Hate Twilight. Hate it, hate it, hate it.
October 6, 2010 § 7 Comments
Hey readers, we have a dope new contributor. Please welcome Janey! (Read about her here.)
The Twilight series was recommended to me by well-meaning friends who felt that, as a sentimentalist, I couldn’t possibly dislike these very sappy and romantic books. And I have to admit, I expected to like these books. As a shameless Buffyhead, I am a huge fan of the Buffy-Angel relationship, and therefore fully expected to fall in love with the very similar Bella-Edward relationship. But after reading the series, I was left completely cold. These books are unabashedly anti-feminist, and set the women’s movement back about twenty years.
The series follows the romantic relationship between Bella Swan, an “average” teenage girl, and Edward Cullen, a member of a family of reformed vampires who do not feed on humans. The first glaring flaw in the novels is the rampant sexism in the dynamics of the central relationship itself. Even though Stephenie Meyer attempts to indoctrinate the reader in the notion that Bella and Edward are soulmates with all the subtlety of a whac-a-mole hammer, I couldn’t get attached to their saga. The milestones in the beginning of their relationship consist solely of him saving her. She’s almost hit by a car, she faints at the sight of blood, she’s almost raped (and so on and so forth), and her knight in shining armor rides in with impeccable timing and an annoyingly smug attitude. Throughout the entire series, he has the audacity to believe that he has the right to make decisions for her as long as he’s trying to protect her, going so far as to pay his sister to kidnap her for several days while he’s away because he doesn’t think that she can survive a weekend without him looking over her shoulder. And of course he’s a better driver than she is, because where would a piece of sexist propaganda be without that stereotype?
Although there is no excuse for Edward claiming to love Bella while he clearly doesn’t respect her, Bella is not the easiest character to respect. She essentially has zero personality; she doesn’t think about anything besides Edward and, later, Jacob. She has no hobbies, no interests, no mannerisms besides being clumsy, and no goals besides being with Edward for the rest of her life. She claims to be an independent person, and yet she would sacrifice her identity and humanity in a heartbeat for a man who emotionally abuses her. And although they occasionally bicker, Bella’s never truly angry with Edward when he takes it upon himself to control her life. She even allows him to manipulate her into marrying him, against which she was originally vehemently opposed.
Bella is a “proper woman” in the worst way. She’s manipulative, melodramatic, passive, and self-destructive. She shamelessly uses her “best friend” Jessica — a girl whom she does not like, respect, or take seriously — and Jacob, the werewolf who vainly pines for her, to curb her loneliness or boredom. She consistently uses her feminine wiles to manipulate men, because beauty is clearly the only weapon women have at their disposal. She constantly engages in dangerous behaviors, because self-destruction has always been one of the marks of a proper lady, from Hamlet’s Ophelia to modern “heroin chic” models. She also faints so many times, I almost wanted to tell the men in her life to stop getting so worked up, just give her a fainting couch and let her go to town.
Bella is, without a doubt, the ultimate manifestation of a derogatory female stereotype, but sexism is present in the portrayal of the other female characters as well. While the male vampires Bella encounters are strong, effectual, and sometimes terrifying, the female vampires are little more than their sidekicks. They are often left behind while the men do the majority of the heavy lifting. For example, at the end of the first book, the men of the Cullen family set out to kill the evil vampire James, while the women “keep an eye” on his mate, Victoria, the less formidable opponent. Similarly, where Edward and his brothers clearly demonstrate their strength in both body and character, Edward’s sister, Alice, is tiny, dainty, and accommodating; his other sister, Rosalie, as the token conventionally beautiful woman in the series (to be contrasted with underdog Bella), is shallow, petty, and expects every man she meets to be in love with her; and his mother figure, Esme, is just that- a mother figure. Jessica is portrayed as the typical vapid, gossipy teenage girl, and Emily, the werewolf Sam’s fiancée, spends all of her time cooking for Sam, just as Bella spends all of her time cooking for her father. The gender dynamics in these books read like a particularly charming “make me a sandwich” joke.
Authors have often alluded to sex through vampire bites; Twilight was no exception. Bella’s smell, or what the vampire Aro calls the “siren song,” makes Edward want to bite and eat her, which is clearly a metaphor for sexual attraction. Edward even goes so far as to tell Bella that James would not have targeted her if she did not “smell so good.” This demonstrates the misogynist attitude that women are responsible for their own sexual harassment because of their sensuality: their attitude, the way they dress, etc. Furthermore, it recalls the antiquated notion that men are primitive beasts who are helpless in the face of their sexual desires, a notion which is only reinforced when Jacob kisses Bella against her will and then later emotionally blackmails her into kissing him by threatening a suicide mission. With control freak Edward as the primary love interest and sexually violent Jacob as the secondary love interest, both of whom are in love with a girl who is literally nothing more than a pretty face, men are portrayed almost as insultingly as women are in this series.
The best description of Twilight I’ve heard was “They should get a medal for being literally all about sex while no one actually has sex” (or possibly the more pithy “Will they just fuck already?”). The novels subscribe to the view that sexuality is the only power women have, and yet, hypocritically, those who take advantage of it are evil and should be shunned. The main characters cannot consummate their love (until after they get married) because Edward is afraid that he will kill her accidentally with his uncontrollable strength or that he will turn her into a vampire. So essentially, if teenage girls have premarital sex, they will spiritually become monsters or die.
The Twilight series is, on the whole, both poorly written and extremely offensive. Guilty pleasures are great, I’m a big fan, but it’s not worth getting through a book has not only plain, mechanical writing but also a female role model that teaches young, impressionable girls that their main goal in life should be to snag a good-looking guy and an “ideal” relationship that teaches girls to value chivalry over respect. As an alternative on the guilty pleasure front, I suggest that the fans of Twilight watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in order to follow an equally addictive relationship with a stronger female heroine.