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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!



Anonymous said...

I knew Fifty shades of Grey was bad, and I'll like to congratulate you on being able to prove it's that bad.

I really hope you continue with this, as it's just been so amusing to get critical review on it.

Anonymous said...

I've been operating under the assumption that Grey's reputation as a Dom was so bad, that he had to go looking for someone with no clue what acceptable behavior within the lifestyle was.

Anonymous said...

Supper being only cheese may be more logical than you make it out to be, although another Britishism fail.

In the UK, Christian would quite possibly call the meal after dinner supper; and if he had eaten a main meal at lunchtime, he would probably have 'supper' rather than 'dinner'. Even nowadays in the UK, whether people talk about 'lunch', 'tea', 'dinner' and 'supper', and what they mean by them, can tell you a lot about their class, and can carry quite a bit of nuance...

Magnificently Bruised said...

"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."

Those sound like my hard limits when I VERY FIRST entered into the community. He's a pretty soft Dom, lol. Animals and children should be on EVERYONE's hard limits list. Beyond that, the only other common hard limits I see is scat. I regularly see or participate in play with all the others... and I'm not that hard of a bottom!

Are there people in the community that might have a hard limit list similar to that one? Sure. And that's okay. But it tends to read to someone experienced as a list of pretty common types of play.

Beroli said...

"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.”
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.
It seems like EL James trying to have it both ways. Right now, Christian is giving a reasonable and non-offensive answer to "Why are you dominant?" But James doesn't actually believe it's healthy or wants drama or something, so we find out differently later.

Anonymous said...

Super glad I don't have to read the books - I couldn't get past the free kindle sample lol. You're made of sterner stuff than I :-D