Hey kids! I know that you eagerly awaited my scathing rant on chapters 2 through 5 that I promised, but too bad. I will dispense with an analysis of all the problems in chapter 5 to zero in on a particularly repugnant snippet therein.
To set the stage, immediately before chapter 5, Ana and acquaintances go out drinking to celebrate the successful end of finals. Ana becomes sloshed and drunk-dials Christian. Her so-called friend Jose sexually assaults her, only to be fended off by Christian, who has tracked Ana’s cell phone and come to pick her up. Jose leaves as Ana, no doubt mirroring the reader’s disgust, pukes everywhere. She and Christian dance for a little bit until she passes out.
Chapter 5 begins with Ana in an unfamiliar bed. She quickly realizes that Christian has taken her to his house and removed her pants. Inevitably, Ana wonders if he raped her. Christian assures her that he likes his women "sentient and receptive" [p. 66], so he did not assault her while she was unconscious. Ana appears disappointed by Christian’s assertion. In a paragraph discussing her confusion about his apparent lack of hots for her, Ana muses [p. 69]:
"He said he likes his woman sentient. He’s probably not celibate then. But he’s not made a pass at me… I don’t understand. … Am I repellent to him? You’ve slept in his bed all night, and he’s not touched you all night. You do the math. My subconscious has reared her ugly, snide head. I ignore her."
As we have already observed, the math is pretty easy to follow. Here’s the equation:
Christian + unconscious Ana ≠ rape
Ana, however, seems to wish that Christian had touched her when she was unconscious. In her perspective, his sexual assault of her in her unconscious, unable-to-consent state would prove his desire for her. Because she apparently subscribes to the trope of romance novels that men can’t control their libidos, she conflates rape and desire. It’s a testament to how deeply she has been indoctrinated with a misogynist rape culture that she regrets not having been fucked over in her sleep.
This instance represents possibly the only moment in the series that Christian exhibits a modicum of basic human decency, and yet he gets no credit. I’m not expecting the the story to glorify his not raping an unconscious woman. However, it would be nice if the main character, with whom we are supposed to sympathize, didn’t fault him for it.
I think this excerpt represents E.L. James’ troubling inability, on a global level, to assign the appropriate ethical weight to…well…just about anything. She treats Jose’s sexual assault of Ana like an awkward date, after which Ana feels guilty that she doesn’t call him. She treats Christian’s tracking of Ana through her cell phone as charming protectiveness on his part. She treats bdsm as a dramatic secret nurtured by broken psyches and peeing on a consenting partner as something akin to pedophilia. Whether she’s dismissing significant problems of surveillance, control and consent or using her sense of revulsion as a moral proxy, she gets it wrong again and again.