The Spankening, Part One: Chapter 20 of EL James’s “Grey”


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Trigger Warning: Abuse, Domestic Violence

So we still  have 6 chapters left.

How? I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Because this is Chapter 20, so technically I should be about 75% of the way through the book. But I’m not. I’m 88% of the way through the book. Which means that after endless monster chapters of lengths that vary from “Jesus Christ this is long” to “For fuck’s sake just end the fucking chapter already,” we’re now heading into territory in which some chapters are a couple of paragraphs long, while others are 30 pages.

Did EL James think this through? Fuck no.

And fuck me.

So I have absolutely no idea what these recaps are going to look like going forward, and I’ll apologize now, but who let this horrendous structure happen? Why did no one stop her?

Anyway, let’s not waste time because this is the last megachapter before we head into what I hope and pray are smaller and more manageable chunks of disgusting MRA logic:

The summer breeze teases my hair, its caress the nimble fingers of a lover.

My lover.


I wake suddenly, confused.


Well, you should be, because that makes no sense at all.

Christian wakes from his baffling metaphor to look around and confirm that Ana is sleeping beside him, and not running her hand through his hair. He then runs his own hand through his hair and then stares around the room — but there’s nobody there!

Or is there?


But there might have been.

It took me like 3-4 readings of this paragraph to figure out that EL James was trying to imply that Leila had creeped into Christian’s bedroom, had ruffled his hair, and then managed to run out before he woke up. I mean, I assume that that’s what happened, because the text never bothers to confirm it and I would otherwise hope that EL James hadn’t just put in a random scene where Christian wakes up because he thinks he feels someone playing with his hair but it turns out to be nothing at all.

That would be like making me sit through three pages of Christian asking his housekeeper what’s for dinner, and then having dinner.


But if it was Leila prowling around at night, it’s odd that a mega-billionaire playboy who has a “Deep Net” expert on retainer 24/7 hasn’t bothered to invest in any kind of security system for his apartment. Since he hasn’t, Christian isn’t troubled by the fact that someone was maybe just in his room, and instead starts to wonder what’s going on with him and Ana.

We have no contract. Yet Ana’s here. Beside me. What does this mean? How am I supposed to deal with her? Will she abide by my rules? I need to know that she’s safe. I rub my face. This is uncharted territory for me; it’s out of my control, and it’s unsettling.

I know that EL James is doing this intentionally, but I still have to marvel at the stupidity of writing a character who can have his lawyer look over a sex contract, and have his work serfs book him gynecological appointments and fit his bed with satin fuck sheets — but the idea of actually communicating with his girlfriend about the status of their relationship in a mature, adult way is beyond his capabilities as a human being.

Christian remembers Leila for a second and adds her to the pile of “stuff that’s keeping him up,” and so Christian deals with it the only way he knows how — by playing his sad piano of robot feelings in the middle of the night:

Chopin is my solace; the somber notes match my mood and I play them over and over.


Christian is surprised — for the millionth time — that Ana is woken from her gentle slumber by the lilting tones of his tinkling ivory keys, even though it’s obvious that playing the fucking piano in the middle of the night is going to wake people up. But soft! Ana wants to know what fills Christian’s heart chambers with sadness on this dark night of the soul:

I have too much weighing on my mind, and I’d rather she went back to bed and slept.

Then stop playing the fucking piano in the middle of the night.

Christian asks why Ana’s up, and it turns out that she’s not up because he was playing the piano, but because she set her phone alarm to remind her to take her birth control pill while she was in Georgia, which means that the time zone’s all wrong now. What a silly goose!

“Only you would start a course of time-specific birth control pills in a different time zone.”

Says Christian — conveniently forgetting that he’s dating a former virgin who had literally never taken birth control before. But you know who knows all about female reproduction? Captain Charm here:

“Perhaps you should wait half an hour, and then another half hour tomorrow morning. So eventually you can take them at a reasonable time.”

It’s almost like he’s forced sexually inexperienced women to take oral contraceptives before and — therefore knows more about it than they do. Just so he doesn’t have to wear condoms. What a great guy.

“Good plan,” she says. “So what shall we do for half an hour?”

Well, I could fuck you over this piano.

By the by, poor Gail and Taylor live in this apartment, too. Which means that they’re probably sitting up, having been woken by the sad piano of broken dreams, and are listening to this whole conversation, hoping and praying (just like I am) that Ana does not want to fuck on the piano.

“You’d always rather have sex than talk.”

Oh, Ana. You’ve just given us the summary for the entire book.

Anyway, Christian doesn’t want to have the adult conversation he needs to have with his girlfriend, so he starts trying to fuck her on the piano while, I assume, Gail and Taylor die a little more inside and mentally redraft their resumes.

But Ana’s not having it. She wants to talk about both them and the contract. Hey! That’s exactly what Christian wanted to iron out when he woke up. That’s why he went to his piano of sad feelings. Surely Ana bringing the topic up means that they can now discuss it rationally and come to a positive resolution that suits both of them.


Christian tells Ana that the contract is basically moot because she’s so “challenging,” which could not be less true. Ana wants to know what it would mean if they did, in fact, forget the contract. Surely they’d just try dating normally for a bit, and they might still engage in BDSM sex, but it wouldn’t be the full-blown D/s relationship that Christian originally wanted, right?


Christian explains that basically she’ll still have to do whatever he says, and they’ll still have kinky sex, and he’ll still get to punish her if she breaks the rules (although she won’t know what the rules are, because that’s literally what the contract was for). Christian advises that he’d still need Ana’s permission to punish her, but if she didn’t give him permission, he’d find a way to “convince” her anyway.

She should know this. She didn’t let me spank her in the boathouse, and I wanted to. But I got to do it later that evening…with her approval.

So basically what Christian is proposing is that they still do everything in the contract that serves him, but she’ll no longer have clear guidelines to follow. And if there’s anything she’s not comfortable with, he’s confident that he can force it on her anyway.

Ana — who at this point is justifiably pissed off — asks Christian to go and get her a copy of all of the rules again, so she knows exactly how to avoid being beaten by him. He finds this annoying, because he’s a piece of shit.

“I’ll need to reread them,” she says, suddenly all businesslike.

“I’ll fetch them for you.”

In my study I fire up my computer and print out the rules, wondering why we are discussing this at five in the morning.


Oh fuck off. You wanted to have this conversation, and now you want her to agree to a scenario that is actively worse than the one you originally proposed. Just give her the rules, you gigantic child.

On reading the rules, Ana asks if she still needs to “obey” Christian. He confirms that she will. Even though they don’t have a contract. Which makes no sense and seems like a terrible idea. So Ana rolls her eyes at Christian — deliberately, to see what he’ll do. Hint: it’s spank-y:

“Did you just roll your eyes at me, Anastasia?”

“Possibly. Depends what your reaction is.” She looks wary and amused at once.

“Same as always.” If she’ll let me…

Ana asks Christian if he wants to spank her. He does. So she runs from him in a scene that’s meant to be cute. And it is written that way — to be clear — but if I was reading this from Christian’s perspective, and without Ana’s version to compare it to, I would genuinely think I was reading a scene that was going to end in murder and that he was completely misinterpreting her running away from him while he threatens to hit her.

Ana darts away, biting her sex lip — the whore! — and they chase each other around the apartment a bit until Christian says:

“Anastasia, you may fall and hurt yourself. Which will put you in direct contravention of rule number seven, now six.”

And he’s not paying to heat the outdoors, young lady!


“I have been in danger since I met you, Mr. Grey, rules or no rules.”

How this doesn’t end with her rolled up in a carpet I’ll never know.

Finally, Christian wonders if maybe Ana running around a kitchen biting her lip isn’t actually a game, but rather her sending him a secret message that she’s actually afraid of him. Because running away from him while saying, “Don’t hit me” is pretty subtle. What could she mean?!

He stops worrying about that when her robe falls a bit because he almost sees her boobs and then he gets an excitement boner. So if he is scaring his girlfriend, eh, fuck it — who cares? Not his boner, that’s for sure.

Ana, confusingly, continues to vacillate between egging Christian on sexually and then hitting the brakes by saying she’s actually afraid of him. Which, to be honest, is probably how a lot of victims try to contend with their abusers, so I’m not going to snark that. Finally Ana admits that she doesn’t want him to catch her because she is afraid of being hit and that her fear of pain is the same of his fear of being touched in all of his no-no zones.

Christian takes this opportunity to think about himself — of course:

And from nowhere the darkness crawls over me, shrouding my skin, leaving an icy trail of despair in its wake.

No. No. I can’t bear to be touched. Ever.

“That’s how you feel?” It’s like she’s touched me, her nails leaving white tracks over my chest.


Ana backs off, claiming that it’s not actually that serious. And while maybe that’s true, it seems like she’s backing off to avoid hurting Christian’s feelings, which sucks. But that’s enough to let Christian think he’s in the clear now and doesn’t have to worry about Ana’s boundaries anymore. Even though Ana next confesses that she only submits to kink sex because he likes it and that it doesn’t really do much for her. Partly because she’s just not that crazy about it, and partly because she is always a little worried that he will really hurt her.

At least Ana is having a real conversation — at last. So let’s see how Christian ruins it:

“I want to hurt you. But not beyond anything that you couldn’t take.” I’d never go too far.

That doesn’t mean anything! HE can’t decide what’s too far for HER, only she can. And regardless, she seems to be saying that pretty much all of it is too far because it just doesn’t do much for her sexually, even if she technically gets off from it.

But Ana changes gears by asking Christian point-blank why he feels he needs to hurt her:

“I just need it,” I whisper. “I can’t tell you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”


“So you know why?”


“But you won’t tell me.”

“If I do, you will run screaming from this room, and you’ll never want to return. I can’t risk that, Anastasia.”

He wants to fuck his dead mom, honey. Sorry to be the one to tell you.

And then, after confirming that she isn’t really interested in the lifestyle, and trying to talk with him about it so they can work it out, and him refusing, he hits her with this epic manipulation tactic:

“Don’t leave me,” I whisper against her lips. “You said you wouldn’t leave me, and you begged me not to leave you in your sleep.”

She begged and begged him to tell her what she said in her sleep, but he waited with this in his back pocket for the perfect moment to use it against her.

Fuck this guy.

Oh, but also feel sorry for him because he’s sad:

“I don’t want to go,” she says, but her eyes are searching mine, looking for answers. And I’m exposed–my ugly, torn soul on display.

This is my fucking limit with his dark soul bullshit. You know what makes Christian Grey a terrible person? It’s not that he had a sad childhood. It’s not that he had a rough adolescence. It’s certainly not that he was raped by his mother’s friend, because that’s clearly terrible and not his fault. And it definitely isn’t because he enjoys a bit of kink in the bedroom. Kink doesn’t make someone scary and evil. The reason Christian Grey is terrible is because he treats everyone like garbage, because he manipulates women into getting hormonal birth control and fulfilling all of his sexual whims, because he thinks his staff are sub-human, and because he pretends to be philanthropic while living a lifestyle of the most obscene, horrific wealth porn.

His ugly, torn soul isn’t on display because he’s asking his girlfriend not to leave, or because he doesn’t want to tell her why he likes tying ladies up before he fucks them. That’s just misdirection on EL James’s part to make us feel sad for this asshole. He has an ugly, torn soul because he’s a dick to people — and that’s it.

Anyway, Ana asks Christian to do the absolute “worst” he’d ever consider doing to her in a BDSM setting so she can know for sure if she actually wants to continue on with this. Which is sort of a mature request, but also Ana, honey — it’s okay to just not be into BDSM.

She’s offering herself to me once more; mine for the taking, to do with as I wish. I’m stunned. She’d fulfill this need for me? I can’t believe it.

That’s so clearly NOT what she’s doing. She’s doing this for herself, you sociopath. To test her own limits and to gauge yours. Stop acting like sex is a gift a woman gives to a man, because it’s fucking creepy.

Anyway, Christian agrees because he really, really does want to hit her extra hard. He grabs a belt and tells her to lean over the bench. She does.

This is it. What I want. What I’ve been working toward.


He tells Ana that he’s going to hit her 6 times with a belt — hard — because she ran from him and rolled her eyes at him. And… also because she’s asked him to hit her with a belt point-blank? But sure, bro — it’s because you need to punish her for having thoughts or something.

I need this. This is what I do. And we’re finally here. 

She can do it.

She’s never let me down yet.


Anyway, parts of this scene make me feel incredibly uncomfortable and sad, so I’ll just sum it up because hearing Christian go, “She’s not safe-wording! It’s all fine, actually! There would be no reason for me to think she’s upset!” over and over makes me angrier than I can say.

Basically here’s what happens: He starts hitting Ana with the belt and making her count the smacks. She does. She’s screaming and crying most of the time. At one point, and remember he thinks this is going well and there’s nothing problematic at work here, he thinks this:

There’s no one to hear you, baby. Shout all you need.

I belt her again.

Anyway, Christian finishes up and stands back, full of the erotic thrill of having finally reached his BDSM nirvana:

I’m punch-drunk, breathless, and finally replete. Oh, this beautiful girl, my beautiful girl. I want to kiss every inch of her body. We’re here. Where I want to be. I reach for her, pulling her into my arms.

But — plot twist, except not really — it turns out Ana, who stated moments ago that she’s not into BDSM and particularly hates pain, did not actually have a great time being hit with a belt by a guy who very, very clearly wants to do nothing else to her from here on out.

She’s mad. Really mad.

Okay, I hadn’t figured on anger.


Give her a moment. Wait for the endorphins to kick in.

But Ana doesn’t suppress her true feelings like a good girl so Christian can keep enjoying himself at her expense — instead, she asks Christian if this is really what he’s wanted all along, and is horrified that he wants to do this to her. In more scenes I don’t have the energy or level of calm to type out, Christian keeps wondering why Ana didn’t safe-word if she was this upset — which clearly implies that he doesn’t think she’s really upset. Which is fucking great. Plus, obviously, the bitch should know her place:

Why didn’t she ask me to stop? She didn’t safe-word. She deserved to be punished. She ran from me. She rolled her eyes. This is what happens when you defy me, baby. 

Tell me again how this isn’t textbook abuse, EL James.

So I really had hoped that I’d be able to get through the whole chapter, but this is less than halfway through and there’s SO much awful shit still to come. If you had a hard time reading some of the last paragraphs in this post, I will tell you now that the next one is going to be worse, so I’m issuing a pre-emptive trigger warning now. Past that, though, the book gets silly as fuck. So feel free to skip the next recap and then move on to the dumb bullshit if you’re not sure you can handle an abuser victim-blaming his girlfriend post-beating.

I know I sure can’t.

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