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July 30, 2012

The ESC Reads 50 Shades of Grey: Chapter 8

WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers. But, of course, that's kind of the point.

We decided to tackle the Fifty Shades of Grey series one book at a time and give everyone chapter-by-chapter summaries and critique. We're going to read Fifty Shades of Grey... so you don't have to.

Chapter 8

First off, we have to apologize for taking so long to post this one. This chapter was really painful for us. Also, we apologize in advance if this ends up being really long or we go off on some random tangents. We're working through a lot of feelings.

We've decided to forgo the usual format for this chapter review. One, because it just seems easier to critique the sex in the order in which it happened, and it'll hopefully make more sense for you guys that way. And two, because there was just so much to critique and it was kind of hard to differentiate between the "plot holes" and the "worst writing" because honestly, it's all blurring together in chapter 8. Or maybe that's just the tears in our eyes...

Summary: Christian continues to freak out over the fact that Ana is a virgin. He decides that they need to have sex, to get it over with, so he can start "training" her and then hopefully get her to sign his contract. She agrees and they prepare to have sex. Or you know, "make love", something he never ever does (except for when he does, apparently). He gives her her very first orgasm ever just by playing with her boobs (a possible, but unlikely scenario) and then he fucks her... hard. They both climax at the same time (because that always happens) and then about two seconds later he's ready to go again and they have sex doggy-style and again climax at the same time. So realistic. She falls asleep and wakes up to find him gone - he's in the other room playing piano. He tells her she needs her rest, so he follows her back to bed. She tries to reach out and touch him and he stops her, and instead makes her get in bed and spoons her until she drifts back off to sleep.

Sexiness factor (scale of 1-10): Um, buy a vowel? It's getting harder and harder for us to come up with a number for each chapter. There is some stuff that could possibly maybe be considered somewhat sexy, but it gets hard to remember any of it when it's so far overshadowed by all of the unsexy, offensive, and/or irritating stuff. We actually had a long conversation about what number to use for this chapter, and then we realized that we were having a long conversation about what number to use for this chapter. So we had to stop and go out for ice cream.

Criticism and Analysis:
“I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me,” he castigates me.
“The subject never came up. I’m not in the habit of revealing my sexual status to everyone I meet. I mean, we hardly know each other.” I’m staring at my hands. Why am I feeling guilty? Why is he so mad? I peek up at him.
For once Ana is actually making sense. They barely know each other, and even if for some reason she had decided that she did want to tell him that she was a virgin, she hasn't really had many opportunities. He shouldn't be mad and she shouldn't feel guilty, but we're sure that won't stop either of them.
I flush with pleasure. Christian Grey thinks I’m beautiful. I knot my fingers together, staring at them hard, trying to conceal my goofy grin. Perhaps he’s nearsighted, my subconscious has reared her somnambulant head. Where was she when I needed her?
Ugh. The subconscious is back. But "somnambulant" means sleep-walking, so we're really confused now. Her subconscious is asleep? It's clear that E L James doesn't know what "subconscious" actually means (otherwise Ana would not be aware of her subconscious thoughts, because that would make them conscious thoughts). But now her subconscious actually has its own level of consciousness where it can fall asleep and sleepwalk. We realize that we address the issue of her subconscious in every single chapter, but it's just THAT FUCKING ANNOYING. It's poor writing, it's lazy and it's just nonsensical.
“We’re going to rectify the situation right now.”
“What do you mean? What situation?”
“Your situation. Ana, I’m going to make love to you, now.”
“Oh.” The floor has fallen away. I’m a situation.
Can anyone think of any better way to refer to losing your virginity than "rectify the situation"? Not only is there no romance or seduction whatsoever, but he doesn't even ask her if she would like to make love. No, he tells her that it is going to happen, right now, because he wants it to happen and because he needs to get it out of the way so they can move on to more important things. No thought whatsoever to the fact that if she's waited 21 years to lose her virginity that maybe it might be kind of a big step for her. Nope, it's a "situation" that has to be rectified.

Now that's a situation that needs to be rectified.

“I thought you didn’t make love. I thought you fucked hard.” I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry. He gives me a wicked grin, the effects of which travel all the way down there.
We think it should be a rule that your book cannot be considered a totally hot erotica novel if it uses the euphemism "down there". And E L James uses it a lot.
“We can start your training tonight – with the basics. This doesn’t mean I’ve come over all hearts and flowers, it’s a means to an end, but one that I want, and hopefully you do, too.”
We were just wondering what could possibly be more romantic than "rectify the situation"... and E L James gave it to us: "it's a means to an end" totally ties with "start your training"! Swoon. (For the record, he does eventually ask her slightly more nicely if she even wants to have sex with him, and she does consent. But he's still a jerk.)
“Do you have any idea what I’m going to do to you?” he adds, caressing my chin.
Seeing as she's not just a virgin, but apparently the most inexperienced, naive, innocent, stupid virgin ever... let's guess that she probably doesn't have any idea of what he's actually going to do to her.
He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually. Christian Grey’s feet… wow… what is it about naked feet?
What is it about naked feet? Nothing. There is nothing about naked feet. Of course, we're sure that his naked toes are just as sexy and electrifying as his long, slender fingers. We also don't understand why E L James felt the need to go into detail about Christian taking his shoes and socks off - it's not sexy and nobody cares - but since she did we'll call bullshit on the idea that Christian Grey would wear Converse.
“I assume you’re not on the pill.”
What! Shit.
“I didn’t think so.” He opens the top drawer of the chest and removes a packet of condoms.
Grammatically speaking, shouldn't there be a question mark after "What"? "What" is a question, no? Also, what is so shocking about him assuming she's not on the pill? And even if she was on the pill, they should still be using condoms because hello, they just met. Was she just going to have unprotected sex with him if he didn't bring it up? (Even after having gotten all uptight about Kate needing a "safe sex talk" a few chapters ago.)
His hands glide slowly down my backside to my thighs, removing my jeans as they go. I cannot look away. He stops and licks his lips, never breaking eye contact. He leans forward, running his nose up the apex between my thighs. I feel him. There.
Just when we were debating whether "apex between my thighs" was an improvement over "down there", she threw "I feel him there" in anyway. Never mind, no points awarded.
He lifts my foot by the heel and runs his thumbnail up my instep. It’s almost painful, but I feel the movement echoed in my groin. I gasp. Not taking his eyes off mine, again he runs his tongue along my instep and then his teeth. Shit. I groan… how can I feel this, there? I fall back on to the bed, moaning. I hear his soft chuckle. “Oh, Ana, what I could do to you,” he whispers.
At this point the 'down there/I feel it there' thing is already annoying us so much that we're almost wishing for an update on what Ana's inner goddess is up to. Also, it seems like ELJ is really into feet - not a judgment, just an observation.
“How do you make yourself come? I want to see.”
I shake my head.
“I don’t,” I mumble. He raises his eyebrows, astonished for a moment, and his eyes darken, and he shakes his head in disbelief.
Poor Ana. She doesn't even masturbate? She has never had an orgasm and she's thinking of signing a contract to become someone's submissive... giving in to everything that he wants... without even knowing what she wants or likes. We're having a hard time understanding how everyone finds this book so sexy and romantic. To us, it's just sad and creepy. To be clear, that's not a criticism of virgins or people who don't masturbate for whatever reasons - the only person we're taking issue with here is E L James.
“Keep still,” he murmurs, and then he leans down and kisses the inside of my thigh, trailing kisses up, over the thin lacy material of my panties, kissing me. Oh… I can’t keep still. How can I not move? I wriggle beneath him. “We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby.”
Why is he so obsessed with trying to keep her still? It's almost like he's a major control freak or something. But we are glad that E L James specified three times in one sentence that Christian is kissing Ana. Is he kissing her though? Is his apartment big?
My breasts swell, and my nipples harden under his steady gaze.
Her nipples harden under his gaze? Wow, he's good.
His lips close around my other nipple and when he tugs, I nearly convulse. “Let’s see if we can make you come like this,” he whispers, continuing his slow, sensual assault. My nipples bear the delicious brunt of his deft fingers and lips, setting alight every single nerve ending so that my whole body sings with the sweet agony. He just doesn’t stop.

“Oh… please,” I beg, and I pull my head back, my mouth open as I groan, my legs stiffening. Holy hell, what’s happening to me? “Let go, baby,” he murmurs. His teeth close round my nipple, and his thumb and finger pull hard, and I fall apart in his hands, my body convulsing and shattering into a thousand pieces.
Everyone's very first orgasm happened just like this, right ladies? Two or three minutes of nipple stimulation and you're good to go.
He kneels up and pulls a condom onto his considerable length. Oh no… Will it? How?
“Don’t worry,” he breathes, his eyes on mine. “You expand too.”
Come fucking on. Sure, she's a virgin but hasn't she ever taken a sex ed class or read a health text book or talked about sex with friends or been on the Internet? Does she really not understand how the penis fits in there? Really? (And how exactly did he read her mind to know she was thinking that?) Also, if we're going to accept this ridiculous premise, then can E L James explain how Ana knows that he has "considerable length"? We are supposed to assume that this is the first penis she has ever seen in her entire life, right?
“Pull your knees up,” he orders softly, and I’m quick to obey. “I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele,” he murmurs as he positions the head of his erection at the entrance of my sex. “Hard,” he whispers, and he slams into me.
“Aargh!” I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity. He stills, gazing down at me, his eyes bright with ecstatic triumph.
What. The. Fuck. Honestly, that hurt us just reading that. What the hell is wrong with him? He knows she's a virgin, he knows she doesn't even masturbate... he has only given her minimal foreplay down there and he just slams into her like that? Has he never heard of being gentle? He couldn't slowly enter her a little bit at a time and let her acclimate to the feeling before he decides to fuck her "hard"? Also, this might be a minor detail, all things considered, but it's a little weird that he's continuing to be so formal and call her "Miss Steele" as he's literally ripping through her hymen. Ugh.
His mouth is open slightly, and his breathing is harsh. He groans. “You’re so tight. You okay?”
It's a little late for that observation and that question, Christian.
“Come for me, Ana,” he whispers breathlessly, and I unravel at his words, exploding around him as I climax and splinter into a million pieces underneath him. And as he comes, he calls out my name, thrusting hard, then stilling as he empties himself into me.
Again this is so strikingly similar to what happened when I lost my virginity.
Leaning down, he gently presses a kiss against my forehead then slowly pulls out of me.
“Ooh.” I wince at the unfamiliarity.
“Did I hurt you?” Christian asks as he lies down beside me propped on one elbow. He tucks a stray strand of my hair behind my ear. And I have to grin, widely.
You are asking me if you hurt me?”
“The irony is not lost on me,” he smiles sardonically.
So nice of Christian to suddenly act like he cares about this. What a dreamboat.
I stretch out beside him, feeling loose-limbed, my bones like jelly, but I’m relaxed, deeply relaxed. I grin at him. I can’t stop grinning. Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms… coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow.
A washing machine analogy? Careful, E L James, don't overwhelm us with too much sensuality here.

Okay, at this point we're basically commenting on every paragraph so we'll sum up a little. Christian keeps asking Ana if she's okay, and finally she decides that she wants to "do that again" so Christian (who is still creepily calling her "Miss Steele") turns her over and is ready to go only a few minutes later. Sorry, we call bullshit on this one too. The average refractory period for men (the "recovery phase" between having an orgasm and being able to achieve a new erection) is 30 minutes. And we bet that a lot of the women out there will say that this is a generous estimate. Oh, but we forgot, Christian is a special snowflake and this is an epic love story, so I guess we shouldn't point these things out.
I cannot move my head. I am pinioned beneath him, helpless.
“You are mine,” he whispers. “Only mine. Don’t forget it.”
“Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I’ve been here. Only me. You are mine.”
This part is really annoying to us (as opposed to all the other really annoying parts we're already complained about). She hasn't signed any contract, she hasn't agreed to be "his", so why is he telling her "you are mine" and "only mine"? Fuck off, Christian. Just because you took her virginity doesn't mean that she's your property now.
“I want to fuck your mouth, Anastasia, and I will soon,” his voice is hoarse, raw, his breathing more disjointed.
Fuck my mouth!
Sorry, we just don't buy it that Christian Grey would talk like that. Or that anyone really does, for that matter. We've heard a lot of euphemisms for oral sex, but "fuck your mouth" just makes us roll our eyes. Informal poll: Do people really use this expression?
I’m enticingly ensnared by him, and he’s poised and ready to take me once more. “We’re going to go real slow this time, Anastasia,” he breathes.
That's what you should have done the first time, you fucking idiot.
My body convulses around him, and I come, loudly calling out a garbled version of his name into the mattress. Christian follows with two sharp thrusts, and he freezes, pouring himself into me as he finds his release.
Actually he's pouring himself into the condom, not into you, but okay... semantics. And we appreciate how ELJ continues to keep this really realistic and relatable by having them simultaneously orgasm again. (Yeah, we know, it's fiction and it doesn't have to be realistic. We just wish it was unrealistic in a more interesting and less annoying sort of a way.)

Okay, summing up again. Ana immediately falls fast asleep, probably because having your first three orgasms in 21 years all in the span of 30 minutes can be pretty exhausting. When she wakes up Christian isn't in bed with her, so she goes looking for him and finds him playing the piano.
He sits naked, his body bathed in the warm light cast by a solitary freestanding lamp beside the piano.   [...]
He finishes playing and puts his hands on his legs. I notice now that he’s wearing PJ pants.
So he's not naked, he's wearing pajama pants. Why would Ana assume that he was just hanging out playing a little naked piano? Who is he, Matthew McConaughey? And since he actually wasn't naked, why do we have to hear about it in the first place? It's not really important except that it's yet another nonsensical observation made by Ana, and another pointless detail that E L James mistakenly thinks we're all fascinated by.
We both glance down at the bed at the same time. There’s blood on the sheets – evidence of my lost virginity. I flush, embarrassed, pulling the duvet tighter around me. “Well, that’s going to give Mrs. Jones something to think about,” Christian mutters as he stands in front of me.
Let's hope Christian pays his housekeeper really well.

Conclusion: Lots of foreshadowing in this chapter! Christian says he likes brunettes, he doesn't like to take his shirt off, has trouble sleeping, and he doesn't let Ana touch him on his torso. And he likes incredibly sad music. Other than that, we don't have a lot more to say. We have been so traumatized by this chapter that we feel the need to cleanse it from our minds. So we're each going to take a long hot shower and then have a drink. Hell, maybe we'll just drink in the shower to save time.


July 23, 2012

Pre-BlogHer Judging, Shaming & Stressing

As many of you know, we are going to be attending the 2012 BlogHer Conference at the beginning of August. (And to all of our non-BlogHer readers who are sick of all the damn BlogHer posts, we're sorry, we'll be back to making fun of 50 Shades of Grey very soon, we promise.)

Disclaimer: Over the years, we may have developed a bit of a reputation with some of the BlogHer crowd...and, well, with some of the rest of the world too. Sometimes we have a tendency to be big mouths and get ourselves into trouble by saying things that a lot of other people don't want to say and/or don't want to hear (e.g. 10 Things About BlogHer'11). But that's kind of our thing and we've learned that for every new enemy we make by opening our big evil slutty mouths, we make two new friends. So we decided we're always going to just say what we're thinking... but we'll try to say it as diplomatically and tactfully as we can.

We've been seeing a lot of pre-BlogHer posts and tweets and discussions (and have participated in much of it) and there seems to be a recurring theme that we keep seeing pop up that we just felt we had to address. Mixed in with all the awesomeness and excitement and bloggy love, there's been a lot of shaming, judging, and stressing going on and it's bumming us out. So let's talk about it.

Swag Shaming

We feel that BlogHer should not be all about the swag or freebies. It just shouldn't be. Not everyone goes to BlogHer with the same goals in mind - some go to network with brands, some go to meet their blog friends and idols in real life, some go to learn from blogging rockstars at the sessions - the free stuff should not be the top priority. We feel a little icky when the swag!swag!swag! frenzy takes over. But at the same time, sometimes the anti-swag crowd goes a bit overboard too.

A lot of BlogHer attendees have saved up for a while to be able to afford this trip. We don't all have sponsors and we don't all make money from our blogs. The trip shouldn't be about the swag, but sometimes the swag does matter. It can help someone off-set the cost of the conference or even justify the trip (to herself or her family that she's leaving behind). We feel that the cost of BlogHer is well worth it, but it isn't cheap. If going home with a ton of free coupons and free samples can make someone feel better about dropping nearly $300 (plus at least that much in hotel and transportation costs) on one weekend... who are we to make them feel bad about that?

So yes, it's okay remind everyone what BlogHer is really about - the people, the sessions - but try not to let those friendly reminders cross the line from helpful to hurtful. There's nothing wrong with wanting the swag. We all like free stuff and that's okay! Don't let it be the primary focus of the weekend, don't let it take over, don't let it make you act crazy, but don't feel bad about wanting and taking the free samples/coupons either. Don't forget that is why the sponsors brought them.

Private Party Frenzies

We have two main issues with the private party frenzy: We hate to see people desperately begging again and again for an invite to some off-site party and we hate to see people publicly shaming and guilt-tripping anyone who does want to go to an off-site party. Yeah, we know that those two points may seem to contradict each other, but just bear with us and try to follow our logic here...

No one should feel that bad about not getting a invite to a private party or not getting on the list in time for an unofficial party. No one. You can feel a little bummed about missing out, sure, but you're not really missing out. There are a ton of official parties open to everyone and they actually are really good parties, so you're not missing out on all the fun. And you shouldn't feel bad about not making the super exclusive list for some super secret private event because most likely there's a reason for that and it has nothing to do with how awesome you are. Many of the people/brands throwing private parties are aiming for a hyper-specific demographic (like babywearing vegan bloggers from Florida or brunette food bloggers over 40 or whatever) or had a pre-set guest list of bloggers with whom they already had established relationships. And then some of the parties with first come, first served policies really are just about who can click a mouse faster. So there's no reason you should be sad or feeling inadequate if you don't get in.

You shouldn't have to kiss anyone's ass or repeatedly beg for a party invite. This year we were overwhelmed by the amount of people tweeting, basically begging for invites to various events. We don't blame them of course, because this is what they were told to do to score invites to things. We don't really like it when a brand (or "brand") encourages everyone to tweet (again and again and again) at them in order to maybe get on the list for their party. It clogs up the #blogher12 stream and it just feels kind of shitty and self-serving to literally ask people to kiss your ass and prove that they're cool or clever or funny enough to get invited. This is especially true if there isn't any indication of how those begging tweets will actually translate into invites, which is sometimes the case, or if the hosts of the party play coy about exactly when the invites are going to go out. (We have less of a problem with it if it's something like a contest or a twitter party that's giving away invites during a specific time frame and with specific guidelines about how to win.)

We probably saw this the most with the Social Soiree event this year, and we're willing to bet that a lot of you who tweeted for an invite didn't even get one. We're sorry to call out the Social Soiree specifically but they really are the best example of what we're talking about. Actually you know what, we're not sorry to call them out specifically because they're the worst offender that we've seen this year - people were tweeting at them constantly for weeks, sucking up to them and giving lots of free promo to their hashtag and sponsors based on basically a vague rumor floating out there that the hosts were looking at the tweets to help them determine who to invite. For the record, we weren't invited to Social Soiree last year and weren't expecting an invite this year so we didn't bother trying to get one, so this isn't sour grapes. (And obviously we're aware that we'll never be invited in the future once we post this.) We also understand that there's a limited amount of space at these events so not everyone is going to get invited, and nobody was specifically promised an invite for tweeting a lot. But we happened to be on twitter on the day that the invites finally did go out, and we felt bad for a lot of people who said they were disappointed that they didn't get in because they had spent so much time tweeting about the event. We just feel like there's a better way to do things. If they're just going to pick and choose who they want, then don't ask everyone to tweet constantly and then be left let down. It seems like just a way of using people to build up your "brand".

At the same time, don't let anyone make you feel bad about yourself if you did tweet to get an invite. There's nothing wrong with wanting to go to a party, to be part of something that feels exclusive, to mingle with your favorite companies or blog idols. There's nothing wrong with entering a contest to win a ticket to an event and there's nothing wrong with tweeting to a brand you love hoping to find a way to connect with them in person. You're not necessarily "making yourself look bad", "doing it wrong", "undervaluing yourself", or "being unprofessional" (and not everyone even considers blogging to be their profession anyway). This is especially true if the company or brand or party organizers specifically asked you to do this in order to score tickets or an invitation. That is the way twitter contests work and as annoying as the brands are for running them, you're not an asshole for going along with it. We were pissed the other day as some women were repeatedly shaming others for tweeting for invites. We do agree that you shouldn't have to beg for invites, but being condescending and preachy about it after the fact is neither cool nor helpful, and the criticisms should probably be directly at the people running the party and not the people participating who may be newbies who don't know that certain things are against the rules or just considered annoying by certain BlogHer veterans.

And while we're on the subject...

Let's not shame or guilt trip people for wanting to go to unofficial parties in the first place! We are kind of getting sick of all the "private parties are the devil" conversations. Yes, we understand that they're "outboarding" parties and it may or may not be ethical for them to latch onto the BlogHer buzz without sponsoring the conference. We get it. But you're not a horrible, evil person who is ruining BlogHer forever if you do attend an unofficial event.

We understand that the brands that throw or sponsor these events are basically trying to get the benefits of being at BlogHer without actually paying to be a sponsor of the conference... but we still find it hard to believe that these tiny little off-site events are actually really hurting BlogHer financially. BlogHer doesn't seem to be hurting for sponsors... they still have a lot of huge brands shelling out big bucks to be there. (And we've even heard rumors of some companies wanting to sponsor the conference officially but being turned away.)

We love the official parties at BlogHer (especially the Queerosphere Party) but there is something to be said for a more low key, intimate affair like some of the off-site events. And for some of the attendees this will be their first time in New York City - not everyone wants to spend the entire weekend in one place. We love the Hilton, but there's no shame in getting a little excited about an event that takes place at a nearby rooftop bar, trendy restaurant or swanky hotel. We also know that some of the off-site parties have charity tie-ins (like the SocialLuxe Lounge who is donating to Operation Smile) in addition to those coveted swag bags. So before you start throwing around guilt trips to everyone who did accept an invitation to an unofficial "outboarding" event, let's not forget that some of the biggest official parties at BlogHer started out as unofficial "outboarding" events too.

We're not saying that there should be no conversations about outboarding and swag and how it affects BlogHer, or that people shouldn't give advice and reminders about prioritizing sessions over swag and people over parties. But sometimes it gets to the point where we see the same people repeating the same things over and over and we start to feel like it's just two opposing camps talking over each other and nobody's really listening. Sometimes you just have to speak your mind and then accept that not everyone is going to see things your way and move on.

Fashion Judgments


Every year a ton of people obsess over what to wear and whether they should buy new clothes. And every year everyone else tells them "anything goes!" It's true, anything goes at BlogHer. You will see a huge spectrum of fashion choices over the weekend. Some people will look like they're going to a business meeting, some people will look like they're going to a nightclub, some people will look like they just rolled out of bed, and everyone else will be dressed somewhere in the middle. You may also see people wearing tiaras, feather boas, and a lot of glitter. Really - anything goes.

So we get frustrated hearing people make bitchy judgments about other people's fashion choices. We've seen both sides of it - snide comments about people "wasting money" on new clothes for BlogHer and "warnings" about how everyone is going to totally judge you based on what you wear. Ugh, fuck that. Wear whatever you want!

Yes, it's true that you should put some thought into why you're going to BlogHer. If your main purpose is business and you're primarily there to make connections with brands, then, okay, sure, maybe it isn't a great idea to wear your pajama pants all day. But do remember that these companies know we're bloggers, not business executives. So no one is expecting you to show up in a three-piece suit. (Although it's totally okay if that's what you feel most comfortable in - did we mention that anything goes?)

On the other hand, while you definitely don't need to spend money on new clothes for the weekend, there's nothing wrong with wanting to look your best or getting excited over an excuse to shop for new shoes. But just trust us - make those comfortable shoes. Your feet will thank you later. (You don't want to end up walking down the street barefoot in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the night...not that we would know anything about that.)

General Newbie Stress


We know BlogHer can be totally stressful your first time around... and the truth is, it's still kind of stressful every year afterwards. (But it's good stress. The exciting kind.) This will be our fourth year attending this totally unique, crazy, fun, sparkly, inspiring event for women bloggers. The weekend is always basically a whirlwind of attending workshops, partying, networking, drinking, getting swag, drunk networking, blogging, tweeting, drunk tweeting, attending workshops while hungover, and then doing it all again. We know it can be a little overwhelming for the first-timers. The best advice we can give you is to just relax! It's going to be an awesome experience and all those nervous jitters are just going to melt away when you get there.

Yes, BlogHer is so big and over the top that it can be really overwhelming and it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone's already got their cliques and you won't fit in or make friends. But you will. (And if all else fails you can always join the Evil Slut Clique.) Almost everyone at BlogHer is really friendly and approachable, even the most "Internet famous" bloggers. Don't get caught up thinking that you're not good enough/famous enough/important enough. You're good enough! Everyone started somewhere and even the smallest little blog matters. As Queerie Bradshaw put it, we should all be able to say "I'm a big deal".

There are a lot (like a lot a lot) of BlogHer Advice posts floating around. Even we made one: The ESC's Tips for BlogHer. Sometimes having too much advice is worse than not having any; because you start to obsess over it (especially when some of the blogs offer conflicting suggestions and you don't know who to listen to). So we think it's important to remember that you don't have to follow all of it. And yes, we realize the hypocrisy of giving you advice on not taking all the advice you're given, but oh well. Just because a BlogHer veteran or "important" blogger feels one way, doesn't mean it's the only way and it doesn't mean you have to listen to them. If something just rubs you the wrong way or goes against what you feel, forget it. No one's going to hate you if you don't take their advice. And if someone does give you a hard time for ignoring their amazing advice...well, fuck them. (Just yesterday someone advised us to stop cursing so much. We ignored him.)

Figure out the best plan of attack for yourself and just go with it. And next year? You can write all the BlogHer Advice posts you want.

Speaking of Advice, here are some of our BlogHer posts. (Although you can feel free to ignore anything in them!)

July 16, 2012

The ESC Reads 50 Shades of Grey: Chapter 7

WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers. But, of course, that's kind of the point.

We decided to tackle the Fifty Shades of Grey series one book at a time and give everyone chapter-by-chapter summaries and critique. We're going to read Fifty Shades of Grey... so you don't have to.

Chapter 7

Summary: Christian shows Anastasia his "playroom" (no video games, but lots of bondage equipment and sex toy stuff). She's all "oh holy fuck" about it. He explains to her that he's a dominant and wants her to submit to him in order to please him. Of course, she's freaked out and confused. He explains that it has to be consensual but this is the only kind of relationship he wants so if she says no, it's over. He gives her a detailed contract to read and asks her to let him know what she isn't willing to do and what she does/doesn't like. She tells him that she is a virgin and he's super pissed.

Sexiness factor (scale of 1-10): 1.5

There's still no sex in this chapter and even the talk of sex isn't sexy. (There's nothing like excessive paperwork to take away the thrill.)

Plot Holes, Fact Checking Fails, and Other Observations:
There is no bedding... just a mattress covered in red leather and red satin cushions piled at one end.
We know this is supposed to be super sexy imagery, but red leather? Really? Do you even know how hard it is to clean leather? I don't care how good it feels, I'm not putting leather sheets on my sex bed. And how is there "no bedding" if there is both a red leather covering and satin pillows? Isn't that the bedding? What more was she looking for? A dust ruffle? (And did she check under the leather to see if there were sheets? It just seems like a stupid observation to make. But if someone with more knowledge about BDSM bedding than us or EL James can clarify this for us, please leave a comment.)
“Where do you sleep?”
“My room is downstairs. Come, you must be hungry.”
“Weirdly, I seem to have lost my appetite,” I murmur petulantly.
“You must eat, Anastasia,” he admonishes and, taking my hand, leads me back downstairs.
We don't have a lot to say about this right now but we just want to point out that this is yet another of about 8000 similar conversations that Christian and Ana have about food throughout the series - she's always saying she's not hungry and he's always trying to make her eat. More on this later.
I stand at the breakfast bar watching him as he opens the refrigerator and pulls out a plate of different cheeses with two large bunches of green and red grapes. He sets the plate down on the worktop and proceeds to cut up a French baguette.

[...]“How did you become this way?”
"Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese? Mrs. Jones – my housekeeper – has left this for supper.”
We’re talking about cheese… Holy crap.
Wow dude, that's deep. Why do people like or dislike cheese, and what does that say about us as people? We're going to be pondering that one for awhile. Incidentally, Christian's cheese analogy is not just goofy but also (spoiler alert!) a total lie. He does know why and how he 'became this way', he's just choosing not to explain it to Ana at the moment. Also, this guy is crazy rich and he's made a big deal of flying Anastasia to his home for a special date... and all his housekeeper has left "for supper" is fruit and cheese? Sure that's a lovely snack, but supper? Way to wine and dine her, Christian.

For research purposes we did a search for "sexy cheese" and this is what came up (do not search "BDSM cheese", it will lead you down a dark path):

For extra credit, leave a comment interpreting the symbolism of this image as it relates to Christian and Ana's relationship. ...Okay, sorry, enough about the cheese thing. We'll move on.

First Christian says this he won't hurt her:
“I’m not going to hurt you, Anastasia.” His gray eyes implore, and I know he speaks the truth. I take his hand, and he leads me out of the door.
But then...
“Have you ever hurt anyone?”
“Yes.” Holy shit.
“Will you hurt me?”
“What do you mean?”
"Physically, will you hurt me?”
“I will punish you when you require it, and it will be painful.”
So is he going to hurt her or not? Hm.
This is what I cannot reconcile. Kind, caring Christian, who rescues me from inebriation and holds me gently while I’m throwing up into the azaleas, and the monster who possesses whips and chains in a special room.
What? Kind, caring Christian? Kind, caring Christian who traces her cell phone in order to stalk her and show up at the bar uninvited so he can scold her for getting drunk? Sorry, we don't know this kind, caring Christian you speak of. We know the creepy, controlling Christian who seems pretty much on par with "the monster" who possesses whips and chains in a special room. (Not to say that everyone who possesses whips and chains is a monster - we know this to be untrue - but we have no problem reconciling Christian the control freak with Christian the dom.)

Christian's "hard limits" include:
No acts involving fire play.
No activity that involves the direct contact of electric current (whether alternating or direct), fire or flames to the body.
So, no fire... and also no fire or flames. Okay. But does he like fire? Is his apartment big?

BDSM Analysis:

The details of the scenario in this chapter really disturb us. Consider this: She is a naive, innocent and inexperienced virgin and he's a rich, controlling older man. He has flown her from her own neighborhood to his home in Seattle and has just shown her that he has a room full of "toys" designed to restrain and/or deliver pain. He also keeps pouring her glasses of wine and has told her that the only way she can be with him is if she agrees to sign this contract. Even though he's told her that she can leave at any time and she can make any decision she wants and he won't hurt her without her consent, he's set up a situation where one could argue that any consent she did give might be considered "coerced". Or at the very least, it would be difficult to give informed consent since she has no idea what he's talking about and the only thing she really has to go on at this point is what he tells her, which isn't exactly ethical. She has also already signed a non-disclosure agreement, so she may feel that she can't even talk about this if something does go wrong or she feels unsafe, etc.

Shanna Katz also made a really good point in her review of the book, about the fact that he expects her to sign a contract before they've ever done anything more than kiss (and before she even tries anything out to see if she likes it):
I have some issues with the idea that he wouldn’t even consider playing with her (or anyone else, for that matter) a few times before bringing up the idea of a full time (or full weekend?) slave contract. I feel like if someone did that in our local community (“If you’re interested in me, you must sign a 24/7 contract before we can see if you like this and if we are compatible together”), we would call out that person for predatory behavior (actually, this has happened in our community, and said person was banned from multiple dungeons for poaching on newbies to the scene, and contracting them to his “house” without allowing them to get their footing first).
This is a really good point. Even if you're familiar with BDSM, it's weird to expect someone to commit to a relationship like this (in writing especially) without seeing if you were sexually/emotionally compatible first. But for someone who is not just new to the "scene" but new to sex entirely, it's downright wrong for him to say he won't even touch her until she signs the contract. We'd assume that E L James doesn't actually know much about BDSM but for some reason a lot of people have held this book out as an "intro" for beginners and even though we haven't even seen any actual sex happen yet in this book, we already can tell that that is a bad idea.

We also find it problematic that when Ana asks Christian why she should agree to willingly surrender herself to him, in all things, his answer is simply "to please me". There is no mention whatsoever of her pleasure.
“You’re a sadist?”
“I’m a Dominant.” His eyes are a scorching gray, intense.
“What does that mean?” I whisper.
“It means I want you to willingly surrender yourself to me, in all things.”
I frown at him as I try to assimilate this idea.
“Why would I do that?”
“To please me,” he whispers as he cocks his head to one side, and I see a ghost of a smile.

Please him! He wants me to please him! I think my mouth drops open. Please Christian Grey. And I realize, in that moment, that yes, that’s exactly what I want to do. I want him to be damned delighted with me. It’s a revelation.

“In very simple terms, I want you to want to please me,” he says softly. His voice is hypnotic.

“How do I do that?” My mouth is dry, and I wish I had more wine. Okay, I understand the pleasing bit, but I am puzzled by the soft-boudoir-Elizabethan-torture set up. Do I want to know the answer?

“I have rules, and I want you to comply with them. They are for your benefit and for my pleasure. If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn,” he whispers.
(First off, we apologize for making you read such a long excerpt - we know we're supposed to be reading so you don't have to. But we really wanted everyone to get the full flavor of this particular conversation.)

So he says that the rules are for her benefit, because he knows what's best for her. But the relationship is not for her pleasure, it is for his pleasure only. She will submit to him in order to please him, period. What does she get in return? The privilege of being dominated by him, and the satisfaction of a job well done in pleasing him, since she should want to do that. Really, that's it. Now maybe this isn't what Christian means and maybe he does want her to get more pleasure out of the arrangement than that, but if so he doesn't really make that clear.
“So you’ll get your kicks by exerting your will over me.”
“It’s about gaining your trust and your respect, so you’ll let me exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy – it’s a very simple equation.”
“Okay, and what do I get out of this?” He shrugs and looks almost apologetic.
“Me,” he says simply.
Shouldn't a relationship be mutually satisfying? One of our biggest issues with this whole thing is that Christian knows that Ana knows nothing about this type of relationship and yet he stills does a horrible job of explaining it to her. She asks why she would want to do this and he says "to please me", and she asks what's in it for her and he says "me". It's nice that Christian thinks so highly of himself, but he really owes her a much longer and better explanation than this.
“I’m fully aware that this is a dark path I’m leading you down, Anastasia, which is why I really want you to think about this. You must have some questions,” he says as he wanders into the kitchen area, releasing my hand.
I do. But where to start?
“You’ve signed your NDA; you can ask me anything you want and I’ll answer.”
This is a slight improvement, but still...she doesn't even really know what questions to ask, and he should realize that.

Now, just for fun, a quick look at some of the rules in the contract that Christian gives to Ana:
The Submissive will ensure she achieves a minimum of seven hours’ sleep a night when she is not with the Dominant.

The Submissive will eat regularly to maintain her health and wellbeing from a prescribed list of foods (Appendix 4). The Submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.

During the Term, the Submissive will wear clothing only approved by the Dominant.

The Dominant shall provide the Submissive with a personal trainer four times a week in hour-long sessions at times to be mutually agreed between the personal trainer and the Submissive. The personal trainer will report to the Dominant on the Submissive’s progress.

The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times. The Submissive will visit a beauty salon of the Dominant’s choosing at times to be decided by the Dominant, and undergo whatever treatments the Dominant sees fit.

The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs, or put herself in any unnecessary danger.

The Submissive will conduct herself in a respectful and modest manner at all times.
Here's a little slice of life in the ESC for you (and if you follow us on twitter you already know all of this) - yesterday we went to brunch in the middle of the afternoon, ate a lot of bacon and drank a lot of mimosas, then went home and spent the rest of the day on the couch watching Showgirls, Polish Wedding, and Mean Girls (in that order), and only got up once, when we saw a commercial for chocolate-covered ice cream bars and decided that we needed to go to the store and get some for ourselves. In other words, we would not last 10 seconds as Christian Grey's sub. (And again, no shade intended to any actual people who enjoy these kinds of relationships in real life and are not ill-conceived and poorly written EL James book characters.)

Some of the worst writing in the chapter:
The first thing I notice is the smell: leather, wood, polish with a faint citrus scent.
I'm sorry. She's just entered his Playroom of sex and pain, a room filled with sex toys and harnesses and red leather and the first thing she notices is the smell?
A flogger… hmm. I think I’m in shock. My subconscious has emigrated or been struck dumb or simply keeled over and expired. I am numb.
Or maybe for the first time in the book, her subconscious is acting like a subconscious and not communicating directly with her!
I walk toward the bed and run my hands down one of the intricately carved posts. The post is very sturdy, the craftsmanship outstanding.
Boy, EL James always knows which details are the most interesting ones to include in the middle of an important scene. Please, please tell us more about the craftsmanship of the bed post.
“This is the only sort of relationship I’m interesting in.”
Typo! We know that Christian Grey isn't remotely interesting, but we don't think that's what ELJ meant.
“Anastasia, I’ve told you. There’s something about you. I can’t leave you alone.” He smiles ironically. “I’m like a moth to a flame.” His voice darkens. “I want you very badly, especially now, when you’re biting your lip again.” He takes a deep breath and swallows.

My stomach somersaults – he wants me… in a weird way, true, but this beautiful, strange, kinky man wants me.
Her stomach somersaulted? Guess her inner goddess was on a break. And Ana must be the sexiest and most habitual lip biter on the planet, because her super hot lip biting is mentioned on practically every page.
“I’m not sure about accepting money for clothes. It feels wrong.” I shift uncomfortably, the word ‘ho’ rattling round my head.
I guess we should be glad that something is rattling around in there.
“Well… I’ve not had sex before, so I don’t know.” My voice is small. I peek up at him, and he’s staring at me, mouth-open, frozen, and pale - really pale.
“Never?” he whispers. I shake my head.
“You’re a virgin?” he breathes. I nod, flushing again. He closes his eyes and looks to be counting to ten. When he opens them again, he’s angry, glaring at me.
“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?” he growls.
Fuck you very much, Christian. He knew that Ana was naive and inexperienced. He didn't give her any indication of what might be happening that evening. He basically invited her on what she thought was a date in order to discuss some mysterious paperwork. Was she supposed to psychically know that he was going to ask her to be his new submissive? And when exactly was she supposed to mention "oh by the way, I'm a virgin", considering that they just met like three days ago? During the interview at his office? At the hardware store? At the photo shoot? While she was throwing up at the bar? He actually has the nerve to be mad at her right now? What a dick.

Conclusion: In this chapter we learn that Christian has had 15 subs before Ana and his hard limits include fireplay, urination, defecation, needles, knives, piercing, blood, gynecological instruments, children, animals, breath control, electric current, or anything that will leave permanent marks on the skin. When Ana asks if he has ever been beaten, he says "yes". They squabble over meaningless details of the contract (such as how many hours a week she will spend with a personal trainer and whether she has to wear the clothes he buys her when she's not with him) which is funny to us because that is Ana's main concern right now? She's never even had sex before and instead of concentrating on whether or not she can seriously make this kind of relationship her first relationship, she's harping on how many hours a week she has to exercise? And the chapter ends with him angrily growling at her because she didn't tell him that she was a virgin. Epic love story!


July 9, 2012

The ESC Reads 50 Shades of Grey: Chapter 6

WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers. But, of course, that's kind of the point.

We decided to tackle the Fifty Shades of Grey series one book at a time and give everyone chapter-by-chapter summaries and critique. We're going to read Fifty Shades of Grey... so you don't have to.

Chapter 6

Summary: Christian Grey drives Anastasia home. They listen to music, he takes a few business calls, and his brother Elliot calls. He is with Kate at the apartment, so Christian plans to pick him up when he drops off Ana. Elliot shows Kate a lot of public affection and tells her "laters baby" which is just idiotic and something we refuse to believe actual grownups say (we only mention this because it becomes an ongoing joke in the rest of the book). Kate helps Ana get ready and then Christian picks her up at work that evening. He flies her in his helicopter "Charlie Tango" to his home in Seattle. He makes her sign a non-disclosure agreement before he will further discuss anything. She asks if he's going to make love to her but he says "I don't make love. I fuck... hard." and explains that there is still more paperwork to go over. But first he takes her to his "playroom"... dun dun dun!

Sexiness factor (scale of 1-10): 1.5

Number of times Ana's "subconscious"and/or "inner goddess" communicates with her: 3
What am I doing here? You know very well what you’re doing here – my subconscious sneers at me. Yes, I want to be in Christian Grey’s bed.

My subconscious is staring at me in awe.

My inner goddess glares at me, tapping her small foot impatiently. She’s been ready for this for years, and she’s ready for anything with Christian Grey.
We're still trying to figure out how Ana's inner goddess, who lives inside her head, can glare at her, or how her subconscious can communicate with her at all.

 Foreshadowing that Christian Grey is a dom: 7
I'm so glad that I never seriously entertained the thought of working for him. I shudder at the very idea. He’s just too controlling and cold with his employees.
I hold my breath as he pulls at one of the upper straps. “You’re secure, no escaping,” he whispers, his eyes are scorching. “Breathe, Anastasia,” he adds softly. Reaching up, he caresses my cheek, running his long fingers down to my chin which he grasps between his thumb and forefinger. He leans forward and plants a brief, chaste kiss on my lips, leaving me reeling, my insides clenching at the thrilling, unexpected touch of his lips. “I like this harness,” he whispers. What?

“It requires control and concentration… how could I not love it?”

"It seemed appropriate. I could hold you to some impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec D’Urberville,” he murmurs, and his gray eyes flash dark and dangerous.
“If there are only two choices, I’ll take the debasement.” I whisper, gazing at him.

Plot Holes, Fact Checking Fails, and Other Observations:
"My taste is eclectic, Anastasia, everything from Thomas Tallis to the Kings of Leon. It depends on my mood. You?” [...]
He presses a button and the Kings of Leon start singing. Hmm… this I know. Sex on Fire. How appropriate.
Not to nitpick, but it's just Kings of Leon. Not the Kings of Leon.
“Why do you insist on calling me Anastasia?”
“Because it’s your name.”
“I prefer Ana.”
“Do you now?” he murmurs. We are almost at my apartment. It’s not taken long.
“Anastasia,” he muses. I scowl at him, but he ignores my expression. “What happened in the elevator – it won’t happen again, well, not unless it’s premeditated.”
What a charmer that Christian Grey is. We're swooning as we type.
Ana,” he smiles, his blue eyes twinkling, and I like him immediately. He’s obviously nothing like Christian, but then they’re adopted brothers.
That's so stupid. Him being adopted has nothing to do with why they're nothing alike. Are genetic brothers always exactly alike? No, of course not.
Under Kate’s tireless and frankly intrusive instruction, my legs and underarms are shaved to perfection, my eyebrows plucked, and I am buffed all over. It has been a most unpleasant experience. But she assures me that this is what men expect these days.
She's 21 years old and almost a college graduate, yet she has to be instructed on how to perfectly shave her legs and underarms? Really? We know that not everyone feels that they want or need to do this (which is totally fine) but they've certainly heard of the concept, no? Is there really anyone who didn't know that some men "expect" that "these days" to the point that they'd have to be "assured" of this fact? Her mother has been married several times, but she never taught her daughter how to shave her armpits? E L James is just going out of her way to portray Ana as completely innocent and ignorant as possible.
"It seemed appropriate. I could hold you to some impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec D’Urberville,” he murmurs, and his gray eyes flash dark and dangerous.

“If there are only two choices, I’ll take the debasement.” I whisper, gazing at him.
Grey and Ana keep making references to Tess of the d'Urbervilles throughout the book, so we thought we'd actually address that at this point. Despite Ana's going on and on about how she's looking for a romantic literary hero, the characters she most often references are far from romantic and far from heroic. Here's a quickie summary:

Tess Durbeyfield is hired by Alec d'Urberville, who makes repeated advances to her. She puts up with it, because she needs the money, but she's so inexperienced she doesn't realize how dangerous he actually is (sound familiar yet?) Alec "rescues" her from a situation with some other guy, but then rapes her. She goes home and later gives birth to a baby who soon after dies. Years later, she falls in love with Angel Clare who, thinking she's a virgin, proposes marriage. After they're married she confesses what happened with Alec and Angel is appalled. They separate and later on she encounters Alec again. He begs her never to tempt him again and then later proposes marriage, but she's already married. Her father dies and her family is evicted. Alec tells her that Angel will never return for her so she agrees to become his mistress because she's basically desperate. When Angel does return, she blames Alec for her losing Angel a second time and kills him. Angel forgives her, she's arrested and executed. Angel goes off with Tess's sister Liza-Lu, per Tess's wishes. Happy ending! True romance!

We can see there are a lot of parallels to 50 Shades of Grey, but they aren't good ones. Not sure if E L James is using it as ominous foreshadowing or if she actually thinks it's a romantic story. Christian Grey perhaps isn't as bad as Alec d'Urberville (perhaps) but neither of them are the literary hero Ana claims she's looking for.

Some of the worst writing in the chapter:
He hasn’t mentioned the outburst of passion that exploded in the elevator. Should I? Should we talk about it or pretend that it didn’t happen? It hardly seems real, my first proper no-holds-barred kiss. As time ticks on, I assign it mythical, Arthurian legend, Lost City of Atlantis status. It never happened, it never existed. Perhaps I imagined it all.
Ana, it's a good thing he can't read your thoughts or he would never want to kiss you again and then you wouldn't have to worry about this anymore. But we will say that if there's not a romance novel (or a gay porn) out there somewhere called Outburst of Passion, we'll be disappointed.
“What are we listening to?”
“It’s the Flower Duet by Delibes, from the opera Lakmé. Do you like it?”
“Christian, it’s wonderful.”
“It is, isn’t it?” he grins, glancing at me. And for a fleeting moment, he seems his age: young, carefree, and heart-stoppingly beautiful. Is this the key to him? Music? I sit and listen to the angelic voices, teasing and seducing me.
Yes. Music is the key to him. Quick, take singing lessons and learn to play the oboe.
Why won’t he kiss me again? I pout at the thought. I don’t understand. Honestly, his surname should be Cryptic, not Grey.
Nah, 50 Shades of Cryptic isn't as catchy.
I flush at the memory of his mouth on mine, and the thought that I’d been unable to touch him enters my mind. I wanted to run my fingers through his decadent, untidy hair, but I’d been unable to move my hands. I am retrospectively frustrated.
His hair is decadent? What does that even mean? For the record, we Google imaged "decadent hair", and this was the first result, so just assume this is what his hair looks like:

His look is so intense, half in shadow and half in the bright white light from the landing lights. Dark knight and white knight, it’s a fitting metaphor for Christian.
Shut up, Ana.
“It’s a very big place you have here.”
“It’s big,” he agrees, and his eyes glow with amusement. I take another sip of wine.
But is it big?
“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?” Holy shit. Did I just say that?
We're with Ana's subconscious or inner goddess or whoever is doing the thinking for her right as this moment - we can't believe she just said that either. And not only because it's seriously goofy but because she says it right after he makes her sign a nondisclosure agreement and basically implies that he's got some deep dark secret that she needs to know about before they get involved. Maybe let him clue you in before you start talking about making love like you're on an episode of Days of Our Lives.
“No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck… hard. Secondly, there’s a lot more paperwork to do, and thirdly, you don’t yet know what you’re in for. You could still run for the hills. Come, I want to show you my playroom.”

My mouth drops open. Fuck hard! Holy shit, that sounds so… hot. But why are we looking at a playroom? I am mystified.

“You want to play on your Xbox?” I ask. He laughs, loudly.

“No, Anastasia, no Xbox, no Playstation. Come.” He stands, holding out his hand. I let him lead me back out to the corridor.
Really, E L James? Really? Really? We don't even like Ana at this point and we're still offended on her behalf that ELJ insists on making her so ridiculously naive and clueless. She may be inexperienced and Christian is acting weird and being all mysterious about his secret, but there's still no way that Ana would think that he brought her all the way to Seattle and made her sign an NDA so that they could play Call of Duty together.

Conclusion: In this chapter we learned that Christian likes flying and listening to music while Ana likes white wine and Christian's hair, but does not like shaving her legs. We're starting to feel like we really know these characters, you know? We've also finally reached the big moment when all will be revealed in the Xbox-free playroom. Laters, baby.


The ESC's Tips for BlogHer

Come talk to me at BlogHer '12We are so excited that the BlogHer Conference is coming back to New York City for 2012!

This will be our fourth year attending this totally unique, crazy, fun, sparkly, inspiring event for women bloggers. The weekend is always basically a whirlwind of attending workshops, partying, networking, drinking, getting swag, drunk networking, blogging, tweeting, drunk tweeting, attending workshops while hungover, and then doing it all again. We know it can be a little overwhelming for the first-timers, so we thought we'd offer some helpful advice to you BlogHer newbies.

This is far from a complete, comprehensive list. There's so much we could say. But these are a few thoughts we had that hopefully will help some of you:
  • Unfamiliar with New York? Read the ESC's Guide to New York City. Since we know Manhattan can be a bit overwhelming for some out-of-towners, we thought we'd offer some helpful advice to making the most of your stay in The Big Apple. Check it out here.
  • Not sure what to wear? Anything goes, but remember why you're there. If you just want to hang out with your online friends in real life, literally anything goes. We know that pajamas are the official blogger uniform, but if you're hoping to network and connect with sponsors, you might want to look a bit more professional. But overall, BlogHer is relatively casual during the day and it's okay to take it up a notch or two for the evening parties. Remember that NYC in August is going to be very hot and humid, but it will probably be freezing in the hotel's conference rooms. So our advice is dress for the weather but bring along an extra sweater or two.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. We can't stress this enough. Sure, pack those sexy heels for an evening party, but you might want to have a pair of flip flops stashed in your purse just in case. (Yes, we've learned this one the hard way...more than once.)
  • Pack band-aids and painkillers. Especially if you neglected to follow our above advice and wear comfortable shoes. But also - BlogHer can be exhausting on the mind and the body. There's a lot of walking, lots of carrying around heavy tote bags full of laptops and swag, you probably aren't going to get enough sleep and you may very well wake up with a hangover. So you're going to want to have a hefty supply of painkillers. We never travel without a giant bottle of Excedrin. (The preceding comment was not sponsored by Excedrin. But if anyone from Excedrin is reading this, they should totally call us.)
  • Be open to trying new things and meeting new people. BlogHer is so big and over the top that it can be really overwhelming, especially if it's your first time. And many of the attendees already know each other, so it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone's already got their cliques and you won't fit in or make friends. Luckily, that's not the case at all. Almost everyone at BlogHer is really friendly and approachable, even the most "Internet famous" bloggers. (And those few who aren't are probably having issues that have nothing to do with you, or are people you wouldn't want to be friends with anyway.) So don't be afraid to walk right up to someone that you want to meet and introduce yourself, or to join a random group at a party or say "hey, is this seat taken?" We've made some great connections with amazing people just by sitting down at a half-empty table at breakfast or lunch. Put yourself out there and you will, as we always like to say, find your people.
    • Prepare your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary of you and your blog (the name comes from the idea that you should be able to deliver it within the time it takes to ride an elevator with a stranger). Some people think of it as a mini-mission statement, but really it's just a quick way to tell people what your blog is all about because you're not always going to have time to get into a long conversation. This is good to have always, but at BlogHer it is especially important because of the sheer amount of people that attend every year. (Last year there were about 4,000 attendees.) Think about what you might say, test it out, and tweak it if you need to.
    • Bring business cards. Even if you think you won't need them, even if you think no one cares about you and your little blog. even if you think they're a waste of money. Trust us, people are going to give you their cards and you'll be kicking yourself if you don't bring any. You can find some pretty good deals on Vistaprint, Zazzle or Moo.
    • Make a schedule. We definitely recommend you make a list of all the sessions you want to go to, all the parties you want to attend, and all the other stuff you need to fit in your busy busy weekend at BlogHer. Include room numbers on the schedule and any other details you might need. There is so much going on at BlogHer that you really need to keep track of it all or you might miss something important. So definitely make a schedule... but then...
    • Break your schedule. You don't have to do everything. It's okay to sleep in if you feel the need, it's okay to skip that fifth party, it's okay to sit out one session to have a great chat with friends or grab a cup of coffee or take a nap. The goal of BlogHer is to get out of it what you want to get out of it. If you completely overdo it, you'll go home burnt out instead of inspired and invigorated. So instead of worrying about checking off everything on your list, prioritize and decide what's most important.
    • If you don't already have a smartphone, get one. There isn't a better time to invest in a smartphone than right before BlogHer. Not only is it really helpful to have Internet access while you're out and about (and a phone is a lot lighter than a laptop) but there are a number of helpful apps for your phone that will really come in handy while you're there. For starters, there's the official BlogHer'12 application and there are a number of other apps that you probably want to start loading to your phones now. We've given an extensive list in our ESC's Guide to NYC blogs, you should check them out.
    • Use the hashtag #blogher12 on Twitter before, during and after the conference. Many of the sessions will have their own hashtags as well, so feel free to check out what people are livetweeting (or post some tweets yourself). Twitter is a great way to get in touch with other attendees who you'd like to meet and is a great way to keep in touch with those attendees you did meet. We used to go through business cards and follow everybody at the end of the day or after the conference, but now that so many people have smartphones we're sure there's going to be a lot of insta-following going on. Twitter's also a good way to keep up with sponsor promotions and contests, flashmobs, and all of the other random fun stuff that pops up throughout the day.
    • Leave a little extra space in your luggage. You might need that additional room for any swag you pick up at the Expo Hall or at private parties. (If it's your first year, leave yourself more space than you think you'll need. Trust us.) But remember that you don't have to take everything that is offered to you. It's okay to say "no thank you" and BlogHer usually has a "Swag Recycling Room" where you can drop off anything you don't want to take home. If you're flying home, be cautious of what you pack in your carry-on luggage. (We remember one year the TSA confiscated everyone's free Playdoh.)
    • Come talk to us! We're always excited to catch up with old friends at conferences like this, but we also love making new ones. So even if you don't already know us, come find us - we want to meet you. If you read our blog or follow us on Twitter or just stumbled upon this one blog and liked it... come find us at BlogHer or send us a DM or @ tweet. We are also more than happy to answer any NYC-related questions!

      July 5, 2012

      The ESC's Guide to New York City

      We are so excited that the BlogHer Conference is coming back to New York City for 2012!

      Since we know Manhattan can be a bit overwhelming for some out-of-towners, we thought we'd offer some helpful tips to making the most of your stay in The Big Apple. (Tip #1: Don't call New York "The Big Apple".) Those of you from other metropolitan cities similar to Manhattan might find some of these tips to be obvious or common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people aren't familiar with this type of area and really just have no idea what to do. So we're here to help!

      We suggest you read all four guides, but for your convenience here's a quick and handy reference to what you'll find in each installment:
      • Transportation

      We remember hearing some complaints after BlogHer10 that it was too hard to get around NYC and there was "too much walking". We had a hard time understanding those complaints because Manhattan has more public transportation options than most other areas. So we thought we'd offer some helpful basic traveling tips (and etiquette) for the attendees coming in for BlogHer12. In this guide, you'll find everything you need to know about all facets of getting around NYC - including taxis, livery/car service, pedi-cabs, the subway, buses, commuter trains/regional trains, pedestrian "rules", driving and parking in Manhattan and general tips (plus helpful links and apps to download for your smartphone).

      Check it out here!
      •  Tipping (yes, you have to)

      We understand that in some parts of the world tipping is not customary, but in the U.S. - and New York especially - it's not just the custom. It's part of our service economy and taxation system. The U.S. government taxes servers and bartenders based on an assumption that they made a certain percentage of their sales in tips. So if you don't tip, you're likely costing them money. Also, most restaurants and bars can (legally) pay their employees way below minimum wage (sometimes as low as $2/hour) because it is assumed that the difference will be made up through tips. You can't avoid tipping just because you "don't believe it" or don't agree with the concept. In this guide, you'll find suggestion standards for tipping in restaurants, bars, hotels, cabs, and other service venues. Plus you'll find some general "tips on tipping", such as how to calculate a tip and how to appropriately judge the level of service.

      Check it out here
      • Dining and Drinking

      There are so many restaurants and bars in New York City. In this guide you'll learn some tips to make your experience better and easier (and not piss of your servers). We've also included some helpful apps that you can use to find a restaurant in your area or the best happy hour deals. Remember: Always drink responsibly!

      Check it out here
      •  General Etiquette and Advice 

      Not all New Yorkers are rude! Sure, some of them are, but generally it's easy to mistake the fast-paced frenetic energy of New York City as rudeness. We're really almost friendly as long as you don't get in our way or fuck with our day. The main difference between tourists and New Yorkers, is that we know the unwritten rules, so we can get frustrated when someone breaks those social norms.This final sections covers... everything else! In this guide, you'll get some basic "etiquette" tips on how to interact with New Yorkers (most important tip: don't waste our time), unwritten "rules of the sidewalk", how to find a public restroom when you need it, where you can or can't smoke/drink/go topless, and all you need to know before planning your visit to a tourist attraction or museum.

      Check it out here!

      As a bonus, here's our recap post of the last time BlogHer was in New York: 10 Things About BlogHer '10 and our ESC's Guide to BlogHer. And of course, you can always get in touch with us and ask any other NYC questions you might have! You can email us, find us at Twitter at @EvilSlutClique or send us a message via Facebook. We're here to help! (You can also get in touch with us if you just wanna chat or meet up at BlogHer.)

      The ESC's Guide To NYC: General Etiquette & Advice

      We are so excited that the BlogHer Conference is coming back to New York City for 2012! Since we know Manhattan can be a bit overwhelming for some out-of-towners, we thought we'd offer some helpful tips to making the most of your stay in The Big Apple. (Tip #1: Don't call New York "The Big Apple".)

      Note: Those of you from other metropolitan cities similar to Manhattan might find some of these tips to be obvious or common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people aren't familiar with this type of area and really just have no idea what to do. So we're here to help!

      So here's our fourth installment of The ESC's Guide to NYC:

      General Etiquette and Advice


      Not all New Yorkers are rude! Sure, some of them are, but generally it's easy to mistake the fast-paced frenetic energy of New York City as rudeness. We're really almost friendly as long as you don't get in our way or fuck with our day. The main difference between tourists and New Yorkers, is that we know the unwritten rules, so we can get frustrated when someone breaks those social norms.

      There's also something to be said about the uniqueness of New York in August. We're all a little extra pissed off because it's hot and humid and we're stuck in the city (instead of somewhere in the Hamptons or something).  So just try to not fuck with us.

      Interacting with New Yorkers

      While walking down the street, you don't have to engage with every person handing out flyers or trying to get you to donate to their cause (those are the ones with the clipboards, just a warning). It's okay to ignore them, or say "no thank you" or "I can't stop, sorry". The same goes for homeless people.

      For some of you from suburban middle America, it might be weird or uncomfortable to see homeless people on the streets of NYC, but we have a lot of them. They're just there, part of the city like the rest of us and you don't have to be afraid of them. Some of them may ask you for money. It's okay to give them money if they ask, but it's also okay to say "no, sorry" and keep walking or just keep walking without answering. (You'll notice that a lot people might walk right past them, not even noticing them or just ignoring them.) What's not okay is to make any kind of verbal judgment - don't speculate what they're going to spend that money on (seriously, anytime I want to hear someone say "oh he'll just spend it on drugs" I want to punch that asshole in the face) and whatever you do, don't tell them to get a job. Just don't fucking say that.
      • Don't waste our time
      It's okay to stop and ask someone for directions (even if you're just not sure which direction the streets are going - up or down). Remember that most people on the street in NYC are on their way somewhere and don't want to spend an hour listening to your life story. We're also used to people trying to sell us shit or asking us to sign something or giving us a scam story to get money. So if you need to ask someone on the street a question, don't preface it with "Can I ask you a question?" or "Do you have a minute?" because the answer will be no. Just get straight to the point as ask it, "excuse me, do you know where _________ is?" and then say thank you. If you ask "where's a good place to eat around here?" you're probably not going to get a straight answer. There are a million good places to eat. It's New York! Don't waste our time with questions like that. Plan ahead.

      The "don't waste our time" rule of thumb applies to so many aspects of New York interaction. If you're at the ATM or buying a Metrocard, have your debit card ready before you get to the front of the line. Make sure you're on the right line for Metrocards, if it says "Cash Only" and you're holding a credit card, you're wasting our time and yours. (More info on the subway system in our Transportation guide.) At a bar, know what your drink order is before you go up to the bartender. Have your money in hand, ready to pay before the bartender brings you your drink. The same rules apply to coffee shops, delis, fast food restaurants and anywhere else you go up to a counter to order food or drink. (More info on bar and restaurant etiquette in our Dining/Drinking guide.)
      • Unwritten rules of the sidewalk
      Don't walk too slow, especially if the streets are crowded. In fact, if you can't handle the pace, you should think about staying inside during the peak "rush hour" times during the week (beginning of the work day or end of the work day). Don't stop short suddenly in the middle of the street. Really, don't do it. Especially if you're stopping to check your map or point at something inconsequential. If you need to stop, move to the right and slow down gradually. In general, slow pedestrian traffic should move to the right; the left is for passing.

      Stay to the right on the stairs as well (unless you need to pass someone). If you have a big suitcase, that stays on the right with you. When riding an escalator, the right is for standing and the left is for walking, so if you're traveling two people together, standing one behind the other, not side by side. (And your suitcase goes in front of you, not beside you.) Don't walk and text unless you're really good at it.

      Don't walk more than three people across (unless maybe, two of those three people are children - but even then expect some people to be annoyed and shove past you if you're moving too slow). And if you insist on smoking, don't wave your arm around. No one wants your smoke (or ashes) in their faces.

      When crossing the street watch out for cars making a turn. They will not stop for you just because you're in the crosswalk; look where you're going. Also, watch out for people riding bikes. They don't always stop at red lights (or follow any traffic rules whatsoever). Don't jaywalk. Yes, almost all New Yorkers do it, but it's an acquired skill and you'll end up getting yourself killed if you do it wrong.

      For more tips on navigating the streets of Manhattan, check out our Transportation guide.
      • Show New York some respect
      Don't complain. Yes, New Yorkers love to complain about our own city, but we get pretty defensive when someone else does it. So don't bitch about having to walk too much, about it being too crowded, about the subways taking too long, or about everything being too expensive. And don't claim that something is better where you come from than it is in New York. Most likely, you're wrong, but even if you're not, who cares? Definitely don't suggest that the pizza or bagels are better where you're from than in New York because you're just wrong on that one no matter what you think.
      Don't litter. New York City is dirty enough without you dropping your garbage in our streets. There are trash recepticals all over the place, use them. Don't mock, stare, or point at anyone who you think it dressed "weird". NYC is wildly diverse, not just in race/culture/religion/custom but also in terms of fashion. Respect that. Especially if you're wearing any indication that you're a tourist (an "I heart NY" t-shirt, a fanny pack, or a back pack worn on the front - really, why?)

      Don't fake a New York accent - it's not cute or funny, you just sound stupid and obnoxious. And no, we're not pronouncing "Houston Street" wrong - it's pronounced "House-ton", after William Houston, and it has fucking nothing to do with Texas!

      Don't bring up 9/11. We know the rest of the world felt connected to New York when the towers went down, so we appreciate your interest and that you care, but we don't always feel like talking about it. Wait for a New Yorker to bring it up first. If they don't, leave it alone.
      • Celebrity sighting
      If you see a celebrity in New York City (on the street, at a cafe or restaurant, etc.) leave them alone. Seriously, they just want to finish their meal/coffee/phone call/conversation in peace, just like the rest of us. Don't stare or point or scream or freak out or ask for a photo or autograph. Feel free to look up at them and smile or even mention a quick "I'm a big fan" (but only if you're not interrupting a conversation). If it happens to be someone who is absolutely the most important celebrity figure in your life, okay, you can make an exception and try to talk to them/get a photo, but be forewarned that your illusions of them be shattered if they give you an attitude. If you aren't their #1 fan, leave them alone. Especially if you aren't sure who they are "aren't you that guy from _______?" is unacceptable. Unless they're at a promotional event of some kind, they probably just want to be left alone. If they're with their kids or having a fight, stay the hell away. If they are at a special promotional event, like say, a BlogHer party, then all bets are off and go for it! 

      Tourist Attractions

      • Plan

      There are so many museums, landmarks and attractions in New York that you will definitely want to do your online research first. Check for opening and closing times, rules, information on specific exhibits, directions and more. You can also find helpful apps for your smartphone that will help you navigate your museum outing, such as the American Museum of Natural History app or the MOMA app. (There are just too many museums and galleries and attractions to list here, so just do a Google search on whatever interests you and be sure to do your research before you venture out!)

      Some helpful apps:

      - Museum Without Walls
      - I Parks NY
      - NYC on the Cheap
      - Time Out New York
      - New York Times: The Scoop
      • Purchase
      Visit any of the TKTS booths around the city (three locations: Times Square, South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn) to get discounted tickets to shows. They even have a TKTS app for your smartphone. To save time, you can buy advance tickets to the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art performances, the American Museum of Natural History Space Show and IMAX movies and so much more.
      • Prioritize 
      Consider whether you really need to (and will have time to) see three Broadway shows, go to ten different museums and five different NYC landmarks. There is a lot to do and see in New York, but you don't need to do it all. If you try, you'll end up being so rushed that you don't even get to enjoy half of it. You'll go back home broke, exhausted, and kind of cranky (like a true New Yorker, perhaps).

      Miscellaneous Advice

      • Public restrooms
      If it's the evening, you're probably fine just finding any local bar. In the daytime, your best bet is a Barnes & Noble bookstore or Starbucks coffee shop. At some of the Starbucks you might need to purchase something (only if it's one of the few locations that makes you get a key to the bathroom instead of leaving it open to the public) but really, you probably wanted another cup of coffee anyway didn't you?

      You can check out the website The Bathroom Diaries or download the free Sit or Squat app for your smart phone. There you can search for and rate public bathrooms.
      • Laws about smoking and drinking in public

      Check out the rest of the ESC's Guide to NYC