty, it’s not appropriate. It’s sick, wrong and disgusting. This is a dangerous message you’re sending, E L James.
Even the eagerly anticipated first kiss alludes to rape. Without warning, Grey aggressively pins Ana by both arms against the elevator wall, yanks her head back by the hair and shoves his tongue down her throat. Romantic, no? Now, if a couple wants to be rough, that is entirely their business, but bear in mind that Grey and Ana are not yet a couple. Until this point, they had engaged in no physical intimacy, and had not discussed what they were comfortable with as far as physical intimacy. Grey had no way of knowing if Ana would be receptive to this advance, nor did he care.
As the story progresses, the horrible writing becomes less amusing and the disturbing implications and themes become more alarming. Not halfway through the book, we’ve already seen attempted rape, stalking, abuse, controlling behavior, and allusions to future rape. Keep an eye out for the next part of this twisted saga.
Click here to read part three.