50 Shades of Girl Talk

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

The interactions between Ana and Kate have to be some of the worst examples of conversation between friends I’ve ever read.  It’s not so much that the dialogue is all that bad; maybe not great, but I’ve read (and written, in first drafts) much worse.  But as I was reading it, it felt a lot less like two adult women having a heart-to-heart and a lot more like the scene from the 90s version of Beverly Hills, 90210.  You know which episode I mean—the prom one, where Kelly and Brenda wear the same dress and then Kelly gets all proud of Brenda for making it with Dylan.  Yes, Ana and Kate’s post-date talk has all the maturity of teenagers on prom night.

Also, here we have another example of the way in which our culture (and quite possibly British culture as well, since the author is from the UK) treats women, sex, and rape.  Kate confesses that her first “sex” was (in a surprise twist) on her prom night.  She says that she and her date were drunk, he was “rough,” and she “wasn’t ready.”  Does this sound to anyone else like she might have been raped but is not capable of admitting it, even to herself?  She seems to brush it off as an amusing anecdote (as evidenced by her “sad comedy” face).  She also refers to this as “typical teenage post-prom disaster.”  Well, that certainly confirms that the author got all her information about American proms from watching bad teen movies.

At least Ana has the good sense to tell Kate that the experience sounds awful.  Or she does on the outside, anyway.  She seems too busy entertaining her inner goddess to give a crap about the fact that her roommate has just confessed that her first sex was actually a lot closer to rape.  Of course, Kate seems to dismiss it too, moving on to talking about orgasms like she’s conversing about the weather.  This just highlights one of my major frustrations with this book.  If only Ms. James were capable of treating these social issues with the gravity they deserve!  The story could be a brilliant commentary on sex and power dynamics if she made it a little more clear that she doesn’t actually think that prom rape is normal or that it’s okay to hide abuse under cover of BDSM or that it’s not predatory for adult women to sleep with adolescent boys.  As it is, I’m left with the impression that she’s using those things to titillate and to pay lip service (pen service?) to character development.

The one good thing in this chapter is that we finally see Ana eat something.  It’s probably a bad sign when a woman can’t eat around the person she supposedly likes, not because she has nervous-in-love butterflies but because he scares the crap out of her.  It’s also not a good sign when a man wants to control every last bite she takes, even before he’s had her sign a sex contract stating he can do so.

Naturally, Ana doesn’t tell Kate about José’s advances.  (I’m devoting a whole separate post to my thoughts on José, so stay tuned.)  She says Kate will “have him for breakfast.”  So she can talk about her orgasms, and Kate can confess her post-prom rape, but Ana can’t tell Kate about the way José wouldn’t take no for an answer?  I guess it’s supposed to make a better story when characters don’t really talk to each other about important things, but it’s an over-used plot device.  Besides, it doesn’t work in this context.  Whether or not Ana tells Kate about José won’t affect the plot of the book.  It’s not setting up some future disaster that will result from her non-disclosure…

…as evidenced by the fact that three pages later, Ana does finally ‘fess up about José, downplaying the seriousness of it.  Apparently, she doesn’t know Kate very well, because her worries about Kate going after him appear to be unfounded.  This whole chapter is just one bizarre interaction after another.  We’re supposed to believe that these two young women are great friends, but it’s hard to grasp from the interactions we’ve seen so far throughout the book.  Fun little exercise:  While you read the book, look for all the times Ana says bitchy things about Kate, followed by explaining what an awesome friend Kate is.  Ana, you suck at friendship.

That wraps it up for chapter 11.  Next week, I’m going to talk about José and the ways that pretty much everything about his character disturbs me.  For now, stick around.  I’m finally starting my series on A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and I’ve got a couple of other good things planned for this week.

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