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).
I have to backtrack to the previous chapter for a few lines before I start in on Chapter 22. At the end of Chapter 21, Ana arrives for her flight to Georgia and discovers that Christian has upgraded her to first class. I will get to how incredibly creepy that is in a moment. For now, I have some words about this interaction with the man at the ticket counter (which Ana later refers to as making her “look like a klutz”).
Ana describes the young man at the desk as “bored,” until he discovers that she’s been upgraded. At that point, he starts treating her
. . . like I’m the Christmas Fairy and the Easter Bunny rolled into one.
I think I could count the number of times I’ve flown on one hand, and I’ve never flown first class. But I have never had anyone at check-in treat me like that. (And by the way, what the hell is the “Christmas Fairy”?) This scene at the end of the chapter leads right into the next one, where we get pages and pages of Ana’s flight and her email exchanges with Christian (here we go again).
As I said, I’ve never flown first class, so perhaps someone would care to enlighten me as to whether Ana’s experience of the first class lounge is even true. She claims to have had a manicure, a massage, and two glasses of champagne (is anyone else worried about her drinking habits?). And in a completely surprising twist, Ana thinks the man who gave her the massage, Jean-Paul, is gay. Because so far, that was the only minority stereotype we hadn’t seen in this book. Why not throw it in for good measure?
. . . honestly, who has a tan in Seattle? It’s just so wrong. I think he was gay . . .
I don’t think that having those particular sentences next to each other was necessarily intentional (Ana seems to think a tanned Seattle resident is wrong, and the bit about him being gay is because she’s withholding that information from Christian). But due to either poor writing or poor editing, it comes across as an indictment of the gay guy. Of course, given how the author has described every other minority in the book, I’m not sure she wasn’t going for exactly that.
Which brings us to the latest bizarre emails between Ana and Christian. She emails from the lounge to “thank” him for the upgrade and to “wind him up” over her massage (by not explaining her unconfirmed suspicion that Jean-Paul is gay). She starts out with,
What really alarms me is how you knew which flight I was on. Your stalking knows no bounds.
She is apparently “joking,” and yet this is an entirely accurate assessment. When she gets around to explaining the massage, she decides that Christian somehow deserves to be made jealous. I cannot figure this out. When she calls it “payback,” does she mean for the stalking? Because I’m not really sure that jealousy is the best weapon against stalking.
Meanwhile, Ana’s subconscious has decided to remind her that Christian secretly upgrading her to first class without talking to her is “sweet.” Perhaps it would be, if he hadn’t spent the rest of the book stalking her in various other ways. Although she’s trying to appear brave and sort of playful here, her discomfort is evident when she sees that the only empty seat is the one right next to her–and she’s worried that Christian is going to turn up and accompany her.
His email response to her is to threaten to tie her up and put her in the cargo hold.
Ana can’t tell whether or not he’s joking. When she asks, he never gives her a direct answer. Instead, he chastises her for emailing during takeoff. As a result, she sends him a long, rambling email in which she explains that his extravagant gifts make her feel like he’s paying her for sex, she doesn’t really know when he’s joking and when he’s serious, and that he scares her.
Once again, I find myself frustrated with E. L. James here. Sure, the writing is lousy, but if her purpose were to break open an abusive relationship and explore some of the psychology, it would be brilliant. The problem is that we’re supposed to see this as romantic. We’re supposed to want Ana and Christian to work, to fight for each other. I, on the other hand, want to see her find her way out of this labyrinth of domestic violence. I want to see her start off believing she can rescue him and end up realizing she can’t, so she leaves–permanently. I want to see her learn to admit that he terrifies her–and that’s not a good thing. I want to see her learn that she doesn’t need Christian–or any other man–to be strong and fulfilled.
All we get is Ana opening up about her fears, followed by how hard she’s going to work to be what he wants her to be. Is it any wonder that Ana’s time at the airport ends with her embracing her mom and crying?
I don’t care how many people find this awful story romantic; it isn’t even close. I know I keep saying this, but if this is you, if you are like Ana and you’re afraid of your partner, you are not alone. And that’s not limited to women–we tend to think domestic violence only affects women or that it’s all about “misogyny.” Guess what? It’s not, and in the U.S., the statistics for domestic violence against men are not, in fact, much lower than for women (I can almost feel a few people breathing down my neck for that statement). People who have lived Ana’s experiences in one way or another can tell you that it’s not romantic. Don’t believe that lie–be a friend and help someone you love who might be in an abusive relationship.